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Commons Chamber

Volume 407: debated on Tuesday 24 June 2003

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 24 June 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for further consideration, as amended, read.

To be further considered on Tuesday 1 July.

Oral Answers To Questions


The Secretary of State was asked



If he will make a statement about his discussions with Scottish business leaders about preparations for the euro. [120209]


What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the establishment of the Scottish committee for euro preparations. [120215]

I will chair the Scottish committee that will help to provide focus for euro preparations in Scotland. The Scottish Executive will be closely involved and will support the work of the committee. The First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Finance and Public Services will be members. The committee will also include representatives from business, the voluntary sector, consumers and local government. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury and I will be members of both the Chancellor's standing committee and the Scottish committee.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer and welcome him to his new duties. Will he tell the House how he intends to involve Scottish business in the committee that is being set up? Does he accept that if the initiative is to be really successful it must be accompanied by local as well as national initiatives? Does he support such initiatives, especially the one that is being set up in Edinburgh?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The committee's membership must have a sufficiently wide brace to enable the Government to be properly informed as we prepare for the euro, if we decide that it would be in the country's national economic interest to join. It is also important generally that as we raise awareness of the implications and advantages of the euro we should encourage local initiatives. I am sure that many hon. Members would want to be involved in that.

When my right hon. Friend is involved in deliberations as the chair of the committee, I hope that he will remember the sixth test that was coined by his predecessor: the actual cost to Scotland in jobs and wages if the delay before joining the euro is protracted. Will he ensure that his committee deliberates with a lot of speed and gets us to join the euro as quickly as possible?

As the Chancellor made clear in his statement on 9 June, five tests need to be met, and they were set out in 1997. The two most important are ensuring that there is convergence and that our economy is sufficiently flexible to deal with any shocks that might arise. The Chancellor also referred in his statement to the fact that if it were in our national economic interest to join the euro, we should do so. He also drew attention to the fact that some hon. Members must face the fact that if we did not join after meeting the tests, there would be a price to pay. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that one of the things that we must consider in this country, provided that the five tests are met and we believe that it is in the national economic interest to join, is the fact that we might pay a heavy price for our failure to join.

It is clear from that answer that the part-time Secretary of State has binned the sixth euro test as fast as he binned Friends of Scotland. He came up with an impressive list of meetings that he will chair, so will he tell us how much time per year they will take out of his busy diary?

I would not expect the hon. Lady to know that it is not uncommon for a member of the Cabinet to sit on a variety of Cabinet committees on the euro and other matters—it is perfectly normal. I would have thought that rather than reflecting on my work load she might want to reflect on her party's position: no matter whether it was in the interests of this country to join the euro, she would be against it as a matter of principle, even if it would be advantageous for jobs and trade. Until she can respond to that point, she has little credibility on this or any other matter.

I warmly welcome the Secretary of State to his jobs. Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Luke), the Secretary of State's predecessor made a speech last month in which she argued that continuing to be outside the euro area would be deeply damaging to Scottish economic interests. Does he agree with that assessment, does he intend to make a specific assessment of Scottish convergence with the euro area, and can he really find the time to pursue his chairmanship of the euro preparations committee, given his many other responsibilities?

I am grateful, as always, for the hon. Gentleman's unqualified welcome. I, like many of my hon. Friends, welcome the fact that he chose to give up his other job in the Parliament in Holyrood and come back to his job here. We greatly appreciate that.

The Chancellor set out our position on the euro, which is very clear: if we are to join, we must be satisfied that the five tests that he set out in 1997 have been met. He reported earlier this month that considerable progress had been made, but that there was still more to do on sustained convergence and flexibility. What matters at the end of the day is whether it is in the United Kingdom's national economic interest to join. Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, as the voters of Scotland graphically reminded the party that the hon. Gentleman represents at the beginning of May.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new responsibilities and wish him well. I commend to him the officials of the Scotland Office, who for the past four years have carried out their jobs with great professionalism and commitment, often in very difficult circumstances. The whole House should be indebted to them.

Turning to the euro, the Chancellor identified the housing market as a significant inhibitor to convergence. The housing market in Scotland is significantly different from that in south-east England—with the exception, perhaps, of my right hon. Friend's constituency, where the market is similar. Housing and planning are devolved matters. What plans does my right hon. Friend have to take account of Scotland's unique housing issues?

Staff at the Scotland Office are, of course, experiencing dramatic changes as the constitution develops in this country. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: they are extremely loyal and dedicated, and will cope with all the changes that we have to face.

My right hon. Friend is right that, in the main, the Scottish housing market is different from the market in south-east England, although, as she says, my Edinburgh constituency in south-east Scotland is remarkably similar in many respects. The Chancellor is fully aware of those differences. Indeed, much of what he said on 9 June concerned the need for us to make the necessary changes to ensure greater stability in the housing market throughout the country. That means that we have to take into account the variations in the regions and nations of the country.

During his discussions with the Scottish business community, has the Secretary of State identified any damage that has been done to Scotland by it remaining outside the euro?

Scottish business relies to a large extent on its ability to trade not just with the rest of the UK but with Europe. Most people in Scotland believe that if the conditions were met—certainly from a business point of view—there would be huge benefits to Scottish business. Of course, there are some people who take a slightly different view, just as there are in the rest of the country, but it is our view, which I believe is right for this country's future, that if it is in our economic interests to join in terms of jobs, trade and a series of other considerations, we should do so. What I find incredible is the Conservative party's position—that even if it were in our economic interests to join, it would still say no because of its visceral dislike of all things European.

Pension Credit


What discussions he has had with senior citizen organisations regarding the take-up of the pension credit in Scotland. [120210]

I discussed the pension credit yesterday at the older people's consultative forum in Edinburgh. The Department for Work and Pensions, through its new Pension Service and a forthcoming media campaign, is active in ensuring that pensioners receive full information about the pension credit.

I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. She will be aware that the benefit is valuable and will help many thousands of people in Scotland. Many elderly people are, unfortunately, unable to look after their own affairs, so has she discussed with the voluntary sector, local authorities and the Scottish Executive how we can ensure that such people benefit from this valuable new incentive?

My hon. Friend is correct. We need to ensure that those who are in receipt of care or who are looked after by family or carers are included. The most vulnerable pensioners have been specifically targeted since April this year with a specially designed direct mail pack, which is issued to carers or pensioners, and the campaign will continue until June 2004. As part of my ongoing discussions with the Scottish Executive, I will ensure that her points are fully taken on board in Scotland.

On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, may I welcome the Secretary of State to his new duties? Is the Minister aware of the recent admission by the chair of the Inland Revenue to the Treasury Select Committee that the computers had serious problems with the tax credits, which had come as a bolt out of the blue? Given the complexity of the pension credit, what assurance can she give Scottish pensioners that the computers will work and the helplines will cope, bearing in mind that on 12 March 2002 the Secretary of State himself described the Department of Work and Pensions' computers as "decrepit"?

First, may I advise the hon. Gentleman that the decrepit computers have been replaced? Secondly, I assure him that the Pension Service has extensive experience of working with the complexity, as he put it, of the pension credit. Every effort will be made to ensure that pensioners who are eligible for the pension credit take it up. As he is well aware, the new pension credit will give people with small occupational pensions the benefit of savings that they accumulated throughout their working lives, so it is to be welcomed.

May I follow up the point made by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso)? Sir Nicholas Montagu, chairman of the Inland Revenue, was called before my Committee last week. He said that the dress rehearsal went well, but that when the curtain went up on day one it was a shambles. We do not want a shambles on day one, as the pension credit is good news for many elderly people in Scotland. Given that EDS is the IT company responsible, can the utmost pressure be put on it to ensure that the first day of a rollout is good news, not bad news?

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the relevant Ministers are, of course, aware of the importance of getting the new pension credit right, and I am sure that the lessons of our experience and the situation that we inherited from the previous Government will be learned. My hon. Friend is correct—the pension credit is good news for pensioners across Scotland, and we should not lose sight of that core fact.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that pension credit take-up is dependent on pensioners' and senior citizens' organisations believing that it will make a difference to them and will not be negated by the action of other Departments? When will she resolve the dispute between the DWP and the Scottish Executive over the non-payment of attendance allowance, and thus allow pensioners in self-funded care to benefit? Does not that long-running conflict, which originated under the Secretary of State when he was at the DWP, not require the full-time input of a part-time Secretary of State for Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware—in fact, he is aware—that what he calls a long-running conflict was resolved some years ago. I understand that Age Concern Scotland has raised a legal issue, which it is intent on pursuing but, as far as the UK Government and the Scottish Executive are concerned, this matter has been resolved.

After the trivia of the previous question, may I return to the important matter of support for pensioners? The minimum income guarantee was a great success for those who got it, but 20 per cent. of pensioners did not get it, either because they could not fill out the forms or because they could not get access to them. The difference with the pension credit is that we already have records of people with employment-based pensions through the Inland Revenue system. Is it not time that that system was used to seek out people with those extra pensions so that they can automatically be passported to the pension credit?

I take my hon. Friend's point, but I am not sure whether we can read across from the pension credit to the minimum income guarantee. This issue has been raised before at Scottish questions, and I can assure the House that the Department for Work and Pensions is trying every conceivable means of ensuring that pensioners who are eligible for the minimum income guarantee are advised of that fact. I again appeal to Scottish Members of Parliament, who are leaders in their own communities, not to miss the opportunity to highlight the importance of the minimum income guarantee to their pensioner constituents.

Air Transport


How many responses the Government has received to the "Future of Air Transport—Scotland" consultation document. [120212]

As of 23 June, we had received 1,097 responses to the questionnaire and 520 letters and e-mails.

I thank the new Secretary of State for that answer. Is he aware that figures he has just released to the House show that less than 3 per cent. of the 61,000 consultation documents were returned? Does he agree that in view of the importance of air transport to the economy, transport and the environment, in the remaining six days before the deadline for responses he ought to do everything he can to ensure an increased response?

It is important that everyone who wants to respond to the consultation does so, but for various reasons many people probably do not want to respond, and the Government cannot dragoon them into doing so. With regard to Edinburgh airport, in which the hon. Gentleman, like me, has an immediate interest, and other airports in Scotland, it is important that we get a wide range of views about the projected growth and that we plan accordingly. So far, as I said, we have had a large number of responses. It is a matter of live interest, as the hon. Gentleman knows, not just in Edinburgh but in Glasgow.

In relation to the questionnaire, it is not surprising that many people who do not have any immediate views on the subject may choose not to respond. That does not weaken the strength of the consultation. We are giving people as much opportunity as possible to make their contribution, if they wish to do so.

I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend to his new duties. He knows how anxious I am to see building work recommence on the new Scottish centre, which is so vital for the future of air transport in the UK. Can he tell the House when we are likely to receive an announcement in that regard?

In the not too distant future, I hope. My hon. Friend knows that I visited the Prestwick control centre last summer, and I am well aware of the fact that people in Prestwick and the surrounding area want the second centre to be built as soon as possible. May I reassure my hon. Friend and the House that a second centre is an essential part of the National Air Traffic Services strategy? It is necessary for operational reasons and for back-up. It is a great pity that it has taken such a time to get a decision, but I am optimistic that we will be able to say something in the not too distant future.

Will the right hon. Gentleman have a long discussion with himself about landing charges at BAA airports? He knows that Glasgow airport recently lost a BMI service from Cardiff, and easyJet has branded Scotland's airports as far too expensive. What will he say to himself in order to address the problem?

In relation to the charges, if there is any suggestion that BAA is not acting properly, there is provision in competition law for that to be investigated. One of the reasons that low-cost airlines have been able to cut their prices so significantly is that they have driven hard bargains with airports in order to reduce landing charges—in some cases down to pretty negligible amounts.

The hon. Gentleman speaks from time to time about the need for a sustainable transport policy. There comes a point when someone somewhere must pay to renew airport infrastructure. I know, because I have spoken to just about everyone involved in the airline industry, that it is the view of some low-cost operators that that is someone else's problem. They want to drive a hard deal, and in some cases they are not interested in an airport being done up, because they are not willing to pay for the cost of that. For the long-term sustainability of air transport, we need to make sure that infrastructure is replaced and upgraded, and that must be paid for.

If the hon. Gentleman has a specific complaint about BAA airports in Scotland, I am sure the competition authorities will be happy to hear from him.

lf the consultation on the right hon. Gentleman's airport strategy should suggest that increased capacity requires a northern hub at either Manchester or Edinburgh-Glasgow, how will he speak up for Scotland's airports and advise his fellow Cabinet members as Secretary of State for Transport?

When I set up the consultation exercise in July last year, the question was not Manchester versus Edinburgh or Glasgow; the question was whether it would be possible or desirable to have a Scottish hub airport. The hon. Lady may know, although perhaps the view from Beckenham is rather different, that that has been a long-running argument in Scotland. [Interruption.] The argument in central Scotland is between Edinburgh and Glasgow, both of which are in Scotland. I do not think there is a problem there.

