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Westminster Hall

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

Westminster Hall

Tuesday 6 February 2007

[David Taylor in the Chair]

Cross-border Transport (Deeside)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Roy.]

I am pleased to be in the Chamber this morning. I was very nearly not, because of an incident at Charing Cross. However, that is a different transport issue, which I shall leave for today. It is a pleasure to be here, and I shall begin by addressing where and what the Deeside hub is.

When I first entered the House in 2001, I was struck by the number of invitations that I received from the Scotland Office to attend various events. However, I assure hon. Members that Deeside is firmly in north-east Wales, not in Scotland. The area known as the Deeside hub is an economic sub-region covering Flintshire, Wrexham, Chester, Wirral, Ellesmere Port and Neston. My hon. Friends the Members for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller), for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) and for Wirral, South (Ben Chapman) apologise for not being present this morning. They were keen to attend, but unfortunately they were unable to. It is an important issue for them, too.

The region spans the Welsh-English border, and it has seen faster economic growth than south-east England over the past 20 years. Growth has occurred throughout a range of industries, including major global sectors such as aerospace, metals, automotive, financial services and petrochemicals, and throughout a range of smaller enterprises.

Overall, the region is probably more dependent on manufacturing than many parts of the country, particularly on the Welsh side of the border. Much of that is value added, and it is important that within the sector, we remain ahead of the game and do not suffer the problems experienced in other parts of the country, where they are losing manufacturing to eastern Europe and to China. It is clearly a problem throughout the sector.

The prospect for continued growth, according to most experts and studies, remains very good. However, we can never be complacent, and from my own experience, things can appear to be going well and then something unexpected can happen. Corning, which produces optical fibres on the Deeside industrial park, had a strong order book, and then suddenly the world market for optical fibres crashed and we lost many jobs in what was considered a strong sector.

I am sure that on entering the House, all hon. Members look at what their predecessor said in their maiden speech. Barry Jones, now Lord Jones, talked about the twin pillars of the area’s economic strength. They were Courtaulds, a textile manufacturer, which has now gone, and Shotton steelworks, which still holds the record for the largest number of job losses in a single day at a single plant. They demonstrate that we can never rest on our laurels, and that we must always ensure that we have as dynamic an economy as possible.

To ensure that we build on our success, we need joined-up thinking and close co-operation. It is particularly true of new industrial and business sites, and housing also needs to be affordable. Importantly, we also need transport that meets not only current requirements, but expected needs.

By considering several larger employers, we can see the scale of our transport needs. In my constituency, Airbus alone employs more than 7,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in the Deeside hub area. Almost 2,000 live in my constituency alone. About 8,000 people work at the Deeside industrial park, which covers 800 hectares and includes large employers such as Toyota, making engines, ConvaTec, making medical products, and Iceland, and a range of smaller employers. In other parts of the country, they might not be considered small, but we have a number of large employers.

UPM Shotton paper mill is the largest newsprint mill in the UK, recycling 700,000 tonnes of paper a year and producing 450,000 tonnes of newsprint, all from recycled paper. It is the first mill to achieve that feat. Corus, once the largest employer in the region, based at Shotton, recently invested in a new rail head and in a new venture, Living Solutions, which produces modular buildings. Those are just a few examples of the larger employers, and as I said, it is important that they are balanced with smaller employers. Another key point is that we must encourage the supply chain to provide support and parts to big employers such as Airbus. It is important that we carry on that development.

For the future of the whole region, we are looking at major investment and expansion. The northern gateway proposals, using surplus Ministry of Defence land and Corus land, would produce another big business opportunity. There are other opportunities in Wrexham, in Ellesmere Port and in Chester, so the outlook is good, but they will put added pressure on housing and transport. I shall not touch on the housing debate, however, as I am sure that we could spend at least an hour and a half on it.

Transport must be tackled as part of an overall strategy. One problem in the past was that we tried to sort it out as an add-on when the problem got worse, rather than by considering what the problem was likely to be and by meeting it. Within the Deeside hub, 83 per cent. of trips start and end in the region. If we go back to what I said about Airbus, that percentage explains the scale of the traffic in the region. Many workers at Vauxhall in Ellesmere Port live in my constituency or in Wrexham. The 83 per cent. figure relates to people moving around the region as they go to and from work.

Within Flintshire, 80 per cent. of journeys to and from work are by car—the highest percentage in the UK. Some 98.6 per cent. of journeys to the Deeside industrial park are by road, and companies have complained to me that the lack of transport has deterred people from obtaining employment there. Those companies have unfilled vacancies in many areas, so we must examine the issue.

The Deeside shuttle, which serves the industrial park, has contributed considerably to that problem’s solution, saving an estimated 2,200 car journeys a week. However, it shows that we have not considered the extent of the problem. We did not consider putting the transport system in place before the park expanded to its current scale. We must address that problem before there is development on the scale of the northern gateway; otherwise, we will run up against further problems.

There have been some major road upgrades of cross-border importance in the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) will touch on issues about the Wrexham industrial estate, so I shall not touch on the road issues. However, transport is a major issue in the area.

The M56-A494 corridor is important. The upgrade of the road at the Shotwick traffic lights is essential to clear what has been a bottleneck for many years. The proposed changes at Ewloe and Aston Hill on the A494, costing upwards of £67 million, are totally out of proportion to existing traffic problems, and even to projected growth. The project could have as many as 13 lanes, which is bigger than any motorway that I am aware of, and that includes slip roads and hard shoulders. It has been actively opposed by myself and Carl Sargeant, my Labour colleague in the Welsh Assembly. There has also been an active and effective local campaign led by Jon Butler, Sally Streeter and Terry Maloney. I ask the Minister to speak to Andrew Davies, the relevant Minister in the Assembly, to examine the issue as a matter of urgency. That development is not needed, and it is certainly not needed to meet the requirements of an integrated transport strategy addressing cross-border issues.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point with regard to the A494. Does he share my concern about a very expensive bridge, which cost £78 million to build some years ago, called the Flintshire bridge? It is known colloquially as “the bridge to nowhere”. Does he agree that far more use could be made of that route through a link from the bridge to Northop, over undeveloped land, which would cause far less disruption to the residents of Aston and the local area?

That is one of the options that could be considered. Even if we stick with the A494 proposal, there is scope for one more lane, but the scale of the proposed expansion is totally unnecessary. The bridge is extremely pretty, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. It could be put to a far better use, and land where there are houses would not have to be used. As I understand it, most of the land nearby is of a farming nature, or does not have a lot of properties on it.

When my hon. Friend the Minister talks to her colleague in the Assembly, I also suggest that she take up the issue of the electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line, which would make a major contribution to the requirements of the entire Deeside hub area. By coincidence, the expected cost is about the same as the cost of the A494 expansion at Ewloe and Aston Hill. Perhaps the Assembly would be in a position to transfer the money across. I am sure that the process would be slightly more involved than that, but it would certainly be a much better way to spend the money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham has been a leading campaigner on the issue of the Wrexham to Bidston line, and I commend his work. It is probably not a line of which a lot of hon. Members have heard. I will be totally honest and say that I have only used it once myself, although I live within a few miles of several stations on the route. There is currently only an hourly service and at the stations near me, people have to stand on the platform and hail the train to stop it, which gives the impression that the service is seen as a backwoods type of line.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell) for bringing to my attention a Faber Maunsell report produced in 2005. It contains some interesting facts about the line: more than 200,000 people live within 2 km of a station on the line and by 2020, 35,000 new jobs and 2,800 new homes are planned for the area. Clearly, the line could serve that area well.

I am pleased to see Merseytravel’s plans to electrify the line and to increase the level of service fourfold, meaning that there will be a service every quarter of an hour. In addition, new stations will be built at Woodchurch, probably at Beechwood and, most importantly from my point of view, at Deeside. A station there would serve the Deeside industrial park and the proposed new development, or the northern gateway. Connah’s Quay is the largest town in Wales not to have its own railway station, so a station at Deeside would go some way to addressing that problem. Electrifying the line would halve journey times and make it possible to travel from north Wales to Liverpool in about half an hour. That is a vital project, which should go ahead if we are not to rely even more than we do at the moment on the road network, which creates congestion that I am sure will get worse.

Merseytravel hopes to have its plans finalised by the end of March 2008, but that process will require close cross-border co-operation, so I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to do all that she can to ensure that the programme comes to fruition. As I understand it, the proposal involves all the interested bodies, councils and agencies on both sides of the border. A planned and integrated transport system is the bedrock on which our economic success will be built.

As I have said, we have tended to worry about and to try to solve problems afterwards, but retrofitting will always be more expensive, take longer and be far more difficult to achieve. The absence of an effective transport infrastructure will probably deter some companies from siting in the area in the first place, or may even lead to companies looking to move away from it to find a place where they could be better serviced. We cannot allow that to happen.

We need joined-up thinking, not a situation where one approach is taken on one side of the border, and a different one taken on the other. In itself, this is a small point, but I am always struck by this example. Anyone who has travelled on the A483 will notice that a large proportion of the road is all nicely resurfaced with tarmac. The moment one gets to the English border, that stops, and the old surface is still there. There is not very much of it—

Whatever council it was, it shows that there was no joined-up thinking. I would have thought that by the wit of man, somewhere along the line, someone would worked out that it made sense to resurface the whole road rather than stop at that point. That does not send a great message about how we are working on a cross-border basis. I am sure that the future for the region is bright, but we must not ignore this issue. We must plan ahead so that the future is secure.

It is a real pleasure, Mr. Taylor, to be appearing before you this morning for, I think, the first time. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate about an issue that is vital not only for my constituents, but for others in north-east Wales generally and in west Cheshire and the Wirral. The area is not commonly recognised in the UK as being as economically powerful as it is. Part of the reason why Members from north Wales and Cheshire are working together on the issue is that we want to heighten the profile of the area known as the Deeside hub because it is not widely recognised throughout the UK.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) said, this area has enjoyed huge economic growth in the past 25 years. It has transformed itself from an area that employed people in manufacturing industries such as coal and steel, which have now disappeared from the area. They have been replaced by high-tech and highly skilled industries such as aerospace. Manufacturing is still extremely important in the region, but in order to move forward, it is important that we create an infrastructure to support the industries, service industries and retail opportunities that exist in the area.

The first thing we want to do is heighten the profile of the Deeside hub area. Part of the reason why transport issues in this area have been so low on the agenda for successive Governments is that they have always been regarded as an add-on. The focus has been on job creation, which has been very necessary during the past 25 years. However, in my constituency, we now have unemployment rates of less than 3 per cent. and inward migration of labour for the first time that I am aware of in the history of the area, certainly on the scale that we are experiencing at present. We need to address problems that are problems of success rather than of failure. Those problems are mainly twofold. The first problem is congestion, which is increasingly a bar to economic activity, and the second is sustainability. We need to ensure that the transport systems that will be in place for the future are sustainable.

The failure to recognise the Deeside hub as an area has meant that Governments have not created transport systems to encourage transport within the area. My hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside said that 83 per cent. of journeys to work that commence in the area covering Wrexham, Flintshire, Ellesmere Port and Chester end in that same area. We therefore have a sharply identified area in which people travel to get to work.

The striking thing about the statistics for transport to work in those areas is how little public transport is used. I visited the excellent Neighbourhood Statistics website and obtained some statistics for travel to work for Wrexham, Chester, and Alyn and Deeside. The figure for people aged 16 to 74 who usually travel to work by car is 62 per cent. in Wrexham, 67 per cent. in Alyn and Deeside, 65 per cent. in Ellesmere Port and 57 per cent. in Chester. The average figure in Wales is 61 per cent., and it is 54.9 per cent. in England. We should remember that Wales is largely a rural country, whereas we are talking about urban areas for the most part, although there are also rural areas in our constituencies. We are talking about urban areas in Wales and on the English side of the border; and yet the figures for travel to work by car are higher than the Welsh average.

What is striking is the lack of available public transport facilities, which is reflected in the figures. In Wrexham, just over 5 per cent. of people travel to work by bus—the figure for Alyn and Deeside is similar—and less than 0.5 per cent. of people travel to work by train.

My hon. Friend makes a crucial point. The problem is not just the lack of public transport, although that is clearly a major issue, as we have both said, but that where public transport exists it does not go in a straight line to where people want to go. People have told me of journeys that should have taken a quarter of an hour or so taking an hour and a half because they had to use convoluted routes on public transport.

That is absolutely true. One of the challenges for the area, which I was going to touch on later, is that economic boundaries do not correspond to the political boundaries. My hon. Friend provided the classic example of the half-surfaced A483. It is a straight road that runs for about 10 miles. The first five miles are in Wales and the second five miles are in England. There is no discernible physical boundary—in fact, quite a small brook forms the border—yet one half of the road has been resurfaced but not the other.

One interesting and commendable development in the area over the past three to four years is that the governmental institutions—the Welsh Assembly, the Government office for the north-west and the various local authorities—have made considerable efforts to begin working together much more to reflect the economic reality on the ground and to try to address our central problem. We have a population that crosses the border the whole time for all sorts of reasons, such as work, shopping and leisure. In people’s minds the border does not really exist, yet it does exist for the purposes of the various institutions, governmental authorities and politicians concerned. One of the challenges that we face is to try to remove the systems as barriers to progress. That is why it is so important that hon. Members on both sides of the border are here today.

