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Commons Chamber

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

House of Commons

Tuesday 25 July 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

The Secretary of State was asked—

Middle East

1. What recent assessments she has made of the threat posed to regional stability in the middle east by Hezbollah. (87867)

We are gravely concerned about the crisis in Lebanon. Syrian and Iranian support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups is encouraging extremism, threatening the stability of the region and putting peace in the middle east further out of reach. We call on Syria and Iran to stop their support for Hezbollah and end their interference in Lebanese internal affairs in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1680.

I agree with every word that the Foreign Secretary said. It is clear that Syrian and Iranian influence on Hezbollah undermines the ability of the region to embark on peace, stability and prosperity. Hezbollah’s principal weapons are terror and violence, but it also has a hand in aspects of the running of normal Lebanese life, such as the raising of taxes and the running of schools. That being so, what steps will my right hon. Friend take to build international support to ensure that the extremist influence of Hezbollah is minimised, not only militarily, but in civic life in Lebanon?

I have a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend’s concerns and comments. There is now a widespread view in the international community that we need to take a fresh look at the situation in Lebanon. The international community needs to turn its attention to the implementation of resolution 1559 in particular, and to what can be done to help to support and strengthen the democratically elected Government of Lebanon, so that they are better fitted not only to rebuild what has been destroyed, but to conduct their country’s affairs in a way that will give them peace and security in future.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Hezbollah is Syria’s proxy in Lebanon, and that it has been heavily armed by Syria and Iran, which thus bear considerable responsibility for the continuing tragedy in Lebanon and for the missiles that are raining down on Israeli cities? Does she agree that Iran has engineered the crisis to divert attention from its lack of response to the international community on its offer concerning civil nuclear power—no doubt the inference being that there is a nuclear weapons programme there? Does she agree that Hezbollah must be disarmed in accordance with UN resolution 1559 if a repetition of the present disastrous confrontation is to be avoided in future?

I share my hon. Friend’s concerns, as I think does the whole House. I entirely take his point about the potential influence of Iran and Syria and their supplying of weapons, and his point about the timing of the issues. He alleges that the events were perhaps engineered by Iran, but whether they were or not, they are remarkably convenient for that Government.

To what extent was our British Prime Minister in collusion with President Bush in giving Israel the go-ahead to wage unlimited war for 10 days, not just against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, but against civilians in residential Beirut, drawn from all faiths and nationalities—a war crime grimly reminiscent of the Nazi atrocity on the Jewish quarter of Warsaw?

Since I reject the hon. Gentleman’s allegations, there is clearly nothing with which my right hon. Friend would have been in collusion.

Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance about the part of the population that needs to be looked after at the moment—the Christians of the Lebanon? Is she aware that some of the Protestant churches in that country have opened their doors as a sanctuary to Christians, but there is difficulty in getting food to them? Can she do something to help?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and of course I understand that all the communities in Lebanon are at risk and are placed at hazard by present events. One of the things to which, in recent days, we have given a great deal of attention, and are pressing with a great deal of urgency, is the potential for humanitarian action and relief. I anticipate that that will be high on the agenda of the core group meeting in Rome, which I shall attend tomorrow, but I will keep the right hon. Gentleman’s words in mind.

Ministers have been in the region and the US Secretary of State is now there. What discussions have there been about the proposal for an international force in the south of Lebanon, and is that being worked up in such a way that it will be introduced in the near future, rather than waiting several months until the conflict has subsided?

There have been extensive discussions over many days—since very early on after the crisis began—about what contribution an international force could make, how it could be deployed and the range of arrangements, and that work continues intensively. As my hon. Friend and, I think, the House will fully understand, it will take time to put in place a substantial force. What I take to be the underlying thrust of his question is that we should all be seeking as early an end as possible to any hostilities or violence, and that that should not be linked to a full force being put in place, which might indeed take some time to arrange.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that only last year the Lebanese Government saw the back of the Syrians, who arm and organise Hezbollah, financed by Iran? The Lebanese Government have done very well disarming a number of other militia groups. Given that we have so far been unable to disarm the militias in Afghanistan or Iraq, is it right that Israel should be allowed to bully that entire country and put it back 20 years, in the words of one Israeli Minister, in order to get back at Hezbollah, the real villains?

The chief thing with which I did not disagree in the remarks of the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell) was the concern that he expressed for the civilian population in Lebanon, as indeed people are concerned about the civilian population in Gaza. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will appreciate that it creates difficulties when missiles are deliberately sited in civilian centres. That obviously leads to potential suffering—[Interruption.]—and death, as has just been said. But I entirely share the hon. Gentleman’s view that what is happening to Lebanon is a tragedy, where the so-called cedar revolution was so frail and needed nurturing. I can assure him that it is very much part of all the intensive discussions that are taking place to consider how that Government can be sustained and supported. I believe that Prime Minister Siniora and other members of his team will be in Rome tomorrow.

Leaving aside any absurd comparison with what the Nazis did in Warsaw—that hardly helps the situation at all—is my right hon. Friend aware that people in the United Kingdom in the main had no time for Hezbollah and such organisations, but find it almost impossible to understand how Israel can act as it is, causing so many deaths and serious injuries to people who are in no way involved in Hezbollah? Is it not time that the United Kingdom––and one would like the United States also––to make it as loud and clear as possible to the Israeli authorities that what they are doing cannot be justified under any circumstances? That is the view, I believe, of the vast majority of people in this country.

My hon. Friend may be right that that is the widespread view in this country. I would only say to him that since the beginning of the crisis there has been a consistent thread of appeals for the utmost restraint—on both sides, by the way—from the G8, the Foreign Ministers Council of the European Union, and the European Council itself, all calling for a cessation of violence and conflict, in exactly the way that my hon. Friend seeks. I know from reports, for example from my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East, that there has indeed been a policy of deliberately siting missiles in the heart of civilian populations. I do not say that that is a reason for anything. I simply say that it is bound to cause difficulty when those missiles are continually raining down on Israel, and clearly there is pressure on Israel to attempt to take out those missile sites. That is a strong contributory factor to the terrible events that are taking place in Lebanon.

We welcome the hard-hitting comments made by the Minister for the Middle East during his visit to the region at the weekend. We would go further and repeat the view, as Kofi Annan has said, that there should be an immediate ceasefire. Hezbollah and Hamas must return the soldiers and stop their attacks. But will the Foreign Secretary accept that, for as long as the United States, and, by extension, the United Kingdom, tolerate the disproportionate military response by the Israelis, the diplomatic efforts will be undermined completely?

I can only say again to the hon. Gentleman that if he looks through the statements that have been made, which have always included a call for the return of the kidnapped Israeli soldiers as well as a cessation of violence and hostilities—the European Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the G8 called for an immediate cessation of violence—he will see that everything is being done through diplomatic channels to try to create the conditions in which not only can there be a ceasefire, but such a ceasefire can be maintained and can be durable. That, I fear, is probably the key to any kind of good outcome to the problems that we see at present.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Sheikh Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, has said:

“Hezbollah is not fighting a battle for Hezbollah or even for Lebanon. We are now fighting a battle for the Islamic nation.”

Does she believe that the international community has the resolve to deal with such a threat?

Certainly, Sheikh Nasrallah and his colleagues have done everything that they can to exacerbate what was already an extremely dangerous situation. I do not believe that the goals that they have set themselves are in the long-term interests either of the Islamic nation as a whole or of people in the middle east, because they seem to concentrate only on fear and terror, and it is on the road to peace and peace negotiations that, in the end, all parties to this conflict will have to end up, and the sooner they get there, the better for everyone concerned.

The Foreign Secretary might have heard a representative of the Syrian Government on this morning’s “Today” programme indicating that, in their judgment, a lasting settlement to this human tragedy and crisis could come about only if the Syrian and Iranian Governments were involved. Could the Foreign Secretary give the House an assessment of that statement?

I heard a brief account of that, and certainly if what he is saying is that the Syrian and Iranian Governments have it in their power to contribute to a potential peaceful outcome, who can disagree with that? I just wish that I saw any signs that at the moment they wished to do so.

In rightly condemning the terrorism of Hezbollah, will my right hon. Friend bear it in mind that no party to this conflict has clean hands or occupies the moral high ground, that the father of the Israeli Foreign Minister, with whom my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East had talks, was a terrorist leader who organised the blowing up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, to which the Israelis have just disgracefully unveiled a memorial plaque, and that it is absolutely essential that we follow up the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to solve this conflict and end the killing?

I entirely share my right hon. Friend’s view that the best possible outcome is, as he says, for those who understand that the way forward is through peaceful negotiation and through the road map being heard in the region and beyond it, and for a move towards such negotiations to take place.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that Israel’s demands for the return of kidnapped soldiers, an end to Hezbollah’s rocket attacks and the implementation of resolution 1559 are wholly legitimate, but that its case will be greatly strengthened by desisting from attacks on purely civil infrastructure and on other areas of Lebanon?

On the international buffer force that has been proposed, given that British troops are not available––and American troops perhaps not appropriate––and that the French have said that the idea is premature, is she confident that there can be put in place a sufficiently capable and well-equipped force when necessary?

I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point that Israel’s legitimate demands are viewed against the prism of events taking place in Lebanon and, indeed, in Gaza, which there is a tendency for people not to mention, but where also we have grave concerns. The words “buffer force” do not fall happily on people’s ears in the area, but the right hon. Gentleman is certainly right to identify, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chair of the Select Committee did, that this will be time consuming and not easy, and that the mandate of such a force, and its nature and construction, will be a matter of difficult negotiation. I expect that that will be very much a part of the discussions in Rome tomorrow, but that is why I believe that one of the strong efforts that we must make is to see what can be done now to ameliorate the situation, partly and perhaps primarily in the short term through humanitarian means, but also what we can do to help to improve matters, because it will undoubtedly take some time to answer the very pertinent questions that he has just put.

On Hezbollah’s international links, the Foreign Secretary has already acknowledged that in this crisis we must not lose sight of Iran’s nuclear programme. Is she confident that consensus will be maintained among the permanent members of the Security Council, that momentum will not be lost, that we will see swift agreement on a Security Council resolution under chapter VII of the UN charter and, if necessary, that any early sanctions on Iran will include a ban on the sale of military equipment?

The extent to which consensus, unity and momentum have been maintained among the permanent five has been striking and for a lot of people, including Iran, surprising. I share the right hon. Gentleman’s view that it is vital both to try to maintain that unity and not to lose the momentum. Talk of sanctions is, perhaps, a little premature. If he casts his mind back to our detailed statement to Iran, which is now in the public domain, he will recall that we deliberately set out a gradual progression of steps in order to make it easy to draw back if there was a response. He has rightly identified a possible key area, if sanctions have to be considered.

International Arms Trade Treaty

2. What progress has been made towards an international arms trade treaty; and if she will make a statement. (87868)

We are committed to securing an international treaty on the trade in all conventional arms, and we intend to introduce a resolution in the United Nations first committee this autumn to progress the initiative. With other supportive countries, we are now circulating an initial draft resolution, which we hope will stimulate debate and help to secure the broad international support required.

That is welcome news, and I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for her work in that area. Does she agree that the language on human rights in the resolution must be robust? Will she reassure me that the UK and other signatories will press for the strictest possible guidelines on the arms trade? And does she agree that it would be much better for the security and safety of the world if the UN could report on the international arms trade treaty before 2008?

Of course, I take my hon. Friend’s observations very seriously, and I share her view that we must do as much as we can to make the resolution as strong as possible. An initial draft text is being circulated this week by a consortium of nations from across the globe, of which the UK is one. She is right to try to set a time line for about 2008 for some of those issues to be considered further. However, the process will take time, and it is important for the House to recognise that we are at the preliminary stage of the discussions. Nevertheless, I hope that the core principles can be agreed in this Parliament, but there will undoubtedly be tough negotiations about the detail.

Will the Secretary of State press ahead with all speed and diligence, confident in the knowledge that the lobbying is the work of not only pressure groups, but a vast number of ordinary people in this country, including, of course, the Christian Churches and the defence industry? The Defence Manufacturers Association and those involved in defence exports want to see a treaty, so they can differentiate from those who are following the law and those who are cheating, which destroys the lives of innocent people around the world.

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on an extremely important point. As he rightly says, there is huge popular support for this move. Hon. Members will have already seen that in their constituencies, and I expect them to see more in future. He is also right to identify that there is support not only among non-governmental organisations but, crucially, in the defence industry. That is an enormously important feature of this campaign and one that should assist in its success.

I welcome the statement that we are making some progress in this respect. There has been a bit of a lull over the past few years in trying to negotiate an international treaty. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that small arms, in particular, are central to everything that is done? As she knows, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are killed and maimed every year by the small arms that are sometimes brokered beyond these shores, even under our existing law. Will she ensure that that loophole is closed as part of the international treaty?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have given a great deal of attention to that; indeed, we have restarted the process in Geneva. He is spot on in identifying this as a key area where action is needed. However, because such arms are so widespread, it is also an area of considerable sensitivity that needs a great deal of attention, support and work, which we will indeed give it.


Zimbabwe is one of the greatest concerns to the European Union and it is regularly discussed with partners. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last did so on 15 June and will be doing so on an ongoing basis. EU sanctions against the Government of Zimbabwe will be discussed when they are due for renewal in February 2007. Those sanctions keep Mugabe’s regime isolated and under pressure, and they are wholly warranted by his grotesque misgovernance. We continue to do all that we can to help the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered so much under Mugabe’s regime.

Hundreds of thousands of urban dwellers in Zimbabwe are having their homes bulldozed, the farming sector has been destroyed, people are starving, and inflation is at more than 1,000 per cent., with bank transactions measured in trillions—all because of a mad, evil dictator. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that at a time when the world’s attention is focused on the middle east, and rightly so, the plight of Zimbabweans is not forgotten?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that not only is their plight not forgotten but as a country we are doing several things—not only in continuing with the sanctions, important as they are, but in assisting the ordinary citizens of Zimbabwe through hundreds of millions of pounds of aid to feed a country that was once southern Africa’s food basket but is now unable to feed its own nation. We are giving millions to help the quarter of the population who are suffering from HIV/AIDS.

We are working as a Government with civil society, trade unions and others who are bravely each day speaking up and speaking out about their fellow citizens in Zimbabwe, and we are making practical resources available to them. Our front-line staff are working in the country each day, in very difficult circumstances, to provide the necessary support for civil society. In addition, we are working with the front-line states, particularly those in southern Africa, to try to ensure that they do more to end this evil regime and return democracy to Zimbabwe.

Have Her Majesty’s Government made any representations to Kofi Annan and to the African Union about the recent appointment of the former Tanzanian President, Ben Mkapa, as the so-called mediator between Zimbabwe and the UK? Is he aware that Mkapa has consistently called for the ending of European Union sanctions, and does he accept that this appointment will do nothing other than satisfy Mugabe, because he has merely been a stooge of Mugabe?