What I will have to decide during the course of this year, prior to publishing the White Paper at the end of it, is whether there is an argument for trying to build a hub airport in central Scotland or whether Edinburgh and Glasgow can carry on working in tandem, as they do at the moment. Frankly, that is the argument. Manchester is competing increasingly with airports in south-east England rather than Scotland, although people from Scotland use that airport because it is a very good one.


The Advocate-General was asked

Human Rights


What human rights issues have been raised with her since 20 May. [120183]

Since 20 May, I have received intimation of 28 devolution issue minutes, all of which have concerned human rights issues. They were all raised in connection with criminal proceedings and concerned a wide range of matters including pre-trial delay, actions of police officers prior to arrest and surveillance carried out before the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 came into force.

As a United Kingdom Law Officer, does the Advocate-General think that the Scottish and indeed English legal traditions are at ease with the Guantanamo Bay mentality of certain of those surrounding the President of the United States about not bringing to trial those Iraqis who have been put in custody, whatever they may have done?

I have the highest respect for both the Scottish and English legal traditions; of course, one of my jobs as Advocate-General is to explain the Scottish legal tradition to other countries. In the Adjournment debate that my hon. Friend recently secured, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), gave him some information about the situation of people who were detained. I have nothing to add.

What consideration has the Advocate-General given to the human rights implications of the treaty with the United States Government entered into by the Home Secretary and published on 21 May, which provides for extradition without prima facie evidence of any offence having been committed and is also of retrospective application? Does not that treaty raise fundamental issues about the human rights of people in Scotland who may be subject to its provisions?

I regret to inform the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, as he well knows, the consideration that I give is in private, and any advice that I give, in accordance with normal convention, is not disclosed.



What devolution issues she has considered since 20 May. [120225]


What devolution issues have been raised with her since 20 May under the Scotland Act 1998. [120226]


What devolution issues have been raised since 20 May. [120227]

All the 28 devolution issues intimated to me since 20 May have concerned human rights issues. I therefore refer the hon. Ladies to the reply I gave some moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

May I congratulate the hon. and learned Lady on retaining her post in the recent reshuffle, but express my disappointment that the part-time Secretary of State for Scotland has not remained in the Chamber to support her during questions?

I wish to revert to a subject that I have raised before: the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act 2003 and its impact on agricultural tenancies and limited partnerships in Scotland. Will the Advocate-General please urgently give her advice on this issue, which is causing severe consternation among practising lawyers throughout Scotland, and especially among those specialising in agricultural holdings? It is having a severe impact of which she might not previously have been aware. Will she address the issue urgently?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her congratulations, which I am sure are heartfelt. As far as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is concerned, as she well knows, the Law Officers are independent of all Secretaries of State, but I am sure that he is very busy.

On the substantive matter that the hon. Lady raised, I am aware that she has raised it previously and flagged up concerns, which we take into account. However, it is not my role to advise individual members of the public or solicitors about the difficulties that they might be having. Individual constituents who are having difficulties can raise the matter, and if there is any ground for challenge they can take it up.

The Government recently announced proposals for a supreme court. Can my hon. and learned Friend advise me whether she intends to consult members of the Scottish legal profession and the Civic Society in Scotland about how that court should proceed?

I regularly have informal discussions with members of the legal profession about a whole range of subjects, and I am sure that that issue will come up from time to time. The responsible Secretary of State will undertake the formal consultation and the issues will be widely canvassed. Indeed, I was encouraged by hon. Members on both sides of the House who represent Scottish constituencies to take part in that. Plainly, the supreme court is a matter of considerable interest in Scotland.

Does the Advocate-General agree with Lord Hope, the senior Scottish Law Lord, that the new supreme court would have to be distinct in all respects from the English legal system in order not to fall foul of the treaty of Union? Would this not be a timely opportunity to repatriate final jurisdiction over civil law in Scotland to Scottish courts?

There has been a long tradition of appeals from civil cases going to the House of Lords. As part of the general consultation, Lord Hope's comments will be taken into account, along with the many other comments that have been made. I will consider all the issues in due course.

Constitutional Affairs

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State was asked

Legal Aid


What recent representations the Department has received in favour of increasing legal aid payment rates for criminal law practitioners. [121035]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. David Lammy)

My Department receives representations from a variety of sources. The most recent was from the Legal Aid Practitioners Group in March.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and the rest of the ministerial team on their appointments and wish them and the Department a very successful future.

Does my hon. Friend accept that a growing number of criminal legal aid practitioners are giving up legal aid work because they cannot make it pay? More generally, is he aware of research by the Legal Services Commission showing that in as many as 2 million cases a year people with legal problems cannot find legal help? Does he share my concern that unless there is further reform and investment in the legal aid system its very viability is at stake, with the consequence for the criminal legal system that we would not have the bright, talented lawyers of the future for defence and prosecution work? If he shares that concern, what is he going to do about it?

I agree that criminal legal practitioners do a wonderful job in representing people from some of the most disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. Of course, they have raised, and continue to raise, concerns about their remuneration. My hon. Friend will understand that criminal practitioners, like many people who dedicate their lives to public service, will not receive the same amount as they would receive if they were in private practice. That is the decision that they make. He is wrong to suggest that there is a difficulty in the recruitment and retention of criminal legal practitioners. In fact, over the past few years there has been a loss of only 17 offices out of the 2,900 offices with criminal defence contracts. We continue to monitor the situation, and we are undertaking a widespread consultation on and review of legal aid to ensure that we have the best provision for the future.

Before the Minister authorises an increase in criminal law legal aid rates, will he make a real mark for himself in his new Department by organising a thorough review of the Legal Aid Board and its practices? When we live in a society in which someone who chooses to break into a house with the intention of stealing gets legal aid to bring an action for damages against the householder, has not the world gone barking mad; and is it any wonder that the general public are losing confidence in the Legal Aid Board?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the former Lord Chancellor agreed to a consultation on the supply, demand and purchase of legal aid, which began on 5 June. It will continue for some months; let us see what the outcome is.

Criminal Justice Policy


If he will make a statement on the Lord Chancellor's responsibilities in relation to criminal justice policy. [121036]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The Department for Constitutional Affairs will work closely with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to drive forward the Government's priority for reform of the criminal justice system. In respecting the authority of the courts, the Department will focus in particular on improving court performance, on reducing the number of ineffective trials, and on the better enforcement of criminal penalties, especially fines.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but I am sure that he will be aware that there is public concern about sentencing by judges. In the light of that, does he intend to set up an advisory board on the appointment of judges?

As my hon. Friend knows, we have to respect the independence of the judiciary and the decisions that it makes on individual cases. On his second point, the Government will now consult on the creation of an independent judicial appointments commission, so that we can take the selection process of the judiciary out of the hands of politicians.

That is all very well, but in the meantime, is the Lord Chancellor going to continue to appoint judges? If so, how is he going distance himself from the far more political Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs?

The allegedly far more political Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs is, indeed, the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor will continue with his obligations under the law in regard to the appointment of the judiciary until legislation is introduced to change that arrangement. There will be widespread consultation, and we envisage a consultation paper being published in the middle of July, with plenty of opportunities for all hon. Members to comment on the process.

The formation of the new Department resembles a cunning plan by the Lord Chancellor of 1075, who, as hon. Members will recall, was Baldrick. Will the Minister confirm that the new Department has no additional judicial responsibilities? In fact, it has fewer than the previous Department had, because it has lost the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Should there not be a shift of responsibility from the Home Office to the new Department in relation to sentencing and, possibly, penal matters? That would create a proper Department of Justice, which is what we were led to believe would be the function of the new Department.

I commend the hon. Gentleman on his historical research. I was not familiar with that particular point. I hope that he supports in principle the moves to create a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission. Until legislation makes changes to the arrangements, the Department for Constitutional Affairs will continue to arrange the appointments to the judiciary, to administer the courts and a number of tribunals, to provide legal aid and legal services including the criminal defence service, to promote the reform and revision of the English civil law and to raise public confidence in the court system in general. That is a big and important task.

When the former Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department on 18 April, he said that the existing arrangements were perfectly satisfactory. Will the Minister tell us whether the previous Lord Chancellor was consulted about the changes, and what conversations have taken place between him and the present Lord Chancellor?

I am aware of the exchange of correspondence between the previous Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister on these matters; that is in the public domain. The former Lord Chancellor resigned his post in that way and on amicable terms. It is important that we now focus on this crucial constitutional reform agenda, which involves reforms for a purpose, to ensure that we achieve a greater level of independence in the appointment of the judiciary and take the supreme court out of the second Chamber of Parliament. Discussions on these matters will be ongoing once we have published the consultation paper in the middle of July.

A judicial appointments commission has been set up in Scotland on a non-statutory basis. Are we to take it from what has been said today that there is no intention of doing that here, and that a judicial appointments commission on a non-statutory basis has definitely been ruled out?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Scotland already has an independent judicial appointments commission, and in Northern Ireland such a commission is in the process of being established. We feel that for England and Wales a statutory route is the best way forward, but we shall consult on the specific details of many of these matters. The right hon. Gentleman and others may want to raise questions and issues in the House.

Lord Chancellor


What consultations the Department has had on how long the title of Lord Chancellor will remain in existence. [121037]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Although there was no consultation in advance of the reshuffle, the Government recognise that creating a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission will mean abolishing the current role of the Lord Chancellor. Therefore, we will consult on these changes to ensure that the final details take full account of the constitutional importance of abolishing that post.

Will the Minister now admit that this arrogant Government have handled the whole issue of the Lord Chancellor's Department appallingly? Is not the reality that the Government have held no meaningful consultations on this issue, and given the Prime Minister's complacent answer on 19 June, they have little intention of having any proper, meaningful consultation?

I have to disabuse the hon. Gentleman of his views on this matter. We will be having a full consultation: a paper will be published on 14 July and consultation will run until, I think, November. I do not know how many members of the Conservative Opposition have been consulted on their own forthcoming reshuffle. I am looking to see if there is any reaction from their colleagues on the Front Bench. No, I do not think they know what will happen in their reshuffle. The decisions have been made, we are clear about the direction we are going for, and there will be widespread consultation.

May I congratulate the two new Ministers on the Front Bench, and remind them, as they were probably at school at the time, that they are delivering on a long-standing commitment from the 1993 Labour party conference to establish a judicial appointments commission and a supreme court? Opposition Members whinge about this being done on the back of a fag packet, as one hon. Member said, but these policies have a long and honourable provenance. Many Labour Members are delighted that they are being implemented, and look forward to the creation of a fully fledged Ministry of Justice perhaps this time next year.

I would not wish to comment on the latter part of my hon. Friend's contribution, but he has a long provenance of his own on these matters. He has written extensively on constitutional affairs, and he has long advocated many of the changes that are now moving forward. I am interested to know from Opposition Members whether they support a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission. They do not seem to have a policy.

In an answer to me on Thursday 19 June, the Prime Minister admitted that the transfer of functions from the Lord Chancellor to the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs will be completed only when the position of Lord Chancellor is abolished. When will the transfer of functions order come in, and will we have to wait 18 months until the Act of Parliament that authorises it goes through?

The Ministers of the Crown Act 1975 sets out the provisions for a transfer of functions order. We anticipate that an order will come forward quickly, and that will be done in the usual way.

In the meantime, almost all the matters that the Minister has dealt with raise serious questions about the amount of money that will be made available and the accountability of the Minister and his colleague to answer those questions in the House. How can he justify answering questions on matters for which he is not directly accountable when there has been no transfer of statutory functions to him?

I can do no more than appear before the House and account for the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is what my hon. Friend and I are doing today. We are open to be questioned on any of these matters, and we shall continue to answer those questions.

Courthouse (Colchester)


If he will make a statement on progress with proposals for a new courthouse in Colchester. [121038]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. David Lammy)

It is anticipated that a new courthouse in Colchester will be ready for use during 2007. Work is now in progress on the outline business case for the public-private partnership contract.

The Minister will be aware from the detailed briefing that we have been banging on about that matter for four or five years. We have had delay, dither, delay and dither. We have been promised that the private finance initiative will deliver a new courthouse speedily. Will he confirm that another year was wasted because his Department, whatever it was called in those days, spent a year trying to resolve whether Grays Thurrock court should close? That has caused delay across Essex.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is about courthouses in the entirety of Essex. There has been a debate about whether Grays Thurrock court should close but a new, fit-for-the-purpose courthouse in Colchester is on the way by 2007. I think that the people of Colchester will thank the Government for giving them that by 2007.

Scotland Office


What the status is of the Scotland Office within the Department for Constitutional Affairs; and if he will make a statement. [121039]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

Staff in the Scotland Office retain their separate identity within the Department for Constitutional Affairs. They are accountable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for their decisions and actions on policy matters in the normal way.