We are beginning to make progress on addressing the institutional difficulties that exist. To return to what I was saying earlier, such institutional difficulties have meant that we do not have a public transport network that reflects the reality of how people live their lives, and particularly how they travel to work. I mentioned the figure of 5 per cent. for travel to work by bus. By way of comparison, I had a look at another area, which has a mature public transport system—and which I happen to know well because I was born there—called Gateshead in north-east England. Its figure for travel to work by bus is 17 per cent. The two areas have much in common, but the north-east has for many years enjoyed the benefit of a good public transport system.

Travelling to work by public transport in north-east Wales and west Cheshire is extremely difficult, because the system does not correspond to the reality of how people live their lives. Many of my constituents work at General Motors in Ellesmere, and about 800 of them work at Airbus in Flintshire, which is bigger than any business in my constituency, despite the fact that there are many large manufacturing facilities in the area. We have a mobile population that currently cannot travel to work by public transport. That is a major problem, because it causes increasing congestion on the major roads in my constituency and is also beginning to act as a barrier to the successful management of the local economy. Journeys are taking longer, more time is wasted and the good connections that we had in the past to places such as Manchester airport are being rapidly undermined.

How do we deal with those challenges? The Government have made much progress on transport, even in Deeside. The first aspect that I should like to touch on is buses. I strongly commend the announcements that have been made in this Parliament about a greater local authority role for buses. I also commend the Department for Transport and my hon. Friend the Minister for the open and consultative way in which they have dealt with the issue, holding meetings before any legislation has been produced and discussing the issues generally. That has enabled me to speak to my local authority in Wrexham, take the benefit of its expert knowledge in the area and see what needs to be done to design a bus system that reflects the economic progress that has been made in the area and encourages people to use buses.

I always used the bus when I was being brought up. My parents have never owned a car and I used public transport the whole time. However, I must confess that in Wrexham it was only recently that I used the buses again. Using the bus was a pleasant experience, which surprised me. I went to the local bus station and was easily able to identify which bus I needed to take, because of the information systems there. The bus was efficient, quick, clean and very different from how I had pictured it in my mind’s eye—because of my personal prejudices, I suppose. That reflects the experience of many people. If people were to look at the systems in place for bus travel nowadays, they would see that there has been much improvement.

However, to return to a point that my hon. Friend made, the services that exist currently are the commercially viable services. It is easy to get from Wrexham to Chester by bus, because the service is hugely successful. It is used very often by shoppers and people going to work. Most of the journeys that take people to work will be along that route. However, it is much more difficult to travel from the western side of my constituency, where many live, to the large Wrexham industrial estate, which employs about 12,000 people. The checking-in times for workers do not correspond to what is convenient for bus companies, which do not want to run a bus at half-past 5 in the morning. The Wrexham industrial estate business forum has made excellent innovations. It has worked closely with the local authority to design a shuttle serving the industrial estate, based on the model of the Deeside shuttle, to which my hon. Friend referred.

That project has been successful, but at present it is only a toe in the water. The local authorities need a much more active role so that they can link up the huge development taking place on the edges of my constituency with the employers that want individuals to travel efficiently across the area and come to their factories on time. The local authorities have begun to work closely together on the different issues, but need more powers and guidance on providing bus travel. I hope that that will come in the legislation being taken forward and I look forward to seeing it.

It will come as no surprise to colleagues to hear that I want to talk about the Wrexham to Bidston line. I am delighted to see the Minister present; I do not recall ever having had the opportunity to educate her on the subject. I would have been disappointed if the Minister had been the other Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Glasgow, South (Mr. Harris), whom I have already harangued at length on the matter. It is delightful that another member of the Department for Transport is here to hear about this opportunity.

The Wrexham to Bidston line is not the most attractive; one has to be a real enthusiast to undertake a train journey along it. In fact, it runs from Wrexham to Liverpool; I must start calling it the Wrexham to Liverpool line by way of variation. It is called the Wrexham to Bidston line because Bidston is a platform in the middle of a blasted heath halfway up the Wirral. I am keen on the Wirral—I used to work there and have many friends there—but the location is not the most attractive place in the area.

Unfortunately, individuals who wish to travel from Wrexham to Liverpool have to get off the diesel train at Bidston and wait for 10 minutes before leaping on to the super-duper electrified Merseytravel train that takes them right into the centre of Liverpool.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the platform is so small that if the train is full—that is a rarity, I accept—it is really crammed? As he says, the station appears to be in the middle of nowhere and does not encourage people to feel that they have a great onward journey ahead of them.

Indeed; as I say, one needs to be an enthusiast to pursue the line. Most of my visits to it have been in the company of Ministers. I should be delighted to invite the Minister to share the journey with me, so that she can see that the line needs investment.

We have an opportunity to link north-east Wales to Liverpool with an electrified railway line that could operate on a half-hourly basis at least. It would reduce the journey by half an hour and be a direct link through the Wirral to Liverpool from north-east Wales. That is important not only to link the two commercial and retail centres of Wrexham and Liverpool, but—this is crucial—to serve the industrial facilities on the line. They are some of the largest in the UK; Airbus and the General Motors Vauxhall plant are situated there, as well as the rapidly expanding Deeside industrial park, which I think will double in size in the next 10 years.

If that happens, twice as many people will need to travel to the park. If that happens and we do not put in the infrastructure, the roads will be twice as bad and the congestion problem will worsen. We cannot tolerate that situation for two reasons: it would be inefficient and it would lead to increased pollution in the area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside said, we are talking not about an add-on but about something intrinsically essential to the development of the area. It is a huge opportunity and Wirral Members of Parliament, those with constituencies in north-east Wales and the local authorities on both sides of the border are all in favour of it.

Taith, the transport consortium in north Wales made up of local authorities working together, is likely to make the project its main priority over the next few years and we must not miss the opportunity. As my hon. Friend said, at this juncture the projected cost, based on the Faber Maunsell figures, is in the region of £60 million, exactly the same as that for yet another new road that we are building across the border.

Someone very misguided once said that we had a great car economy and that we could build our way forward to solve transport problems. North-east Wales and west Cheshire are evidence that that approach is really causing problems. We need to invest that money to provide the public transport option to all those in the area who now travel by car.

I know about the hon. Gentleman’s interest in the Wrexham to Bidston line; he has pursued the issue for a considerable time. Does he agree that on that issue, devolution has proven to be something of a stumbling block? It appears that Merseytravel is very much in favour of the project, and as he says, the local authorities on both sides of the border are also in favour. However, the Assembly is dragging its feet.

That is unfair. I hesitate to leap to the defence of the Assembly; I have been known to be critical of it. However, the Minister with responsibility for economic development, whom I have harangued on many occasions on that very issue, has responded to my invitations by commissioning work through Network Rail and Merseytravel to take the project forward. If anything, more momentum to take the project forward is coming from north-east Wales than from some parts of the English side of the border. I am hopeful that the Assembly will commit itself to the project.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) said that the Assembly was a stumbling block in the development of the Deeside hub. Does my hon. Friend not agree that the Assembly’s policies on developing a spatial plan for Wales, so that we can see what is going on now and what will go on in future, are a positive? There is an acceptance that we are within the north-west England sphere of influence; we have developed techniums—the brainchild of Andrew Davies—across Wales; we have a skills agenda in Wales; and there is business support and a business eye across Wales. All that is helping the Deeside hub.

There were some good points in that very long intervention. The spatial plan in particular was extremely important in changing the relationship between the authorities in north-east Wales and north-west England so that we could work together to solve the challenges. We also have real development in both Chester and Wrexham, not only on the manufacturing front, which is going forward quickly, but increasingly on business and retail services. Chester has always been noted for its retail success and has been known for many years as a town—

I beg my hon. Friend’s pardon; Chester has for many years been a city attractive to shoppers. I am pleased to say that Wrexham is now rapidly catching up. When I visit street stalls in Wrexham town centre, I am often pleasantly surprised by the number of people from Chester whom I meet. They recognise the real benefits of shopping in Wrexham—of course, there are benefits in shopping in Chester, too. Yesterday’s newspaper had a great headline: “1,000 New Jobs for Wrexham”. Although we do not see such headlines every day—I wish that we did—the Wrexham area is experiencing regular development. Those 1,000 new jobs will be a challenge, because we need to manage the expansion.

As far as commuters are concerned, Chester and Wrexham are linked mainly by road. The bus service has improved, but we do not have a suitably developed rail service. It was only a year ago that we got an hourly service from Wrexham to Chester, although the most efficient way to travel from Wrexham to Chester is by train. The journey takes 18 minutes, which, in my experience, is half the driving time, and that is outside rush hour. I thank Arriva Trains Wales and the Government for providing the finance for that hourly service, but its success means that we are already considering a half-hourly service on the line.

There is a real appetite to develop the service further. At present, the trains go past the Chester business park, where many of my constituents work. The business park is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell). There is a real possibility that a station at the business park could relieve much of the road congestion. That is not rocket science. People in the area have been talking about it for years, but it requires investment. The service requires investment because the road system across the border between Wrexham and Chester is broken. It needs fixing, but it cannot be fixed by building more roads in the area.

I first went to Wrexham as a member of a local community council for the Marford, Gresford and Rossett area. We made a journey at a time when the A483 was viewed as the solution to all our problems. That was in the late 1980s, but now it is impossible to travel on that road at 9 o’clock in the morning—it is impossible to get to one’s destination.

Therefore, because of the development that has occurred, we must invest not just in the Wrexham to Bidston line and the local bus service, but in the Chester to Wrexham rail line. For an economically developed, urban area, figures of 5 per cent. for commuters travelling by bus and of 0.5 per cent. for commuters travelling by train are very small indeed. They must be improved if the region is to go forward.

We must also be conscious of the fact that, at present, the most environmentally inefficient way of travelling is by car. If we are to make any real impact in reducing the carbon footprint of travelling to work, we must increase the figures for bus and train journeys. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to come to the area to see our economic success and the transport challenges that we face. The solutions are in place, but we need money.

I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami)—my neighbour across the border—on securing this important debate. As he said, the Deeside hub, which embraces large parts of Wirral and the whole of west Cheshire and north-east Wales, has witnessed remarkable economic growth in recent years. I can remember in 1997 visiting the poorest parts of my constituency. There was 15 per cent. unemployment on the Lache estate, which is in the south part of my constituency. Because of the economic success of our Government, the unemployment rate in Chester now is virtually nil.

The key drivers of that success have been world-class manufacturing companies such as Airbus, JCB in Wrexham and Vauxhall Motors in Ellesmere Port, as my hon. Friends the Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) said, but also financial services. In my constituency, Bank of America, Marks and Spencer Financial Services, and HBOS have created thousands of jobs. In addition, tourism and retail have contributed to the economy. It is estimated that more than 15 million visitors a year come to Chester and to Ellesmere Port. They come to enjoy the heritage of the historic city of Chester, and to visit destinations such as the zoo and, of course, the shopping meccas of Chester and the Cheshire Oaks retail and leisure park.

As my hon. Friends said, the economic success of our sub-region and the contribution that it makes to UK plc are not widely acknowledged. That must be because it straddles the Welsh-English border. I freely admit that cross-border relationships have not always been harmonious in the past. For instance, a local byelaw in Chester states that a Welsh person found within the city walls after sunset can be taken out with a crossbow.

Is it not true that the Chester town hall clock tower does not have a face facing Wales because the people of Chester would not give the time of day to the Welsh?

That is absolutely true. However, there is a close inter-relationship and synergy between north-east Wales and west Cheshire today, except on the odd occasion when there is a local derby between Chester and Wrexham—it might not be quite as harmonious then.

As has been said, it is significant that well over 80 per cent. of all the journeys that begin in the Deeside hub area end within the region. Those journeys are increasing year on year. It is estimated that there has been an increase of well over 30 per cent. in the past 15 years.

People cross the border not only to access employment sites. Large numbers of young people cross the border every day to travel to the university of Chester or further education colleges in north Wales and Cheshire. On an average day, one third of the beds in the Countess of Chester hospital are occupied by patients from my hon. Friends’ constituencies across the border. As my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside said, the local housing market mirrors the geographic area of the Deeside hub. As house prices have spiralled upwards in Chester, more and more people who cannot afford to get a foot on the housing ladder there have crossed the border in search of cheaper accommodation.

The specific focus of this morning’s debate is transport. I wholeheartedly agree with my colleagues that, to sustain the competitiveness of our local economy for the long term, there is an urgent need to improve transport and accessibility within the sub-region, so that workers can move easily between areas where there are still pockets of unemployment and deprivation to areas of opportunity. There is certainly a need for better integration of transport systems, particularly rail and bus networks. As many people now work in the Chester business park, which is on the outskirts of the city, as work in the city centre, yet bus services to the business park are very limited, particularly in the evenings and at weekends. Access to the Deeside industrial park, which is a major source of employment in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside, by public transport is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for my constituents.