If Mr. Mkapa can persuade Mr. Mugabe to undertake policy changes, we would support that. Mr. Mkapa has made no representations to us, nor has he sought our support. One thing that is certain is that, working with the United Nations, we will continue to pursue the issue of the lack of real progress in Zimbabwe. I hope that my answer to the previous question gives my hon. Friend certainty about how seriously we take the situation in terms of working in diplomatic and practical terms to assist individuals and Zimbabwe itself. It is important to build bridges. Zimbabwe is in this condition because of the actions of the Zimbabwean regime towards its own people, infrastructure and society. The sooner we get international action to resolve that, the better.

The Minister rightly assured my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) that Zimbabwe is not being forgotten at a time when events in the middle east are drawing attention elsewhere. When the Foreign Secretary raised Zimbabwe on 15 June, what specific measures were proposed to the European Union to increase the pressure on that country? What is the next set of proposals for the subsequent meeting that the Minister mentioned?

As I said in my earlier answers, the review of the sanctions will take place in early 2007. They were renewed for the fourth time earlier this year. I have no sense that they will not be maintained or that South Africa will not work with us more positively in the intervening period to try to find additional ways in which we can not only put more pressure on Mugabe but witness his taking some action on the changes that need to take place.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the meeting in June. As I said in my first answer, the EU reviewed how the sanctions are working, whether they are effective and whether member states are co-operating with them—the answer to that is yes.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall come to the House to set out in detail the discussions that we will hold between now and February with the United Nations, the front-line states and others to try to secure a more effective way of dealing with issues internally in Zimbabwe. Hon. Members should rest assured that, whether we are considering civil society, the aid programme or the health programme, we are committed to continuing to involve ourselves effectively on a day-to-day basis with the citizens of Zimbabwe.

Falkland Islands

4. What discussions her Department has had with the UN on the Argentine Foreign Minister’s recent representations to Kofi Annan on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. (87870)

The British deputy permanent representative to the United Nations met the Secretary-General on 16 June 2006. The meeting covered several issues, including the Falkland Islands. The United Kingdom referred to the presentation by the Falkland Islands councillors at the C24 UN decolonisation committee on 14 June 2006 and made it clear that the UK’s position on sovereignty remained unchanged.

Argentina’s sabre-rattling, hostile policy on the Falklands and the decision to establish a commission to win control of the islands serves only to set back Argentinian-UK relations. Is not next year’s 25th anniversary of the heroic liberation of the islands a great opportunity to commemorate and pay tribute to the courage and bravery of the UK armed forces, who won not only the conflict but the right of the Falkland islanders to live in freedom and in a democracy? Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to remind the Argentinians again of the importance of the principle of self-determination?

I agree that the anniversary next year will be an important opportunity to commemorate the deaths of not only British but Argentinian soldiers. Britain’s armed forces would also want to recognise the sacrifice that was made on both sides of that conflict. I was the first British Minister to lay a wreath at the memorial to Argentinian soldiers. It is important that we acknowledge the sacrifice that all our armed forces made in that conflict. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that self-determination remains absolute. The UN charter makes it clear that it is for the people of a territory to determine their future. That is why I made it clear that the UK’s position has not changed at all.

Self-determination has to be the key principle on which the future of the Falklands is based, as the hon. Member for Dudley, North (Mr. Austin) and the Minister said. I ask the Minister to send the clearest message from the House that the Falklands will never be negotiated away except on the principle of self-determination.

I am sorry if my previous remarks left any room for doubt. Self-determination is a fundamental principle of the UN charter. For the avoidance of doubt, we have made it absolutely clear that the position of the Falkland Islands will not change without the consent of the people of the Falklands Islands.

When I was in Argentina last November, it was clear that the Argentinians would not renounce the claim on the Falklands—we take that as a given—but the Ministers to whom I spoke also made it clear that they had no intention of going to war against the UK. Given that that is the case and that we now have a democratic Government in Buenos Aires, why do we need to spend £120 million a year on maintaining a garrison in the Falklands?

The answer is similar to the answer that I gave earlier: for the avoidance of doubt. My hon. Friend is right to say that successive democratically elected Argentine Governments have made clear their determination to resolve this matter peacefully, and we maintain a garrison in the Falkland islands to ensure that that promise is carried out.


5. What progress has been made on the accreditation of the non-resident British ambassador to, and the honorary consul in, Madagascar. (87871)

Mr. Speaker, I must warn you that in this answer I shall have to speak French on two occasions. I have been practising.

Our requests for agrément in respect of the British high commissioner to Mauritius to be our non-resident ambassador to Madagascar, and for authority to appoint an honorary consul in Antananarivo, remain with the Malagasy authorities. We continue to push for swift accreditation. My Department has discussed the matter with the Malagasy chargé d’affaires in London twice since March, most recently on 29 June 2006. We currently have no intention of reopening our embassy in Madagascar. I think that is five out of 10.

Given that Africa has recently been our focus of attention, that the President of Madagascar is a prime example of good governance, that the 28 non-governmental organisations based there are now developing trade and investment interests and want an embassy there, and that the Malagasy have recently opened an embassy in London, would it not be best to avoid the past mistake of closing the embassy and then having to reopen it? Would it not be better to stop the accreditation of a non-resident ambassador and honorary consul and to reopen the embassy forthwith?

Africa is obviously a main priority for the Government, and that means that we need to modernise our network. We need to ensure that our network is placed in the most effective areas, to maximise our ability to represent the interests of this country. That has meant that posts have been closed in some areas, and enlarged in others, such as Pretoria, Kinshasa, Khartoum, Kigali and Addis Ababa. We are putting the investment in, but it must be appropriate investment in appropriate places. The appropriate investment in this case involves the appointment of the non-resident ambassador and the honorary consul, as I have explained, and I hope that we can reach an agreement on this matter pretty quickly so that we get on with the job that we want to do in that area.


Like the rest of the international community, the British Government are deeply concerned about the situation in Lebanon. Intensive diplomatic efforts are under way to create a durable ceasefire. There are a number of initiatives that could help to bring an end to the suffering of the people of Lebanon and northern Israel, including—as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have said—Hezbollah handing back the kidnapped Israeli soldiers immediately.

I am sure that the whole House will agree that it was right for the Minister to have travelled to Lebanon last week, and we are grateful that he did so. As this dreadful human tragedy unfolds, caused primarily by Hezbollah’s terrorist activities within the state of Lebanon against the Israelis, does the Minister agree that the only long-term solution is an international peacekeeping force? I appreciate that the Foreign Secretary was cautious earlier in saying how long that might take, but may I urge her and the Minister to remember that speed is essential if we are to avoid a complete humanitarian disaster?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I agree that we have to be very careful about the way in which we approach the subject of a stabilisation force, or of buffer zones. There are mixed feelings about such prospects across the middle east. He is also right to focus on the key issue of the Hezbollah militia. It was mentioned earlier that other militias have given up their arms in Lebanon. Hezbollah is the only powerful militia that has not done so. It is important to say that the people of Lebanon have suffered on many previous occasions from the likes of Syria and Iran fighting their war against Israel by proxy on the sovereign territory of Lebanon. They must stop doing that. I hope that the nations of the middle east, as well as the powerful western countries, bring all their diplomatic skills and influence to bear on Syria and Iran to ensure that they stop giving arms and sustenance to Hezbollah.

While acknowledging the undoubted right of Israel to defend itself against terrorist attack, does the Minister agree that the damage inflicted by Israel on the civilian population of Lebanon is wholly disproportionate to the damage that it has sustained? Will he continue forcefully to voice the concerns of many of those who have hitherto regarded themselves as friends of Israel?

The hon. Gentleman is reflecting a great deal of opinion across the world. Israel must be careful to understand, as I am sure it does, that it is fighting not just a military but a political campaign. Opinion on the Arab streets, and on Muslim streets in general, is fed by those who want to portray in the worst possible light the effects of what has been a savage and harsh military campaign by Israel on a great part of Lebanon. However, I also saw for myself the way in which a ruthless militia, Hezbollah, locates its men, missile sites and supplies right in the middle of domestic housing. It does not care about the people who are dying there. It will use them in whatever way it can as propaganda for its campaign, and ultimately for the campaign of Iran and Syria. We must try to understand that the situation is not simple—there is not the wish to destroy a nation—but the results are horrendous. People are dying in Haifa as they are in Lebanon. We must find some way of constructing a durable peace.

The Minister will be aware that, according to the ICM poll published in The Guardian today, 63 per cent. of people in the United Kingdom believe that the Prime Minister has tied Britain too closely to the White House, and they expect the British Government to stand up to the US. Although I agree that Hezbollah has no respect for human life, whether Muslim, Jewish or any other, the Israeli response is disproportionate and has targeted the entire Lebanese population. Is not it time for the British Government to call on the United States to call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire?

I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have worked closely in discussions with the United States and many of our other allies. If he is trying to ask me to denounce a nation that has fought for democracy, democratic rights and freedom for a century or more, I cannot agree with him.

Is it not essential to remember how this conflict began, no matter how tragic its consequences? It was deliberately initiated by Hezbollah, after stockpiling missiles, apparently siting them in civilian areas, as the Minister has said, and clearly using them against civilian targets in Israel. Is it not essential, if there is to be a long-term, durable, sustainable peace, that the problem of Hezbollah be addressed, so that people on both sides of the Lebanese-Israel border can live in peace?

Yes, I agree with every word of that. The problem must be addressed, and the Lebanese Government must be helped, by any nation that can do so, to build up their capacity, through whatever means, to disarm Hezbollah—in the best possible way, to get Hezbollah to give up its weapons and, if necessary, to take those weapons off Hezbollah. As long as there is an alternative Government in Lebanon who decide their own foreign policy, how on earth can the democratically elected Government of Lebanon extend their remit to the frontiers of Israel? It will be impossible. That is why it is essential for us to help that Government in whatever way we can, hopefully by peaceful and diplomatic means, to ensure that Hezbollah gives up its weapons.

Many people were genuinely grateful for my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East’s forthright comments over the weekend, when he was in Lebanon. They introduced real balance, in the form of proper condemnation of the humanitarian abuses on both sides of the conflict.

Was not my hon. Friend absolutely right when he just told the House that, in the long run, the answer to Hezbollah is not a military victory for Israel but a strengthened Lebanese state that can control every aspect of life in Lebanon? The guarantee that we need is that we will not abandon Lebanon as the next crisis preoccupies us, and simply forget today’s crisis.

My hon. Friend’s words are wise. George Mitchell, a man with enormous experience in helping to negotiate peaceful outcomes, said on the “Today” programme this morning “Let us not come up with facile answers.” A simple ceasefire will mean that the conflict will start up again in a week, a year, or two years, and people will suffer again and again.

There has to be another way through this. We must construct a proper, sustainable peace for the region, and my hon. Friend is right to point out that one way in which we must do that is by building up the authority and capacity of the Lebanese Government.

When the Minister was in Beirut, he expressed his views forcefully, as he has in a number of our debates in Westminster Hall. He said:

“The destruction of the infrastructure, the death of so many children and so many people. These have not been surgical strikes.

And it’s very difficult, I think, to understand the kind of military tactics that have been used.

You know, if they’re”

—he was referring to the Israelis—

“chasing Hezbollah, then go for Hezbollah. You don’t go for the entire Lebanese nation.”

The Minister pointed out that Hezbollah hides in urban areas, and is totally and utterly incapable of understanding the consequences for the Lebanese people. What advice does he give the Israelis now? How are they to deal with Hezbollah if they are not to engage in the kind of wider damage that is undoubtedly taking place?

I am not a military strategist, and I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman is either. [Hon. Members: “He is!”] I apologise. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was just a good bloke. I hope that he accepts my apology.

The position is very difficult to understand. While I was in Beirut, I heard a story about a bridge that the Israelis feared would be used to bring supplies to Hezbollah from Syria. I am not certain, but I believe that the bridge may have been paid for with European Union aid money. It certainly cost €70 million. I understand from everyone to whom I spoke that there was a big hole in one end of the bridge. The bridge was reparable in time, but instead it was attacked again and again until it had been utterly destroyed. I do not see the sense in attacking the Lebanese infrastructure in that way.

Worse still, I heard of a Lebanese army barracks in which 17 or 18 engineers were killed. It was very close to the British ambassador’s residence. If the aim is to go in and try to disarm Hezbollah, whether by persuasion or by force, where is the sense—tactical or otherwise—in dropping a bomb on the very force whose help is required in establishing law and order and extending the Government’s remit right down to the Israeli border? It makes no sense. I made that view known to the Israelis—including the Israeli Foreign Minister—and I know that they realise they must be very judicious in the way in which they attack such targets if they are to win opinion on the Arab streets.


We remain concerned about the political situation in Burma, which is unchanged. I summoned the Burmese ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and wrote to the Burmese Foreign Minister setting out our concerns in detail. I also raised Burma with the Governments of China, India, Japan, Thailand and South Korea and I met Juan Mendes, the UN special adviser for the prevention of genocide, to discuss the Burmese situation. Indeed, I invited Mr. Mendes to come here to Parliament to meet Members of both Houses and discuss their continuing concerns about Burma. I hope to able to arrange that in the near future, and we will continue to press for positive change in Burma.

I thank the Minister for that reply and I encourage him to continue taking specific steps to build international support for a UN Security Council resolution on Burma, particularly in the light of the extension of Aung San Suu Kyi’s house arrest in May and the continuing Burmese army offensive against the Karen people, which has resulted in the displacement of more than 18,000 individuals this year alone.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He referred to a group of specific issues, which I also raised with the ambassador and with the Foreign Ministers of other countries in order to secure co-operative action in the region to get Burma to accept its international obligations. First, Burma should allow the UN to enter the country. Secondly, it should allow in the UN refugee administration and, thirdly, it should also allow a UN rapporteur into the country to investigate allegations of torture and other inhumane treatment against ethnic minorities. Countries in the region must take some responsibility for developing a comprehensive strategy to bring Burma into the public domain and to get it to live up to its requirements on human rights and for its own civil society. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am continually raising the issues that he mentioned with both the Burmese Administration and the countries around Burma, which could exert a greater influence than they have up to now.

I warmly welcome the Minister’s robust answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Mr. Crabb). Given that the remorseless bestiality of the military junta has caused the patience of the Malaysian Prime Minister and his colleagues in the Association of South East Asian Nations finally to snap, and given that no fewer than 313 hon. Members have signed early-day motion 902, calling for a UN Security Council intervention in Burma, will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House today what particular steps he is taking to try to persuade Ghana, Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville to back a robust resolution that will force the regime to stop subjugating its citizens and to start liberating them?