In that case, where has the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mrs. McGuire), gone? She went precisely at the moment when she could have explained to the House whether the Department still exists, as claimed by the Leader of the House, or whether it is an empty shell, as is patently obvious to everyone else. Lord Hope of Craighead has suggested that a Blairite constitutional court could contravene the treaty of Union. Do the Government have a policy on that? Are they going to restore the final court of appeal for civil matters to Scotland, as is already the case for criminal matters? What is the Government's policy on those Scottish matters and where is the Under-Secretary of State?

I seem to recall that, about half an hour ago, the Under-Secretary of State was answering Scottish questions. Indeed, she continues to work with the Secretary of State for Scotland on Scottish policy matters. She has just answered those questions and will continue to do so in the normal way. She is responsible and accountable in that respect.

In terms of the supreme court, some of those questions will obviously be at the centre of the consultation paper that will be published on 14 July. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman's comments in that respect.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that answer, I give notice that I intend to raise the matter on a motion for the Adjournment.

House Of Lords Reform


When the Government will respond to the Second Report from the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform. [121040]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

We aim to reply to the second report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform shortly.

Following the very welcome changes to the constitution that the Government have made recently, I hope that my hon. Friend will ensure that we can debate the Joint Committee's report, because there is a real opportunity for both Houses to move forward on constitutional change. While I am not looking for further debates on Putney heath à la 400 years ago, there are significant changes to be made and the House of Lords could start by electing their own Speaker, instead of having its Speaker appointed by the Government. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, would not like the Government to appoint you in this House and we should not accept it in the second Chamber either.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Conservative party seems keen to defend the appointment of the speakership of the House of Lords by the Prime Minister, which is a rather curious policy to advocate and to put in its future manifesto. I have read the Joint Committee's second report. As I say, we will respond in due course. Some important issues are raised in that but the Joint Committee recognised, not least in respect of the votes in this House on 4 February, that there has not been a massive amount of clarity: hon. Members declined to back any option, whether fully appointed, fully elected or a mixture of the two.

Can the Minister explain why the Government have failed to deliver on an elected House of Lords, which was in their manifesto, but have managed to abolish the office of the Lord Chancellor, which was not in their manifesto? Do they just make it up as they go along?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is advocating the return of the hereditary peerage to the second Chamber. He may not have noticed, but this Government have got rid of the bulk of hereditary peers from the second Chamber. That was a radical step forward and we will continue radically to reform the constitution in the manner set out in the reshuffle.

Now that the Government are very wisely taking the Law Lords out of the House of Lords, could they advance one further step and remove the bishops as well, even if the bishops have in recent days been trying to make themselves a little more representative of the general public?

I cannot say that we have published specific plans in that respect as yet. We will respond to the second report of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform, but the creation of a supreme court and an independent judicial appointments commission gives us a number of great opportunities to look at some of these issues in the round.

Judicial Appointments


What the Lord Chancellor's functions are in respect of the appointment of judges. [121041]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
(Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The responsibility of the Lord Chancellor in advising Her Majesty and the Prime Minister on senior judicial appointments, and in making other judicial appointments himself, will continue in exactly the same way as before, until a new independent judicial appointments commission is created by legislation.

Given that there seems to be little evidence—or little evidence that the Government have produced, at least—to suggest problems with the existing system, and given that there is no evidence whatsoever of consultation before the changes were announced, what were the terms of reference that guided the changes, and how long will the transition take in respect of the transitional post occupied by this reluctant post-holder? Is it not true that this is about not the separation of powers, but the concentration of power in the hands of the Prime Minister and a few of his acolytes? This is not so much serious constitutional reform as a soap opera: not "Neighbours" and not even "Friends", but "flatmates".

That was a very well rehearsed question, but we believe that it is important to take the judiciary selection process out of the hands of politicians. We are going to consult widely on the details, and a document will be published on 14 July. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that he wishes to retain the current system—[Interruption.] He appears not to be saying either way, but if that is his wish he is perfectly free to write in to the consultation.

House Of Commons

The Leader of the House was asked



To ask the Leader of the House if he will make a statement on progress with the arrangements for programming of Bills. [121027]

The Government believe that the arrangements for the programming of Bills are broadly satisfactory. It is in the interests of both sides of the House to agree a sensible programme for consideration of Bills.

On behalf of the whole House, I ask the new Leader of the House—I wish him well in his new responsibilities—whether it is right that a programme motion that is decided by the Government without consultation or debate should take place immediately after the vote on Second Reading of a Bill. Although I believe it right that the Government should decide the out-date from Standing Committee, does he not agree that it would be better for the whole House, and for its integrity and reputation, if such matters were discussed under the independent Chairman of the Standing Committee by the Programming Sub-Committee of that Committee? That way, all matters could be discussed and the Opposition parties could have a real input into what they wish to debate in Committee.

May I first acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's long and admirable record on these matters, especially in his role as Chairman of the Procedure Committee? I should like to discuss those matters with him, and I recognise the points that he makes. Programming is obviously vital—no one in the House seriously challenges that view. [Interruption.] Apparently, the shadow Leader of the House does, but then he has not been willing to engage the Opposition co-operatively in discussions on establishing programmes that are acceptable to all sides. However, I shall look into the issue that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) raises.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new post, but does he recognise that there have been problems with, and shortcomings in, the programming of Bills? For instance, certain key clauses in the Licensing Bill, which had its Third Reading in the House of Commons only a few days ago, were not debated and therefore not voted on. We must deal with such shortcomings; otherwise, they will become increasingly glaring.

Obviously, as the process develops and becomes more refined by agreement of the House, those issues will have to be examined.

We welcome the fact that the Leader of the House is prepared to think afresh about these issues, and I encourage him to be radical in examining ways in which the business of the House can be managed more intelligently. Will he give the House a cast-iron guarantee that, if he produces radical proposals, he will not on this occasion be mugged, gagged and forced to recant by the heavies from No. 10 and No. 11 Downing street? If the Liberal Democrat proposals for improving the income tax regime are still to the Leader of the House's taste, will he also examine our proposals for improving the business of the House?

Being mugged by the hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, be a taxing experience. As to his question, it is for the Modernisation Committee to examine, but I will obviously want to take part in that discussion.

Pre-Legislative Scrutiny


What discussions he has had with Government Departments and others to ensure that all Bills in the next Session will be available for pre-legislative scrutiny. [121029]

The Government are committed to increasing the number of Bills that are published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny, and we are working hard to achieve that. Five Bills have been published in draft this Session so far, and more will follow.

Following the demise of my right hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), some of the steam has gone out of the desire for pre-legislative scrutiny. Will the Leader of the House ensure that Chairs of Select Committees and Departments bring forward Bills for pre-legislative discussion? In particular, will he examine the draft constitution of the European Union and ensure that it is put before the House for pre-legislative scrutiny in draft form—not after it has been agreed at the IGC, when we will be faced with a simple yes or no? The people of Britain and hon. Members deserve to be involved in discussing and revising the draft EU constitution, and not be presented with a fait accompli.

On the general principle, five draft Bills have already been published this Session, and four more are to follow, which makes nine in comparison with six during the last Session. On my hon. Friend's substantive point, I acknowledge his creative and innovative ideas and I will want to examine them. Let us pause for moment and look at the process ahead of us. The IGC is about to start, following the conclusion of the European Convention. It will probably start in the autumn and could take a year. Meanwhile, we have an agreement with the European Scrutiny Committee and we have deposited for scrutiny the Praesidium draft texts and produced explanatory memorandums. Members of Parliament have had many opportunities to debate the proposed constitution and there will be future opportunities: indeed, I shall make a further announcement shortly.

The junior Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs confirmed a few minutes ago that setting up an appointments commission would require legislation. Can the tax-raising Leader of the House please confirm that any appointments commission would be fully and statutorily independent of the Home Secretary; that the Home Secretary would have no direct or indirect role in the appointment of judges under such legislation; and that the legislation can be guaranteed pre-legislative scrutiny of the sort that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) mentioned? Would any Bill to set up a supreme court also have full pre-legislative scrutiny? I hope that the part-time Leader of the House can confirm those matters.

I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is singling out the Home Secretary, which, frankly, seems a bit unfair. However, the objective is to establish an independent procedure, which is what it says. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, and as made clear by the Lord Chancellor, a consultation paper on all these matters will be published on 14 July. At that point, the right hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members will have the opportunity to consider how to proceed. I would have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome both the consultation and the legislation to follow.

While I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post, may I ask for his assurance that the draft Disability Bill will enjoy the widest possible consultation? Will that consultation include the need for a single equality Act—necessary if we are to pursue the policy of amalgamating the various commissions, including the Disability Rights Commission?

I acknowledge my right hon. Friend's long interest in and expertise on disability matters. We hope to publish the Bill by the end of the year and it will obviously be a candidate for pre-legislative scrutiny, subject to further consideration.

House Of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked



To ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps he is taking to improve the mechanisms for accountability of the Commission to the House. [121030]

The Commission makes considerable efforts to be open and accountable. I answer both written and oral questions, and the Commission's annual report contains full information about the work, performance and plans of the House's administration. The House may like to know that the latest edition, in a revised and improved format, will be published in a fortnight's time. It is not quite Harry Potter, but it will repay careful study.

In recent months, the Commission has also introduced pages on the parliamentary website describing its role and work, and it now also publishes its minutes on the internet. The Commission is financially accountable through the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee. Finally, the Commission is supported and advised by six Committees of right hon. and hon. Members, who represent the interests of Members generally and act as a channel for their views.

I am grateful for that long answer from my hon. Friend, who has a good record on freedom of information, so I do not doubt his commitment to the accountability of the Commission. However, does he accept that the way in which the House administration is organised, with its myriad Committees—Broadcasting, Catering, Accommodation and Works, and so on—obscures accountability? Would not it be more sensible if the House managed itself in a way that reduced the number of Committees?

We are always interested in Members' views on how we might reform the system that we use to administer the House. The consultation involved in the six existing Committees that sit under the Commission is a sophisticated and sensitive method of consultation that hon. Members have used to great effect in the past. I would be reluctant to change that unless there was a real reason for doing so.

House Of Commons

The Leader of the House was asked

It Equipment


To ask the Leader of the House what plans he has to widen the standard range of IT equipment made available to hon. Members and their staff in constituency offices. [121031]

Mr Speaker's Advisory Panel on the Members' Allowances keeps the level of provision under review. As hon. Members will know, the Information Committee provides advice on the equipment available. If my hon. Friend has suggestions, the best way forward might be to submit them to the Information Committee or the Advisory Panel.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. In my six years as a Member of Parliament, the volume, range and complexity of data that floods through the average constituency office has increased to such a degree that we need improved facilities. In particular, we would benefit from the wider availability of broadband, as well as the increasing use of video facilities and equipment. Both are essential for modern parliamentarians.

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. The House may be interested to know that the Information Committee is at present reviewing the equipment provided to take on board some of the points that he has made. All hon. Members will recognise that the complexity of the information technology that is available can improve the service that we give to our constituents. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is committed to doing exactly that.

Windsor Castle

12.33 pm

With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the serious breach of security at Windsor castle last Saturday evening, 21 June. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has already apologised personally to the royal family and, on behalf of the Government and the House, I too offer my deep regret to Her Majesty and the royal family for the events of Saturday evening.

Yesterday afternoon, I received a six-page report from the commissioner. It is a preliminary report, which I have discussed with the commissioner this morning. A further detailed review has already been set in train. However, it may help the House if I summarise the chronology of events in the report.

At 8 pm, Aaron Barschak appeared at the main entrance of Windsor castle. He was refused entry by the police and, following an impromptu public comic turn, was asked to move on.

At about 10 pm, Mr. Barschak entered the castle grounds at Chapter mews. He climbed a steep bank, scaled a tree and leaped across on to the castle wall. From here, he climbed to the north terrace.

As he advanced along the north terrace, he was challenged by a contractor. By this time he had changed into fancy dress.

Actually, this matter is quite serious.

Mr. Barschak presented as being slightly drunk and said that he was a party guest who had lost his way. The contractor escorted him to one of the side entrances to the castle, where a police officer was on duty. The police officer, who had to remain at his post, asked the contractor to take Mr. Barschak to the main entrance to the party. There was no further challenge from either the police or other staff controlling access to the party. Mr. Barschak was able to get unacceptably close to Prince William.

We do not have confirmation of that.

Having appeared at the prince's side, Mr. Barschak then made his way to the bar, where a member of the castle staff challenged him. He was handed over to the police and subsequently arrested. Following interview and investigation by the police, which is still continuing, Mr. Barschak was released on bail.

I am sure that the House will appreciate that I have to be very careful, in commenting on the incident, to ensure that I do not prejudice any possible police action against Mr. Barschak. Nevertheless, his actions have exposed an appalling failure in the security at Windsor castle, which simply should not have happened. I know that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis agrees with this view.