A great deal of work and planning was carried out by Cheshire county council, Flintshire county council and other agencies in the 1990s to improve the public transport links between the motorway network—the M56 and the M53—and Chester city centre, areas of high unemployment in Chester at the time, such as the Blacon estate, and key employment sites, such as Chester business park and the Deeside industrial park. Unfortunately, when the Conservative administration took over at Cheshire county hall in 2001, the emerging plans to improve the public transport links between west Cheshire and Deeside were shelved and the focus for the county council shifted to road schemes in east Cheshire.

The downside of the growing prosperity of our sub-region, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, has been the marked increase in congestion on our local road network at peak times. There is a pressing need—I support my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham 100 per cent. on this point—urgently to address congestion hot spots, such as the junction of the A55 with the A483 by Chester business park. It is vital that we upgrade the rail links between Chester and Wrexham with a view to providing a stop for Chester business park.

The partial closure of the Grosvenor bridge in Chester in the past month for the laying of a new gas main and the ensuing traffic gridlock have resulted in renewed calls from local residents and businesses for a third crossing of the River Dee in Chester. That would link the A55 with an existing relief road, which is called the Deva link. The proposal for the Chester western relief road has been mooted on and off for the past 20 years. The city council has now agreed to fund an appraisal of possible routes. There will have to be close cross-border co-operation as part of the route may have to run through the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside. Although I support that study, I hope that at the same time the need for a public transport corridor will be considered along with the proposal for a new road link.

My hon. Friends have highlighted the employment opportunities that our sub-region will be able to offer in the future, and the site with the greatest potential to meet local employment and housing needs in my constituency is Saighton camp, a former Ministry of Defence site. However, the site cannot be released for development until agreement is given for direct access on to the A55, as the local road network from the camp through the community of Huntington is already at capacity at peak times. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and her Department will work closely with the Highways Agency and the local authorities to make that direct access road a reality.

I fully endorse all the comments made by my colleagues in north Wales for electrification and improvements to the Wrexham to Bidston rail line. An upgrade of that line will benefit the whole of the Liverpool city region as well as north Wales. The Deeside hub has demonstrated that it can compete successfully in the national and global marketplace, and over the past 12 months there has been an increase of more than 30 per cent. in the number of passengers travelling by rail between Chester and London. Next year, when the major upgrade of the west coast mainline is complete, there will be 11 direct trains a day from London to Chester. That will prove a major boost for inward investment.

There are significant increases, too, in the number of direct flights from Manchester airport and Liverpool John Lennon airport to worldwide destinations, but again we need to improve all modes of travel—rail, bus and road—from our towns and city to those airports. The Deeside hub has massive potential to deliver jobs and homes, but some key transport infrastructure is missing. I hope that the Minister and her Department will work closely with the Welsh Assembly, the Northwest Development Agency and the local authorities who make up the Mersey Dee Alliance to secure the necessary funding for a fully integrated, innovative transport system for our dynamic and forward-looking sub-region.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing this important debate.

We have hidden our light under a bushel in north-east Wales. We have the fastest growing area in the UK, and that is something that we should be proud of and that should be recognised. It is no accident that that has occurred in north-east Wales. Let us consider the history of the 1980s and the record of the previous Government. We saw the biggest lay-off in British industrial history—7,000 workers in one day. Their record on BSE was the result of the deregulation of health and safety rules, and dealt a £7 billion hammer blow to the agricultural community in north Wales. The pit closure programme, with the closure of Bersham, Gresford and Point of Ayr, saw the loss of thousands of miners’ jobs. That laissez-faire, cold capitalism and free marketeering cost our area dearly.

When we consider the record of this Government, it shows that it is no accident that we have such a fantastic, buzzing area of the UK. We have introduced the minimum wage; we gave the Bank of England control over interest rates; we have a skills agenda; we have massively invested in research and development—billions of pounds are going in—and we are business friendly. The launch aid that we gave to Airbus in the late 1990s—the Government gave £450 million—primed the local economy, while £11 billion has been spent on the upgrade of the west coast mainline. Those were all political decisions taken by the Government that have resulted in the area growing and growing. I shall give one further example. The previous Government did not even decide to apply for objective 1 funding for Wales. That is now priming central and north-western Wales, and it is feeding into north-east Wales. We have objective 1 for Merseyside, too.

I have been holding meetings for the past four years on unemployment in my area, and it is mainly confined to coastal towns in north Wales. The unemployment black spots are in my constituency, in west Rhyl and south-west Rhyl, in Flint, in Pensarn, in Abergele, in Colwyn Bay and the Maesgeirchen estate in Bangor. If we could pick up the unemployed in those towns and transfer them to the Deeside industrial estate or to Airbus and if we could have pull-in stations in those areas of employment opportunity, we would benefit the whole of the regional economy.

I am not only making a plea for trains. Road issues have been highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). We need to have the big picture of the UK. The population areas are in Birmingham, so we need a fast road link and a fast rail link to Birmingham. At present, we have one and a half lanes on the A483 for about 30 miles, and we have motorway and dual carriageway for the other part. That needs to be upgraded. Manchester and Liverpool airports are growing at a great rate. We need to ensure that the decision is not made to transfer the north Wales connection from Victoria to Piccadilly, because if that occurs there will be no joined-up transport for the north Wales population to Manchester airport.

My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) is here, and we must consider the importance of Mostyn docks. We are taking huge wings out to France from there. Are there other high-value products made in north-east Wales that we could ship out? Are we tapping into the Irish market and the Northern Irish market for the port of Mostyn? We must ensure that all of the big picture is considered, and I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to meet Andrew Davies and to have a summit with English Ministers, Welsh Ministers, Welsh and English councils, Welsh MPs, Assembly Members and the corresponding MPs from Cheshire and Wirral. We must look at the big picture to ensure that all our transport modes in north Wales and north-west England work for the benefit of our economy.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing this debate and commend him and other hon. Members for the manner in which they have conducted it. Hon. Members might think that I am more familiar with the other Deeside, the one that produces so many Scotland Office invitations for the hon. Gentleman, and they would be right to take that view. He might be interested to know that the other Deeside shares many of his constituency’s problems, but I am not familiar with the Deeside hub, and I will not pretend to have the depth and breadth of expertise exhibited by other hon. Members.

It seems to me that many of the issues that apply to the Deeside hub are the same in microcosm as those affecting other regions throughout the United Kingdom. The remarkable thing is that the Deeside hub seems to have them all. I was particularly pleased to hear the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside speak about the continuing importance of the manufacturing industry. I have often said that we speak of the manufacturing industry as though it were something in our past. It has a very different profile now, but it is still of immense and enduring importance. As he said, we no longer have large, monolithic industries. We have a much more diverse range of manufacturing industries, but they are of far greater importance than the service sector. Important though that sector is, it does not have the enduring depth of manufacturing.

The debate has also highlighted the challenges brought to us all by the process of devolution. I use the word “process” advisedly—I think it was the late Donald Dewar who said that devolution in Scotland should be a process and not an event. Inevitably, however, once one starts to draw lines on maps, issues arise about what happens on either side. I shall not intrude on some of the points raised in that regard by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell), but I shall be careful, as I do not know whether the rules about crossbows apply to Scots as well as to the Welsh. Devolution in the Welsh context should not stop at Cardiff, but extend to the different parts of Wales. For people in north-east Wales, centralisation in Cardiff will be no better than centralisation in London has ever been.

The problems outlined by hon. Members have largely been problems of success, and I commend them for that. However, success also brings certain opportunities. In a hub in which 83 per cent. of journeys start and end, surely there are opportunities for local authorities and local people to determine and roll out for themselves the transport solutions that best suit their needs.

The hon. Members for Alyn and Deeside and for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) made the particularly pertinent point that transport must be considered as part of strategic planning for any region. Our blight for the past 30 years and probably even longer is that we have always viewed transport as something that follows on or as a bolt-on. One hon. Member said that it had been retro fitted, which is absolutely right. We must see that transport planning and proper strategic investment in transport bring opportunities for continued growth.

There are particular opportunities and threats in the Deeside hub because the recent history has been one of economic prosperity, but we cannot rely on that to last for ever. In our globalised economy, there are other parts of the world where people are thinking strategically and planning transport into their infrastructure and economic growth. The UK cannot rely on keeping businesses here just because they have always been here. If we fail to meet the transport challenge, we blunt significantly our competitive edge over other prospective industrial sites in different parts of the world.

I have learned more this morning about the Wrexham to Bidston line than I would ever have believed possible in such a short period. I am due to visit Wales at some point to meet my colleagues there who are concerned with transport issues, and I assure the hon. Member for Wrexham that a trip to that blasted heath in the middle of nowhere, to use his expression, is now very near the top of my list of priorities. It is a good example of an instance in which, in transport and overall terms, a not massive amount of money could bring a significant improvement. The improvement that I identify is the opportunity for modal shift. The large number of car journeys within the hub is a mark of the failure of other modes of transport. If we are to have transport that is not only successful in economic regeneration but sustainable environmentally—after the Stern report, that is now the challenge—investment in such projects is crucial.

The hon. Member for Wrexham made another point that was exceptionally pertinent to the needs of the region—we need to revisit the governance of bus services. We are told that we will see a draft Bill on what will amount to re-regulation of the bus services, although I do not think that we are talking about a return to the pre-deregulation situation of the mid-1980s. A significant amount of public money still goes into the provision of bus services, but there is very little accountability for it. Re-regulation or a limited measure of regulation and proper local authority involvement in the provision of bus services would create the opportunity for accountability.

It struck me that the unemployment blackspots listed by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) are places where opportunities could be greatly improved by the provision of decent bus services, and where social inclusion could be easily and quickly made available by access to education, employment and training. It is a missed opportunity that transport links into the heart of the area are not integrated with other modes of transport.

To be in charge of the transport brief, as the Secretary of State and the Minister are required to be, is a next to impossible challenge. I hope that when the Minister replies, she will answer the very legitimate concerns raised by hon. Members of her own party. More than that, I hope that as well as organising any summit that might be thought necessary, she will start in her Department a process of thinking based on the fact that the proper way to meet the transport needs of the Deeside hub, or indeed of anywhere else in the country, is not to make decisions in Whitehall, but to give people in the regions and sub-regions the power to make those decisions.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Taylor. I congratulate the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing this debate, which has focused attention on the transport problems—or perhaps I should say challenges—that affect the Deeside hub, which is a dynamic part of north Wales and north-west England.

Many hon. Members referred to the need for joined-up thinking and for transport not to be regarded as a bolt-on extra to economic development. It is fair to say that the level of dynamic growth in the Deeside hub has outstripped the transport infrastructure put in place prior to its development. The hub straddles the trans-European route that links the M56 and the central midlands motorway network to the A55. The construction and dualling of the A55—now completed through to Holyhead—under the last Conservative Administration was a major economic driver and stimulus to the development of the Deeside hub. If the economic experts are correct, the future of this part of north-east Wales and north-west England is bright. We hear that the northern gateway is the largest development site in north Wales and the north-west, with £1.4 billion-worth of development planned over the next five to seven years.

Two issues arise in connection with transport that have been touched on today. One relates primarily to road transport, which is essential if the potential of the Deeside hub area is to be realised, and the other relates to the Wrexham to Bidston line. The hon. Gentleman stressed the need for joined-up thinking, and that is certainly important in an area that straddles the boundaries of England and Wales.

On road links, travellers from the A55 to north-west England have for many years been bedevilled by the lack of a through-link to the motorway network. The A494 and to a larger extent the A5117 have been enormous barriers to the free flow of traffic. As the hon. Member for City of Chester (Christine Russell) pointed out, it is essential that those routes are opened up, as they are links not only to the motorway network, but to the important airports of Manchester and Liverpool, which are crucial to the Deeside hub and to north Wales.

We know that the A5117 is in the process of being upgraded—a process that I understand will take some two years. However, although the A494 is already dualled, it is to be upgraded, which is, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the source of considerable controversy in north Wales. Since it is a trans-European route, no doubt the Minister will liaise closely with her Welsh Assembly colleague who is responsible for considering the dualling of that stretch of road. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the project has caused considerable controversy in his constituency and is a matter that has been addressed by him and his colleague, Mr. Carl Sargeant. It has also been addressed by my colleague Mr. Mark Isherwood, the Conservative Assembly Member for North Wales, who has expressed concern that, at some point, residents on Aston hill will find their village bisected by a carriageway of 11 lanes—four lanes going up the hill and three lanes going down, and parallel roads and slip roads in addition. Not surprisingly, local residents are extremely concerned. There is also concern that the Flintshire bridge, which was constructed some years ago and is notably underutilised, is not being considered for that route. As the hon. Gentleman said, it would be possible for the bridge to be utilised and for the new route to be taken across open and undeveloped land to the junction at Northop. I certainly hope that the Welsh Assembly will consider that and that the Minister will point that out to her Assembly colleague.

The hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) referred, as he has done over many years, to the potential of the Wrexham to Bidston line. Having stood on the platform at Bidston, I can attest that it is indeed in the middle of a blasted heath. I am told that Simon and Garfunkel composed “Homeward Bound” on the platform at Runcorn station, but I believe that the platform at Bidston would have defeated their powers of invention.

It could have been, and I stand open to be corrected. Either way, however, it was clearly a platform more inclined to inspire invention than the one at Bidston.