Again, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we support a proposal for a Security Council resolution on Burma and we are working closely not only with the United States, but with other partners on the Council to ensure that we have a full debate on Burma, which we hope will lead to a resolution. Our first objective—to answer the hon. Gentleman’s main question—is to get Burma formally added to the UN Security Council agenda. To achieve that, we need nine votes and we are working with like-minded partners to secure those votes. I cannot yet tell the House that I have secured the nine, but we are close to doing so. I hope that, having achieved the nine votes, we can proceed to put the motion at the Council. That is a clear indication that the international community has not just lost its patience with Burma, but is prepared to take action to represent the needs of the Burmese people who are trapped in that country. They are powerless and voiceless and only we can help them to resolve their problems.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Burmese regime is propped up by the highest number of child soldiers in the world? It has been reported that the Burmese regime frequently apprehends boys as young as 12 at train and bus stations, markets and other public places, forcing them into the army and even to participate in executions. When he next meets the Burmese—

It is not normal to put into the public domain discussions with an ambassador, even of that regime. However, on the issue of child soldiers, I asked the ambassador to look me in the eye and tell me—not as an ambassador or politician, but as a father and a grandfather—why so many of his children or grandchildren have had their childhoods stolen and how many of them are fighting an inhumane war against their own fellow children and fellow human beings instead of playing in the streets and doing the things that children take for granted in this country. He did not answer that question, but I looked him in the eye again and I asked him again and again, and I will continue to ask him until he rids his country of child soldiers.

I hear what my right hon. Friend says, which is very impressive, but what are the Chinese doing? What discussions has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had with the Chinese? The key to putting pressure on Burma must be found in China changing its position and beginning to condemn that awful regime.

I can confirm that I have had three conversations with different representatives of the Chinese Government—their ambassador, whom I will meet again soon, their Vice-Foreign Minister and their Deputy Foreign Minister, the latter of whom I spoke to only last week in Beijing. I have asked them to consider finding a practical way forward. They are obviously concerned about security on their own border. However, China and the other nations in the region have a direct responsibility not just to get fed up with Burma and its actions, but to do something about being fed up. I am having those delicate discussions on the basis of securing, first, a UN Security Council resolution and, secondly, co-operation to allow the UN to enter Burma freely and to start doing the work that we need to do there on behalf of the people of Burma.

As has been made clear in these exchanges, the Burma regime is one of the most inhumane in the world. The Minister has recently had high-level talks with the Chinese, who are key players in bringing about change, first, because of their major influence on ASEAN; secondly, because of their increasing trade with Burma, through their building of ports to gain access to the Indian ocean and through gas supplies; and, thirdly, because they are one of the key nations that are blocking a binding resolution. Precisely what discussions has he had with the Chinese to bring about a change in their attitude towards Burma, because they need to start taking a more responsible attitude in the international community towards bad human rights records in countries such as Burma?

Yes, as the military strategist says. Why does a military strategist become a Member of Parliament? I can give an assurance that we asked our colleagues in China to do a number of things: first, to help facilitate access by the UN; and, secondly, to think seriously and to help facilitate a UN resolution and a resolution in the Human Rights Council on a better proactive dialogue to allow the various commissioners appointed by the UN to deal with Burma and to be able to do their jobs. We have yet to get a full response, but at least they are prepared to discuss it. Their recent actions in regard to Iran and North Korea are surely a really good sign of their being more proactive in the region on an international basis. By taking those two steps forward, I hope that we can take steps forward in terms of Burma as well.

Middle East

We are gravely concerned by the situation in Lebanon, Israel and the occupied territories. We are urging restraint on all sides and are working with international partners to secure a durable ceasefire. It is important that the abducted Israeli soldiers are released and that Israel acts proportionately, conforms with international law and avoids civilian death and suffering. Ultimately, to resolve the situation in both Gaza and Lebanon, we need to deal with the underlying causes, so we must get negotiations between Israel and Palestinians back on track and make progress towards the two-state solution.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. If she recalls, there was a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh last year, and the Israelis promised to release Palestinian prisoners. However, there are still 9,000 Palestinians in detention or prison, including 400 children. In addition, 33 Palestinian Ministers and Members of Parliament are also in detention. The Israelis must understand that there cannot be peace and stability in that region unless they give the Palestinians their independence and their liberty.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who is one of the more distinguished contributors for her record in all of these spheres, and I understand the concern that she expresses. I can tell her that, particularly with regard to the recent detention of Ministers and Members of Parliament, international concern has been expressed and there continue to be calls for their release. I can also tell her that the wider concerns that she expresses about Palestinian prisoners in general are shared, and that much discussion and negotiation is going on at the current time about all of these issues.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that a ceasefire will be short lived unless both Hezbollah and Hamas agree to give up their weapons and agree to a ceasefire themselves, and that, sadly, neither looks like happening?

As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East said in response to earlier questions—and as Senator Mitchell said on the “Today” programme this morning—it is of course the case that any ceasefire that is other than a ceasefire on both sides, and any ceasefire that does not have the capacity to be durable and sustainable, simply will not hold. The right hon. Gentleman is right that, sadly, there seems to be little evidence that either Hamas or Hezbollah has much interest at present in such a ceasefire.

Immigration Service

Last week, I set out to the House our plans for transforming the Home Office and for rebalancing the criminal justice system. Today, as I promised, I return to the House with further proposals for reform of the immigration and nationality directorate, with the aims of making it fair, effective, transparent and trusted, and of rebuilding confidence in our immigration system. I will now set out our plan, a copy of which I have placed in the Library.

In this area, as in others, we are not starting from year zero. For instance, I wish to thank the Home Affairs Committee and its Chairman, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), for the work that it has done, and for its newly published report on immigration control. A number of its recommendations are reflected in the proposals that I shall outline today, and we will study the report carefully and respond in full in due course.

Once again, I pay tribute to my predecessors for their significant achievements, which include the closure of Sangatte, the 72 per cent. reduction in asylum applications from their peak, the speeding up of the processing of asylum decisions from the 22 months that it took in 1997 to two months now, and achieving the tipping point target of removing more failed asylum seekers than those coming in.

However, recent events have highlighted weaknesses within the IND, and we need to reform its systems so that they are truly able to meet the challenges of what are hugely changed circumstances. In approaching that, over the past six weeks we—in particular my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality and I—have examined the immigration system from the perspective of the front line, by talking directly to more than 600 immigration workers, case workers and managers and consulting several thousand others about what they need to make the organisation work better. Their views have helped shape our plans for reforms, and they will continue to do so.

To change the IND, I have set out four new strategic objectives. Our first objective is to strengthen our borders, to use tougher checks abroad so that only those with permission can travel to the United Kingdom, and to ensure that we know who leaves so that we can take action against those who break the rules. We will bring together resources, increased powers, new technology and the increased visibility that staff say they need to transform our border services.

By 2008, we will have in place biometric ID requirements for the highest risk countries, taking fingerprints from all visa applicants from those countries. We will perform border checks on people before they travel to this country, targeting high-risk routes through effective threat and risk analysis. We will progressively reinstate exit—in other words, embarkation—controls in stages, starting with the higher-risk routes and people, identify who overstays and count everyone in and out by 2014. We will strengthen the powers and the surveillance capability of our border service to enforce our physical borders more effectively and to deter illegal entry, and make it a visible, uniformed presence.

Secondly, we will enforce compliance with our immigration rules, removing the most harmful people first and denying the privileges of Britain to those who stay here illegally. We will double what we spend on enforcement and compliance by 2009-10 and we will expand our activity. For foreign national prisoners, we will require evidence of nationality during contact with the criminal justice system itself, link criminality more clearly to deportation, remove in-country rights of appeal, streamline our procedures and otherwise remove barriers to deportation and removal.

A key challenge is to extend the United Kingdom’s ability, in law, to deport or remove those who threaten our security. A proportion of those eligible for deportation or removal are not removed because the country to which they would be returned is considered unsafe, and because we are not currently able to balance the threat posed by an individual to our national security against the risk of mistreatment if the individual concerned is returned to their own country. We are prevented from making this balance by the Chahal judgment in the European Court in 1996—before we had the Human Rights Act 1998 in this country. We are seeking to change this through our intervention in a Dutch case before the European Court. We want to be able to take into account the threat to national security and to be able to rely on assurances given by the returnee country.

Changing the Chahal judgment is the essential requirement. But in any event, we intend to consult on making it easier to deport people under UK law within the terms of the judgment, limiting as far as possible the ability to stop the deportation of those whom the Government consider it necessary to deport or to remove for reasons of national security. We will redouble our efforts on deportation and removal, including through changes to the law, where necessary.

We will also do much more on enforcement and compliance within the United Kingdom. We will work across government to shut down fraudulent access to benefits and services, and tackle illegal working. We will penalise rogue employers who employ illegal workers through fines and through seizing the assets of persistent offenders. We will do this in step with providing more efficient support to help respectable employers check who is entitled to be here. We will disbar company officers who are criminally liable for consenting to, or conniving in, knowingly employing illegal workers. We will make immigration a truly cross-government issue, with shared targets.

Thirdly, we will fast-track asylum cases, remove those whose claims fail and integrate those who need our protection. We will continue to remove more failed asylum seekers who make unfounded claims, now that we have reached the tipping point. By the end of 2009, in three years’ time, we aim to deal with 75 per cent. of new asylum cases—granting or removing, as appropriate—within six months. In five years’ time, by the end of 2011, we intend to deal with 90 per cent. within six months, and we have set out plans to achieve that. We will deal with the legacy of unresolved cases in five years or less, as I said last week. We will prioritise those who may pose a risk to the public and then focus on those who can be more easily removed, those receiving support and those who may be granted leave. All cases will be dealt with on their individual merits: there will be no amnesty.

Finally, we will boost Britain’s economy by bringing the right skills here from around the world and ensuring that this country is easy to visit legally, through managed migration. We will implement the points-based system to attract the workers and students we want to bring to Britain. We will exploit biometrics to help trusted travellers enter and leave the country faster.

To deliver those four strategic objectives, we need to make radical changes to the IND as an organisation and to the environment in which it operates. We intend to do that in several important ways. We will strengthen and simplify our immigration laws to make the system more effective and give our work force effective powers to do the job we ask them to do. As a first step, we will take new powers, including to ensure that foreign national prisoners automatically face deportation, and to strengthen our border through inter-agency working. As a second step, we will radically reform and simplify the immigration laws, rules and guidance under which the work force has to work.

We will also create a strong framework for delivery and accountability. We will therefore establish IND as a shadow agency from April 2007. It will be given the operational freedoms and the regional structure it needs to deliver its business, while being more clearly accountable to Parliament and the public. We will consult on streamlining the existing fragmented regulation and inspection regime by the creation of a new single immigration regulator to give an independent and consistent perspective on the performance of IND as a whole. And we will consult on setting up a new migration advisory committee, which would publish recommendations to Government on where in the economy migration should sensibly help to fill skills gaps, and provide an informed and non-partisan view.

In addition to these proposals, we will introduce a range of measures, including strengthening IND’s leadership and management at all levels, and a change of culture. In that context, I am pleased to announce that Stuart Hyde, an assistant chief constable with the West Midlands police, has joined IND as the new senior director for enforcement.

These are outline proposals. Over the next few months, we will publish further details and we will act and consult where necessary. Some changes will happen quickly, others will take time. This is a long-term investment that will require endurance and persistence: it is not a quick fix. But we are committed to achieving a transformation in the way IND works over the next few years, so that we can deliver the services that Parliament and the public rightly expect. I command this plan to the House.

I think that the word should have been “commend”. Perhaps the Home Secretary thinks that he is still at the Ministry of Defence.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. Much of what he announced is very sensible: it is also not new. The new asylum model, for example, was announced in February 2005. I also welcomed his intention to challenge the Chahal judgment last week. Indeed, can he now answer the question he twice failed to answer then, which was what he will do if the Chahal challenge fails? Most particularly, what will happen with the Prime Minister’s comment, which the Home Secretary repeated today, that foreign prisoners will face automatic deportation? What will happen to that if the Chahal challenge fails?

I have sat opposite three Home Secretaries, and each has talked tougher than the one before. However, they all discovered that tough talk was not enough—and they were the ones who created the system that the right hon. Gentleman called “not fit for purpose”. So what does the rest of today’s announcement consist of?

The Home Secretary has announced yet another restructuring of the immigration and nationality directorate. There is nothing new in that—we have been here before as well. Over the past few years, I have sat here and listened time after time to talk of crackdowns, consultations, initiatives and action plans on matters ranging from bogus language schools to sham marriages, yet still we are faced with the current shambles.

As I said, the Home Secretary said that the IND was not fit for purpose, but the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality said that it was not fit for the future. The truth is that the Government cannot cope with their own past. The serious problems faced by the IND will not be solved by yet another reshuffling of the deck. They will certainly not be solved by Ministers implicitly blaming civil servants. The IND has been overwhelmed by the sheer scale of immigration into this country.

In 2004, net immigration into the UK from outside the EU totalled almost 270,000 people. In addition, in the 18 months since EU enlargement, some 600,000 people have arrived from the accession states, 580,000 more than the Government estimated at the time. Moreover, 660,000 foreign workers were issued with national insurance numbers. That is interesting, given what the Home Secretary said about actions to be taken against employers, most of whom take ownership of an NI number as proof of a person’s right to be here. The problem is squarely the Government’s.

Only last week, the Home Secretary said that we might have 450,000 failed asylum seekers, but that was just months after the Government denied that there were as many as 250,000 here. All those core problems arose as a direct result of deliberate and explicit Government policy decisions.

To deal with them, the Home Secretary said that he will double the IND’s removals budget. That is welcome, although it would be overdue even if it were to happen today, yet it is not due to happen until 2010. When will the extra funding begin? What will the increase be this year, and what will it be next year?

Spending on the IND has increased by more than 400 per cent. since 1998, and the number of staff has almost trebled, although all the transfers that have been going on makes that figure hard to work out. What has been the result? A massive growth in immigration, both legal and illegal—a growth so big that the social consequences are beginning to worry even Labour Back Benchers. The Government do not have any clue about how many illegal immigrants are here, hundreds of foreign prisoners have been released on to our streets, and all of the problems result from a policy failure so huge that it has overwhelmed the system. The Government’s policy is wrong, not just their administration.

However, the most oppressed victims of the Government’s policy are some of the immigrants themselves. They include the lorry load of Chinese immigrants who tragically died in Folkestone en route into the UK, or the 23 cockle pickers who died on the sands of Morecambe bay, or the illegal immigrants who live and work in often inhumane and dangerous conditions in our supposedly civilised country.

Before the Morecambe bay tragedy, this Government had successfully prosecuted only 10 employers of illegal immigrants in seven years, even though the relevant laws were put in place in 1996. It took Morecambe bay and the resignation of the then Immigration Minister to end the Government’s habit of turning a blind eye to the explosion of people trafficking and the massive trade in human misery that had blown up on their watch.

I welcome any measures that will cut the amount of illegal working going on in this country, but we must understand that the powers will work only if they are used. They will be used only if the Government have the determination to deliver more than rhetoric on the issue, and are prepared to commit the necessary resources. If they do that, it will be a first.

What other proposals have the Government made to deal with these problems? They are introducing embarkation controls, for which the Opposition have been calling for at least as long as I have been shadow Home Secretary. The Government eventually agreed to institute e-borders embarkation control in 2008, but we now understand that the process will not be concluded until 2014. That is too late. What is more, the system relies on a computer database and we all know how reliable Home Office computer databases are in terms of the speed with which they come into effect.