I am determined that lessons should be learned from this incident. A detailed police inquiry is being conducted by a senior officer, Commander Frank Armstrong of the City of London police. The report of that investigation will determine conclusively what went wrong on the night, and whether disciplinary action needs to be taken. That report will be available within the next four weeks. It is my intention, in consultation with Sir John Stevens, to publish the report.

However, neither the police nor I are awaiting that report before considering what further security measures need to be taken. This is the subject of the most urgent work with the royal household by the Metropolitan police and my officials.

My particular concern is that this very serious breach of security occurred despite there being extensive security and surveillance measures already in place at Windsor castle. Further work has been carried out over the past few months, and more is planned for the autumn. Security at all royal residences remains under constant review, but at this stage we have no reason to believe there were any technical failures at Windsor on Saturday night.

Assistant Commissioner David Veness of the Metropolitan police has made it clear that the events of Saturday night are wholly unacceptable, and I share that view. That is why, within the confines of the inquiry and possible further police action, I have sought today to give the House a picture of those events.

I want to assure the House that we will work with the police and the royal household to ensure that lessons can be learned from this event that can only improve the security of the royal family for the future. I know that the whole House will share that objective.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his statement and for giving me early sight of it, although that conventional courtesy was perhaps less important than usual as we have all read it in the press.

I take this opportunity to repeat in the House what I have already said outside: we are not aiming to decapitate the Home Secretary or anyone else. Our purpose in considering the statement and the events to which it refers should be to learn the lessons and improve the systems of protection rather than to satisfy any political or administrative bloodlust.

It is clear that the system failed. If there was human failure, as the Home Secretary seems to imply, that is not a sufficient explanation, because human beings do fail; the point of systems is to make up for their failings, to ensure that the outcome is good even when things go wrong on the way.

The House, and, I hope, the Government, will not want to focus solely on the immediate lessons and the immediate questions. There are also wider lessons. This episode and the systemic failure that it represents is an important metaphor for wider systemic failure. Faced with the current terrorist threat, Whitehall is doing many of the right things, but it is doing them far too lethargically. I have recently seen a letter from the emergency planning officer of a county council. It is one of a number of similar communications that I have received from emergency planners around the country over the past 18 months.

In the letter, that senior official tells us:
"In respect of measures to assist in dealing with … the chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear threat … the time this is taking to implement across the country is a cause for concern".
Is not the real lesson, the biggest lesson of this latest lamentable episode, that, as I have been saying for more than a year, the required sense of urgency is missing? Is not this latest episode a wake-up call?

It is all very well—indeed, it is very well—for the Home Secretary to ask for a report from the commissioner after the episode, but can he tell us whether he asked for reports on the progressive improvement of royal security in each of the last 18 months? I suspect that the Home Secretary and his colleagues would regard that question as naive. I suspect they think that I do not understand how busy he is; but the point is that I do understand how busy he is.

The Home Secretary is too busy—too busy to wake up each morning and to go to bed each evening worrying exclusively about the systems of civil protection in this country. Given the present level of threat, constantly emphasised by the right hon. Gentleman and by the Prime Minister, and recently re-emphasised by the head of MI5, and given the current deficiencies in our systems of civil protection, all too glaringly illustrated by the recent episode, we need a heavyweight political figure who can spend morning, noon and night worrying about those matters, and harassing the various agencies.

Before the Home Secretary retorts that a new Department will not help, let me restate, as I have on numerous occasions over the past 18 months, that I do not believe that a new Department is required. What is required is, rather, a centre of energy in the form of a senior Minister, spending his or her whole time energising those responsible for civil protection in Britain.

Such a Minister could be located within the Cabinet Office or within the Home Office itself, a Department which, I remind the Home Secretary—[Interruption.]—and the Chief Whip, who is muttering from a sedentary position—[HoN. MEMBERS: "As usual".] For three long months, under their aegis, the Department did not even have a Minister with part-time responsibility for those matters.

Will the Home Secretary, for our safety and for his peace of mind, take the opportunity of this episode to consider afresh what is genuinely intended as a constructive way forward?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that there is no bloodlust. We all share the view that, if lessons are to be learned, we should move quickly to put things right. We also share his view that systemic failure occurred on this occasion.

I have already made it clear that the technology that was put in place did not fail, so there was clearly a failure in the systems for checking; there was human error and a failure to respond to particular indications of intrusion and to ensure that after the initial checks had been made, continuing identity checks were made in the castle itself. All those lessons will be learned.

Let me deal with the substantive issue—what the right hon. Gentleman described as a metaphor. Were the emergency planning officers right to believe that, if it has taken time to deal with the very substantive chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat and if undue time has been taken to put in place the tens of millions of pounds that we are now spending to counteract that threat, there is a read-over to this event and therefore that urgency of action was the cause of the failure as well as not having a security tsar in the Cabinet, separate from the Minister responsible for counter-terrorism and policing, including MI5, S013 and S014 and the wider special branch? That is the issue that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this afternoon.

The right hon. Gentleman asks whether we have we taken steps over 18 months to secure the royal family. Yes, we have. At every royal palace, major work has been and continues to be undertaken, including at Windsor castle. When the report comes out, the steps taken, the technology available and the surveillance already in place will be spelt out, along with the detailed investigation of the failures. [Interruption.] The shadow Leader of the House rightly, almost perceptively, says from a sedentary position that it did not work. Well, self-evidently, it did not work; otherwise, I would not be reporting to the House.

Self-evidently, no matter how busy I have been, I was not there on Saturday night to oversee the events, even though, as Prince Andrew said to me last night, I would have been very welcome. I was attending an event that the shadow Home Secretary also attended. However, if I had been very welcome—let us get this clear—I would not have been operationally responsible for what took place at Windsor, not just because it would not have been correct for me to do so, but because Opposition Members have been berating me for the past two years for taking any step to have any operational responsibility for police activity. They can only have it one way: either I am operationally responsible, or a security tsar would be; or the police are operationally responsible, so long as we as a Government have put in place the resources, the available support and the mechanisms to ensure that they do their job properly.

Let me deal with the final issue. If there had been a security tsar in the Cabinet and I had been sitting next to him while he made this statement, would it have changed the situation? Would it have avoided the event? Would we be more secure? Would it have helped or hindered to have taken out of the hands of the Home Secretary responsibility for the general issue, but not the responsibility to hold to account the operational special branch and policing mechanisms, including S014, which is responsible for royal security? Would it have made a difference if a separate person was answering those questions, or badgering me or the police about what they are doing separately from the duty that I would have to carry out in being in charge and accountable for MI5 and special branch? The answer is patently no. If someone else were trying to do my job for me separately, and answering for me separately while I sat next to him, the accountable lines of responsibility would be muddled. The police, including the commissioner, would not be clear to whom they were accountable and the discussions this morning would inevitably have been with both of us and the report would have to come to both of us.

In the end, these are the questions that have to be answered: did we do our bit of the job correctly? Have other people done their jobs correctly? Whom do we hold to account for the failures? How do we learn the lessons? It does not matter what silly party politics are made of this; those are the questions. We will have the answers within a month and, if someone else energising himself by rushing around triple checking the arrangements put in place and ensuring that personal and systemic failures do not occur would make any difference, I would recommend to the Prime Minister that it be done, but we have either overall charge of the system, or operational responsibility. We cannot have both.

Happily, the uninvited guest at the castle on Saturday night was clearly social and self-promotional rather than antisocial and considerably worse, for which we are grateful. I am not going to ask the Home Secretary about civil defence, as it seems to me that that is a matter for another day. I have a couple of straightforward questions.

Can the Home Secretary confirm that the opportunity will be taken of the event on Saturday night to review the security of all the key institutions of state: the homes and offices of the key members of the royal family, the Parliaments and Governments of the United Kingdom, and the courts of the United Kingdom, all of which need to be secure and safe? Can he confirm that the one crucial thing that appears to have failed on Saturday night, and that clearly failed 20 years ago, is that the perimeter boundaries were not adequately policed, either in person or technologically? Surely that is easy to do technologically, which is the priority in all the key institutions to which I have referred. Lastly, to get the lines of accountability right—he is right to say that he does not have, as he should not have, direct accountability—when the royal family are outside London, who are in charge; is it the diplomatic and royal protection force of the Metropolitan police or the local territorial police? In cases such as this, which of those two takes responsibility or do they share it?

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. Gentleman has posed his questions. On the latter point, the local force has responsibility outside the perimeter. That is very clear, and that was the case with Thames Valley police outside the perimeter of Windsor castle. The Metropolitan police royal protection branch has responsibility inside the grounds, in conjunction with the royal family and their staff. It is important to bear in mind that we are talking about a family and decisions taken by them in relation to the level of surveillance and the avoidance of intrusion, particularly when there are invited guests and it is a family event. People have spoken in the past 48 hours as if the royal family should have no say in this and should have expected a degree of intrusion, which would have been unacceptable to them.

On the two other questions raised by the hon. Gentleman, it is absolutely imperative that we have the proper level of security elsewhere, and Members are aware that we have been doing that both at No. 10 Downing street and around the Palace of Westminster over recent months. It is critical that we learn the lessons. I ought to make it clear to the House that there was and is electronic surveillance of the highest order. There is a suggestion, as there was a moment or two ago, that some of us are so busy that we do not have a clue about what is going on or about the necessary use of technology or surveillance. We are talking about whether that technology was used effectively, whether the indications from it were picked up, and whether they were acted on. That is why this important detailed review by Commander Armstrong will have to deliver to us not just the answers to the immediate questions but the way forward in making sure that the failures do not happen again.

We are all relieved that nothing terrible happened at Windsor. What is the cost, however, of policing these royal events? We are not talking about any old royal event, but a fancy dress party. If football clubs in north-east Lancashire or agricultural shows in my constituency are charged for the cost of policing such events, is it not right that the royal family or invited guests to royal fancy dress dos reimburse the police for the extra cost of this additional security?

Arrangements are in place to deal with what falls as a private cost and what falls to the public purse in terms of security for those in the public eye. What I say to my hon. Friend is that we must have a sense of proportion. It is nice for a young man to have a 21st birthday party and to be able to do so in safety.

While this was clearly a serious incident with potentially disastrous consequences, I put it to the Home Secretary that my constituents who live near Windsor, who have a great affection for the royal family, have always enjoyed a close informality, as was seen last week with the Garter parade, which has ensured a close relationship between the local population and the royal family. While probably introducing new security measures, I urge him not to do so in a way that means that the royal family and the public do not have close contact. If that happens, as with Members of Parliament at Westminster, the terrorists win.

It is precisely because of the wish of the royal family to maintain that informality, for the reasons that have just been enunciated, that the lighter-touch approach was agreed. Because in this country we have an agreement with the individual rather than one imposed by the security forces, as happens elsewhere, including across the Atlantic, there is a choice for those of us who have security, including the royal family, in relation to the level and intensity of that security. Many choose to ensure that they can continue living something of a life. That is a very important point. The events of Saturday night mean, inevitably, as there will rightly be a public demand for it, a tightening, but that must be with the agreement of the royal family, and it is at a cost to all of us in terms of the way that we live our lives.

In looking at measures to ensure that the security lapses on Saturday night do not happen again, will the Home Secretary assure the House and my constituents—who today are facing up to the fact that there is not a single ward officer in Lambeth, as they have all been sent up to guard President Putin—that in relation to any extra resources that go into security and terrorism, London boroughs that have many officers taken away on a day-to-day basis are given extra officers? There must be a balance to that, because if it is to go on for some time, it will affect the well-being of ordinary constituents who do not want their privacy invaded by burglaries.

As we have said on numerous occasions to my hon. Friend and others, that is precisely the reason why we have put £62 million extra into the Metropolitan police this year, that several hundred community support officers have been employed to ensure that displacement does not take place, and that we have ensured that the 200 officers who have been displaced, as I said at the last Home Office questions, do not disproportionately affect other boroughs. These are big issues, and all of us need to ensure that the displacement factor does not affect general policing.

Will the Home Secretary acknowledge the potential catastrophic consequences of what could have taken place last Saturday had the intruder been a suicide bomber rather than a comedian? Will he therefore ensure that a thorough and urgent review of security takes place in all royal palaces, not just Windsor castle, and including the Palace of Westminster?

Of course, the review of royal palaces has already taken place. The measures that I was mentioning a moment ago have already been put in place. The review by Commander Armstrong will deal with the failure to be able to use the measures already available and any lessons learned in terms of additional measures that might be required, including here. As was mentioned earlier, as hon. Members and bearing in mind the operation of the House, we must balance security for ourselves against the access that the public rightly demand and the availability and visibility of those whom they hold to account.

My right hon. Friend will be fully aware that everyone in the country wishes him well in his duties, particularly with regard to security. I am delighted that he is so up to date with electronic information and the methods used in security today. He is certainly aware, however, that the report could show that there was no human error or failing, and that the system was just not knitted together well enough. That could happen on any occasion. Security is not just about putting extra bodies in place: it is about utilisation and the experience and training that those officers receive. When he reads the report, will he please take note of the fact that in this country we have a long tradition of civil liberties, and that more security could easily mean more repression? Will he ensure that we continue to enjoy our civil liberties and the quality of life that we have had for centuries?