Hon. Members referred to the Faber Maunsell report that was commissioned last year. The report refers to what it dubs the borderlands rail line—a phrase that has a more pleasant ring to it than the Wrexham to Bidston line. As the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside mentioned, the report pointed out the potential of such a line. Indeed, it states:

“Over 200,000 people live within 2 kilometres of stations on the line”.

Some 35,000 new jobs are projected to be created within that catchment area by 2020 and 2,800 new homes will be built. The Wrexham to Bidston line has enormous potential to link workers with their jobs. There is already a link to the Merseyrail route and it must not be forgotten that, although the hub is an important sub-region, it is essentially a sub-region of Merseyside. The importance of a link between Wrexham, other stations on the Wrexham to Bidston line, and Merseyside cannot be understated.

As the hon. Gentleman said, this matter requires joined-up thinking not only between Merseyrail and the county authorities, but with the Welsh Assembly. I ask the Minister to urge her Welsh Assembly colleague to give urgent consideration to the development of this line, which has the potential to be an additional economic generator for this part of the world.

In conclusion, this has been an interesting debate that has focused attention on an increasingly important part of the country with enormous economic potential. Key to that potential is the development of good transport links. I look forward with interest to hearing what the Minister has to say about her proposals for developing those transport links.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) on securing what is an important debate. I commend the efforts of my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends who represent the sub-regions of the Deeside hub. They have promoted cross-border transport by working in partnerships across Wales and the north-west for the benefit of their constituents. It has been a positive debate. The current situation has been described as a success. Clearly, the contribution of my hon. Friends has been considerable for the people of the area.

I am disappointed that there is no interest from Welsh nationalist Members today. I had hoped that they would take an interest in such an important debate. In general terms, I assure hon. Members that I am more than happy to raise with my ministerial colleagues in the Wales Office relevant matters that were raised today. I also assure hon. Members that Department for Transport Ministers and officials regularly liaise closely with the Welsh Assembly and Welsh Ministers. I hope that that provides some reassurance.

Partnership working in the transport sector is strong in the area that we are discussing. The Mersey Dee Alliance has developed a common understanding of the need to develop better transport services in the area. I agree with my hon. Friends that transport is central to its continued economic success. I also agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) that people do not live according to administrative boundaries and we must ensure that investment, development and improvements reflect an understanding of that.

I have been passed a note that clarifies the most important point, regarding “Homeward Bound”. I understand that it is Widnes to which we should give credit.

That has obviously excited a lot of interest.

The Government recognise, of course, the importance of good transport links for economic and social regeneration and for improving access to jobs and key services. There is no doubt that better access, whether by rail, bus or car, is crucial. The Government share the objective of improving sustainable transport choices—my hon. Friends called for that—so that residents can access the opportunities in the area that we are discussing.

My hon. Friend mentions rail, bus and car. Will she enlighten us on the impact that she thinks bus deregulation and rail privatisation have had on the ability to provide joined-up transport in the Deeside hub?

We have recently announced the policy document “Putting Passengers First”, which is about the biggest shake-up of buses for some 20 years. We have done so because we have found that bus deregulation did not provide uniform improvements up and down the country and the Government are keen to give maximum potential to people through improved bus services. Cross-border services are extremely important because they play a very strong part in beating congestion and promoting environmental alternatives. We would have wished to see greater success over the 20 years since deregulation. I hope that now, under the present Government’s policy, we can seek greater improvements.

We have been working in government to address a legacy of under-investment in transport that goes back decades. The growth in our economy, although clearly beneficial, has put further pressures on all transport modes. That is why the Government are committed to sustained long-term investment in transport. We are now spending the equivalent of £260 million a week to improve transport. Almost £74 million of the increased transport funding for the north-west was awarded to Merseyside, Cheshire and Halton authorities. The local transport plans for those three authorities highlight the joint working that they have been undertaking with neighbouring Welsh authorities, and we encourage them to continue that.

Last year, we made announcements on regional funding allocations, provisionally allocating £1.25 billion to support major transport schemes in the north-west up to 2015. That included funding for the Bidston Moss viaduct, the Crewe Green link road and the Crewe rail gateway.

Looking ahead, I refer my hon. Friends to the productivity strand of the transport innovation fund, which will support the funding of regional, inter-regional and local schemes that are beneficial to national productivity. The fund is limited to schemes in England, but that is reflected in the funding allocation for Wales and in the Barnett formula. That there are administrative boundaries should not prevent any good proposal from coming forward. There is no reason why the TIF cannot contribute to the English part of any cross-border scheme.

I would like to make progress, if I may. I share my hon. Friends’ view that our transport strategy is focused on reducing social exclusion, tackling congestion and pollution, and enhancing the quality of life by improving all types of transport.

On regional priorities, English regional and local bodies now have a much clearer picture of the resources from the Department for Transport that are likely to be available to their region over the next 10 years. Via the regional funding allocation process, we have given them the opportunity to advise the Government on how they think that those resources would best be used. That involves setting priorities. To address any concerns about how we deal with cross-border schemes in any future regional prioritisation exercises, we have recently consulted on how the processes for regional funding allocations might be further improved.

I am delighted to hear of the success of the Deeside shuttle bus service. I recognise the value of demand-responsive services. Similar schemes operate in Merseyside, funded by the Government’s urban bus challenge fund, and I understand that discussions are under way about trying to achieve better integrated ticketing between services. I mentioned the “Putting Passengers First” document. I thank my hon. Friends for their contribution in that respect, which has been invaluable. In addition, we can look forward to the draft road transport Bill, which will support the Government’s efforts to cut congestion and to improve public transport.

I am glad that the Government’s proposals to improve bus services in the area that we are discussing are welcome. I am sure that we will continue to work to improve services. Rail has seen significant Government investment and improvements over the past few years, with rail performance exceeding targets, and passenger numbers and the amount of freight transported by rail increasing. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said that the Government have invested £11 billion on the west coast, delivering benefits to the north-west and to north Wales. As we have also heard, reductions in journey times, improved timetables and an enlarged fleet of trains are all extremely welcome.

I agree that transport problems need to be addressed before they arise. That is why the Department for Transport and the Welsh Assembly Government are jointly sponsoring a study known as the Wales rail planning assessment. That involves the Welsh regional transport consortiums. It will ensure that plans for the railway reflect, where appropriate, the policies and priorities of the Welsh Assembly Government and regional transport plans, which I know my hon. Friends will be keen to see.

I recognise that implementation of the borderlands study, including a new station to serve Deeside industrial park, is a key aspiration of the Consortium of Local Authorities in Wales. Improving connections to major employment centres is one of the options being evaluated by the Wales rail planning assessment.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to hear the case put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham regarding the Wrexham-Bidston line. Perhaps when Wrexham and Lincoln next play, I will be able to avail myself of the opportunity to visit his fine constituency. I understand that there is considerable support for improvements to that line and I welcome the co-operation that is already taking place between Merseytravel—the Merseyside passenger transport executive—English and Welsh transport authorities and the Welsh Assembly. Merseytravel and the Welsh Assembly Government, with others, have jointly commissioned Network Rail to undertake a detailed feasibility study of electrification of the line. The creation of a business case, working with Network Rail and the rail industry, is the essential first step in taking forward any rail proposal.

The A494 was mentioned. I understand that the Welsh Assembly has recently published draft orders that are open to objection or comment until later this month. I also understand that no final decision has been reached on that scheme. I am sure that my hon. Friends will continue to make their voices heard. I assure them that the Welsh Assembly, the PTE and DFT officials are keeping in close touch with one another about the progress of Network Rail’s study considering electrification. I look forward to seeing local transport plans and rail studies—

Sentencing/Prison Overcrowding

I thank the House for letting me raise this issue. I do so because of the case of one of my constituents, Keith Morris. He is a convicted paedophile who has been released on bail while awaiting his sentence. Clearly, I cannot comment further on the offence, or his case, except to quote Judge Cottle, who said of Mr. Morris at Exeter Crown court on Friday 26 January:

“If this case had been here last week, it would be over by now and he would be in Exeter Prison.”

That was several days after the Home Secretary’s reminder to judges about the use of custodial sentences, which followed a lengthy debate in the media on our overcrowded prisons.

This is not the first time that Judge Cottle has shot from the hip in the media in the south-west of England. His quote has caused a great deal of consternation among my constituents, who believe that a judge’s first duty is to protect the public, not to make a political point, important though that political point is.

My hon. Friend makes a good and interesting point. I was not in the court, so it is hard for me to provide the full context of the judge’s comments, but it strikes me that either the Home Secretary was wrong in what he said to the judges or this judge has wrongly interpreted what he said.

Order. I caution the hon. Gentleman that the sentence in this case has yet to be handed down. General reference to it is acceptable, but anything else will be out of order.

Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I was referring merely to the bail that the judge gave, which is a matter of record. I was not talking about the sentence, which is yet to be determined.

Judge Cottle’s comments came the day after Judge John Rogers QC gave a man who was convicted of child porn offences a suspended sentence because he had to

“bear in mind the current sentencing climate”.

In Nottingham Crown court, Judge Richard Bray put a shot across politicians’ bows by claiming that prisoners were reoffending

“because judges can no longer pass deterrent sentences.”

The current situation is a crisis of profound proportions. It is a crisis for the Government’s credibility and for judicial impartiality. Most importantly, it is a crisis for which we need society’s help. We must help those with mental health problems, those who lack education and drug abusers. Instead of receiving an outstretched hand of support, they receive a shaken fist and end up in prison.

The Prime Minister said:

“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.”

Well, he is certainly true to his word in the first instance. Some 80,000 men and women reside in prison. That number is up 2,000 on the number a year ago, and up almost 20,000 since Labour came into power in 1997. One could argue that new Labour brought in new police who have made more arrests and that more people have consequently been found guilty, but that is wrong. Criminal convictions have barely increased. There were 1,736,629 in 1993, and 1,816,676 in 2004. That is an increase of barely 80,000, but the number of people sent down by magistrates has more than doubled in that period from 25,016 to 61,384. The same number for the Crown court went up by about a third from 33,722 to 44,938.

One could argue that the type of crime has changed and that there were a greater proportion of violent crimes in that period, but that is wrong. In 1993, 38,923 people were convicted for violent crime. In 2003, that figure was only 39,257, but, again, the number of custodial sentences increased from 7,516 to 12,247. It does not matter where one looks, sentencing trends are on the up.

Crown court sentences have risen from 20 months to 27 months in those 11 years, and magistrates courts have increased their use of prisons. They have gone from using them in 6 per cent. of cases to using them in 16 per cent. The use of fines, on the other hand, has declined from 46 per cent. to only 30 per cent. Some 9 per cent. of shoplifters are now jailed for their first offence, whereas only 2 per cent. were in 1993. The number of life sentences passed is now 570 a year, which is double the number passed 10 years ago. Some 59 per cent. of those were mandatory life sentences. There is no question but that sentencing is leading to prison overcrowding.

Home Secretary after Home Secretary has talked tough on crime. Since Labour came to power, new prisons have been built to accommodate 19,000 extra prisoners. Another 8,000 places are to be constructed at an average cost of £99,899, but to what end? Last February, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) said:

“Prison does not work in stopping reoffending.”—[Official Report, 9 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 1033.]

He is right. Some 67.4 per cent. of prisoners are reconvicted within two years of being released. For young men aged 18 to 21, that figure rises to 78.4 per cent. In 1992, however, the overall figure was just over 50 per cent. The idea that by locking up all those people we will somehow rehabilitate them is clearly demonstrably wrong. The reoffending of ex-prisoners costs us £11 billion a year, according to the Government’s figures.

For a male born in 1953—incidentally, the year that I first popped into the world—there is a 7.5 per cent. chance that he has been to jail and a 33 per cent. that he has a conviction. I do not fall into either of those categories.

I am being heckled. I can tell hon. Members where the criminals are.

Someone born in 1997 will, in 33 years’ time, have been more likely to have spent time inside, and more likely just to have committed an offence. We have to accept that crime is falling, but of the 30 per cent. fall reported by the Prime Minister’s strategy unit’s Carter report, only 5 per cent. was due to the 22 per cent. increase in the prison population at that time. The report states that

“there is no convincing evidence that further increases in the use of custody would significantly reduce crime.”

If sending people to jail does not help, why do we keep doing it? Clearly, we need to keep some people locked away, such as murderers, rapists, paedophiles and serious repeat offenders. No one is going to argue with that, but what about people with mental health problems and drug dependencies? In his evidence to the all-party group on penal affairs, Dr. John O’Grady, a consultant forensic psychologist, said:

“When you start looking at things like being taken into care, in the general population it’s about 2 per cent., but in the prison population it’s 27 per cent. If you start looking at people being excluded from school, that runs at about 2 per cent. of the general population, but for male sentenced prisoners it’s almost 50 per cent., for female prisoners it’s about 33 per cent. When you start looking at numeracy and literacy below the age of 11 that runs at about 20 per cent. or so of the general population but about 65 per cent. of the prison population. If you look at IQ it’s skewed towards the lower end of the intellectual spectrum. Looking at things like unemployment, that’s about 5 to 7 per cent. in the general population currently, but 65 to 67 per cent., before imprisonment, in the prison population. Homelessness (on a fairly wide definition) runs at about 1 per cent. in the general population, but about 30 per cent. in the remand population in particular. Add to that mental disorder and it’s overwhelming. About 5 per cent. of people in the general population have 2 or more mental disorders—but this rises to 70 per cent. or so in the prison population.”