Will the Home Secretary explain why we cannot simply reinstate a manual embarkation control system immediately? His proposal will not be in place to cope with the next EU enlargement and the large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians who will come to this country, including, in the words of his own Minister, 45,000 “undesirables”—the Government’s word, not mine. Can the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that his Government will not repeat their disastrous mistake over the first enlargements, and allow vast numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians immediate access to this country?

No immigration policy will work as long as we have “porous borders”—the words of the past Metropolitan Police Commissioner. That porous border is a contributor to illegal immigration, drugs trafficking, people trafficking, terrorism and a host of other crimes. That is why we have long called for border police, bringing together Customs, immigration, special branch and ports police, and giving them all wider powers.

Along with the present and former heads of the Metropolitan police, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and others, we urged the Government to include those powers in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill. Why did not the Government do that? Instead, the Home Secretary offers us uniforms for immigration officers: no identified extra powers and no amalgamation of resources—just a new uniform. Frankly, this is a ludicrous piece of window dressing. It will not reinforce the immigration system. It will not seal our porous borders and it will certainly not shut down the hideous traffic in human beings that is still going on in the 10th year of the Government’s tenure.

This morning, I listened with interest to the latest Minister for immigration patter out the same old line, used by his many predecessors, that it was all the fault of the Opposition parties. No doubt the Home Secretary will repeat that line today, but let me tell him this: nine years, three big majorities, four Home Secretaries and 54 Acts of Parliament lead to one conclusion—this situation is this Government’s responsibility and it is long past time they dealt with it.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for welcoming many of the proposals, which he left unspecified, while concentrating on those that he does not seem to welcome so much. May I rectify his view that we are blaming all this on the Opposition? Unusually, we are not. We have tried—[Interruption.] Nor are we blaming it on our predecessors, who made a number of achievements. We are blaming some of it on the Opposition, as I shall point out later, but the main cause is the sheer extent of migration in the world. Every year, 200 million people, which is equivalent to the population of Brazil, migrate—not just move but migrate—and that has caused successive Secretaries of State huge problems. It overwhelmed the last Conservative Secretary of State, when it took 22 months to process an asylum case. The huge backlog to which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) referred was already building up when the Labour Government came in. We have always had to face the migration problem and changes in international circumstances.

I shall refer to the some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. He said that there was nothing new in the statement. Actually, the strategic objectives are new. The greater emphasis on border security and public protection is new. The rigorous risk-based approach to individuals and routes is new. The comprehensive identity management of foreign nationals is new. The extension of biometrics is new. The more visible and resourced uniformed border presence is new. The doubling of enforcement resource and activity is new. The simplification and strengthening of the law that we outlined, including the new powers for deportations and inter-agency arrangements, is new.

The new accountability arrangements to complement agency status with a single regulator are new. There is a new independent migration advisory committee. The introduction of the new commissioning model is new—[Interruption.] The reason the right hon. Gentleman can see nothing new is that when it is being outlined he is having a conversation with his colleagues. There is a new programme to clear the legacy of unconcluded cases. There is a new drive to break down barriers to removal and deportation. The comprehensive and fairer charging regime is new. I shall not go through the rest as time is limited.

Incidentally, the IND has been mocked in respect of the move towards agency status, but only by separating it from the core Home Office as an arm’s-length agency can we hope to restore faith in the system.

“Removing the agency from the orbit of the Home Office will allow it to be reconstructed along fit-for-purpose lines and run more efficiently.”

Those are not my words; they are from the Conservative party’s James report, on which it contested the last election.

The right hon. Gentleman asks why we do not bring in a card-based system of embarkation controls. I remind him that the system was so inefficient even 14 years ago that the last Conservative Secretary of State got rid of card-based embarkation controls, which is why we have no way of counting out anyone who leaves the country. Incidentally, by 2010, 95 per cent. of routes will be covered by e-borders.

The right hon. Gentleman asked when the funding increases for enforcement will start. The answer is next year—pretty much as fast as we can start increased funding. It will go up every year until 2010.

On the Chahal judgment, the right hon. Gentleman seemed to ignore both my oral statement and the one I sent earlier, when I announced that there is a range of ways to proceed. He asked what we intended to do apart from challenging the judgment. I made it absolutely plain that one thing was to limit as far as possible, within the terms of the judgment, the ability to stop deportation of those the Government consider it necessary to deport or remove for reasons of national security. I used those words not 10 minutes before the right hon. Gentleman asked me to say something about the judgment.

As I said, there is a range of ways to proceed. Another way might be to legislate that the courts must give particular weight to a memorandum of understanding in determining whether an individual faces risk when deported. I made it absolutely clear that we would be prepared to countenance that and to consult on it.

Border enforcement is not just a matter of bringing in uniforms. We are increasing resources and looking at increasing powers. We are certainly increasing co-ordination. The staff suggested, and said that they would fully support, our giving them a measure of uniform and visible status. They felt that would reinforce their position.

As for the Conservatives’ suggestion for their so-called effective border force, they admitted during the general election campaign—to be precise, on the “Today” programme on 12 April 2005—that it meant covering only 35 of the 625 ports: some force and some coverage, if that is all it would amount to.

I commend—as I said, rather than command—the statement to the House, despite anything that the right hon. Gentleman said in a rather churlish acceptance of major steps forward on our IND improvement. I commend those steps, and I am sure they will render the IND far more effective than was ever the case under Conservative Governments.

I thank the Home Secretary for his reference to the Select Committee on Home Affairs and the report published two days ago.

It is clear that what drives illegal migration is the ability to work illegally. Does the Home Secretary accept that employers who exploit illegal labour not only take advantage of those employees but put good employers out of work and cut the wages and conditions of other people in the work force?

However, IND cannot be left to tackle illegal labour alone. If the Revenue does not collect tax and national insurance from people with fake books, if the Department for Work and Pensions gives out national insurance numbers, and if the Department for Education and Skills gives approval to dodgy colleges that are fronts for illegal working, the proposals will not work.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s emphasis on illegal working and its status, but will he tell the House that the whole of government is signed up to making it a priority? That is how he will actually deliver his pledge.

Yes, I agree with my right hon. Friend that the fact of the matter is that those who work here illegally, where that is done intentionally and with the knowledge of employers, undermine the conditions, terms of service and wages that have been built up over a long time for British workers. Often, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) said, those people are living in inhumane and terrible conditions. They are putting at risk not only their own health and safety, but that of other workers and other people in this country. As such, I hope that there will be not only a cross-Government approach to the matter, which, as has been said, is essential, but a cross-party approach. We have often found in the past that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends, who like to talk about others talking tough, are the toughest talkers and the softest voters in the House when it comes to tackling some of these abuses. I hope that, having described the inhumane conditions in which some of these people work, when it comes to doing something about it, they will give the Government the backing that they have refused to give in the past.

I thank the Home Secretary for notice of the statement, although my gratitude is a little blunted by the awareness that, although I received it 30 minutes in advance, I think some newspapers received significant components of it about three days in advance.

Many people listening to the statement and some of the previous announcements will understandably ask why many of these measures, some of which are very welcome, were not taken earlier. Why, for instance, has it taken almost 10 years to agree to elementary exit checks, and—if my understanding of the right hon. Gentleman’s statement is correct—why will there now be a further delay of eight years until 2014 before there is a proper counting-in-and-out system in place? Why has it taken almost a decade to agree to the principle of a properly identified border force, for which we on these Benches have been arguing for a long time? On that note, and in view of the Home Secretary’s earlier remarks, will he confirm how many ports of entry will be covered by the new uniformed IND officials and whether they will be integrated more fully with Customs officials so that there is a fully integrated border force?

Many observers will be understandably sceptical about the practical meaning of some of the pledges made today. What, for instance, does it really mean in practice to

“deal with the legacy of unresolved cases in five years or less”?

Like the Home Secretary himself no doubt, I have spoken to many asylum seekers who find it inexplicable that no action is taken to remove and deport them once their applications or appeals have been refused. They are left in a state of limbo, unable to stay, unable to work and unable to leave. If the Home Secretary wants to deliver a fairer but firmer asylum system, we need to make sure that dealing with asylum applications is not just a paper-shuffling exercise. It should be followed up by real action where that is clearly merited.

Finally, I would like to add my own questions about the Home Secretary’s comments on the Chahal case and the Dutch case that hopes to qualify the Chahal judgment. If the Dutch lose their case, the Government will not be able to ensure that foreign national prisoners automatically face deportation, as the right hon. Gentleman has said. But surely even if the Dutch win the case, the Government will still be unable to deport individuals to countries that are in a state of total chaos or where the individuals will face certain torture, mutilation or death. Will he explain whether he is seriously suggesting that all foreign national offenders will be deported without qualification? Or does he accept that there must and will be exceptions, regardless of what happens in the Dutch case, which he would do well to acknowledge today?

To start with the hon. Gentleman’s last point, although the Chahal judgment requires consideration of the threat to the safety of the individual to be deported, which I do not think anyone objects to—civilised societies do take that into account—the problem is that it prohibits taking into account the safety of everyone else in this country if the person remains here. It is that aspect of the judgment that makes it imbalanced. Although it is of course appropriate to consider the safety of anyone who has been deported from this country, it is equally important when considering, say, a suspected terrorist, to take into account the safety of the people of this country if the person stays here. In our view, that imbalance is at the heart of a gross misjudgment, which is why we are challenging it. I think that that answers his question.

The hon. Gentleman made a comment, as he normally does, about having read elements of the statement in the press. I have to say that I have read all of his response in the press as well, so I am well prepared for that. He demanded to know why we lifted the embarkation controls and so on. There was support from the Liberal Democrats at the time. The reason that support existed, the reason that I have never criticised the lifting of the controls—although I felt compelled to point out to Conservative Members that they started this from 1994 onwards—and the reason that I accept that that was not an entirely unreasonable thing to do, relates to the nature of the card indexing system, which was grossly inefficient. We are now in a position where we have a technology that will enable us to take measures, and that is what we will do over the period.

Of course we hope that there will be an integrated and co-ordinated border force, but I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that, on two subjects, he is very wrong. He implies that we have done nothing up until now, but that is not the case. Under the previous three Labour Home Secretaries, we have doubled the number of removals of those not entitled to be here. We have reduced by 72 per cent. the number of asylum applicants, because we are no longer a magnet. We have reduced the time that it takes to deal with an asylum case from 22 months to eight weeks. We have now got a tipping point where we are deporting more false asylum claimants than arrive here. We have got border controls in northern France and Belgium. We have lorries being scanned. We have closed Sangatte. The channel tunnel is fenced off. Biometric finger scanning for visa applicants and airline liaison has been brought in. There are many other measures. The hon. Gentleman ought to commend us for being far more self-critical and constructive in renewing and building on the improvements that we have already made than either of the Opposition parties appear capable of being.

Order. The House will know that there is a great deal of business to be completed today, in which a large number of hon. Members are hoping to take part. For the remainder of the statement, may I appeal for brief questions and perhaps brief answers from the Secretary of State?

Does the Home Secretary accept that this country is facing a level of legal immigration unknown in its entire history? Does he accept that, as we get the figures together for 2004, we can see that the level of legal immigration is approaching 1 million—half of that coming from the accession countries? Does he also accept that part of the problem was that only three of the established members of the European Union agreed that they should give free access to their labour markets? Can he—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is getting us off to a bad start. I have counted three questions. I think that that is sufficient.

My right hon. Friend is right to say that we face a challenge of hitherto unimaginable proportions due to the level of international migration. I think that the implication of his questions is that we should accept that, if migration is to be managed to the benefit of this country, we ought to have the information with which to manage it, the powers and practical measures with which to control it, and independent advice on which to base those judgments. I agree with all three of those things and I think that he will find that they are in my statement.

The Home Secretary’s statement has considerable resource implications for the immigration and nationality directorate. Has the Chancellor recently made additional resources available to him for those additional activities, or will the Home Secretary have to fund them from his existing departmental baseline?

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, as ever, the Chancellor has been my flexible friend as I have approached the matter. A combination of the reprioritisation of my budget, the extension of charging to foreign nationals—not people in this country—and an efficiency drive in a number of areas has resulted in a package with which the Chancellor and I are equally satisfied.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that for a long time I have been one of the sternest critics of the extremists whom he wishes to remove from the country, but as Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I draw his attention to the concerns that my Committee expressed about the intervention in the Ramzi case to overturn the Chahal judgment. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that our absolute obligations under the UN convention against torture, and under customary international law, will create problems for the removal of the people concerned? I put it this way: would he be prepared to send somebody back to face torture?

I do not think that anyone is asking hon. Members to accept that premise. It is wildly wrong to suggest—if indeed my hon. Friend is suggesting it—that opposition to the Chahal judgment means support either for complicity or for sending people to be tortured; that is an outrageous suggestion. I have already explained to the House the problem with the Chahal judgment, which is that it appears on the face of it to deny us the ability to arrive at a balance between the protection and safety of one individual and the protection and safety of 60 million individuals—that is, everyone in this country. It is that imbalance that we, along with others in Europe, are attempting to challenge. We have said that we will consider the extent to which, commensurate with judgments made on any cases, we can have legislative recourse so that that balance can at least be approximated, even if it is not fully achieved. Surely that lack of balance between the rights and protections of one individual, and the rights and protections of groups of individuals, is at the heart of what we ought to do. Everybody has human rights, the most basic of which is the right to life—and if that applies to one individual, it applies to the rest of the people in the United Kingdom.

Those of us who represent Kent coastal constituencies regard ourselves as being on the front line of our porous borders. The Home Secretary needs to convince not just the people of Kent, but people working in the service that he will create something rather more substantial than a team of dockyard traffic wardens. The British Transport police have the ability to co-ordinate the effort—someone has to co-ordinate it—but will they be allowed to do it? Has he agreed that with the Secretary of State for Transport, and if the BTP will not co-ordinate the effort, who will?

I regret the terminology that the hon. Gentleman chose to use in referring to those who are trying to carry out a difficult task. I hope that, on reflection, he will realise that what he said was a bit unfair on the people trying to do that job. In answer to his second question, when I make a statement in the House on behalf of the Government, it is on behalf of the whole Government.

The Secretary of State is still ambiguous about what the uniformed force will do. Unless and until there is a dedicated ports police for our sea ports, we will have porous borders, and no measures taken by him or his successors will be taken seriously, whether in the war against terrorism, the illegal trafficking of people, or combating the mafia-style crimes committed by people who go through our sea ports. What logic is there in having police in our airports, but not our sea ports? Get real on this!

I know that my hon. Friend has been a forceful advocate on the subject for some time. The truth of the matter is that our operations are intelligence-led. I do not think that anyone in the House is suggesting that we fund a full force that is static and resident at 625 ports.

An intelligence-led, mobile force that is better resourced and co-ordinated is precisely what we are trying to achieve. Even if my statement does not fully delight my hon. Friend—I am afraid that, in nine years of trying, I have almost never delighted him on anything—I hope that it is a move in that direction.