That balance is absolutely crucial. I want to make it clear that I have already acknowledged, as the Commissioner has acknowledged, that there was substantial failure and that it was not a simple matter of people not lining up the individual reaction with the technology. Those failures will be revealed. I have indicated that we will publish the report and do something about it, and then people will be aware of whether other changes will be needed consequent on that report.

In a previous life I spent a great deal of time guarding Windsor castle, so I know its perimeter quite well. It is a huge tourist attraction, as well as a major building with a large perimeter, that is set in a beautiful home park that is also open to the public. The Home Secretary has already spoken about balance. Will he reaffirm the fact that we do not want to see our royal family behind rolls of razor wire? Given the serious lapse of security, will he confirm that the best weapon is the vigilance of the general public? That is partly a question of educating the general public that some clown in a dress is not just a gatecrasher and could, in fact, be a serious threat to the royal family and, indeed, our whole democracy.

I think we have already acknowledged that. In the final analysis of Saturday night, apart from the failures that we have indicated existed, the difficulty was that it was a fancy-dress party. That is a lesson if ever there was one.

The last decade has seen a continued expansion of the role and responsibilities of private security firms. Will the inquiry that the Home Secretary announced examine in particular the way in which they carried out their duties, which are often considered to be down to a price, not up to a standard? Will he be able to tell the nation that no obsession with out-sourcing has imperilled the security of the royal family?

I can absolutely give an assurance on that because there was not a failure by private security companies. Contractors dealing with power and other provisions were involved, which are entirely different from companies responsible for security.

The Home Secretary outlined a serious security breach but, at the same time, the situation was almost like comic opera or something from the Ali G show. He outlined the operational responsibilities of the Metropolitan police, but will he tell the House his exact responsibility as Home Secretary? He gave the impression that it was rather an administrative responsibility relating to the allocation of resources.

I did not suggest that there was an administrative failure. There was a clear failure on the ground of people doing the job expected, as I am sure the review will conclude. However, it will do so by taking account of highly complicated issues such as the role of individuals, the use of technology and communications that took place on the night. There will be an important learning curve.

The Home Secretary's role is to ensure that resources are available and that the right questions are asked prior to the installation of further security and surveillance measures at the royal palaces. Any failure at a political level will be reported in the review and I shall happily take the rap for anything for which I can duly be expected to carry responsibility, bearing in mind the case that previous Home Secretaries were directly responsible for the Metropolitan police, which has not been the case for the past six years.

Does the right hon. Gentleman understand my concern about suggestions in the press that heads must roll over the incident? Does he agree that officers should be required to resign only if it can be said sensibly that they were personally guilty of real culpability or default, and that simply seeking a scalp would be wholly inappropriate and unjust?

I made it clear that there should be no scapegoats and I said to Sir John Stevens this morning that it was very important that no one—especially at a lowly level—should lose their job because of wider failures to do and manage the job better higher up the hierarchy.

In light of this seriously embarrassing failure, has the Home Secretary reviewed the security arrangements for President Putin's visit to this country this week? Furthermore, what impact does he expect the breach of security at Windsor castle to have on the proposed visit by President Bush later in the year? Does he expect the Americans to revisit their plans for the President to stay at the castle in the light of the Home Secretary's inability to provide adequate security?

I have discussed the Putin visit this week with David Veness—some of us obviously have a personal interest in the security this afternoon because we will be at the event. Despite the pressures on me, I am entirely on board with this. I promise that if there is a fancy-dress ball when President Bush is at Windsor, we shall take every step to avoid anyone kissing him.

The Home Secretary has alluded to this point, but surely one of the extra challenges facing the police and royal protection officers on the night was the large number of extra contractors, caterers, waiters and waitresses who were employed in the place of existing household staff. Does he agree that one of the lessons to be learned is that, whenever possible, royal household staff rather than outside contractors should be used to carry out such functions?

The answer is yes, but it is entirely a matter for the royal household. I said earlier that unlike other countries we do not impose activities on individuals—including members of the royal family—that they are not prepared to accept even in the interests of security. We have to negotiate such matters on all occasions. The same is true when people are used for other contracted arrangements for such parties.


1.5 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the White Paper on genetics and health care that we are publishing today. The paper, "Our Inheritance, Our Future—Realising the potential of genetics in the NHS", is available from the Vote Office.

Today's White Paper could not be published at a more appropriate time. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication by Francis Crick and James Watson of the structure of DNA. I begin by paying tribute to their work. DNA is the molecule of life from which our genes are made. The discovery of its double-helix structure set the stage for 50 years of world-changing genetic advances. It has allowed scientists to decode the human genome and to identify and sequence all the 30,000 or so genes that each of us carry in every cell of our body. This gigantic task was completed earlier this year. The UK has played a leading role in this ambitious international project, with a third of the genome being mapped at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge.

Increasing understanding of genetics will bring more accurate diagnosis; more personalised prediction of risk; new gene-based drugs and therapies; and better targeted prevention and treatment. In time we should be able to assess the risk that an individual has of developing the country's biggest killers—cancer and coronary heart disease—as well as diseases such as diabetes that limit people's lives. We will also learn more about how variations in our genes affect the way we respond to medicines. Further down the line, genetics will lead to the development of new therapies aimed not only at treating disease in novel ways but at preventing it.

Thus, genetics has the potential to bring immense benefits for patients. Above all, genetics promises a more personalised approach to health care with interventions tailored to each person's own genetic profile. This science, therefore, encourages us to develop the personalised NHS suitable for the 21st century that the Government are committed to creating. Our vision is for the NHS to lead the world in taking maximum advantage of the safe, effective and ethical application of the new genetic knowledge and technologies for all patients as soon as they become available. The vision calls for an integrated strategy that will support the generation of new knowledge and technologies, further develop centres of excellence in the NHS and facilitate the roll-out of genetics into all NHS services; and all within the context of a rigorous regulatory framework and greater public understanding and engagement. The White Paper sets out how that will be achieved.

I believe that no other health care system in the world is better placed to harness the potential of genetic advances than the national health service. The values on which the NHS is based—providing care for all free at the point of use on the basis of need, not the ability to pay—are uniquely suited to capturing the benefits of the genetics revolution. They provide a bulwark against the inequalities of private insurance-based health systems in which the prospect of a genetic super-class of the well and insurable and a genetic underclass of the unwell and uninsurable, unable to pay the premiums for medical care, is for many a very real threat.

Our NHS means that citizens in the UK can choose to take genetic tests free from the fear that should they test positive, they will face an enormous bill for treatment or insurance, or become priced out of care or cover altogether. Already in the United States of America, where 40 million people have no medical cover, developments in genetics have stirred precisely those concerns. As our understanding of genetics increases, the case for private health insurance as an alternative to the NHS weakens. Thus scientific advance increasingly underpins the moral values that have long lain at the heart of our national health service.

I am today announcing that over the next three years the Government will invest an additional £50 million in England in developing genetics knowledge, skills and provision within the NHS. The White Paper that we are publishing today sets out detailed plans of how that money will be spent. The first step is to boost the capacity of NHS genetics centres. We will spend £18 million on a major programme to upgrade genetics laboratories and will expand the specialist genetics work force with initiatives and investment to increase the number of laboratory scientists and genetics counsellors.

For patients to gain the maximum benefit from genetics, genetics knowledge and technologies will need to permeate the whole of the NHS. So we will spur the take-up of genetics by other specialties by spending more than £7 million to support new genetics initiatives in primary care and mainstream NHS services, such as cancer and coronary heart disease. We will set up a new genetics education and training centre that will work with the professional bodies to ensure that all NHS health care staff receive appropriate education and training in genetics.

The White Paper also sets out our intention to fund further research to help convert genetic discoveries into improved patient care. We will invest £4 million in pharmacogenetic research on existing medicines and set up a new chair and university department in pharmacogenetics.

The most common inheritable single-gene disorder in this country is cystic fibrosis. There are 7,500 children and young adults with this distressing condition in the UK. There is no cure and sufferers rarely survive beyond their 20s. Thus we will provide a further £2.5 million over the next five years to help find a gene therapy cure for cystic fibrosis. We will make available a further £3 million to support gene therapy research on other single-gene disorders and an additional £4 million on gene therapy production facilities for NHS and other public sector researchers. But realising the maximum health benefits of genetics will require more than just support and investment in NHS services and research. It can only be achieved if breakthroughs by the scientific community are matched by public support and understanding in the wider community.

Against a background of great promise, we recognise that genetic advances bring very real ethical and social concerns. We are committed to providing positive safeguards to address those concerns. We have in place an integrated and robust system of regulation. We have already taken action by introducing a moratorium on the use of genetic test results by insurance companies and we have passed legislation to ban human reproductive cloning—one of the few countries in the world to have done so and the first to introduce specific legislation to that end.

Above all, the Government are committed to ensuring openness and transparency in genetic policy making. In 1999 we set up the Human Genetics Commission, which last year produced a major report on the use of personal genetic information. It identified the growing danger of DNA theft whereby sensitive information about a person could be gained by stealing their DNA from, for example, discarded hair, which is then tested without their knowledge or consent. The commission recommended that that should be illegal. I am able to announce that the Government have accepted that recommendation. We will introduce legislation to make it an offence to test a person's DNA without their consent. The new offence will apply in all circumstances except as part of a person's medical treatment where consent is impossible to obtain or the lawful use by the police and courts.

A core ethical principle in the HGC's report is that no one should be unfairly discriminated against on the basis of their genetic characteristics. The Government wholeheartedly endorse that principle. We accept the HGC's recommendation to review the evidence and to consider the appropriate means of addressing concerns in this area. Thus by accepting the two key recommendations of the Human Genetics Commission, I hope that I have demonstrated the Government's willingness to engage in a genuine dialogue on genetics issues. We need not fear genetic advances if we debate the issues openly and put in place the proper public protections today.

We are standing on the threshold of a revolution in health care. By working together, by building on our strengths, by making the necessary investment and careful preparation now, I believe that genetics can deliver real and lasting benefits in health and health care for all of us and everyone in this country. I commend the White Paper to the House.

I welcome the Secretary of State to his position and wholeheartedly wish him the health to enjoy his job, which I think all hon. Members would agree is one of the most difficult in the Government. I also thank him for making the statement available in record early time. That is most welcome.

Conservative Members welcome the White Paper and its contents and look forward to the proposals appearing in legislation. I welcome the expansion of genetic services having done some of my medical training at the Du Pont genetic centre in Wilmington, Delaware and look forward to the time when our facilities are up to that standard. It is also worth pointing out that genomic solutions are not necessarily expensive. In fact, if properly applied they may lead us to make better use of the resources that we have.

We welcome the proposals to deal with DNA theft and the need to maintain public confidence. We support the Government's view of the need to avoid discrimination against people on the basis of genetic characteristics and will examine detailed proposals for legislation constructively. We will, of course, support any increased research into cystic fibrosis.

However, in welcoming the White Paper as a whole, there are a number of caveats. We must not over-hype what genetics can do, especially in the short and medium terms. The technologies are emerging and are at an early stage. The full potential is not yet known. The mapping of the human genome does not mean that we know the function of all genes. The Secretary of State mentioned the ability to prevent disease. That will always be relative. He will be well aware of the equation of phenotype equals genotype plus environment. Environmental factors will always be an important aspect in illness, which will not simply be based on genetics.

Very few single genes can, or will ever, be identified that will predict with certainty that an individual will inevitably develop a specific condition. The majority, of single-gene defects, if not all, had been identified clinically—for example, haemophilia or sickle cell anaemia—long before gene mapping. Information obtained for research purposes must not be available for forensic, legal or any other purpose not related to that research, or we will find it difficult to maintain a research base in this country.

The Secretary of State rightly said that the genetic revolution would be of maximum benefit when free care for all was provided at the point of need, irrespective of income. However, it is wrong to portray the national health service and an American-style insurance system as alternatives. I am sure that Germany and Switzerland, with their social insurance systems, will be just as able as the United Kingdom—if not better able—to take advantage of the genetic revolution. To portray those options as alternatives is intellectually flawed, politically dishonest and deeply insulting to European countries with well-developed health systems.

There is a problem with the Secretary of State's analysis of insurance. He may be right that the case for private insurance would diminish, but some factors will increase in importance. For some individuals, the exclusion of certain risks may make them more attractive to insurers. The Government have imposed a moratorium, but offshore and online services are almost impossible to regulate, so they need to give more thought to that.