Clearly, tackling the issues facing children in care and those excluded from school will reduce crime in future years, but do the latter group need to be in jail or in a mental health institution?

Some 80,000 people are in prison; the annual turnover is twice that, at 160,000. In 2004, only 831 people were transferred from prison to health authority care. Some £500 million is spent on securing prisoners, but only £25 million is spent on “in reach”, according to Dr. O’Grady, who likens prison to a third world country: impoverished, with few facilities and where it is impossible to move to a first world country for health. He describes sections 48 and 49 of the Mental Health Act 1983 as being like “visas”; impossible to get. Section 37 does allow movement, but few people get it.

In the same evidence session, Dr. David James argued that it was possible to divert some people with psychotic disorders out of the prison system at the police station or the magistrates court. He spoke of encouraging pilot schemes being set up to do that. Such schemes increased the recognition of mental illness at the magistrates court by 400 per cent., leading to a speeding up of admission to hospital, and were encouraged under the national service framework for health. Indeed, there are supposed to be 150 such arrangements around the country, but reports by National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders showed that, as funding declined, so did the success of those schemes.

The number of court-to-prison diversions fell by 29 per cent. over the period 1993-2004 whereas the total number of people formally admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983 increased during the same period, so the fall in diversions is surprising.

On the subject of severe mental health problems for prisoners, Dr. Adrian Grounds stated:

“The scale of the problem is huge. Based on the best research we’ve got, it may be about 4 per cent. of the prison population that need to be in hospital beds and in current terms, that means something in the order of 3,000 prisoners, possibly up to 3,700.”

If the people with mental health problems who are currently residing in prison were diverted towards health care, an additional number of places would instantly be available in prisons. Instead of sending missives to judges, the Home Secretary might be better talking to his colleagues, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Health, in order to put more money into mental health and into schemes to prevent people from going to prison at the court stage and at the police station.

If we put funding into drug rehabilitation units, alcohol misuse centres, quality care for children in care and education to deal with excluded pupils, we might not need so many prison places. We should put funding into those things and spend less on spin doctors fabricating headlines for the tabloid press.

All of this is very serious, but the bizarreness of the statements made by judges is highlighted by the fact that, at the same time as Keith Morris was released on bail, another gentleman in my constituency, James Short, was released on licence from Exeter prison. According to our local paper, the Herald Express:

“He was given a place at the Amber Foundation in Barnstaple but was told to leave three days later after he had sex with a female resident. Short set up an alternative address near relatives in Newton Abbot and informed the Probation Service”.

Having spent some time away from female company, he was surprised that when he found some and he had sex, he was excluded and ended up back in jail. That situation seems severe.

Someone found tapping in to the Queen’s text messages, would also find themselves in jail, yet other people have been released, released on bail—[Interruption.]

On 29 January, Harry Woolf stated in The Times:

“I retired from the office of Lord Chief Justice more than a year ago and have since avoided being drawn into the debate about sentencing. Recent events have made me decide to do so. The prison system is in crisis.”

That echoes the words that I used at the beginning of the debate. He continued:

“Overcrowding in prisons corrodes standards. At that time the prison population was 43,000 and falling. It is now almost double that and is expected to continue to rise. Overcrowding makes it almost impossible to tackle effectively the causes of offending…The only possible solutions are either to reduce the numbers in custody or increase the proportion of the nation’s wealth devoted to providing the accommodation necessary.”

Lord Woolf’s letter is long, but worth reading. At the end of it he makes a number of points that relate particularly to the Home Secretary’s actions and why he, among others, is culpable for the current crisis in our prisons. Lord Woolf states that in order to deal with this we need

“action to include the repeal or suspension of statutory provisions that force judges to use more and longer sentences than are necessary for the public’s protection”.

I do not think that any of us could put it better than that.

I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Taylor, and to the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) for securing the debate on this important subject. I shall not speak for long, but I want to put a couple of things on the record and ask the Minister some questions.

First, I should say that our courts must be seen to be dispensing fair and even-handed justice. I hope that we would all agree on that. Judges are obliged to pass sentence in accordance with guidelines in order to ensure consistency in punishment. As a nation, we have held that close to us for many a year. If two offenders who have committed the same offence in identical circumstances can be given vastly disparate sentences based solely on political pressures, such as prison overcrowding, clearly justice will not be seen to be served.

I would be grateful if the Minister told us what evidence his Department has that judges were failing to follow the guidelines, as we are told that it prompted the recent letter from the Home Secretary. Will the Minister also tell us how many times in the past 10 years, and when, Home Secretaries have written to judges to remind them of sentencing guidelines? As it happens, I have tabled parliamentary questions to obtain the answers, but I would be grateful if the Minister would spend a moment answering those points. He adequately answered all of our questions in the Chamber last week, and my colleagues and I are enormously grateful for his time and tolerance in dealing with them.

It would also be helpful if the full text of the Home Secretary’s letter were put in the Library, if that has not yet been done. I personally have not received a copy of it and I would like to see it. His letter dealt another serious blow to the morale of police forces across the country. That is particularly so in Norfolk, but I imagine that forces throughout the country are dismayed by what is happening. Despite facing cuts in numbers, Norfolk constabulary continues to do all it can to find and arrest those who have committed crimes. Officers are furious that they risk seeing many of those that they have arrested walk away from court, despite the fact that, under normal circumstances, those found guilty would face custodial sentences.

What message does the current saga send to our police forces? They rightly feel that they have again been badly let down by the Government. Most importantly, what message does the current saga send to criminals and those who have received lighter sentences as a result of the Home Secretary’s interference? We need some straight answers to those questions because we are in a difficult position. As the hon. Member for Teignbridge said, we face a serious situation and we owe it to our constituents—they rightly raise those subjects week in, week out, at our surgeries—to feel safe in their own homes and, most importantly, to know that the judicial system in this country and our sentencing regime are fit for purpose. If that means prison overcrowding, we must consider proper funding for more prisons to cope with it. I am sure that the Minister takes the matter seriously and I hope that he will respond to some of my points.

I begin by posing a question: are we, the inhabitants of the British Isles, so intrinsically bad that we must lock up many more people per capita than our European neighbours? Some hon. Members might say yes, but the question is a proper one. It is especially apposite since we have had prison overcrowding every year since 1994, according to Home Office digest 4, which was published in 1999. However, I differ slightly from the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) in not laying all the blame at the door of the Home Office, because the problem has been going on for a long time.

I shall ask one or two questions and suggest one or two ideas that may find favour with the Home Office. Over the past year or so, more than half of prisons have been overcrowded according to the National Offender Management Service’s bulletin of January 2006. The problem is long standing and I recall serving on the Standing Committee of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, 10 years ago, and saying that as a direct result of that legislation everyone knew that there would be a substantial influx of new prisoners and that if the Bill was going to make any sense it would have to be matched with a substantial increase in prison places. That was evident to many of us, but very little provision was made and the situation was exacerbated by further legislation.

I venture to suggest that one of the complicating features is that the criminal justice system in general and sentencing in particular is and always has been a political football. Every now and then, the Tories and Labour get into a bidding war about how to be beastly to offenders and that is normally to the background music of the tabloid drumbeat. If the matter were depoliticised—if that is possible—the system could be greatly improved for the benefit of society and, crucially, the taxpayer. Terrence Grange, chief constable of Dyfed-Powys Police put it very well when he said:

“Instead of careful planned thinking we respond, respond, respond. We get into the male thing, my chest is hairier than yours…which bedevils this whole arena of crime prevention”.

Many of those involved in the criminal justice system have long concluded that for the vast majority of offenders prison simply does not work. Even before the 2003 Carter report, it was clear that policy was wrongly directed. That report was stark in its findings and said that a 22 per cent. increase in the prison population since 1997 is estimated to have reduced crime by around 5 per cent. The report concluded:

“There is no convincing evidence that further increase in the use of custody would significantly reduce crime”.

Indeed, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) said:

“More than half of all crime in this country is committed by people who have been through the criminal justice system. Prison does not work in stopping reoffending.”—[Official Report, 9 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 1033.]

Surprisingly, that was not an ex cathedra statement, but was made during a debate on the Floor of the House when the right hon. Gentleman was very much in harness. If that was the Home Office’s thinking then, what has happened since? Not a lot, to use a phrase.

Two contrasting factors continue to predominate: the political imperative to which I alluded, and the fact that the vast majority of prisoners—67 per cent.—are reconvicted within two years of release. The figure for prisoners between the ages of 18 and 21 in Wales is 78 per cent. according to Home Office digest 2005, which gave results from the 2002 cohort. If there were a complete change of heart about custody it would be like an ocean-going vessel, which takes a long time to stop or turn round. The rehabilitation element of prison is severely undermined by gross overcrowding and by cutbacks in training and education, which may contribute to the statistics. It is becoming plain that if prison does not make a real difference to an individual's life chances on release, it is merely an expensive revolving door that is costly to society and useless to the offender.

The hon. Gentleman refers to overcrowding and its impact on the ability to rehabilitate offenders. Does he realise the scale of that overcrowding? The certified normal accommodation at Swansea prison is 240 places, its operational capacity is 428, its current population is 428, so it is overcrowded by 178 per cent. Many other prisons are in exactly the same position with nearly double their capacity.

To make matters worse, the worst overcrowding is often in old Victorian prisons. I have visited many of them professionally and the position is often dire.

I shall speak briefly about the situation in Wales and the need for another prison facility. I am not a “lock ‘em up” person, but there is, sadly, a need for such a facility for north and mid-Wales. The Minister will know about the current discussions and the unhappiness, particularly among the North Wales Criminal Justice Board partnership. It is desperately unhappy about another prison in south Wales, which would leave north Wales without any kind of facility.

The hon. Member for Teignbridge mentioned the crucial drugs issue. We all know that two thirds of property crime is drugs-related in some way, so it is clear that prisons should have a considerable drugs rehabilitation capacity. That is nowhere near true and the stark fact is that it is easy to obtain illicit drugs in prison. An offender sentenced to 12 months or less is unlikely to receive any drug rehabilitation treatment while serving their sentence.

The situation is sporadic, and there are beacons of good practice here and there in the prison system. The drug rehabilitation scheme at Altcourse prison, in Liverpool, is an interesting initiative. Its supported detox programme is aimed at new admissions who are identified as needing assistance with withdrawing from drugs, including alcohol. The programme lasts 14 days and is based on a gradually reducing dosage of medication. It requires prisoners to participate in various activities, such as drug and alcohol misuse groups and healthy living and relaxation classes. A qualified substance misuse nurse is based at the unit to provide ongoing support, including advice on harm reduction, hepatitis B and C, HIV, diet and healthy living. Crucially, however, that support is also available when offenders are released from prison. That initiative could well be followed elsewhere.

If prisons are to be made “fit for purpose”, to quote the Home Secretary, we need to have a fundamental rethink about issues such as who should go to prison, mental health facilities, drugs intervention programmes, education and training and, crucially, reducing overcrowding. There is a vast amount of work to be done, and I repeat that it is not all down to the Home Secretary, but the clock is ticking. We require something to be done fairly quickly, because prisons are a powder keg at the moment, and there will be problems sooner or later with inmates attacking each other and staff.

As I said, there is a vast amount to be done, but many of us believe that the National Offender Management Service will not be of much assistance. Clearly, we cannot run the prison service on the cheap; if we do, the current wasteful spiral will continue unabated, with awful results.

Like many others, I believe that there must be a complete and detailed overhaul of prisons and our approach to the prison population. For many months, if not years, I and others have called for a full audit of the prison population because many thousands of people undoubtedly should not be in prison. Such people may have alcohol or drug addiction problems, may not be dangerous to the public and may well require medication and back-up support when they come out of prison. Such an audit is the way forward; without it, we will perpetuate the current revolving-door policy, which is no use to individuals or society and which is ultimately extremely expensive.

Incidentally, that view is supported by Lord Woolf, who, according to The Times of 29 January, urged the Home Secretary to adopt the

“‘nuclear option’ of releasing thousands of non-dangerous prisoners to ease overcrowding.”

That cannot be done overnight; if it were, there would complete anarchy on the streets—that is patently obvious to all. However, that call should be heeded, and urgent work should be done on the issue. Indeed, the Minister may advise us that work is being done, and that news would be gratefully received.

The call to look again at non-custodial sentences and at decreasing the current prison population has been supported by Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. As we know, non-custodial sentences can be just as effective as custodial sentences, and they can also be made socially and politically acceptable. If we had a mature debate, as opposed to the current hanging and flogging discourse, we could tell the public that non-custodial sentences were, for example, cost-effective, that they were a form of redress in which the transgressor gave something back to the transgressed and that they were far more effective at addressing reoffending. The widespread use of properly structured and supervised community sentences would take great pressure off the prison estate. Surely, the public would buy those arguments; if they were properly put, common sense dictates that people would accept them.