The right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the criminal liability that will be attached to employers who employ illegal immigrants. He is wholly right to say that the criminal sanctions should apply only to employers who act knowingly—that is, it should not be an absolute offence. May I suggest that the same rules be applied to the public sector as to the private sector, so that Ministers and permanent secretaries will be exposed to the same liabilities as members of a private-sector board?

That is a perfectly reasonable point, and I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for accepting that we are trying to distinguish between those who commit an offence in error, and others. I would go slightly further and say that, if we ask others to do something, it is incumbent on the Government to make sure that our enforcement agencies are effective. If we have an ineffective enforcement agency, we can hardly ask those in the private sector to act in a fashion that we do not.

I welcome the doubling of the enforcement budget and the target of dealing with 90 per cent. of asylum cases within six months. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the proposal will cover not only the initial decision and the appeal, but, if relevant, removal? Nothing is more unsettling, both for the public and asylum seekers, than not knowing when, or indeed whether, they will be removed.

Absolutely, and that contributes to a double inefficiency, because the longer a family is in the country, the more legitimacy it has in claiming the protection of article 8 of the European convention on human rights and other legislation that protects family life. If a family has been here for two, three, five or six months, that is one thing, but if it has been here for five years as a result of our lack of administrative ability to deal with the case, it makes it harder to remove them. I hope that we will deal with that.

The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) mentioned the figure of 450,000, but that is the number of electronic and paper records, not, as he suggested, the number of people. Nevertheless, we will try to prioritise the way in which we deal with them. I am happy to tell the House that I am prepared to bring in outside help to deal with that backlog, and I hope that we can do that within five years. We will start by eliminating duplication and errors, and then start on cases that may present a risk to the public. Of course, in many of the cases people may have been granted leave to remain, but we have not been able to contact the relevant people to tell them that. Some will have already left, and many may be members of the eight applicant members of the European Union, and so are now here legitimately. The idea that we have to go through an extraordinarily high number of people—some 100,000 a year—who have been refused leave to remain is another myth that has been encouraged by Conservative Members and published by some of the more right-wing papers.

I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has to learn in a very hard school that Northern Ireland is not such a bad place. He has come home to home troubles, and home troubles are harder to serve and sell. I want to ask him a plain question: is he satisfied that he has the accurate number for cases of asylum seekers? If he has the right number, how long will it take him to settle those cases, rather than address new applications? Lastly, how will he implement the suggestion in his statement that he will try to stop people leaving their country to get to this United Kingdom?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I believe that we have an accurate number of case files at between 400,000 and 450,000. Many of those will be duplicates and therefore those figures do not represent people. The only estimate we have of the number of people came from the National Audit Office last year—the only estimate that is in the public domain from any independent organisation. That is 283,000, plus dependants, plus those who were in the UK before 1994. I do not make estimates because, like the last Conservative Home Secretary, I am not prepared to put before the House estimates on whose accuracy I cannot rely. However, the figure that I mentioned from the NAO is in the public domain. I have put in the public domain the number of case files that we have, but some of them may be duplicates and many may be errors. We will deal with that over the next few years. With regard to people leaving the country, we do not intend to try to stop anyone leaving, but we intend to reintroduce the means of counting them as they leave the country. Finally, I look back with great affection to the days when the right hon. Gentleman and I could stroll in the sunshine through Ballymena. I can tell him that the delights there are surpassed only by the delights of the Home Office.

I very much welcome the plans to reform the immigration and nationality directorate, particularly the commitment to crack down on the most harmful people for removal first. However, what does my right hon. Friend intend to do about the present target structure, which many of us believe was the root cause of the law-abiding soft targets being removed from the country and convicts being allowed to disappear into society?

One of the things that we hope will be achieved by giving the IND a degree of autonomy—first in shadow form from next April, and hopefully, if things go well, in agency status from the following April—will be a degree of permission to the management to sustain the objectives without the constant interference of people like me in setting the objectives. There will still be objectives and targets, but in the face of hugely changed circumstances over the past 10 years we have done immensely well to achieve the benefits that I mentioned earlier and the reduction in the time that it takes to process claims, the reduction in asylum numbers, the closure of some of the worst areas of illegal immigration and so on. It is time to step back a little and say, “Okay, we have managed to hold the fort and to make major advances, but we need to move from improvement to transformation.” Part of that transformation entails giving the management more control in managing the position and sustaining our long-term objectives.

The Home Secretary said that he wanted to link criminality more clearly to deportation. Can he tell us, therefore, what level of offence would trigger a deportation order?

We have said that where people have been given a custodial sentence over a given time, which we have not specified—at present it is one year for non-European economic area nationals and two years for EEA nationals—there should be a presumption of deportation. There will be cases where, in any civilised society, we will decide that we ought not to implement that because of certain circumstances, but when someone comes to this country, takes this country’s benefits and misuses the country’s hospitality to the extent that they get a prison sentence, the presumption should be that they go back to the country from which they came.

In respect of the new shadow agency that the Home Secretary is creating, will he undertake to consult Parliament if it is to have a regional structure? Will he also undertake to ensure that should the regulator produce a report that is critical of the agency or of immigration policy, the Government will accept it?

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend a guarantee on the first point. I will ask my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality to consult MPs and others about regional cities. I am not sure that I entirely understood the second point that my right hon. Friend was making. I may have misheard it. I envisage the migration advisory committee as an advisory body particularly on the skills that are necessary for the economy—there is a skills advisory body at present. We will consult on regulation, and perhaps during that consultation he can make the points that he just made.

I hope that the Home Secretary will agree that many illegal asylum seekers are in the country because of initial poor decision making. What assurances can he give us that in future the staff will be given the tools for more robust decision making?

We will try to make sure that that is the case. Earlier, I mentioned resources and enforcement. I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the fact that in my statement I said that, where necessary, we would also amend the regulations, the laws and the guidance to those working on cases to enable them to do their job more effectively and more speedily. Although the ills of the world and the problems that we face on immigration are often blamed on the Human Rights Act 1998, if we studied paragraph 364 of the immigration rules 1994, we would find that the burden of scrutiny placed on caseworkers is about three times as wide as it would need to be under the Human Rights Act. Those rules were passed under the last Conservative Government in 1994.

My right hon. Friend is aware that many people came legally to the UK on visitors visas, but failed to return home when those visas expired and became illegal overstayers, and that that happened under the previous Conservative Government as well as under the present Government, as many overstayers have been in the UK for more than 10 years. As there is no record of overstayers leaving the UK, how will the plan deal with such cases?

We hope that that will be done both by increased enforcement capacity, capability, technology and resources, and also to some extent by the gradual introduction of embarkation controls, which will be linked to biometrics—fingerprinting or on the iris. We trust that a combination of all those will achieve the objective that my hon. Friend identifies. In addition, we will consider legislation.

Does the Home Secretary accept that from the perspective of those of us who have huge daily contact with the IND, the three things that would make the biggest difference are speedy and effective co-ordination between the Home Office and the appeals services, management of the Home Office so that it did not so often lose files, passports and papers, and control of those people who purport to give advice, sometimes lawyers and sometimes others, who give bad advice, charge large sums of money and do a disservice to the individuals whom they purport to serve as well as to the country in which they are working?

Yes, I think so, although our shortcomings sometimes assist such people to make money, sometimes under false pretences. The hon. Gentleman speaks with authority on these matters, as he is probably—depending on one’s point of view—the biggest correspondent or the biggest burden on the immigration and nationality directorate, but he is right to talk about the basics, the losing of files and so on. There is no doubt about that. In the document we made a very simple point, at which people may sneer: that we want to create excellence in the basics—that is, in the maintenance of files, systems, information and so on—because that is what gives rise to huge frustration, additional work, with MPs and others writing after months and years of delays, and then grounds for remaining in the country, even when the initial entry was illegitimate, because people have been here so long that to ask them to move would be to interrupt unduly the family life that had been established. The hon. Gentleman is right on all these points.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that when the shadow agency is created it will make absolutely no difference in terms of the rights and responsibilities of Members of Parliament, particularly those of us who have to represent the cases of many asylum seekers and immigrants in Parliament?

That is certainly the case with regard to the shadow form of the agency, but I hope that we can have genuine and mature discussions with Members of Parliament about the degree of accountability and hon. Members’ level of intervention in every decision. I fully accept that we should retain that overall strategic direction, that there should be overall accountability to Parliament and that Members of Parliament must always be given the right in the last instance, in extremis or in cases of miscarriages of justice, to intervene, and I think that that is what my hon. Friend is referring to. However, I know that she will accept that sometimes the sheer level of intervention, where people may not always be as discriminating as she is about which cases to raise, and the sheer amount of work that is needed to reopen a case every time a Member of Parliament writes, is something that we should consider in fairness to the staff who have to deal with these matters.

I do not think that anyone would disagree with looking at that, but that is certainly part of the burden of consultation that we hope would be carried out.

The 283,000 estimate to which the Home Secretary referred relates to asylum seekers whose claims have ultimately failed. Does the time scale of five years apply to those individuals, and what does “resolve” mean in their case? Does it mean that they will be removed from the country, or what else does it mean?

It obviously means that in the last instance, having got rid of duplicates and errors, and those who have died or left, as far as can be ascertained, and having moved out of consideration those who are now here legitimately because they are from EU countries, although they may not have been in the first instance, we will come down to those who have been granted leave to remain and those for whom the final decision has been deportation. We will do everything possible to identify and to remove those people. It means exactly what it says. Does it mean that none of those people will face deportation to a country where it is illegal to deport them, or that they will not face the usual obstacles that we would face with anyone else? No, it does not mean that. We are living in the real world. But it does mean that each and every one of these cases will be attended to within a five-year period, rather than just sitting there, unattended, as has been the case up to now.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need to crack down on illegal working. Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chair of the Select Committee, about the need for all parts of government to work together on this matter, will the Home Secretary consider establishing one clear point of contact to which anyone with suspicions about illegal working can report them in the reasonable expectation that they will be properly looked into and dealt with by all parts of government working together?

The new director of enforcement whom I announced earlier today is already engaged on that matter, and I think that he has already started to make arrangements with Crimestoppers in that regard.

I thank the Home Secretary for giving notice of the statement and I welcome many of the initiatives, particularly the action on rogue employers. With regard to the consultation on the creation of a migration advisory committee, no doubt to inform the creation of the shortage occupation lists, the Home Secretary will know that the Government have rejected devolution of the separate Scottish occupation list, but will he consider seriously the creation of a Scottish migration advisory committee to inform the creation of the separate Scottish occupation list?

We always keep in contact with our colleagues in the Scottish Executive on these matters. For instance, I know that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), will visit Scotland in September. I visit regularly and we have discussions not only with the Minister for Justice there, Cathy Jamieson, but also the First Minister, Jack McConnell, and they have been forceful in trying to ensure that the Scottish dimension enters all of our considerations, and I am sure that that will continue.

To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the implications of a move to agency status, I have no problem in accepting that I have the right to represent my constituents, and I will do that in whatever way I want, but at the end of the day who will make the decisions? When one looks at other agencies, one realises that a possible implication is that in future Ministers will not get involved in individual decisions and a Member will not be able to take up a case with the Minister. Will that happen, or, at the very least, if anything like that is proposed, will that be discussed thoroughly with hon. Members before it does happen?

I do not know whether I will disappoint my hon. Friend, but by and large at the moment we do not take those decisions. We reserve the right to intervene, and I do not envisage that we would lose that right, but at the moment we try to use that sparingly, not least because it is one thing—a difficult thing—to have an indiscriminate number of letters sent in about cases—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) keeps intervening from a sedentary position and referring to cases that have been delayed or files that have been lost. I have already been absolutely clear on that. It is a sine qua non for looking at the relationship and the practical implications of intervention that we remedy the very defects that are causing hon. Members to intervene on so many occasions, causing legal difficulties in removing people because of the inordinate and unjustifiable delays. I fully accept that, and part of the deal has to be that there is a better performance and a speedier turnaround, and that at the end of the day Members and Ministers reserve the right to intervene and to make representations. All I am saying is that as we improve the system, I hope that we will thereby reduce the scale of intervention by Members and Ministers, because the inadequacies, unjustifiable delays, lost cases and miscarriages of justice on these matters will be diminished.

Will the Home Secretary accept that perhaps he is creating some confusion between what he is saying and what the Lord Chancellor was saying on the “Today” programme today? In particular, will he accept that he is ducking the issue by transferring the interpretation of the existing legislation to the courts, and that the real legislation should be made in this House in terms that enable people to have a fair trial or fair treatment, and that means that we have to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and guarantee that there is no move to majority voting in the Council of Ministers regarding immigration questions under the European treaties? Does the Home Secretary accept that?

I am deeply sad to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is not able to lay the ills at the feet of the Human Rights Act. The Chahal judgment was in 1996. It was before the Human Rights Act. Indeed, it was before the Labour Government. That judgment was made under a Conservative Government. The other impediment to a speedy resolution of many of these cases also predates the 1997 Labour election victory, and that is, as I said earlier, paragraph 364 or the immigration rules of 1994. If the hon. Gentleman wants to address both those matters, he should join us, but in doing so he would not destroy the Human Rights Act, because both matters pre-date that.

Does my right hon. Friend envisage a change in the law in order to deal with asylum seekers who successfully claim refugee status, but who immediately apply for travel documents in order to return home to pay a visit to the country from which they claim to have fled because they have been persecuted, or do the Government already have the means to deal with that abuse?

The answer is that I do not know. My hon. Friend has started to engage with my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality on the matter, which will be looked into. We have made it plain that if we need to amend the law or the regulations in order to achieve a fair and effective immigration system, which is what people want, we will do so. In today’s world, where 200 million people migrate every year, a managed migration system is important, and if we have to change the law and regulations to achieve that, we will do so.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the last three sitting days before the 76-day summer recess, there have been 98 written ministerial statements. It is impossible for hon. Members to scrutinise the Government given the deluge of statements, and it is also clear that the vast majority of the statements could and should have been made earlier. Can you help to rectify what appears to be a gross abuse of power by the Executive?