I should like the Secretary of State to deal with four specific questions. First, what is the Government's view about the extent to which intellectual property protection for gene-based inventions will play a role in stimulating the development of new health care products? Secondly, what are the Government's plans to extend counselling services, education and training as their programme develops and in what time scale? Thirdly, in pharmacogenetics, where doctors may be able to select individuals for particular drug use or avoidance, what changes do the Government think may be required in the legislation relating to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence? Finally, the Secretary of State said that the new offence of theft of DNA will apply in all circumstances, except as part of someone's medical treatment when consent is impossible to obtain. What legal advice has he received in relation to people held under the Mental Health Acts who are not able to give consent in the normal way?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his double whammy of congratulations on the early dispatch of the statement and my arrival at the Dispatch Box in my new capacity. In that context, I will attempt to make statements available early as far as possible in circumstances which, as he will accept, are sometimes pressurised, so that the Opposition have due time to consider the issues. I do not think that they should be matters of party political debate, although some of the consequences, which the hon. Gentleman raised, lead us into the arena of legitimate choices about the nature of our health system. May I also say that I was encouraged to present the statement early following your strictures on a previous occasion, Mr. Speaker, when I was in a different position?

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, who brings to these matters a great deal of experience from his personal background and studies, that we must not over-hype the prospects and impact of the revolution in health care created by genetics. We should recognise the advances that can be achieved in diagnosis, treatment and, in some cases, potential cures. However, we must strike a balance between the euphoria that comes with new inventions and the magic wand fantasy that is sometimes created by commentators on the one hand, and the deep suspicion, lapsing into prejudice, of anything that involves scientific advance on the other. The hon. Gentleman is right about that.

As for intellectual property rights and patents in general, we all understand that they do not entail the ownership of a particular gene or gene sequence. They protect research into a particular application of a gene or gene sequence, and those intellectual property rights and, indeed, patents are necessary to encourage people to invest in a number of different areas. We recognise that but, of course, we must make sure that such rights do not inhibit the NHS from offering the applications that they want to offer the people of this country. For instance, we have been asked about testing people for a disposition to breast or ovarian cancer, and the implications for companies that may be carrying out research in that field. We will not be blackmailed in any way or pushed into stopping women who may be predisposed to certain forms of breast or ovarian cancer from taking the necessary tests, because we believe that we have a moral, legal and political responsibility to offer that application.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of counsellors. We need not just the physical investment of money and premises and the bringing together of technical knowledge but people, whether geneticists, genetic counsellors or others. We have made provision in the White Paper issued today for sufficient money to increase the number of genetic counsellors, and we intend that that should be a building block for the future. I agree with the hon. Gentleman about that.

On the point that the hon. Gentleman made about mental health patients, I should be obliged, given the short time for which I have been in post, if he allowed me to write to him about our legal advice on mental health patients. Obviously, there are some circumstances under which it is not possible to obtain permission—for example, from victims of a road accident or people who are comatose or unconscious—but for the benefit of the victim of the accident or the patient, it may be necessary for identification or the purposes of administration of medical assistance, to take a sample for DNA testing without consent. However, on the specific issue of mental health patients, I should like to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Finally, on the larger point made by the hon. Gentleman, there is a debate to be had on the implications for the nature of health care provision in this country of the potential predictability of an individual's health. I have already expressed my own view in the statement. It is undoubtedly true that there will be some individuals, as the hon. Gentleman said, who, because of genetic discoveries, treatment and potential cures, will be much better off under private health insurance than they otherwise would. That is surely the point—there will be some individuals who, because of the predictability of their future good health, will be much better placed in a sort of super-class, and there will be many individuals who, because they are predicted to suffer from bad health, will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to get private insurance or health cover. My own view is that recognition of that, together with changing circumstances, reinforces rather than detracts from the moral case for the national health service by underpinning it with scientific advance. I have no doubt at all about that. Time will tell whether our system will stand those tests better than the social insurance or private insurance systems elsewhere. However, I personally have no doubt not only that the NHS is as relevant as ever, but that with every passing year of medical discovery it is becoming more relevant to the people of this country.

May I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his post, as well as thanking him for early sight of the statement and the accompanying White Paper? I should also like to congratulate the Government on the establishment of the Human Genetics Commission, which has already done valuable work in promoting public debate and consultation. It is also timely to take the opportunity to congratulate those involved in the human genome project, particularly from this country, and recognise the work of those involved in the discovery of DNA. I extend the Secretary of State's recognition of Crick and Watson to include the contribution of Rosalind Franklin, because far too often, history, including science history, is written by men.

The Secretary of State said that the new genetics will lead to the prospect of four new things. First, with reference to more accurate diagnosis, the current legislation surrounding pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, requires lengthy court cases and appeals—for example, in the case of the Hashmis—or requires people like the Whitakers to go abroad in order to have the prospect of saving the life of a sibling. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is sufficient to meet the challenges 14 years on? Will he consider introducing new legislation to bring that Act, which has stood the test of time reasonably well, completely up to date?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the prospect of more personalised prediction of risk. Does he recognise the concern that exists about home testing genetic machines, and the prospect of vulnerable consumers being provided with information outside the context of advice that they require? The BBC suggested this morning that
"Dr. Reid is likely to counter-balance this"—
that is, the greater use of genetic testing—
"by pledging new safeguards to minimise the risk of discrimination against people whose test result make for bad news",
and that the White Paper was likely to
"place restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter testing kits for inherited conditions."
That is not dealt with in the White Paper or in the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and I should be grateful if he would clarify his intentions.

The Secretary of State spoke of the prospect of new gene-based therapies. That is an exciting prospect. I am a volunteer in a trial of a DNA vaccine for HIV. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the prospect of such therapies being available in the developing world is much more limited, and that the Government need a policy to ensure that the benefits are available to deal with disease in the developing world? Concentration on such work must not detract from work on diseases that do not require genetic treatment or diagnosis and affect the poorest in the world.

The prospect of targeted prevention and treatment was mentioned. Can the Secretary of State reassure us that the new patient contract proposed by his party will not oblige patients to undergo genetic tests in order to register with a GP or to continue to get treatment from a GP?

We welcome the proposal to legislate to tackle DNA theft. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of the inequity of insurance-based health care, but does he accept that other forms of insurance, the denial of which can drastically affect one's ability to go about one's business, is a real problem? Does he accept that the voluntary moratorium is insufficient? Can he not use the Bill that he proposes as an opportunity to legislate to prevent insurers requiring genetic tests before providing cover?

We welcome efforts for new gene therapies for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, but does the Secretary of State recognise that our transplantation laws are inadequate? Many people who could be cured by transplantation are urging the Government to update those laws to enable the maximum possible use, with consent, of available organs.

Finally, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that public education is important, particularly as the genetic field is the area where science often faces most strongly the forces of anti-science? In that context, does he accept that language is important, and that referring, as the White Paper does, to screening babies at birth, instead of using terms such as "high-risk identification", is not helpful in the debate, as it leads people to misunderstand the true potential and power of those tests? We need to keep the public on board. The White Paper is a good start, but I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept that there is still more to be done.

I accept that there is a lot more to be done, not least because the pace of change in genetics, as in many modern scientific advances, is on an exponential curve. We must constantly examine not only the medical, but the legal, political and ethical issues raised, and those are not small issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked a large number of questions. I shall try to answer them all, without impinging upon the indulgence of the Chair. If I miss any, I hope that I can write to the hon. Gentleman. He asked whether we intended to provide information for patients and the public on genetics. Yes, we certainly do, and we have made the finance available for that. NHS Direct has a role in that, and there are other ways of providing information.

Of course, we will not allow ourselves to be consumed only with genetic health issues, interesting though the knowledge and associated technologies are. The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that in many parts of the world and in the World Health Organisation's programmes, the more conventional approaches are extremely important. We will continue to support those as part of our overseas aid and in other ways.

We do not envisage any compulsion on patients. If the hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper, he will see that we stand against anyone being tested against their will, surreptitiously or otherwise. On the moratorium on insurance companies, the hon. Gentleman may know that there are three years to run on the existing moratorium. There will be further discussions on that. It is a tricky issue, taking into account the rights of the individuals, the companies and everyone else involved. We have made plain our view, and we will try to see that the matter can be satisfactorily resolved in the three years remaining.

The hon. Gentleman asked about changes that may be necessary in the legislation. The Government are committed to ensuring that the key legislation, such as the 1990 Act, is up to date with new developments, and we will ask the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to keep these matters under review and to make any recommendations that it considers necessary. The HFEA is charged with that in the White Paper.

On legislation to ban genetic discrimination, the Human Genetics Commission considered the matter in its report on personal genetic data. The Government agree with its conclusion that there is no systematic use of genetic information by employers, and that there is little evidence of unfair genetic discrimination. Nevertheless, in light of what I said about the moratorium and the use of genetic tests by insurers, we need to build on that. I announced today in the White Paper that we accept the HGC's recommendation that we consider the evidence for genetic discrimination in employment, insurance, education and other areas and consider what steps to take in the light of that review.

Finally, like the hon. Gentleman, I extend my tribute to the scientists and members of organisations such as the HGC, whom I met this morning in my first public official duty, and a pleasant one it was to discuss some of these issues. I can tell the House that in 35 minutes I heard more contributions of a substantial nature from more people than I have ever heard in my discussions in politics. There were some pretty weighty contributions, and I and others can take a lesson in how to put our case briskly. Not only did I pass on our congratulations and thanks to them, but yesterday I saw in action the comfort that the revolutionary new genetics knowledge and technology can bring to so many families, when I visited the Great Ormond Street hospital. I saw there families who were afflicted by a gene disorder, FH—familial hypercholesterolaemia. There are some 100,000 people in this country who may have that and who could be helped by advances in genetics, as they are being helped at Great Ormond Street. I have no hesitation in agreeing with the hon. Gentleman that we all owe a tribute to the doctors and scientists who have been involved in that.

I warmly welcome the statement and the publication of the White Paper by my right hon. Friend. I particularly welcome his remarks about cystic fibrosis and research into other gene-based therapies. He will know that current research indicates that a cure is within reach, at a relatively small cost. Will he undertake to meet representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, who have done so much to encourage research in this area over recent years, to try to find a course for an early end to that terrible disease?

As my hon. Friend said, gene therapy is a new and innovative form of medical treatment which holds great promise, although we are all agreed that we must not over-hype the possibilities or fail to recognise the real assistance that can be given, medically and socially, to many families who have been in terrible distress. Today I have allocated additional funds for the treatment of cystic fibrosis, and I shall be only too pleased to meet representatives of those who, for many years, have borne the burden of the disease in their families and who, I hope, will take some relief and delight today from the fact that the Government are putting even more resources into treating and curing that disease.

I welcome what the Secretary of State said about cystic fibrosis—many of my constituents and others in Norfolk will be very pleased about his comments—and his remarks about the ethical framework. However, I should like to pick up on his comment that, as our understanding of genetics increases, the case for private health insurance as an alternative to the NHS weakens. Surely, one of the current flaws in the NHS is its risk-averse culture and the huge budgetary restraints that often lead to rationing of drugs. For example, the other day, I met a group of constituents dealing with motor neurone disease, and they were very concerned about the rationing of a key drug. Surely the way forward, to maximise the benefits of genetics, is a public-private partnership.

I would not want the hon. Gentleman to think for one moment that I do not appreciate or encourage the private sector's becoming involved in the development of treatments, cures and so on. In assisting us in bringing health care to the people of this country free at the point of need, the private sector plays a great role through private finance, public-private partnerships and so on. I have no hesitation in saying that; it applies outside and inside the field of genetics.

I was making a rather different point. If we look away from who provides the service to the patients—I believe that the national health service should be a patient-centred health system—we can see that, from the patients' point of view, the predictability of health brings with it a danger of predicting that one's health will be much worse than average in future. Such a prediction will place people at a severe disadvantage in a system that depends in any way on private insurance. Inevitably, away from the average, we will create those whom I called a super-healthy class, and perhaps a super-underclass. It is only through an a priori agreement by everyone in this country that, irrespective of what is predicted for somebody, they will be provided with health care free at the point of need, that we can have not only a moral system, but one that is underpinned by scientific predictive advances. That is the point that I was making.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his statement. I should like to pick up directly on the last very important point that he made in his previous reply. I am sure that he will be aware of the work of Professor Norman Burn and the team in Newcastle who have identified a gene that greatly increases the disposition to and risk of bowel cancer. He will also be aware that participating in a bowel cancer screening programme, undergoing a colonoscopy or, further down the line of risk, having a non-cancerous growth removed from the colon or bowel can at present be declarable conditions for insurance purposes which can trigger additional costs not only in health insurance, but in travel insurance, mortgage protection and a range of life insurances. Will he address that point and prevent the danger that he set out in his previous reply from arising?