I endorse the comments that the present Lord Chief Justice made in his recent paper “Alternatives to Custody—the Case for Community Sentencing”, which was issued by Oxford university. I also applaud the recent experiment in which he spent time at the coal face, as it were, with people on non-custodial sentences. In his report, there is vital sentence:

“First and foremost we need the appropriate resources”.

I recently attended a short conference held by the Coalition on Social and Criminal Justice, and the coalition’s wholehearted endorsement of the greater use of community penalties is welcome. In particular, its local partnership approach to bringing in social services, the probation service, the health service and magistrates is a helpful contribution to the debate. However, such suggestions presuppose that there is adequate investment in the probation service, because it is key that we have properly trained probation officers in the field.

When I began as a young and, I hope, idealistic solicitor in north Wales in the early 1970s, there were four probation officers in my local town of Dolgellau. Now, however, their work is done by one probation officer, who is situated 50 miles away. Of course, less work may now be going through the magistrates court, but those probation officers worked tirelessly with individuals and achieved great results. I saw young people who had offended and who were at a crossroads in their lives. I also saw dedicated probation officers working with those young people and disciplining them, but they also befriended them.

Now, those same ex-offenders are respected members of the community and proud parents and grandparents; they hold down good jobs and are on town and community councils. I shudder to think what would have happened to them if they had offended now, rather than then. Would they have gone to a young offenders institution? Would they have taken the wrong route at that crossroads in their lives? Sadly, I think that the answer is yes, and it gives me no pleasure at all to say so.

We therefore need far greater investment in the probation service to make sure that it is there not only to discipline people and ensure that community penalties are properly carried out, but to befriend people and provide back-up with other agencies so that medical health, mental health and/or drug problems can be addressed by other colleagues.

Finally, let me say a word about the ongoing debate about the need for a prison facility for north Wales. I began arguing the case for such a facility back in the early 1990s, when I was first elected. That was not because I wanted to send more people to prison, but because, at any given time, about 650 or 750 people from north and mid-Wales are held in Manchester, Shrewsbury, Liverpool and beyond. That is wrong in principle because a person who is in custody or on remand is entitled to be a reasonable travelling distance from his or her family. Indeed, it is part of rehabilitation to maintain good family ties and ties with friends.

I might also mention the Human Rights Act 1998, although that might annoy the Minister—the last time I referred to it, he got up and started insulting me, calling me a little backwoods solicitor who knew nothing about human rights. As it happens, I am a member of the Bar—not that it helps me very much.

I thought that I would get that insult in before the Minister gave it to me. However, on a serious point, we are all becoming more aware of human rights, and there is an important human rights point here. It is unreasonable for friends and relatives to have to travel half a day to a prison facility and half a day back, because they are less likely to maintain contact with those who are on remand or in custody. I therefore seriously urge the Minister to enter that debate.

There has been talk of a prison facility coming to Wales, but the talk is about south-east Wales. As we know, however, south Wales already has Parc prison near Bridgend, Swansea prison to the west, Cardiff prison and the prison at Newport. All those prison facilities are within easy travelling distance of the M4. There is nothing in mid-Wales and north Wales. It is wrong, if a prison facility is to come to Wales, for it to be situated anywhere but in north Wales, to serve north and mid-Wales. It is an important point and I urge the Minister to deal with it. I know that the National Offender Management Service and the criminal justice partnership in Wales are unhappy about it. I ask the Minister whether he will think about the situation and consider whether he can lend his support to the establishment of a prison facility in north Wales.

Incidentally, the talk is of a prison facility in Cwmbran on the site of the old police college, which of course is owned by the Home Office. The local Member of Parliament is the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), who is adamantly against such a facility. He, in fairness to him, pleads the case for a facility in north Wales. I should be much obliged if the Minister dealt with this matter when he responds.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) on giving the House an opportunity to discuss an extremely topical and worrying area of Government policy. Let us after all remember that what brings us here this morning is a state of affairs in which the Home Secretary is reduced to writing to judges reminding them of the political need to do their best not to send to prison serious offenders who in the past, or in different circumstances, might well have been given a custodial sentence. I agree with what other hon. Members have said, including the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser), who asked what that approach tells the police force who work bravely and tirelessly to catch and convict criminals, and what it tells the criminals; the latter now realise that the Government’s mismanagement of the situation has made justice arbitrary—a moving target—so that their sentencing expectations depend on the ability of the Home Office to predict and provide prison places, something it has been shown to be incapable of doing.

I have some sympathy with the Minister. I am not sure that everyone in debates such as this sets out with that viewpoint, but I think that he is a victim of a style of government pioneered by the Labour party after it won the 1997 general election. Almost 10 years into that period of government, we can make a mature assessment of how effective new Labour has been at reinventing the way in which the country is governed. One of the greatest failings and the commonest traits of the Labour party in government is the confusion of media stunts and talking about effective action with carrying out effective action. The greatest myth that needs to be exposed about the Labour party in government is that it is masterful in the black arts of media manipulation and presentation. Looking at each day’s headlines about the Home Office, I can only say that if that is a masterful display of media management I should not like to see a Government who were incapable of managing the media.

Yesterday’s Daily Express, for example, has the headline: “Now we let rapists and child sex offenders go free: Yet another scandal rocks beleaguered Home Office.” That kind of thing is in the newspapers every day. The Sun on the same day had the big headline: “Violence rockets in crowded jails”, with the subheading: “Reid’s brain is still missing”. That gives a flavour of the present situation. It is the Minister’s misfortune to have to come to the House and try to make the best of a bad job against such a background of criticism of his and his colleagues’ management of Home Office policy.

Like my party and I assume most hon. Members, I start from the belief that there is a legitimate and important place for prisons in our criminal justice system. First and most obviously, prisons are a punishment for people who have committed an offence and transgressed the rules of society in a particularly serious way; a prison sentence is thought appropriate in such cases to reflect the views of the public about what those people have done. Secondly, prison protects the public, in some circumstances. The person in prison may of course be a direct threat to wider society, so that it is in the interest of society to keep that person out of the main stream of interaction with other people. Thirdly, prison can serve as a deterrent, as can other forms of punishment.

All those are reasons for considering prison appropriate in some circumstances. I should not want anyone to think that my party does not want serious and in some cases persistent offenders to spend time in prison. It may be that people who have committed particularly abhorrent crimes should spend more time in prison than they now do. What horrifies so many people about the current state of affairs is the potential for some people who have committed serious crimes to spend less time in prison than they might, because of capacity being taken up by other people, some of whom might be better dealt with elsewhere in the criminal justice system. I start, therefore, from the assumption that prison is an important tool at the disposal of any Government in trying to enforce the collective rules of society.

We have, however, got into an extraordinary situation. It has been mentioned that the United Kingdom now has the highest rate of imprisonment per head of population in western Europe. The problem is acute. Reoffending seems to me to be an obvious measure of prison success, because it affects everyone. It is not just a matter of the well-being of the individuals concerned. It affects everyone in this Chamber, through the likelihood of our becoming victims of violent crime or having our houses burgled. It is of interest not only to those who follow criminal justice debates closely. Perhaps we might consider the reoffending rates in this country, which show that 82 per cent. of relevant teenage boys, 75 per cent. of burglars and 79 per cent. of thieves reoffend within two years. In our system, more than four out of five teenage boys who go to prison reoffend. That is not an abstract figure. It means that more than four out of five of those teenage boys commit crimes against my constituents and those of the other hon. Members present. More than 60 per cent. of prisoners are convicted again within two years of release. Reoffending is rife. We must ask why, and what we can do about it.

I suspect that one of the problems is that people in prison are not equipped to manage life outside prison when they leave. We are all familiar with cases of people who were persistent truants at school and perhaps left school prematurely, because their truancy had developed to such an extent that they were effectively no longer attending; people who cannot read or write properly or add up, and who have never held down a meaningful job or any job at all; people with no fixed abode, who may have all kinds of family background circumstances that make it hard for them to settle in mainstream society. Those people end up in prison. Prison becomes the dustbin for people who have not managed until then to succeed in any other part of society, or engage with public service provision.

Many such people spend a reasonably short time in prison; it is rare that their first serious offence is so serious that they are likely to spend decades there. Then they are released. It would take an extremely enlightened employer to choose from a competitive list of job applicants the person with an inability to read or write, who did not attend school properly as a teenager, has never done a job, did not have a fixed abode before going to prison and has just been released from prison.

The question is what can we do to deal with that malaise. More than half of men in prison—52 per cent.—and 71 per cent. of women, which is almost three quarters, have no formal qualifications. Some 65 per cent. of prisoners have a numeracy level below that of an 11-year-old child, and 82 per cent. have a writing ability below that expected of an 11-year-old child.

Currently, people are incarcerated for a period, after which they leave and we and the Government know that the expectation—it is not just a possibility—is that they are ill equipped to manage in society and will commit another offence. We let teenage boys out of prison with the expectation that we will welcome back more than four out of five of them, because the system will have failed to deal with the underlying causes of their offending. I want serious measures introduced to address that problem, and I shall return to that in my comments about possible solutions.

I talked about prison being a dustbin for people who are unable to manage in society. Some prisoners do not have mental health problems, but many do. One can bandy about different estimates, but about one in 10 prisoners has severe mental disorders. I am talking not about problems that are more easily treatable, but about severe mental disorders, and we must ask ourselves whether prison is conducive to treating and rehabilitating those people. How can we look after them better and try to help them while protecting the public? Is the place to do so a severely overcrowded prison? Most people would accept that it is not. People with severe drug addictions also often end up in prison, because no other service is likely to help them, and that fails the public at large, too.

Another category of people in prison is minor offenders. I accept that all crimes have victims, and that if one is a victim of crime involving such an offender, it may not feel like a minor offence. However, some people are going to prison at huge cost. The more secure prison places cost more than a year’s education at Eton, and we must ask ourselves whether that provides the taxpayer with value for money. Offenders go to prison at huge cost when we know that in more than four cases out of five, they are likely to return to prison. They may return again and again, and the sentences may stretch to longer and longer terms as they go to prison initially for minor offences, relative to other crimes, meet people who can teach them about more serious criminal activity, and fall into a life of more serious crime. We must try to break that spiral.

The final bleak assessment of the position into which the Government have managed to put this country concerns the amount of violence in prisons. It is a topical issue, because my party raised it only this week. Violence in prison has risen by an amazing 600 per cent. since Labour came to power. In 1996, the year before this Administration took office, there were 2,342 violent attacks in prison; in 2005, the most recent year for which figures are available, the number had risen to 13,771.

It is worth considering the breakdown of attacks against prison wardens. We owe a huge debt to people who work in difficult circumstances to protect the public. In 1996, there were 551 reported attacks; in 2005, the number had risen to 2,971. There are prisons in which drug taking is rife, and in many cases it can fuel violence. There is heavy overcrowding, with its resultant unease, and there is also violence not only from one offender to another, but against prison staff.

That is the state of prisons. I shall offer some thoughts about how we might address that sorry state of affairs. First, we must introduce more effective and secure mental health treatment. Huge numbers of prisoners suffer from mental health disorders. The statistics that one picks depend on how one measures the disorders, so people can offer whatever numbers they like. However, a sizable minority of prisoners suffer from severe mental disorders, and many more besides them suffer from lesser mental health problems. The Liberal Democrats argue that money must be put into finding more secure and semi-secure mental health treatment for offenders.

Many speakers in the debate have used figures, but I shall cite a particular case. Erwin James, in his foreword to “Troubled Inside: Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Men in Prison”, wrote:

“On the wing there was plenty of evidence of behaviour brought on by mental distress. One young man only ever wore the same pair of jeans and a green nylon cagoule. He never wore shoes or socks, never went out on exercise, hardly ever spoke to anyone and was understood to have been taken advantage of sexually by predatory prisoners. He was in his early 20s with many years of prison ahead of him. Another had a habit of”—

Order. Interventions should be brief. I plan to call the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) at 12 o’clock.

My hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge paints a bleak picture that I fear is all too typical of the experiences of people with mental health problems in prison today.

My party would also increase the amount of drug treatment that is available. Some 66 per cent. of male and 55 per cent. of female sentenced prisoners have used drugs in the previous year. Drug taking is rife in prison, and the problem must be tackled.

I have talked about literacy and numeracy problems in prison. The large number of prisoners who have a background of debt is also a problem, as well as prisoners who were dependent on benefit payments before entering prison being, in many cases, ill equipped to adjust to a normal working and law-abiding life after they leave prison.

Community sentencing and restorative justice must be used more intelligently. I do not mean soft options about which the public despair because they regard them as an inferior punishment to prison, but properly supervised and visible work in the community. I would be happy to see people on community orders dressed in a uniform to demonstrate to the public that proper activity is being undertaken to contribute to society. I should also like people in prisons to do meaningful paid work through which they can relate their activities to rewards. Such activity would prepare them meaningfully for life outside, and it would contribute to the victims whom they harmed, or more widely to the society against which they transgressed.