The advice that I received when I first entered the House was that I should specialise, and the hon. Gentleman should read the statements on the subjects in which he is specialising. It has taken me a long time to get Ministers to be accountable to this House, and written statements are a form of accountability, which I welcome. I would rather have written statements than nothing at all.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and I have made every effort to reduce the number of written ministerial statements tabled on the last day of the Session. In the past, about 60 written ministerial statements were tabled on the last day of the Session, compared with 14 today. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain about the large number of written ministerial statements that were tabled earlier, because we have done what we said we would do to ensure that hon. Members are not ambushed on the last day. On this occasion, it should be bouquets rather than brickbats from the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, hon. Members jealously guard their right to be informed when other hon. Members visit their constituencies. On Friday, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, visited my constituency. I had discovered that he was coming before his visit, so I approached him, welcomed him to my constituency and told him that I could not be present at the function—I do not mind other hon. Members visiting my constituency, even if they do not tell me. However, he addressed a gathering of members of the British Hindu community in what he thought was flawless Gujarati. There was bewilderment, because the majority in the audience thought that he was talking in a cross between Chinese and Welsh. Is it possible for guidance to be given to hon. Members on the courtesy of writing to let other hon. Members know when they are visiting their constituencies and on the need to have a proper tutor if they choose to speak another language?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for momentarily delaying the well-deserved tribute to the Clerk of the House. May I seek your assistance in protecting the rights of Back Benchers and preserving the courtesies and customs of the House in connection with written answers? Following a well-publicised policy change by the Government arising from an article in the News of the World, I tabled a question for answer on 26 June. On that day, the Home Secretary said that he would reply as soon as possible. Nearly one month later, I tabled a further question asking when he might be interested in telling me when he met the News of the World to discuss the matter. Yesterday, I received another written answer from the Home Secretary, which stated that he would reply “as soon as possible”. The Home Secretary must know whether he met the News of the World. When and how will we get the traditional answers to written questions out of Ministers in a timely fashion?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me know that he was going to raise that point of order. It is important that Ministers answer questions in time, and I know that the Leader of the House shares that view. I hope that the current delays can be dealt with quickly, because parliamentary questions are an essential part of the accountability of Ministers to this House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a relative new boy, and I am inexperienced in the procedure of the House, so I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Last week at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the constituency party of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) had received funding from a company that wanted to build a casino. The hon. Gentleman replied that that was a lie and raised a point of order. However, I have checked his entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, which includes a company called Aston Wood Properties. In August 2003, the local newspaper stated that Aston Wood Properties hoped to build a casino, along with a hotel and nightclub, on the site of the old Keddies store in the High street, which suggests that the Deputy Prime Minister was correct. How can we rectify the situation?

The House was very noisy at that Deputy Prime Minister’s questions—I remember the hon. Gentleman being in the Chamber. It is not helpful to the proceedings of this House when allegations go from one side of the House to the other. If any hon. Member has any complaint about the behaviour of another hon. Member, there is a procedure, which I will not go into at the moment—I am not encouraging anyone to use the procedure. If the word “liar” was shouted, it would have been helpful if there had been less noise in the Chamber, because those hon. Members who know me well know that I would not have tolerated such language and would have called for an immediate withdrawal. However, I cannot do that if there is so much noise that I cannot hear what has been said. I would appreciate it if hon. Members listened rather than throwing in their tuppence-worth and shouting across the Chamber.

Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), Mr. Speaker. May I point out for the record that I accompanied my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to the function mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman? As my right hon. Friend’s tutor in Gujarati, and as a fluent Gujarati speaker, I advise the right hon. Member for Leicester, East to turn to page 7 of the Leicester Mercury, where the quality of Gujarati spoken by my right hon. Friend is highly praised.

I have enough to worry about in dealing with the Springburn Herald, so I will not get involved.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), Mr. Speaker. May I apologise unreservedly for any intemperate or inappropriate language? I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue with me in advance, which gave me the opportunity to give him a statement from my local association outlining where the Deputy Prime Minister got his facts wrong. Would it be helpful if I were to write to you enclosing a copy of that statement to allow hon. Members to see where the point of confusion arose?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has apologised, which is good enough for me. We should put an end to the matter and leave it at that. Sometimes, particularly at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, things get very heated, so we will move on and have a nice recess.

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable passenger transport authorities in certain metropolitan districts in England to regulate passenger transport operations; and for connected purposes.

The Bill is intended to strengthen passenger transport authorities—PTAs—and passenger transport executives—PTEs—in metropolitan England outside London. The reason for doing that is to encourage greater use of public transport and to enable PTAs and PTEs to be more innovative with public transport schemes in their own areas. Essentially, my proposal is to gain for the rest of metropolitan England what London already has.

My Bill has three elements: a strengthened regulatory role for PTAs and PTEs; the explicit ability to enter into partnership agreements with neighbouring areas, most obviously covering travel-to-work areas that cross county boundaries; and the ability of those strengthened PTAs to receive grant aid directly from central Government. In Tyne and Wear, that would have the great advantage of eliminating the funding shortfall for the pensioners concessionary bus travel scheme.

My Bill is unashamedly pro-public transport. It favours the citizen and the broader public interest over narrower commercial interests. All the traditional arguments in favour of public transport still stand: the impact of public transport on congestion, public transport as a liberating instrument of social inclusion, and public transport as a support for the labour market and economic activity more generally. Those arguments are well known and understood and are in themselves pretty persuasive, but it is surely the case for public transport as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly that should compel us to renew our efforts in this area. The strengthened PTAs proposed in my Bill would have control over the strategic highway network in their area. They would be able to control bus lanes and bus priority carriageways and assert the routes used for bus travel, so that the public interest could be asserted over the bus operator’s commercial interest.

Let me give an example of why this is necessary. The No. 22 bus operated by Stagecoach in my constituency is supposed to go down Shields road. It always used to go down Shields road, local people want it to go down Shields road, and the bus stops are on Shields road. However, the bus is now diverted into a residential area—Valentia avenue and Iolanthe crescent. Some 800 local residents have signed a petition requesting it to be returned to its former route. I have tried to get the bus route put back to how it was, as have the PTA, the local council, and local residents in direct meetings with the operator, but the answer remains no. That is not for any public service reason but for the operating convenience of the bus company, which has rerouted the bus past its depot so that it can change drivers. And people complain about provider capture in public services!

The operator behaves in that way because there is no-one to insist that it should not. My Bill would remedy that. Powerful stand-alone transport authorities would be able to invest in the public transport network and their own capital programmes. Of course they would have to be audited and held to account for the money that they were spending, but at least they would be able to get on with it.

Bus deregulation has not led to a growth in bus travel outside London. Since deregulation, fares have increased by 86 per cent. in PTA areas and bus use has halved. Bus use in Tyne and Wear has declined by 48 per cent. in the past 20 years. Bus operators’ response to declining use is to cut services, reduce costs, raise fares and seek public subsidies. As the bus service weakens, people look for alternatives—most obviously, the private motor car. Nor has deregulation brought new, exciting, innovative bus operators into the market. Market entry costs are high, and existing operators are pretty well placed to see off any new competition. In London, buses are carrying more passengers than at any time since the 1960s, whereas in the rest of metropolitan England the movement is in the opposite direction. That is neither sustainable nor desirable. As a remedy, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nicholas Brown, Mr. Doug Henderson, Mr. David Clelland, Mrs. Sharon Hodgson, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. David Anderson, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Mr. George Mudie, Mr. Clive Betts, Graham Stringer and Mr. Stephen Byers.

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

Mr. Nicholas Brown accordingly presented a Bill to enable passenger transport authorities in certain metropolitan districts in England to regulate passenger transport operations; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 221].

Sir Roger Sands KCB

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and all the other leaders of political parties here represented, I beg to move,

That Mr. Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Roger Sands KCB, on his retirement from the office of Clerk of the House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedures of the House, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.

I have no doubt that the rest of the House will wish to join party leaders and me in supporting this motion to pay tribute to Sir Roger Sands, who on 30 September will retire as Clerk of the House. That date will mark 41 years of service, during which time he has not only watched the House change but played a vital role in shaping those changes and in ensuring its continued relevance and vitality. Over the course of his career, which began in the early days of Harold Wilson’s Government in 1965, Sir Roger has occupied almost all of the senior positions in the Clerk’s Department, including Clerk of the Overseas Office, Principal Clerk of Select Committees and Registrar of Members’ Interests, Clerk of Public Bills, Clerk of Legislation and Clerk Assistant, before becoming Clerk of the House in January 2003.

Yet according to more than one of his colleagues, despite playing such a number of prominent roles he has left few personal embarrassing personal anecdotes behind him; evidently he was too shrewd and reliable for that. However, he did manage to get described in one departmental missive as being

“like a lethal hunter-killer submarine”—

a clear warning that his manner belied a forensic mind and a tenacious ability to stick to an argument. As I am sure all colleagues who have encountered Sir Roger will readily acknowledge, he has been unfailingly courteous in all his dealings. As one of his colleagues in the Clerk’s Department remarked, “His capacity to soak up problems without over-reacting to them never ceased to amaze. The worst reaction I ever saw was when he professed, after being badly let down, to be ‘Very cross’.”

Let me turn to the aspect of the motion that refers to the wise contribution that Sir Roger has made in developing the procedures of the House, and particularly in discharging his duties as Chief Executive. The important experience that he gained during the 1980s as Secretary of the House of Commons Commission meant that he developed acute antennae for Members’ concerns. He was therefore well placed, when becoming Chief Executive as well as Clerk of the House, to guide the Board of Management through a period of significant change. As a result, he leaves the House in a much better position to address the further challenges that it continues to face.

It should be emphasised, however, that long before he got the senior job, Sir Roger had already made a difference to the administration of the House. In the mid-1990s he succeeded in negotiating new contracts for the House’s printing and publishing needs. They managed to provide considerable cost savings without sacrificing quality.

More generally, Sir Roger has played a critical role in helping the House to remain at the centre of public and political life. As he noted in his letter of retirement:

“The House of Commons is a much-criticised institution; and its own Members are often as critical an anyone. But whatever its perceived failings, the House remains at the centre of political and public life and is the envy of most other countries in the world.”

Those who dispute that and dismiss Parliament as an irrelevance display their ignorance of this place. It is all too easy to dismiss this magnificent gothic structure on the bank of the Thames and mistake Parliament for a monument, fixed and unchanged for countless years.

Parliament is not a monument. It has the most extraordinary history but it is a living institution, and as such, must constantly be refreshed and renewed. That is what Sir Roger Sands has helped to achieve. However, he would be the first to acknowledge—as indeed he has—the critical support that he received from all the staff of the House in doing his duties as Clerk. In paying tribute to Sir Roger, we pay tribute to all the staff in post and the many others who have left in recent years from all departments and all levels in the House, often after many years’ service. They may rarely be seen or noticed by those outside these buildings, but as hon. Members of all parties know, the House of Commons and Parliament could not function without the superb officials who serve it and the broad spectrum of talent that they possess.

As the England football team demonstrated rather vividly earlier this month, a talented group of individuals does not alone guarantee an effective team. Leadership is all important. Roger Sands provided that and we are deeply grateful to him for doing so. We will miss him greatly. We thank him warmly and wish him and his wife, Jennifer, well for the future.

It is with great pleasure that I support the motion in the name of the Prime Minister and other right hon. and hon. Members to mark the retirement of Sir Roger Sands.

Sir Roger has given years of distinguished service to the House and hon. Members, and we shall be sorry to see him go. In his 41 years here, he has probably done nearly every job in the Clerk’s repertoire. He served as secretary to the Chairman of Ways and Means, looking after the Deputy Speakers—I suspect that he has some good stories to tell. Despite being, as you mentioned at his retirement party yesterday, Mr. Speaker, a very English Englishman, he served for four years as a respected Clerk to the Scottish Affairs Committee. I am sure that he enjoyed his visits to the highlands and islands and Prestwick, although I suspect that the work on dampness in Scottish housing may have been slightly less fun.

Sir Roger was for several years Secretary to the House of Commons Commission and Clerk to the Services Committee. Dare I say it, but 20 years on, he has been dealing with some of the same issues, including the rules on the use of prepaid envelopes. He many not be sorry to see the back of that.

For four years Sir Roger was Clerk of the Overseas Office. I am sure that that enabled him to build up a network of friends and contacts, which doubtless stood him in good stead when trying to find out what Parliaments around the world, especially in the Commonwealth, were up to when we wanted to draw on their experience.

However, I suspect that he might have most enjoyed his two stints in the Public Bill Office, including seven years in charge, dealing with the intricacies of the legislative process. That is where many hon. Members will have learned to value his advice and assistance.

Since 1 January 2003, Sir Roger has been Clerk of the House and Chief Executive. He was not the first Clerk to have the title of Chief Executive, but he was the first for whom it was part of the job description from the outset. I suspect that it has played a greater role in his job than it did in the past. I want briefly to reflect on that aspect of his contribution to the House.

Although most hon. Members will remember his contribution in advising on the business of the House in every sense, for the staff of the House his contribution as Chief Executive will have had most impact. It is too easy for Members to forget the work that needs to go on behind the scenes to ensure that this place functions as smoothly as they expect. In that capacity, Sir Roger has had to get to grips with issues such as best practice on tender procedures, diversity strategy and value for money audit reports that many previous Clerks would have felt far removed from the role of the Clerk to the House of Commons.

As we move into a world of more accountability and a culture of compliance, the role has brought with it increased responsibilities and duties. Sir Roger has chaired the Board of Management not only with skill but with sensitivity and courtesy, and I am sure that his quiet but incisive style and absolute integrity have served the House, its Members and staff well.

I am reliably informed that there is a link between Sir Roger and Tiger Woods, in that he is an occasional golfer—Sir Roger, I mean. I have been given a description of his golfing technique, which mirrors his approach to his work here. I am told that he is accurate, steady and unflappable on the links, with a deceptively slow backswing, which accelerates the club towards the middle of the ball and generally strikes it further and straighter than might at first sight seem likely.

Just as on the golf course, so in Sir Roger’s work, where he has also been accurate, steady and unflappable, and where his quiet approach has masked an ability to strike at the heart of an issue and achieve more than many, on occasions, thought possible.

I join the Leader of the House in thanking all who have served the House. Today in particular, we wish Sir Roger and his family well. We thank him for all he has given this House and its Members in the past 41 years, and wish him a happy retirement.

What do I need to say about such a parliamentary colleague? That, of course, is what Sir Roger Sands is, although he is not a Member of Parliament. He has been here for only one year less than me—he gets the gold watch and I get to be Father of the House. I leave it to hon. Members to decide who got the better deal.

What can I say about someone who is retiring at the peak of his career? Sir Roger is universally recognised by his colleagues as being the right man for the job. They display no envy or criticism of the fact that he had the job, they simply express admiration for the way in which he has carried it out. That respect is due to an unusual combination of qualities: his great ability and his even greater modesty. It is typical of Sir Roger that he was sitting in the Chamber as we started the business, but now he has disappeared. I suspect that he would have sunk below the Table had he been here to listen to all the compliments that he would have had to endure. He is deceptively unassuming.

As has been said, Sir Roger is only the second Clerk of the House to be Chief Executive. That is an enhanced role; it is Clerk of the House plus. The House has taken on a new corporate structure, and he and the Board of Management have accepted responsibilities that the House of Commons Commission previously exercised. As Chairman of the Liaison Committee, I can say that Sir Roger has presided over the greatest enhancement for a quarter of a century in the quality and number of resources available to back up Select Committees. He has undertaken both functions with his colleagues with great ability. There has been a smooth transition to an improved system in both cases.

I was a little surprised—although I should have known this—to discover that Sir Roger is also the accounting officer. I serve on the Public Accounts Committee, yet I was unaware of that. I hope that he will not feel deprived by the knowledge that in his years as an accounting officer, we never felt that we had to call him before the Public Accounts Committee. Many of his accounting officer colleagues in Whitehall wish that they had shared that deprivation.

On behalf of Back-Bench colleagues who are unable to be here today, myself and all other members of the Liaison Committee, I thank Sir Roger and congratulate him on 40 years of outstanding service to the House. I wish him and his wife a long, happy and fulfilling retirement.