I am aware of the work to which my hon. Friend referred. Indeed, I spoke to some of those involved in it this morning at a breakfast seminar. On the specific point that he raised, I was making a general point about the national health service, but he made it with regard to a specific case and in relation to health insurance and other types of insurance. We have said that we have created a position in which it is not possible for insurers to insist that someone reveal the result of a genetic test. That is the position that has been agreed during the last period, in which there has been a moratorium. It will continue for three more years. During that period, it is our intention to try to arrive at a position not far removed from what he was suggesting, but we have to try to do that in a rather tricky world in which the rights of insurance companies and the way in which they function must be recognised, as well as the rights of individuals.

We recognise that insurance companies have to evaluate risk and take into account evidence and statistics when doing so. At the same time, we want to avoid a position in which, as a result of genetic predictability, any individual cannot get insurance. Some tricky issues are involved. It is fair to say that, thus far, there has been good will on all sides, and I hope that that will continue. It will certainly do so for three years, which will give us time to reach some form of accommodation that will be suitable for all sides.

The Secretary of State seems to be saying that the genetic super- underclass—a phrase that I think he used a moment ago—is safe and secure only in a system that is free at the point of use. If that is so, can he explain what perils that group faces in countries that have social insurance systems? If the answer is that such people do not face substantial perils in those systems, why is he so certain that we have nothing to learn from our European neighbours, who run systems of precisely that kind?

Heavens! I would never suggest that I have nothing to learn from anyone—even Opposition Members. We can all learn; part of the virtue of this House is that, through dialogue, we occasionally learn. I was saying not that other systems could not provide adequate health care, but that as the predictability of an individual's health becomes verifiably ascertainable for the future, a system that is based on an a priori agreement that people will be treated irrespective of that information is much more likely to be able to cope with the social tensions caused by predictability and division.

I have always believed that the moral case for a national health service in respect of which we all agree that everyone will get health care that is free at the point of need is overwhelming. I also happen to have good reason to value that service, as it saved my life when I was a young man. I believe that the increasing predictability that comes with the extension of genetics is giving that a further scientific underpinning, because if we do not have a service that is based on an a priori agreement that we will be covered by a national insurance policy whatever life may hold for us and may be predicted to hold for us, it will become much more difficult for there to be a cohesive society, as some people will find it difficult, if not impossible, to get insurance.

Today's announcement has brought very sharply into focus the benefits—as if Labour Members needed to be told—of a universal health service that is free at the point of use, including for the families that are suffering from the genetic conditions that cause so much distress. Does my right hon. Friend accept that we need not only to get to the representative groups that rightly campaign on these issues, but to ensure that consultation with families is understandable and is conducted in language that they know how to use? Does he accept that we must also use Members of the House to assist in consultation in respect of the White Paper and to bring back to the House the issues that those families want to raise with the Government in a way that we know is productive and inclusive?

Certainly, as my hon. Friend said, we should always seek to secure more patient involvement. That is part of the general posture that I shall attempt to adopt in trying to make the patient the centre of our attention, to decentralise decision making so far as I can in respect of national standards and comprehensive provision, and to involve patients in the design of the system, which is there to serve them and not us or anyone else.

My hon. Friend again makes the point about the consequences of increasingly being able to predict someone's health care—although, as the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said, we are some way off being able to do that with great authority for everyone. If health care finance is based on private insurance, any insurance company will tend to use the results of genetic testing to predict and to limit its risk. If the test predicts the likelihood of disease, the insurance premiums will be very high—for most people, unaffordable. That is self-evident in the long run. Consequently, private medical insurance will tend to cover only those people without genetically predisposed risks and fail to cover the rest. I did not make that the central point of our discussion, but if hon. Members wish to contest it I am willing to argue the case on the ground of the national health service.

The commitment to developing gene-based therapies is welcome. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether such therapies will be subject to appraisal by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence? If so, will he concede that NICE has often delayed the implementation of a therapy and, given its very heavy forward workload, what will he do to ease the situation?

In my short spell at the Dispatch Box in this job, I have not come across the issue of delays in NICE, but I shall look into it and write to the hon. Lady, if I may.

In five or 10 years' time, this document will have made a significant difference to the lives and health of people not only in this country, but in developing countries. I am tempted to put forward the names of my right hon. Friend and his predecessor for a Nobel prize, because this contribution will be as world shattering as that of Watson, Crick and the others. It wall empower people to ask about their predispositions, which will enable them to make decisions about their diet and lifestyle—

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be making a statement, but asking a question. Can he make it short?

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the new emphasis on prevention represents a radical shift in our national health service that we all welcome?

The answer to my hon. Friend is yes on every count, with one exception. Modesty forbids my being put forward, even by my hon. Friend, for the Nobel prize, although that will be a great source of envy to all my colleagues in Government, not all of whom have been suggested by him as contenders for a prize of any sort.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the great benefits of the path that we have followed on genetics is the information that will allow us to rely on prevention to a far greater measure and with greater success than previously.

I welcome what the Secretary of State said about cystic fibrosis, because that is important information for those of my constituents who suffer from that disease.

In a more partisan spirit, may I challenge his point about insurance? He sought to argue that genetics will have an implication for people with some form of health insurance, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) noted—in a social insurance model that risk is, by definition, spread over a considerable number of people. That obviates the Secretary of State's point about increasing the price of insurance for individuals.

I have nothing against insurance of any nature. I am probably the only man in the House who is an associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute.

We commandeer almost every field of learning on this side of the House.

In the face of the increasing predictability of individuals' health—we are not there yet, but it will come—any civilised society can base its health care only on an a priori agreement that we will all pay for it through general taxation and will all benefit from it, irrespective of any evidence about our own futures. That is a decision that was taken many years ago—chiefly a political and moral decision, although not exclusively, because it was taken on the basis of experience, too. The underlying political and moral values of the national health service have increasingly been underpinned by scientific discovery and practical reality.

I add my welcome to the White Paper, which charts the right course through a difficult area. I, too, particularly welcome the focus on cystic fibrosis. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Jim Dowd) said, there is a realistic chance of a cure, but we do not know how long it will take for the research programme to make the all-important breakthrough. With that in mind, now that we have embarked on the course of trying to find a cure, can we stick with it and work with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to get the result that we all want?

Indeed. I know that my hon. Friend plays a valuable role on the Select Committee on Health. Today, I agreed to meet representatives of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend and any other Members who are interested in it. We are putting millions of pounds into that field, as well as considerable financial resources into others. After today, there will be an extra £50 million—a major programme of investment—to upgrade the NHS genetic testing laboratories; to bring in additional counsellors; to pilot schemes, not only on cystic fibrosis, but on familial hypercholesterolaemia and other areas; and to bring awareness of and education in the benefits of genetics to the NHS in general. I would not claim that today is as major an event as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) suggested, but it is a not insignificant White Paper and not an insignificant day.

Will the Secretary of State take it from me, as the relatively recent father of a child with severe epilepsy, cerebral palsy and developmental delay, and as someone who has had genetic counselling in the past month, that the statement and the Government's approach will be warmly welcomed by many families with disabled children? Does he recognise that parents of disabled children are often told that their child's condition is idiopathic or cryptogenic, which actually means that no one has a clue as to its cause? Is it not the case that genetic research provides the best chance of getting to the bottom of such issues and giving families hope for the future? Could he clarify how much of the new resources will go into research into disability in general and into epilepsy in particular?

I can add little to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. No one bears better testimony to the potential and actual benefits of what we discussing than those who are directly involved, or in families who are involved, in coping with such difficulties and stresses. His eloquence speaks for all those families who can see, if not immediate relief, at least the possibility of some relief in future. I am delighted that he, along with many others, will benefit immediately or may benefit somewhere down the line.

We are putting some £7 million into new initiatives to get genetics-based health care into primary care, and we are putting money into the two pilots that I mentioned. Among a range of other initiatives, we have pilots in six cancer network areas and we are piloting on heart disease too. I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's specific question off the top of my head, but I shall write to him to clarify not only the finances, but the range of support that we are giving to the development of this very important area.

I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box in his capacity as Secretary of State for Health. I particularly welcome his strong endorsement of the principles of the national health service and his commitment to them. He mentioned Francis Crick. Of course, that was a wonderful achievement for British science, which still underlies all that we do now. However, genetics began in a previous century with a monk called Gregor Mendel, who separated rounded peas from smooth peas. Ever since his work became known, this has been a controversial subject in science—

Will my right hon. Friend explain how he intends to ensure that the ethical and scientific aspects of this science are kept apart, as he applies them to medical treatment in the national health service?

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you were quite right to interrupt what I have to admit to having found a fascinating exposition of the genetic equivalent of Newton's apple, which appeared to involve mushy peas, if I understood my hon. Friend correctly. I will get the end of the story from him later.

On the serious point that my hon. Friend raised, of course we recognise that genetic advances bring very real ethical and social concerns. There is a difficult balance to be struck here. He mentioned the history of these matters. All scientific work has resulted in society having to develop an ethical framework in which to consider scientific advances. The advances are now being made at such a rate that it is often difficult for us to develop an ethical framework to cope with them at the same time. We have already taken action, however, by introducing the moratorium on some of the practical implications that will flow from these advances. We are one of the few countries in the world to have passed legislation to ban reproductive cloning, and, above all, we are committed to ensuring openness and transparency in the debate on genetic policy making. We need to have a debate; we should not take anything for granted. This is not a scientific advance that we can just apply without considering its ethical consequences. This is the place for that debate, and it should be open and inclusive. I am sure that, at the end of the day, the debate on the ethics of these issues will not come down to any easily defined party positions.

May I make what is for me a somewhat rare observation by warmly welcoming the statement from the Government today? I would like to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to early-day motion 1, which has so far been signed by more than 150 Members across the House, and which relates to those adult sufferers of cystic fibrosis who still have to pay prescription charges. Bearing in mind the fact that the Cystic Fibrosis Trust believes that the sum involved in relieving those sufferers from paying prescription charges would be about £100,000 a year, will the Secretary of State consider such a move as a serious option? I am not asking for anything revolutionary—merely the implementation of what was in Labour's 1997 general election manifesto.

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his introductory comments. Secondly, I cannot give him an answer today, but I will look at the point that he has raised.

Among the potential benefits of pharmacogenetics will be the more effective targeting of drugs towards patients on whom they will work—as opposed to patients on whom they will not—and the more effective targeting of preventive health advice. This will mean a profound rethinking of the way in which primary care works. I know that the Secretary of State has announced certain pilot projects in primary care, but will he also give some thought to how primary care trusts could be thinking now about the implications for the future planning of primary care services, to ensure that we get the full benefit of these scientific improvements as they are introduced?

I agree entirely with the thrust of both points that my hon. Friend raises. People tend to think that the only use for the latest discoveries in gene therapy is to identify a gene that can be mended, leading to a cure. In fact, the information and the accuracy of diagnosis now available—which can lead to treatment modifications for those who can benefit most, or for those who might suffer side-effects, for example—is equally immense. We should not forget that.

On my hon. Friend's second point, this is not just a specialised form of study and application—although it is that. It also has the potential to revolutionise the whole of primary care. That is precisely why we have made provision in the White Papers not only for the scientific and physical matters under investigation, but for the wider educative process and for entrenching a knowledge of genetics and gene therapy within the mainstream of the NHS, and for educating a broad spread of those working in it about their benefits about the associated technology.

Today's announcement will further enhance the UK's reputation as a world leader in genetic medical science. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the research teams in London, Oxford and Edinburgh that have already drawn up detailed research proposals in partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Trust? When he meets representatives of the trust, will he consider its proposal that, for only £15 million over three years, the hopes and dreams of the 7,500 sufferers of cystic fibrosis in the UK could be realised?

I will look at that issue, but my hon. Friend will realise that I cannot make a decision on it today. There is an almost infinite demand for resources, and a huge well of human suffering and discomfort. We try, so far as we can, to allocate the resources in terms of priorities—using, if I may say so, the language of socialism, as Nye Bevan once said. He was not an Englishman either.

On my hon. Friend's serious point, we have announced today £2.5 million for cystic fibrosis, £3 million for other single-gene disorders, and £4 million to be spent providing the NHS and public sector researchers with access to high-quality genes. In all, we are providing £50 million to advance this programme. I am not suggesting that that is sufficient, but within the overall priorities and pressures that are put on the NHS budget—which treats 1 million people every 36 hours—this is an indication of how seriously we take the matter. I hope that it will offer some relief immediately, and some hope in the longer term to the many families who have suffered the stress, discomfort and pain of seeing a loved one suffer from cystic fibrosis.

In welcoming my right hon. Friend's statement, may I ask him to pay particular attention to those individuals who choose not to know what their DNA is, or whether they might have a single-gene disorder for which there may, as yet, be no cure?

Yes, I shall pay attention to that matter. We must try to avail ourselves of the advantages in scientific advancement at the same time as avoiding compulsion. I hope that we will extend the range of our knowledge and the number of people involved in this programme, through the UK biobank. This is an ambitious flagship project, undertaking vital research; as I have pointed out today, it is the largest of its kind in the world. We also hope that the biobank will hold data from 500,000 volunteers, but that will be done on a voluntary basis. We will protect the information that is held, and, more generally, we are doing what we can to protect the privacy of those who wish to undertake genetic testing to satisfy themselves as to their own health. We would also wish to ensure that we were not involving ourselves in any element of compulsion in regard to the new scientific advances.