This Government too often mistake talking tough on crime for acting effectively on crime. They too often think that eye-catching initiatives that are designed to win headlines in the next day’s newspapers are an alternative to long, carefully thought-through and properly and meticulously prepared policies and administration designed to protect the public. They too often think that a legislative frenzy in this House, designed to show activity and to try to reposition the Government favourably towards Opposition parties, is likely to protect people in my constituency and elsewhere. In prison policy, as in so much of the rest of the Home Office’s responsibilities, I am afraid to say that that approach has been found desperately wanting. It is time that we tried the more constructive and enlightened policies that I have outlined this morning.

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) on initiating the debate. Since I am a friend of Jonathan Aitken, however, may I also invite the hon. Gentleman to recognise that the Erwin James quotation that he was trying to read into the record is in fact a quotation by Erwin James of Jonathan Aitken’s words, which were taken from his book about life inside prison? None the less, the facts lying behind the quotation are well worth bearing in mind when one considers an issue as difficult as prison overcrowding.

I want also to pay tribute to the contributions of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who is a noted contributor to debates on criminal justice, and I hope that his words have been listened to with care on this occasion, as they have on others, by those in the House and those on the Government Front Bench in particular. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) has a prison in his constituency—

It is in Griston, but it is called HMP Wayland and is named after Wayland wood, which I know very well. My hon. Friend pointed out with a great degree of accuracy the concerns that people have about the consequences of overcrowding in prisons, which ties into his plea for consistency in sentencing. That cannot be achieved if our prisons are overcrowded, the consequences of which are a demoralised public and a demoralised police force, who are doing their best to apprehend criminals and ensure that they are brought to justice.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) made, if I may say so, a speech that I could have made myself. Although much of what he said is uncontroversial—much of what I have said about prisons during the past 15 months or so is uncontroversial—it is difficult to get the Government to do anything more than say, “Yes, we hear what you say.” It is quite difficult to get the Government to deal with the facts and act on them. It is a pleasure, none the less, to have the Minister in our midst. Whether he has retaken this particular remit from the Home Office or he is merely substituting for the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), makes little difference to me. What is important is that he is here to respond to the debate. It is a debate to which we can give little justice in an hour and a half, but we must do our best.

Undoubtedly, overcrowding in the prison estate is one of the biggest problems facing the criminal justice system. At the moment, that system is probably at its lowest point in the public esteem and, within the whole criminal justice system, the prison system is in the most chaotic and troubled state. I am concerned that the inflated size of the prison population costs a fortune and causes difficulties by overburdening the prison estate. It inhibits the process of rehabilitation and thus also inhibits attempts to reduce reoffending, which are vital for an efficient criminal justice system and public safety.

Not only does overcrowding affect what I would call the regular criminal justice system but as we have learnt from the press today, it is affecting the Government’s ability to deal with illegal immigration. I make those remarks in the context of yesterday evening’s debate on the UK Borders Bill. According to today’s Daily Mail:

“Illegal immigrants are roaming the streets because there is no room for them at detention centres…More than 200 foreign prisoners who were taking up jail spaces have been dumped on immigration centres over the past two weeks.

This has left no places for illegals, who are now classed as the ‘lowest detention priority’. They are not being picked up and continue to walk the streets with little or no threat of being held.

There is also only restricted space for the 285,000 failed asylum seekers waiting to be kicked out of the country, supposedly a Government priority. In an ever-deepening farce, officials have to ring detention centres to check there is room before they can arrive with an illegal.

The emails to immigration staff even reveal details of officers being told there is a bed for a recently caught offender—only for it to be gone by the time they arrive…police cells—already full of criminals because of the prison overcrowding—are also being hit.

The report says that an e-mail sent within the Home Office dated 17 January stated:

“The detention estate remains full for today. You will have to check…before planning any detentions unless you can arrange detentions in police cells for the first couple of nights”,

while another e-mail sent the following day adds:

“We have a backlog of cases still in police stations due to no beds being available.’

The report continues:

“The Home Office normally has 2,680 detention spaces for holding illegals and failed asylum seekers, but capacity is currently down by 440 following last year’s…riots at Harmondsworth.

More than two months after the failed asylum seekers”

destroyed the centre,

“it is fit to house only 60 detainees.”

However, the e-mails that have been discovered

“reveal that, since the latest prison overcrowding crisis erupted, the situation has become even worse. Foreign convicts who have completed their sentences but were being held in jail pending deportation have been moved to immigration centres to create space in prisons.

They have been made top priority, with all categories falling in line.”

That shows how, as the Home Secretary tries to solve one problem, he only creates another.

The e-mails, which were sent to staff across the immigration and nationality directorate, sparked a degree of concern in the House last night. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), who speaks for the Conservative party on immigration issues, said:

“The knock-on effects of having nowhere to detain people who have no right to be here are dangerous to the public, demotivating to immigration officers and destroy the credibility of all John Reid’s tough talk.”

So we can see that overcrowding in the custodial system affects not just the criminal justice system, but the proper running of our immigration system.

I want to concentrate on one or two of the effects of overcrowding. It has a dramatic impact on the operation of both prisons and prisoners in relation to conditions; the ability of prison officers to work effectively; inmates’ access to educational and training programmes; the number of disruptive transfers; the success of and access to mental health treatment, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Taunton; drug and other vital rehabilitative programmes; and prison standards in general. The Prison Service business plan for the year 2006-07 describes clearly the impact of overcrowding on the prison estate, saying that

“changes in the prison population can present major challenges for the Prison Service in terms of maintaining regime and settlement activity and meeting output targets. Significant increases in the prison population can also lead to real difficulties in matching prisoners to the most appropriate accommodation (in terms of facilities and location) and this can have an impact on efforts to implement the decency agenda.”

As the chief inspector of prisons said in her annual report, as long ago as 2004-05,

“wings that we have said are not fit for habitation are being kept open.”

Only last month, we learnt that a wing in HMP Norwich that was emptied because it was unfit for human habitation has had to be refilled with prisoners. When prisoners were decanted from that wing, they were living in their own sewage. Of course, the Minister is not responsible for the direct day-to-day management of Norwich prison, but that example illustrates the hideous nature of the problem that we face because of the overcrowded prison population.

The prison estate is fit to accommodate approximately 79,500 individuals. As we know, it currently houses about 80,000. In addition, Operation Safeguard has had to be implemented, which allows the Home Secretary to keep prisoners in police station cells. We have seen the ridiculous farce of the Home Secretary having to negotiate the purchase of two prison ships, after his Government sold the last prison ship for something like £2 million—and they originally bought it for £10 million. I gather that they are having to buy one of those ships—I think it was HMP Weare—for something like the £10 million they originally paid for it.

We have seen not only a failure by the Government to plan sufficient accommodation to deal with the obvious consequences of their sentencing policies, but financial mismanagement, in that the Home Office, whose accounts have yet to be passed by the Comptroller and Auditor General, is piling further problems on an already stretched budget.

We see the Home Secretary turning disused mental hospitals in Liverpool into temporary prisons. We hear talk of him potentially using the police college in south Wales as a prison. We see also the constitutional problems, let alone the practical issues, that were revealed by the unedifying spectacle of Home Secretary having to plead with judges in mid to late January not to send to prison people who might in other circumstances be sent to prison, because of the overcrowded prison estate. I declare an interest in that context, in that I am a Crown court recorder and spend four weeks a year trying criminal cases with juries in London.

If we are to have both a criminal justice system and a Home Secretary whom the public can respect and have confidence in, it is essential that sufficient prison spaces are available for the consequences of the Government’s sentencing policy, so that it can be properly carried out. The Government have decided over the past 10 years that more people should go to prison for longer. They take great pride in the fact that the man in the saloon bar in Tunbridge Wells would be wholly satisfied with the tough attitude that they have taken towards penal policy.

Having demanded that Parliament should pass laws increasing the number of criminal offences—the Government have created about 1,000 new criminal offences since they came to office—and demanded that sentences for certain offences should increase, the Government then forgot to build or let contracts for the needed accommodation, despite the fact that civil servants in the Home Office predicted that if the policy were to continue, they would need 100,000 prison places by 2006. I accept that the Home Secretary said in October last year that he would ensure that there were 8,000 additional prison places by 2012. However, every prison place costs approximately £100,000 to build. Every adult prisoner in our prison system costs about £40,000 a year to house, while for the young offenders the cost is in the region of £75,000 a year.

The one problem is that, before the Home Secretary promised those additional prison places by 2012, he forgot to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s permission to spend the money, although he may have an understandable difficulty in asking the Chancellor such questions. We have a promise of 8,000 additional prison spaces by 2012, but we do not see the cheque from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go with it. We have, if I may say so, an empty promise—or at least one that is unlikely to be fulfilled. That promise should be seen in the context of a Home Office official’s projection of a need for around 100,000 prison places by 2006, given the graph of the growing prison population. We are now in February 2007, and we see the Home Secretary scrabbling around and trying to find places here, there and everywhere, which leads to a ridiculous state of affairs.

However, we do not face just a ridiculous state of affairs, but a cruel and inhumane one. Most prisoners will at some stage in their lives be released. Very few people, such as the Yorkshire ripper, stay in prison for the whole of their natural lives. Yet we are not doing enough to ensure that those who will eventually be released to return to society will be in a fit state to become members of society. We put into prisons drug addicts, alcoholics, people suffering from mental illness and people who cannot read and write; and—surprise, surprise—as a consequence of prison overcrowding, people come out as drug addicts. Did you realise, Mr. Hood, that there is a thing in the prison system called the drug-free wing, into which prisoners can volunteer to go? If the public knew more about that, they would be a little noisier in complaining about the state of our prison system.

We put into prison people who are socially and economically inept and—surprise, surprise—we let them out again as socially and economically inept. We expect them not to reoffend, but if we put junk in, we will of course get junk out. They reoffend, and they do so in industrial quantities. Even the previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said in a debate in the Commons in February 2005 that more than half of all crime is committed by people who have been through the criminal justice system before.

Order. I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that his time is up and that it is for the Minister to come back.

May I finish this sentence, Mr. Hood? Much of what I wanted to say is familiar—it was said in the Offender Management Bill Committee last week, and it has been said in other public places and by others today. I regret to say that the Government have a shameful record. I hope that the Minister will do rather more than simply say that the Government are doing their best, and will instead set out a practical programme of improvement to make our prisons better not only for the prisoners, but for us, who desperately need the security on our streets of having prisoners return to society and not reoffending.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Richard Younger-Ross) on securing this debate and, in general, on the way in which he and others dealt with what are serious issues. I am grateful for that, because we are not just talking about the immediacy of overcrowding in the prison estate, but taking in the fuller context, in terms of sentencing and many of the other social and economic issues to which he referred. It is important that we should consider penal policy generally in that regard. I do not want simply to repeat everything that the Government have been saying over the past few days, but it is important to put in context where we are at, much of which has been alluded to by the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members.

Public protection is our top priority and we have achieved a great deal since 1997. We have legislated to give the courts the powers that they need to ensure that the punishment is appropriate for the offender and the offence. We have introduced tough new laws on the sentencing of violent and sexual offenders, including new tariffs for murder, and longer maximum terms for knife and gun crime, and death by dangerous driving. There are now 7,000 more seriously violent offenders in prison than in 1997. In addition, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced indeterminate public protection sentences, which mean that dangerous offenders are kept in prison for as long as they are a danger to the public—indeed, in some cases they may never be released. Currently, 2,000 offenders are in prison on IPP sentences.

Having said that, I take the general thrust of hon. Members’ contributions that questions must constantly be asked about whether the right people are in prison for the right length of time and whether they are treated appropriately while there. We have toughened community sentences and made them much more flexible, to deal most effectively with non-dangerous offenders. They can be made to pay back to the local community for the damage they have done, through enforced unpaid work, and at the same be required to address their offending behaviour.

The general thrust of what hon. Members have said is right: we need to consider both those elements. I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman, who perhaps needs to have a word with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and see what she is doing on social exclusion. All the points made about education, early intervention and people in the care system are entirely fair. My right hon. Friend was lampooned in the press for the saying that it is possible at an early stage to look at some young people’s profiles, in terms of family structure, socio-economic background and access to education, and plot out their future in the care system—excluded from school—and subsequently in the judicial and custodial system. I agree that there should be prevention at the early stages.

The courts and the probation service are now rigorously enforcing sentences and bail conditions. Interestingly, fine collection rates are up, although the use of fines as an instrument has gone down. Offenders who breach their community sentences or licence conditions after release from prison are being dealt with robustly and the police and courts are cracking down on so-called bail bandits.

More offenders are being brought to justice. There has been a general tough response to crime, reflected by the courts in their severity of sentencing—the right people for the right sentences. There has been a significant increase in the proportion of offenders getting custody and in the average length of prison sentences across the board for all types of offence, as the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) said. However, the issue has to be seen in the broader context, as he suggested.

It is right that the most serious and violent offenders should receive tougher sentences, and we have taken account of the pressures involved. Since 1997, we have delivered an extra 19,000 prison places; spending on prisons has gone up by 35 per cent. in real terms in the past 10 years. As hon. Members have mentioned, we will spend more in the next five years to deliver a further 8,000 places.

Let me get some of my speech on the record; I shall then give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman.

However, the general rise in the length of sentences has included those for non-serious or non-violent offenders; again, a fair point was made about that. That was not our intention, but it has contributed significantly to the rising prison numbers. The point about the inter-relationship between, on the one hand, foreign national prisoners and the immigration estate, and on the other, the prison estate, was well made. That issue was discussed last night.