Liberal Democrat Members associate ourselves with and fully support the motion that the Leader of the House presented. The comments that have already been made exemplify the character and quality that Sir Roger has brought to his position over the past few years and throughout his career as a servant of the House. That is what we give him credit for today.

Unlike the Father of the House, I was not around the House in 1965. In fact, very few of the present Members were. It was a very different House in those days. Sir Harry Hylton-Foster was in your Chair, Mr. Speaker, Harold Wilson spoke as Prime Minister at the Government Dispatch Box, and Edward Heath spoke from the Opposition Front Bench. It might be of interest to the House to learn that, in 1965, it was not felt necessary to adjourn for the summer recess until 5 August. And to add a little liveliness to the proceedings on the last day, instead of a debate on the adjournment of the House there was a motion of no confidence in the Government to send Members on their way with a smile. Those were the days!

It is fair to say that Sir Roger, in his role of Clerk of the House and Chief Executive, has received the credit not only of Members of the House but of all the staff who have worked with him. His is a big job nowadays; it is by no means a sinecure. The Leader of the House was entirely right, in paying tribute to Sir Roger, to pay tribute to all the staff of the House who give us such excellent service. As we are talking about the Clerk of the House today, I shall mention the Clerks Department specifically in that regard. We might sometimes have reason to argue with their use of English when it is different from our own, and there are occasions on which we find it difficult to accept their advice. However, that advice is always given with courtesy and accuracy, and with the interests of the House in mind. We give them great credit for that, because without it, the House could not operate as an effective legislature.

There is life after the House of Commons for former Clerks of the House. I have the great pleasure of having Sir Donald Limon as one of my constituents. He lives in the village of Kingsdon, and I meet him at least twice a year when Witham Friary cricket club plays Kingsdon cricket club on one of the great occasions of the sporting calendar. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had the great pleasure of going to an Edwardian tea party to mark the centenary of the railway coming to Somerton. Sir Donald Limon was not only singing in the choir; he was a soloist. I note that one of Sir Roger’s recreations is listening to music. Perhaps there is a possibility of a former Clerks’ society being formed, in which Sir Donald could sing and Sir Roger could listen. I applaud Sir Roger, and I wish him and Lady Sands every health and happiness in a long retirement.

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak today. It is somewhat unusual for such a lowly and humble example of parliamentary life as a mere Government Back Bencher to take part in occasions such as these, but I hope to explain why I am doing so.

I first came across Sir Roger—as he then was not—in my role as an Opposition Whip in the early 1990s. It was only a few years later, when I had been transmogrified into a Government Whip, that I was at a meeting with Sir Roger and some of his Clerk colleagues. As I went in to the room, I heard Roger say, “Oh, it’s my MP!” I looked round the room to see to whom the remark was being addressed, and realised that it was me. It transpired that he lived not only in my constituency but in the same part of it as I did. [Hon. Members: “ Did he vote for you?”] Well, that is the next point that I want to make.

I try to be a conscientious, hard-working and informed Member of the House, so, on my return to my office, I immediately went to our canvassing records. I looked at the appropriate address—which I shall not divulge—and, sure enough, there were Roger and Jennifer Sands. Next to the voting intention, it said in bold capitals: “WON’T SAY”, so he was clearly the soul of discretion—

Well, they can sometimes count as the same thing.

On his deserved promotion to Clerk of the House, Roger had to leave the leafy green suburbs of Lewisham, West and take up residence in the precincts of the Palace. Hon. Members will recall that, in February 2003, the Joint Committee on House of Lords reform, chaired by the then Member for Copeland, Jack—now Lord—Cunningham, reported back to the House. There followed the famous occasion on which we had five votes but did not achieve a majority in favour of anything.

The report had been carefully constructed to omit any option for the abolition of the House of Lords, which is something that I believe in. I should like to say in passing to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that my attitude to the House of Lords is similar to my attitude to a wasps’ nest. We should either leave it alone or get rid of the whole bloody thing. Chopping it in half is probably the worst thing to do—

What, the House of Lords?

I then went with a delegation, led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth), to press for an amendment on the abolition of the House of Lords to be included. We reasoned this with Roger and his colleagues, and they were very kind to us. Being enlightened and sensible, they agreed that they would recommend this course of action to Mr. Speaker. The power to decide whether such an amendment should be included does not lie with the Clerks; they simply recommend such proposals to the Speaker.

We had obtained more than 100 signatures to that amendment. Technically, however, the only way of tabling it would have been to table it as an amendment to every one of the seven options that came out of the report. In a spirit of consensual reasonableness, I said to Roger, “Of course, we would not expect it to be repeated on every amendment. We only need to take the top six of the subsequent amendments. After all, we would not want to block up the Order Paper.” Roger then said, in his charmingly laconic, quizzical and amusing way, “Ah, a gang of hardened revolutionaries not wanting to block up the Order Paper—whatever next?”

I thank Sir Roger for his advice, courtesy and service to the House over the past 40 years. I would also like to thank Lady Jennifer, who has been a valued and much appreciated volunteer at the Sydenham citizens advice bureau, where she has made a considerable contribution. Along with all other hon. Members, I wish them every happiness and good fortune in retirement.

It is always sad when friends go, and we are reminded of the onward sweep of time. Thirty-seven years ago, I was elected to the Northern Ireland Parliament, and there was an old hand there whom I had known for years. He said, “I am going to tell you a few things that you need to know, Ian. First of all, the Speaker is infallible. He makes no mistakes, provided that he is sitting. When he gets up, you will realise that he is infallible, or out you will go.” I am encouraged that today is the last day of term, because even if I am put out, it will only be for a few minutes. That would not worry me too much.

That friend also told me certain strange things about Clerks. He said, “You keep your eye on the Clerks, because they have the power. If you run across the Clerks of the House, you are finished.” I asked him why that was, and he said, “Remember that the Clerks never pray. You will probably go in to prayers, but the Clerks’ seats are removed from the House at that time. The Speaker and the Chaplain take their place.” Mr. Speaker, I am sure that you will know the scripture that says that we are to pray to our father that seeth in secret, and the father that seeth in secret shall reward us openly. No doubt the Clerks have been rewarded openly, because they have not prayed. I was rather amused by that.

My friend also said, “When you speak, and you are holding forth with fire, the Speaker could get restless and move his hand on to or off his knee, or take a pencil and tap it on the Order Paper. That is nothing to worry about.” “But,” he said, “he might lean over to consult one of the Clerks. Then you’re in a different circumstance. But you might even triumph on such a day. There is one time that I will warn you of—when the Clerk himself moves back his head, and the Speaker moves forward his, then the guillotine is coming down.” I have remembered that in my career, and I have escaped the guillotine so far. I do not know for how long.

The Clerks do a job that is, in many ways, a thankless one. When I came into the House, there was a very robust Conservative Member, whom I will not name, who was running into trouble with the Clerks because they did not like the questions that he tabled. He used to argue with them—I was with him one day, and he kept me for almost half an hour as he argued with them about a question. Then he looked at the Clerk, used language that I would not use, and said, “I came to this House to ask questions, and you’ll not stop me.” The Clerk said, “All right, I’ll put down the question.” Of course, the question was ruled out by the Speaker, so he made no progress. Therefore, the Clerks have great power.

None of the present Clerks ever had the opportunity of putting me out of the House, but other Clerks had. Once, I was sitting just above where I stand now, at a time when the Tory party was in power, when all three Democratic Unionist party Members were put out. I remember with gratitude the Deputy Chief Whip of the Labour party who shielded me. One of the officials said, “If we touch you, you will go out for six months.” He said, “You’ll never touch him,” and put his arms round me—it was the first time that I was embraced by a Labour Whip. He was a fine man, and I think that he is enjoying his retirement at the moment. He was a member of the Salvation Army, and he did a good salvation job on me that day. The interesting thing was that there was no car to take me away, and the Prime Minister’s car was borrowed to get rid of me. I left the House that day, was not touched, and got the Prime Minister’s car to take me to the airport. That is democracy in action.

I am grateful to Sir Roger for the courtesy that he has shown to Members from the smaller parties in the House. He has always been willing to listen to us, help us and say, “This is the best way to do it.” On behalf of all my colleagues, I pay tribute to him and wish him a happy retirement. We trust that he will run harder and faster with those things that will occupy his heart and mind in retirement. I endorse all that my colleagues have said about him today.

Before I put the question, I should like to add my own tribute to Sir Roger Sands. As my principal adviser on procedural and management responsibilities, he has always offered me wise counsel, tempering his advice with good humour, patience and common sense. For that, I owe him a great personal debt, and I think of him as one of the most intelligently dutiful individuals whom I have ever met. It should also not be forgotten that Sir Roger was the first Clerk to be selected as Chief Executive of the House of Commons Service, and he has done much to enhance the efficiency from which we all benefit. I know that on 30 September, the 41st anniversary of his first joining the House, Sir Roger and Lady Sands will take into retirement the thanks and best wishes of all Members past and present.

Question put and agreed to.


That Mr Speaker be requested to convey to Sir Roger Sands KCB, on his retirement from the office of the Clerk of the House, the House’s gratitude for his long and distinguished career, for his wise contribution to the development of the procedures of the House, for his leadership and professionalism in the discharge of his duties as chief executive of the House, and for the courteous and helpful advice always given to individual honourable Members.


Motion made and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No 83A(6) (Programme motions),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 13th March and 19th April 2006 (Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme) and Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at this day’s sitting.

2. The Lords Amendments shall be considered in the following order, namely: 3, 1, 2 and 4 to 6.

3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

4. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Mr. Alan Campbell.]

Question agreed to.

Orders of the Day

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Lords amendments considered.

New Clause

Lords amendment: No. 3

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

In all parts of the House, there has long been awareness of some of the real concerns about the way in which Northern Ireland legislation is dealt with through the Order in Council procedure. We have had many debates about such matters with Members on both sides of the House in the past 15 months during which I have had the privilege of holding this office. We have had discussions in Committee, which have sometimes spilled over into discussions on the Floor of the House. The Government have been considering how to improve the procedure, about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the official Opposition spokesman and other parties last year. As it happens, the other place has helpfully tabled an amendment to deal with those matters, on which we are focusing today.

My noble Friend Lord Rooker and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have considered the procedures in the House, and we have concluded that we need to examine how the Order in Council procedure is to be changed. Following last week’s Lords amendments, the Government have given an undertaking that, if we are unable to restore devolution by 24 November, we will quickly introduce measures to make direct rule more accountable. Our intention is for the restoration of the devolved Assembly by 24 November. Many of the matters dealt with under the Order in Council procedure are properly dealt with by the Assembly, should it be reconstituted. In the event of the Assembly not being reconstituted—of course, I hope that it will be—we will consider how to make those measures more accountable, agreed through the usual channels, if I may say so, with a stage of parliamentary consideration at which Northern Ireland Orders in Council can be amended. We will also ensure that, whenever possible, we legislate for Northern Ireland through Bills.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for being so clear that the Government have finally listened to this request. Will he assure us, however, that in the unfortunate circumstance that the Assembly does not recommence by 24 November, we will not wait for months or years for the changes to take place? Can he assure us that the timetable will be a matter of days or weeks, not months or years?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contributions on these issues. Obviously, the Government’s first priority is to get the Assembly up and running, with the co-operation of colleagues on both sides of the House, by 24 November. In the unhappy event that the Assembly is not reconstituted, we will take an early opportunity to examine how to make the Order in Council procedure more appropriate, as has been discussed in another place and here. Although that will be considered as a matter of urgency, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the first priority of officials and Ministers is to get the Assembly back up and running.

Of course, we are sorry that the provision is not going through now, as Members on both sides of the House have campaigned for it for a long time. I was just looking at Hansard from long ago, when the majority of Northern Ireland Members wanted that to be done. Success rests with the Government. If the Government put down the IRA and the so-called Protestant paramilitary—if they put an end to all the terrorism, cleaning of banknotes and so forth—we will have what we want: ideal democracy. If we can have that, however, let us have the same democracy that we have in legislation on this side of the water.

The right hon. Gentleman’s support is always welcome, and I am grateful for the support that he has given to our objectives today. Let me say to the House, and to the right hon. Gentleman in particular, that the Government’s prime objective is to get the Assembly up and running again. The matters dealt with by Order in Council are dealt with in that way because the Assembly is not sitting. I understand that the Government have responsibilities in regard to the restoration of the Assembly, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman with due respect that responsibilities also lie with all the political parties that are elected in Northern Ireland to ensure that the Assembly is reconstituted.

I ask the House to disagree with the amendment because in my opinion—and I hope that this is acceptable to Opposition Members—what it proposes is unnecessary in view of the Government’s undertaking to consider further parliamentary scrutiny of Orders in Council. I hope that Members will not oppose the motion, but if they do, I hope that they will understand where the Government are coming from.

I am grateful to the Minister for his introductory remarks, and in particular for the significant concession that the Government have announced today in response to repeated arguments from my right hon. and hon. Friends here and in the House of Lords, and from the Liberal Democrat and Democratic Unionist parties, about the unacceptable and undemocratic nature of our present system for Orders in Council affecting Northern Ireland.

Let me say at the outset that I share the Minister’s hope that devolution can be restored in Northern Ireland by 24 November, and I hope that the Government succeed in that objective. It will come as no surprise to the Minister if I repeat what I have said on many previous occasions—that in my view restoration of devolution will be possible only if the republican movement is finally willing both to recognise the legitimacy of the police service and the courts in Northern Ireland, and to give its full and active support to those institutions. But if for whatever reason devolution cannot be restored by 24 November, Conservative Members will look to the Government to move quickly—I use their own word—to introduce new legislation to change the way in which Orders in Council are dealt with here.

It is intolerable that legislation which, if it concerned England, would be dealt with by a Bill, and which would be amenable to amendment and detailed debate by all parties and by Back Benchers in all parts of the House, should, in respect of Northern Ireland, be the subject of a time-limited debate on a single Order in Council, almost always taking place in a Committee Room upstairs. Worse, the Committees allow only perhaps four Northern Ireland Members to participate in discussions of measures relating to education, local government reform and health which directly and significantly affect the lives of the people whom those Members are sent here to represent. Insult is added to injury by the fact that in the case of Orders in Council as in that of any secondary legislation, Parliament must either accept or reject what the Government put before it. It has no power to amend an Order in Council.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that since the announcement that this move would be made, some people in Northern Ireland are describing it as a concession of a political nature? What the hon. Gentleman is describing, however, is something that should have been done years ago. It is something that stands in its own right, irrespective of deadlines, the restoration of devolution or anything else. It is something that ought to have been done already, and ought now to be done as quickly as possible.

I agree. I described it earlier as a concession by the Government, but I would also describe it as a concession to democracy and common sense.

Given that it is a concession to democracy and not to a particular party, and given that between now and the time when devolution is restored in Northern Ireland—if it is restored—there is still a large amount of controversial legislation in the pipeline, is it not appropriate for the concession to be implemented now, rather than the Minister’s making a promise for the future as he has today?