Road Safety

2.9 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide local traffic authorities with powers to develop urban safety hierarchies; to identify 20mph zones and home zones; to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the setting of speed limits; and for connected purposes.
My reason for proposing the Bill is that, notwithstanding the measures to improve road safety taken by the Government and many local authorities of different political colours, there are still too many people who die or are injured on our roads every year. The toll is particularly high among pedestrians and cyclists in urban areas, particularly child pedestrians. The Bill that I propose would encourage local authorities and the Government to take measures that I believe would result in a significant drop in the number of people killed and severely injured on the roads. It would do that by focusing on speed, as excessive speed is a major contributory factor to the death toll on our roads.

The aim of my Bill is to encourage local councils to adopt a comprehensive approach to managing speed on urban roads in their area, and in particular to encourage the wider introduction of 20 mph zones. I acknowledge that many local authorities have done a lot of good work to improve road safety in their area, not least in my own city of Edinburgh. However, if we look at the picture in the United Kingdom as a whole, there is still significant room for improvement. Indeed, the rate of death and serious injury to child pedestrians in Britain is one of the highest in the European Union.

The facts are clear: speed is a major cause of many of these deaths and injuries. At present, however, although local authority transport plans are required to take into account targets for casualty reductions, only one third of those plans contain a recognisable speed management strategy.

My Bill would encourage all local authorities to develop a strategy for speed management on roads in their area. It would introduce the concept of the urban safety hierarchy, in which local council roads in urban areas would be classified as one of three types: residential, distributor or access roads. Residential roads would automatically have a 20 mph speed limit; distributor roads, which are largely for through traffic, would retain the existing 30 mph limit; and speed limits on access roads that link residential with distributor roads would be either 20 or 30 mph, depending on their nature.

My Bill would give local authorities throughout the country the option of introducing a hierarchy approach; they would not be obliged to do so. That would enable forward-thinking councils to adopt a broader, strategic approach to speed management, which is denied to them by existing legislation.

My Bill could, and I hope would, bring about a much wider coverage of 20 mph zones in residential areas throughout the country. Although most Members will be familiar with 20 mph zones in many—probably most—local authority areas in the country, overall they cover only a very small percentage of residential roads in urban areas. Extending the coverage of 20 mph zones would be one of the most effective ways of reducing the death and injury toll on urban roads. Research on existing zones has shown that in the year after their introduction, accidents resulting in injuries fell by an average of 61 per cent. and accidents resulting in injuries to children fell by 67 per cent.

My Bill would also require the Secretary of State to issue new guidance for local councils on the setting of limits on urban roads. That would replace the existing rules, which are largely inadequate because they are based on the speed at which vehicles travel at the moment, rather than the speed that is appropriate for a particular road.

Last but not least, my proposed Bill would encourage the growth of home zones by giving local councils the power to implement speed orders in such areas to provide for speeds of no higher than 10 mph. Currently, only 14 home zones are in operation in the UK, with another 61 in the pipeline. If there is to be a real countrywide roll-out of home zones, the Government need to use their powers under the Transport Act 2000 to introduce regulations to allow local authorities to declare what are known as "speed" and "use" orders in home zone areas. Without such regulations, which have been awaited for three years, I fear that the concept of the home zone will not really take off in the UK as it has done so successfully in many European countries. Hon. Members may be aware of the situation in the Netherlands and Germany, where the home zone is a well-known feature of the urban landscape. The home zone should be not an occasional, exotic creation, but an arrangement that is the norm in residential areas up and down the country.

I shall close by reminding hon. Members that this year about 700 pedestrians and cyclists were killed on Britain's urban roads alone, and about 10,000 were seriously injured. There are also accidents involving motorists and a toll of death and injury on rural roads. If the number of people who die or are seriously injured on the roads were the product of one serious incident on the railways or in the air, there would be an outcry for immediate and instant action. It is time that we treated the death and injury toll on our roads with the same urgency. The Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, which has done much good work in this area, has estimated that the measures I propose in the Bill, if fully implemented across the country, could save up to 450 of the 700 lives of pedestrians and cyclists that are lost each year in urban areas. For that reason, I ask the House to support my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Lazarowicz, Helen Jackson, Ms Julia Drown, Peter Bottomley, Ms Joan Walley, Mr. David Kidney, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Mr. Don Foster, Tom Brake, Rob Marris and David Wright.

Road Safety

Mr. Mark Lazarowicz accordingly presented a Bill to provide local traffic authorities with powers to develop urban safety hierarchies; to identify 20 mph zones and home zones; to require the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the setting of speed limits; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 11 July, and to be printed [Bill 132].

Anti-Social Behaviour Bill (Programme) (No 2)

2.17 pm

I beg to move,

That the programme order of 8th April 2003 in relation to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill be varied as follows—

Consideration And Third Reading

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

3. The proceedings shown in the first column of the Table shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table.



Time for conclusion of proceedings

Amendments to Part 1, New Clauses relating to Part 1, New Schedules relating to Part 1, amendments to Clauses 12 to 14, Schedule 1 and Clauses 15 to 17, New Clauses relating to Part 2, New Schedules relating to Part 2, amendments to Part 3, New Clauses relating to Part 3, New Schedules relating to Part 3.An hour and three quarters after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Amendments to Part 4, New Clauses relating to Part 4, New Schedules relating to Part 4, amendments to Clauses 36 to 39, Schedule 2 and Clauses 40 and 41, New Clauses relating to Part 5, New Schedules relating to Part 5.Three and a quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
Amendments to Part 6, New Clauses relating to Part 6, New Schedules relating to Part 6, amendments to Part 7, New Clauses relating to Part 7, New Schedules relating to Part 7, remaining New Clauses, remaining New Schedules, amendments to Clause 56, Schedule 3 and Clauses 57 to 61, remaining proceedings on the Bill.Five hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

4. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.

I am pleased to be part of the consideration of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. This issue is close to my heart, and is very important to my community in Salford—it is probably our top issue. I should like to place on record my grateful thanks to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), for his impressive handling of the Bill in Committee. He dealt with some extensive debates tremendously. I also thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who was an effective member of the Committee. As I am new to the Bill, I shall look to her for support during these proceedings.

I do not want to detain the House, because I am sure that all hon. Members are keen to get on with the substance of the debate. Much consultation has taken place through the usual channels, and I am grateful for the support of Opposition parties on this matter. I should also like to thank the Government Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell), who did much to facilitate the overwhelmingly positive and constructive debates that took place in Committee.

The motion provides for the total amount of time for discussion of the Bill to be six hours. I hope that the structure of the programme motion will allow hon. Members to debate the subjects that they want to discuss, as there are important matters before us. I suggest that we get on with that debate as quickly as we possibly can to ensure that we have time to explore the issues.

2.19 pm

I welcome the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety and, indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who, as has been rightly remarked, was an esteemed member of the Committee that considered the Bill. I hope only that, during the afternoon, in her ministerial capacities she does not have to say things that are at odds with what she said when she was a Back-Bench Committee member. Time will tell. I congratulate both Ministers on their appointments and welcome them to their posts and to the debate.

I share in the plaudits to the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), who led the Bill constructively. Many of the amendments and new clauses that we shall discuss later are the result, I am pleased to say, of him listening to the arguments. We shall deal with those in detail.

The Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety said that much discussion took place with the usual channels. That is true, but it was based on a certain lack of information—I will not go so far as to say misinformation—inasmuch as that negotiation took place on Wednesday and it was not until Thursday that the Government tabled a vast tranche of new clauses and amendments. Therefore, the discussions on the timetable motion were in terms of six hours instead of the usual six and a half. We know, because of earlier proceedings, one of the reasons for that, but the overall time was reduced, only one day was allocated and the knives fall where they fall because, as I say, we did not appreciate what the Government were going to do on Thursday.

Obviously, I am not at this stage saying whether those new clauses and amendments meet with our approval. That issue will come up during the afternoon. Some we welcome and some less so. Some are substantial and some were not previously indicated by the Government, in particular the amendment on residential courses under parenting orders. At no time was that raised in a previous discussion; it has come completely out of the blue to us. The amendments and new clauses were tabled on Thursday. We have had little or no time to consult on those with interested specialist organisations outside the House.

The Minister is right that we want to get on to debate those issues. Nevertheless, there is a point of principle here. The Government, having consulted with us in, we thought, good faith, later tabled a range of new items to be debated. Therefore, the timetable that we previously agreed is no longer apposite and I wish to oppose the motion.

My hon. Friend advances the argument about the timetable motion with that combination of reserve and self-effacement for which he is renowned in all parts of the House. Does he agree that, in the light of the fact that we have no fewer than 105 new clauses and amendments to consider today, and that that entails an average time allocation of fewer than three minutes per new clause and amendment, the Government are doing violence to the responsibilities of Parliament to scrutinise legislation?

My hon. Friend puts it in words that, as he rightly describes me as using reserve, I perhaps would not use, but it is an abuse of parliamentary procedure to agree a timetable through the usual channels and then effectively to destroy the appropriateness of that timetable by tabling all these amendments and new clauses.

Will the hon. Gentleman therefore support the declaration that Leader of the House made this morning that, wherever possible, all future Bills should go through pre-legislative scrutiny, so that the Government can import ideas, if not amendments, at a very early stage?

I was not present when the part-time Leader of the House made that remark—

The hon. Gentleman must be part-time, otherwise he would have heard the Leader of the House.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am certainly not part-time.

Of course, Conservative Members always welcome pre-legislative scrutiny. If that is to be the Government's approach to all legislation, they will not find opposition from those on the Conservative Benches.

I wish to proceed with discussion of the Bill, but I believe that it is right that the House should put down a marker that we do not approve of what has happened in the past few days. Therefore, we shall seek to divide the House on the motion.

2.24 pm

I warmly welcome the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing and Community Safety and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), to their new positions. The team has been welcomed collectively, but it is the first time that they have come into bat on a Home Office Bill. We are glad to engage with them. We hope to persuade them and we hope that they do not come with fixed views.

We know that it is always difficult for Ministers picking up a Bill that has been led by others—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Don Valley, was a Back Bencher on the Committee—suddenly to come to it with fresh thinking, but my hon. Friends and I hope that some of the arguments that we shall advance today will receive at least a positive response; obviously, we will not get all that we want this afternoon. We look forward to this afternoon's debate and to forthcoming debates.

I shall be brief because, as a result of the constraints that we are under, this debate is eating into the time to debate the substance. My colleagues and I share the view that this is exactly the sort of Bill that should not be guillotined. That is not a criticism of the Government Whip, who as always is as accommodating as he is allowed to be. The reality is not just that Government amendments and new clauses have been tabled after discussions about the timetable, but that we have portmanteau legislation.

The first part should be in a criminal justice Bill. The second and third parts should be in a housing Bill; they should not be in this Bill at all and need proper debate. The fourth part should be in an education Bill. The fifth part would be significant and controversial in any legislation and has received a critical report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights of both Houses of Parliament. The sixth part is not quite as controversial, and is to do with fixed penalty notices. The evidence that we were promised ha s not yet been forthcoming.

The seventh part should partly be in a children's Bill; the new Minister for Children no doubt has some interest in it. It is possibly a Department for Education and Skills matter or a social services matter. There are local government implications. Then we come to matters that are never uncontroversial: legislation about firearms, significant changes to do with age limits and powers. There is always controversy and proper debate about those. That is followed by environmental and graffiti matters. Every hon. Member has an interest in those—Back Benchers who were not on the Committee and who are not spokespeople for their parties may have something to say. Lastly, there are matters that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know about from your constituency and most rural colleagues know a lot about, although urban colleagues may deal with them not infrequently: matters to do with trespass, land use and travellers.

Those are major controversial issues. To think that we can do justice to those matters in six hours defies the most disciplined people in the most disciplined of Parliaments. It is just not possible.

The hon. Gentleman said that it was not appropriate to guillotine today's business. How long does he think we should debate the Bill for, and what would he say to residents in Oakengates in my constituency, who on Friday insisted that the powers in the Bill be brought in as quickly as possible?

There are two issues there. People always want things as soon as possible. They will not know what is in the Bill. [Interruption.] Even if they do, I hope that they would expect Parliament to do its job properly.

The worst legislation is rushed legislation. The worst of the worst legislation is where Government Back Benchers do not properly scrutinise those on the Government Front Bench. The worst of the worst of the worst legislation is a Bill such as this, which was a shop window exercise before the local elections. It is a Christmas tree of a Bill, with some things clearly intended to be entirely window-dressing exercises, rather than properly thought-through legislation. I shall not get into the whole debate now.