I would have preferred the concession to have been introduced much earlier, but I think that when it comes to measures that affect the way in which Parliament collectively deals with legislation it is best, if at all possible, to achieve reform by means of consensus across the House of Commons rather than by making procedural moves a subject of party political dispute.

In view of the firm assurances that the Government have given today, we shall not oppose the motion, but if devolution is not restored in November, we shall hold Ministers to account and expect them to deliver what they have promised to the House.

The Minister and the House know how strongly I have felt about this matter over the past two years. Indeed, on some occasions during Statutory Instrument Committees I have been almost angry with the Government for failing to make the change. The Minister knows, but I warn him again, that he would not like me when I am angry. Nevertheless, I am relieved to know that he and the Government have seen the sense of a change for which the Liberal Democrats have called for more than two years.

I recall outrageous occasions on which the will of Northern Ireland politicians, speaking in unison, has been ignored in preference to the dogma of the Government. For example, the Government lost a vote on tuition fees in a Grand Committee in which they had a majority because Northern Ireland Members and others felt so strongly that that was the wrong move for Northern Ireland. Of course, we had no opportunity to amend the legislation, and Northern Ireland had imposed on it a piece of legislation developed entirely by the Government, with scant regard for the wishes of the people there.

In that context, I thank the Minister for placing on record the Government’s intention to address the way in which we legislate for Northern Ireland in Westminster. That has been a long time coming. The Liberal Democrats, together with Conservative and indeed Northern Ireland Members, have expressed concerns on many occasions. We are grateful that the Government have now responded and are prepared to act.

We also appreciate the Minister’s important observation that this is nothing to do with planning for failure. We are firmly committed to devolution, and we hope that the continuing priority of the Government and, indeed, politicians speaking for Northern Ireland constituencies is the re-establishment of the devolved Assembly. However, if the devolved Assembly is not restored by that date—and, as I have said, we sincerely hope that it is—we must move quickly to ensure that whatever processes are implemented in this place in the interests of legislation for the Province are implemented speedily.

I asked the Minister to confirm that the Government’s timetable for change would be days or weeks rather than months or years, but I noticed that he declined to be that specific. I will be specific. In my judgment, the Government need to move on that change by the end of December 2006, because the situation has gone on long enough. Even December 2006 will provide the Government with four or five weeks to initiate a dialogue and produce plans to change the methodology for Northern Ireland legislation, thereby enabling it to be amended.

We also very much welcome the intention to legislate for Northern Ireland by means of primary legislation, wherever possible, but will the Minister clarify precisely what that means? Will we see more Bills like this one, where a number of measures that are not related to each other are all scrutinised at once, or will it mean that Northern Ireland measures will be included in legislation for England and Wales that is proceeding on the same subject areas at the same time? Given that we have debated anonymous registration in the Bill, it would have been much better if Northern Ireland provisions had been included by the latter means. I simply cannot understand why we separate Northern Ireland legislation from legislation intended for England and Wales where it is perfectly obvious that the same rules apply.

However, we appreciate that that would require discussions between various Departments, so I rhetorically ask the Minister whether such a feat would be possible. I sincerely hope—[Interruption.] I hear an equivocal response from the Minister so I will take the positive part of it. Silo thinking has to some extent made it difficult for the Northern Ireland Office to work with other Departments, where doing so would offer economies of scale and might lead to more consistent legislation. Will the Minister assure the House that there will be better co-operation and co-ordination between the various Northern Ireland departments and Departments in Whitehall?

Finally, this is an occasion when the Government are asking us to trust them without their having made specific legislative proposals or any specific modifications that could, through amendment, initiate the process that we are discussing in the Bill. I do not always trust the Government, but on this occasion I do, and I sincerely believe that the Minister is sincere and that his word is good. For that reason—[Interruption.]

He is laughing with surprise and relief that on this one occasion we trust him—[Interruption.] I sense from mutterings not many Benches behind me that others may be somewhat more distrustful. Nevertheless, the Liberal Democrats accept the Government’s promise on trust and we assume that we are talking about movement within a five-week period after 25 November. We also assume that changes will be implemented through statute by the end of February. On that basis, we thank the Minister for listening to our views on this important issue and we will not oppose the Government.

I would have supported the Lords amendments today, but given that the Minister has proposed what we all accept is a necessary step forward for securing democracy in Northern Ireland, I am happy to go along with it. I strongly urge that the work is done over the summer, so that we are ready to put these measures through as soon as the House returns after the recess.

I, too, hope that the Assembly will be back by 24 November. In the last few months, we have seen the Order in Council procedure used in a totally undemocratic way. Quite frankly, the Government are not seeking votes in Northern Ireland and they do not care about the people of Northern Ireland in the same sense that they care about the people of London, for example. If every single London Member said that they did not want something to happen, it would not happen. That was the case quite recently when London MPs were very angry about health issues and primary care trusts, and proposals were changed. On many Northern Ireland issues, however, all the parties from the nationalists to the Unionists support certain measures, but the Government have still railroaded their own policies through by the ridiculous Order in Council procedure.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of selection in Northern Ireland—I happen to think that the education system in Northern Ireland is a good system, even though, like every education system, it can be made better—forcing through a measure in two and a half hours in a Committee is not good enough. One Labour Member was taken off the Committee because he had said that he would vote against the Government. I, of course, would not even be considered for that Committee. The Government seem to think that it is all right to put me on European Standing Committees or Statutory Instrument Committees, but not on a Northern Ireland Committee.

Disgracefully, that education measure was forced through. That was using education as a form of blackmail against the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians, when we all know that the vast majority of people there, although they may have wanted to change the way in which the 11-plus worked, did not want to stop academic selection. Minister after Minister stood up and said, “Oh, we are not getting rid of grammar schools; we are just getting rid of academic selection”. Come on, really!

I am pleased that we might be beginning to treat Northern Ireland people with the same respect and to accord them the same rights as we give to people in Scotland, Wales and the rest of the UK. If my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in England and their constituents were treated in the way that Northern Ireland Members—I include my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Dr. McDonnell) who is in his place behind me—and their constituents are treated, they would find it disgraceful.

If the new Assembly does not get up and running, I have real doubts about what might happen under some new procedure, because Sinn Fein has wanted to get rid of grammar schools since day one. If Sinn Fein can do anything to stop that Assembly coming back on 24 November, just in order to get rid of academic selection, that is what it will do. If Sinn Fein manages to stop the Assembly until just after 24 November, I hope that this House will find some way forward. I also hope that the Liberal Democrats would see how Sinn Fein had exploited the issue.

To go back to the nub of the matter, we must find a way of ensuring that the democratically elected MPs from Northern Ireland can take the necessary decisions. Where are they in all this? Why are they not accorded much more power? They have been elected and taken their seats in this place. They should be listened to much more, but because the Government do not seek a single vote in Northern Ireland, they refuse to organise there and refuse to give those people of the UK the opportunity to vote Labour or join the Labour party in any meaningful sense. It is so frustrating.

The Minister may not think so, but I have a lot of time for him and I believe that he has tried hard in very difficult circumstances—[Interruption.] I am probably ruining his remaining career in saying that. Seriously, though, he has tried hard and it can be extremely difficult to be the front-person when the Secretary of State has not been there, yet is pulling the strings. I am pleased that we are moving forward, but it must happen soon over the summer. If the Assembly does not return, we must ensure that the legislation goes through as quickly as possible. Let us do all that we can—the Government must do all that they can—over the summer to help the democratically elected parties in Northern Ireland to form an Assembly so that the people of Northern Ireland can have true democracy.

It is always a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—and never more so than today. I completely endorse her comments, particularly those tangentially related to the education order, but I also welcome the general principles that she has enunciated.

My right hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley) from the early 1970s and myself from the later ‘70s have consistently championed the cause of ending the Order in Council procedure. As Northern Ireland elected representatives, we were capable of speaking on Second Readings of legislation relating entirely to England and Wales. We could table amendments and speak to them in Committee—at great length, if we uncharacteristically wanted to do so—and we could speak on Report and Third Reading. However, we could not do the same in respect of legislation that applied to our own part of the United Kingdom. It was irrational that we should have a greater say in the affairs of England and Wales than in those of the constituents who had sent us here from Northern Ireland. It was an absurdity—one that, regrettably, the Conservative Government did not attempt to rectify at the time; nor have the Labour Government done so, except that it appears that they have accepted that there is a case to be answered.

Perhaps I am just a sceptic, but I rather suspect that the Government making this concession had something to do with the strength of opinion of the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Cross Benchers in the House of Lords. The Government recognised that it might be in the interests of the Bill to make this concession, rather than the Minister having a Damascus road experience on the issue. However it may have come about, we are glad that the Government are moving in that direction, although, like the shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, we would have preferred it to be done now.

Important legislation will be dealt with between now and whenever the Government rectify the situation, and particularly because issues such as water charging will come before the House. Those issues are of immense importance to our constituents and, unfortunately, they will be dealt with under the procedure, whereby only a few of our Members may get the opportunity on some delegated legislation Committee upstairs to speak on the issue for a few minutes. That is unsatisfactory when dealing with such important issues.

The Minister has not spoken about the process by which he would improve the Order in Council procedure. The Lords indicated that it wanted to make Orders in Council amendable and to introduce a procedure by which the Government could withdraw the order to consider the decision of the House and return with an amended order if necessary, or if the Lords did not amend it, the proposal would be adopted by the House. So the Lords made very specific proposals in its amendment, but the Minister has not said whether he would allow Orders in Council to be amended in such circumstances as may come about. The Government still have not told us about that.

All we know is that they would attempt to get greater democracy into the system. At some later stage, they could decide that we would have two hours instead of an hour and a half to debate an order, or three hours upstairs instead of two and a half, and they might trumpet that as being a great blow for democracy. The Minister needs to give us a clear indication of the nature and scope of his intention in relation to any change to make the process more democratic.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the essential element that we are looking for is amendability?

Absolutely—that is the very point that I am making. The House must be capable of amending an Order in Council. It is ludicrous that if one reads an Order in Council and notices a glaring, obvious mistake—one that every hon. Member might accept is an error—it still cannot be changed. There is no method to change it; the Government must withdraw it and come back at a later stage. It is right that the House should be able to amend that Order in Council. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is his intention.

Given the consensus that appears to have broken out on both sides of the House about the need to move quickly on the issue and to introduce changes quickly if the deadline for devolution is not met, does my hon. Friend agree that it would be a good idea now for the Government to enter into discussions with the parties in the House? Discussions are going on in Northern Ireland—some are more fruitful than others—but such a discussion would be extremely fruitful, so that the ideas that my hon. Friend is suggesting could be gone into in more detail.

Yes, and in fact the Government already accept the principle that they should do so in this very Bill. The Bill is centrally designed by the Government to introduce proposals for the devolution of criminal justice and policing matters, which can only be devolved to an Assembly that does not exist, so the Government recognise the need to look ahead on these matters. They recognise that preparatory work needs to be done and that legislation needs to be passed.

If it is right, even before the change in legislation that will be necessary for an Assembly to exist in Northern Ireland, that the Minister should be looking ahead to policing and justice powers being devolved, I am sure that the same Minister would be very content to open up discussions on those matters in the circumstance that many of us do not want—devolution not occurring in Northern Ireland. Although devolution in Northern Ireland might be the Minister’s priority, he should not close his eyes to the possibility that it might not happen. We want it to happen and the Minister knows the circumstances in which it can happen.

I am sure that the Minister was as disappointed as we were when he read the report of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that indicated the ongoing criminality that still exists not just with ordinary paramilitaries from the loyalist side and from the dissidents, but from those who, according to the Minister, are suitable to be in government. Of course, that information will militate against our getting devolution up and running. I hope that the Minister will look at the alternative.

There are always exceptions to the rule, but as a general rule I have always found in the House that the more consideration given to a Bill and the more scrutiny of legislation that goes on, the better the end product. If that is generally accepted as a rule, the Minister must introduce legislation to change the Order in Council procedure, so that we might get better legislation in Northern Ireland. I welcome the move that the Minister has made.

With regard to amending Orders in Council, does the hon. Gentleman recall that a miscellaneous provisions order, which covered two completely different subjects, was considered just two or three weeks ago? Does that not demonstrate how very difficult it is to govern any part of the United Kingdom in that way?

Over the 27 or 28 years that I have been a Member, I have seen the House pass some legislation in an hour and a half, sometimes at 1, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, with barely any Members present, except for Northern Ireland Members. That is no way to deal with legislation. Some of these orders, even though they have might have two different elements, can be very important to the lives of people in Northern Ireland. Our business should not be treated in that way and I trust that the Minister’s undertaking, which I hope will be strengthened in his response, will soon be put in place if devolution does not occur in November.

I thank hon. Members on both sides of the House for welcoming the proposals that the Government announced both in Committee and in another place last week and that I have confirmed to the whole House today. I am grateful to all hon. Members for their contributions. They are aware from the discussions that we have had on this matter that, as I have said previously, if we are unable to restore devolution by 24 November, we will quickly—I emphasise the word “quickly”—introduce measures to make direct rule more accountable, including the opportunity for an amendability stage in the parliamentary consideration of Northern Ireland Orders in Council. It is my intention—we can discuss this matter on the return of the House—to initiate discussions on those matters with the usual channels, to consider how we can examine the procedure in the event of devolution failing to occur on 24 November.

Again, I reconfirm to the House that I intend to focus my time and that of my officials on ensuring that we get the Assembly back for the 24 November deadline, because that is the key element where the decisions that we deal with by Order in Council should be made. I remind hon. Members that I have said that the Order in Council procedure is not satisfactory on every occasion that I have moved the motion on such an order during the 15 months that I have held my position. It is not a satisfactory way to proceed.

I appreciate what the Minister says about you the procedure not being satisfactory. Will you then explain why you used Order in Council procedures to push through an education order when the same Labour Members were being urged to go through the Lobby to keep selection in England three weeks earlier? You used the Order in Council procedure to put that education order through in two and a half hours.

The Government have taken this decision on policy issues relating to this matter, and a key point for my hon. Friend and all hon. Members is that although the Order in Council procedure was unsatisfactory, there was a debate and a vote on the education order upstairs in Committee. The Opposition prayed against the education order in Committee. There was a vote, of all Members who wished to participate in that vote, on the Floor of the House, and the Government were supported and the proposals were agreed to. So although the Order in Council procedure is unsatisfactory, there was even in that controversial case an ability for all Members, if they so wished, to vote on that matter in the House today.

We have had a degree of consensus on the matters under discussion. It is not for me to break that consensus, but I wish simply to state that although I welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) who speaks for the official Opposition, after 10 years of a Labour Government we have brought forward proposals to amend the Order in Council, but in the previous 20 years of Conservative government—from 1972, and up until today—no changes were made. As I do not wish to break the consensus because that would add a sour note to the proceedings, I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I thank him for his support for the measures and I commend the Government proposal to the House.

Lords amendment disagreed to.

Clause 12

Extension of categories of permissible donors

Lords amendment: No. 1.