At Christmas, the expected seasonal dip in the prison population was not as deep or sustained as predicted. Projections at the beginning of 2005 on the impact of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 proved to have been over-optimistic. Members are right to say that, when legislating, we need to understand and try to judge the impact. At the time, it was felt that the Sentencing Guidelines Council recommendation would cut sentences by about 15 per cent., but they have not been cut by that much. Furthermore, there has not been the increased use of non-custodial sentences for less serious and non-violent offences that the Government had anticipated. Those factors mean that the prison population is significantly higher than we were expecting and that, as has been described, we face real pressures.

I am grateful to the Minister. I appreciate that he is not in day-to-day charge of the prisons aspect of Home Office policy. However, will he accept that the vast proportion of the new prison places to which he referred may have been built during a Labour Government, but were commissioned by the last Conservative Government? I am not making a party political point, but simply want the Minister to bear in mind that there is an awful lot that this Government have not done and that they need to do a lot more if they are to achieve those 8,000 additional spaces by 2012.

I certainly accept that many of the new prison places were initially commissioned under the last Conservative Government, but the subsequent PFI contracts that saw them all the way to fruition were carried out under the Labour Government. I do not say that in a partisan way either; that seemed appropriate at the time. All I am saying is that planning has been done, but all the various aspects have not come together quite as anticipated. That has got us to where we are now. The hon. and learned Gentleman’s point about having to plan and take full cognisance of the consequences of legislation is entirely fair. We have taken such things into account, but that has not worked out quite as anticipated in the context of the interlocking nature of all the elements involved, as hon. Members have said.

We cannot consider prisons without also considering the wider consequences of penal policy, sentencing guidelines and, as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, the wider societal backdrops. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not interested in having a to and fro about who started building what when and those sorts of things; nor am I. Some 19,000 places have been built, there are plans for 8,000 more and there are other elements that we need to take into account.

I want to touch on specific points made by hon. Members before concluding. I would say to the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser) that there is not a letter as such to the judges. The statement to which he referred was made by criminal justice Ministers to the National Criminal Justice Board, not in a formal statement to Parliament or a formal letter. A senior presiding judge sits on the National Criminal Justice Board, and he agreed with the Lord Chief Justice that the statement should be sent to all judges and magistrates. However, I shall certainly arrange for it to go into the Library.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman and others outside the House that there has been a substantive blow to police morale and that the police have been badly let down by the Government. In fact, when the comments to which he referred were made, elements of the police force fully understood what was happening and what needed to be done to get out of it. They did not share in those rather stark claims. For example, the Association of Chief Police Officers knew and understood what the Government were doing. On behalf of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), I should say that the police have been magnificent in supporting the reopening of Operation Safeguard.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) made a key point at the start of his speech in asking whether we were locking up too many people and the right people for the right length of time. Those points are entirely fair and need further substantial discussion. I agree in part that the criminal justice system is a political football that needs to be depoliticised. I do not mind politics, but the politics on this issue are always expressed in such a stark manner, as I think the hon. Gentleman was trying to say. They are hysterically driven, by not only the media but politicians as well.

I agree, too, with the notion that for every offender prison does not work or prison does not work for every single offender—whichever way it is put. That is also a fair point that we need to address. Hopefully, one point of consensus that can come from the issue is that community sentences and keeping people out of custody is not the soft option or almost a reward for miscreant behaviour. Carried out properly, they can be really effective, astute and work better to reduce rates of recidivism.

I shall not promise the hon. Gentleman a brand, spanking new prison in north Wales, although I take his point about travel distances. I think that the average distance home is 50 miles for prisoners in England; it is probably closer to 68 or 70 miles in north Wales. However, I shall take the hon. Gentleman’s point back to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. I should have told the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that I am a mere substitute; prisons have not suddenly been added to my portfolio. My hon. Friend is in the United States considering various aspects of sex offending and that will feed into the review on sex offenders.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) for saying that I am a victim; I have never thought of myself in that way. He tried to make a point by quoting the press, but if we are serious about not only prison overcrowding but sentencing and the wider issues of penal policy, we need to get away from press stories that in some cases are entirely invented and in others have an inappropriate spin.

I should say to the hon. Gentleman that in no terms did the Home Secretary, through the statement with the Lord Chief Justice or others, say that serious offenders should not be sent to prison. The Home Secretary did not say that, and it is not reflected in the sentencing guidelines that he was reminding people about.

Equally, it is not right to exhort the Government and others to draw up carefully thought-through and costed policies and then to list blithely four or five policies with no notion of what they cost, what benefits they will bring or any other dimension. We should have a wider debate about penal policy, but it should not just be about getting out of the immediate situation of our prisons. There is also a third dimension, which is about considering the nature of people who end up in the custody system and what we should do with them after they leave and about what we should do in the wider sense of public protection. Those are key issues. I take the points about mental health, drug addiction, minor offences and drink-related issues, not least as the Minister with responsibility for police and crime reduction; I know that in many cases, people are in the system only because of those dimensions.

I am grateful for the broad treatment of this highly topical but very serious issue, to which we need collectively to find real answers.

Sporting Legacy (2012 Olympic Games)

I thank you, Mr. Hood, for giving me the opportunity today to discuss the Olympic and Paralympic games. The title of the debate should cover both, and I would like to set the record straight on that from the start.

I welcome the Minister, particularly as he will pass into history as the longest serving Minister of Sport. That will happen this week, so perhaps I am getting my congratulations in a little early. In the sportsthinktank .com lecture last night, we heard about the excellent time that he has had as a Minister. Perhaps a Westminster Hall debate will not be among the top 10 highlights, but I hope that part of the Olympic and Paralympic process is very much on his mind.

I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Interests. Among other things, I am also the chairman of my local strategic partnership for volunteering in sport at the national level, and a county sports partnership chairman in Leicestershire. I am also president of Birstall rugby club, for which I played again at the weekend in a fine 29-nil win against Leicester Forest. We kicked off early so that we could watch the game between England and Scotland. Given your presence in the Chair, Mr. Hood, I shall not recount the score, but, looking around, I can see wry smiles—we can leave it at that.

Today’s debate is not about Olympic games costs. There is enough debate on that in the media, and enough scrutiny taking place elsewhere. Today, I hope to focus on what the Olympics should be about: a sporting legacy for UK plc. I am sure that the Minister is pleased to hear that, especially as my hon. Friend—I shall call him that, in these circumstances—the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is here. The Minister gets nervous when he sees a Loughborough-Bath duo, and expects another plea for money.

Yes, it has; but, on this occasion, I assure my right hon. Friend that we are not necessarily pleading for money.

Also, it is important to say—I shall touch on this briefly—that the Government have achieved a great deal in terms of the sporting landscape that I want to discuss today. I shall highlight the good things about elite sport and school sport, but then—as is usual with Members of Parliament, I suppose—come on to the big “but”. I shall concentrate most of my comments on grass roots and community sport, and what we have managed to achieve.

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been a big supporter of the Olympics. I am delighted that the Under-Secretary of State for International Development, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Thomas) has joined us. We spent some time before the Government had even decided to bid on the Olympics pushing the case for a UK bid, and I am delighted that we took the opportunity and won the bid. Now it is only fair that we remain firm supporters of the games throughout the process, and see it to a conclusion.

The reason that I do not want to concentrate today on costs and the things that are in the media is that I am firmly committed to the Olympics, and I recognise that there are fantastic teams at the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and the Olympic Delivery Authority. They will deliver the best games that we will ever see, and they will deliver them on time. I shall not say “on budget” at this stage, as too many people are scrutinising that. [Interruption.] We do not know what the budget is. However, the games will be fantastic. It is important to set out from the start that that side of things will be delivered, and that we should be confident in that happening.

As to what is happening on the positive side for elite sport, the Bath-Loughborough axis recognises the enormous contribution that my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor have made. The additional £300 million allocated to UK Sport will ensure that our athletes are some of the best prepared and best motivated to win gold medals and achieve our aspiration to come fourth in the 2012 Olympics. I believe that most people recognise what we have achieved on that side. It is discussed in the UK Sport booklet, “The Road to 2012: The Impact of London 2012 and Our New Responsibilities for High Performance Sport”. Sport now comes to us and says, “You have given us the resources, it is now up to us to deliver.”

I am not saying that we close the book and say, “Thank you very much, we’ll just leave it till 2012”, but, with the present leadership at UK Sport, the national governing bodies and some of the work that I have been doing with the British Olympic Association, which is also making a step change in the way that it delivers support to the Olympic team, I am confident that, as long as we can identify talent and generate enough athletes to get through to the required level, we now have the mechanism and facilities at places such as Bath, Loughborough and, of course, Sheffield—

I thought that I should get that one in—to give athletes the best chance to get on to the podium in 2012.

It is also important to recognise that there has been an enormous step change in respect of school sport. Ten years ago, when I first came into this House, the landscape was very depressing. I believe that most of us are of an age to have some fond golden memories of what sport was like at school: PE two or three times a week, and weekend and afternoon games. But that was not the case 10 years ago.

I know that this is a short debate, but I would like to put one point to the hon. Gentleman. He agrees that the Olympic games present a unique opportunity to engage more young people in sport in the way that he describes, and that we must continue to believe that even if only a few can compete, everyone can be involved. However, just as it is important that we secure a sporting legacy from the games, would he also agree that the provision of sporting facilities and grants must not suffer in the interim, or be used to bridge the huge funding gap that is beginning to emerge?

I am grateful for that intervention. First, on competition, yes, this Government have made it clear—I believe that the Minister said this in the question and answer session last night, and I know that other Ministers have said it—that competition remains at the heart of sport. Sometimes, it does not matter whether one wins or loses. My son’s football team was losing seven or eight-nil regularly up to the Christmas period—I shall return to this later, to highlight the value of coaching. The team got a new coach in January, and my son came home three or four weeks ago and said that the score was two-one. I congratulated him on holding it down to that, only to be told that his team had won. I had not realised that they had managed to get that far. Competition is important, and we want to encourage it, particularly at school. I know that the level of competition is increasing. Pressures on the curricular timetable sometimes make travelling difficult, but competition is crucial. Sport as a whole relies on it.

I want to deal with the funding element, but I am more interested in how the Government tackle the issue strategically. Clearly, the ability of the games to drive up interest is not necessarily linked with a lasting legacy. As we all know, one cannot get on to a tennis court for two weeks of the year because of Wimbledon, but, unless plans are in place, a lasting legacy of increased participation is not necessarily generated.

I am proud of the bid document because it deals with two areas in which I am interested: grass-roots sport and volunteering. Historically, economic regeneration, tourism development, international prestige and national celebration have all been recorded benefits of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic games. However, ironically, previous hosts have not demonstrated that a grassroots sporting legacy of increased participation has been a natural corollary of acting as host. In fact, much of the research shows that there has not been a sustained increase in participation after the games. We put increased participation at the heart of our bid, but I wish to explore in the next few minutes how we will deliver it, beyond what we have already said that we will do as a Government and through Sport England.

As a county sports partnership chairman, I know that the existing targets for increasing participation are challenging. It seems that it should be easy to add 1 per cent., but when it is converted into the number of people that must increase their participation in sport or physical activity, it becomes extremely difficult. However, we cannot say that the targets that we had without the Olympics are enough. The Olympics give us a golden opportunity to take matters one stage further.

The bid document stated that

“grassroots participation would be boosted. An already sports-mad nation would get fitter and healthier.”

However, the Government’s “Game plan”, which was published in 2002, acknowledged that

“it would seem that hosting events”—

on its own—

“is not an effective, value for money method of achieving…a sustained increase in mass participation”.

Separate resources must be directed towards creating a sustainable legacy on the back of a major sporting event.

The hon. Gentleman makes the vital point that it is not only about the specific event. Indeed, even hosting training camps should not be the end. Does he welcome, as I do, the work that has been done on the first ever deal for a training camp for the 2012 games, which will be based in Bristol, arranged by Dr. Kip Keino and the Kenyan Olympic association? That deal is predicated on the arrangement that there will be a range of sporting links between Bristol, Kenya and the west of England, including cricket, rugby, football and community sports activities and, too, there will be a range of cultural, tourism and commerce links. Will we not ensure that we make the best of the one-off event of the Olympics if we build such things on either side of the games?

I agree entirely. In fact, I think that I have half-volunteered to be involved with the great Ethiopian run this year and, obviously, it is the real millennium in Ethiopia. On one of our previous visits it was suggested that, as part of the Olympic ideals, part of the bid should be predicated on the international links and the way in which we can work. The hon. Gentleman’s example is excellent, and I hope that whenever a training camp or other facilities are opened up for such an event, people will make use of its wide impact. Today, we are clearly relating that specifically to grass-roots sport, but he knows and I know that if we succeed in getting major teams to hold their camps in places such as Loughborough or Bath that will be surrounded by cultural events, art and, we hope, by sustained links between the two countries for the foreseeable future. From my point of view, it is not about where we feel we have reached in August 2012, but the real measure of success of the Olympics is whether we are still fourth or fifth on the medal table in 2016 and whether we have seen a sustained increase in participation in sport and physical activity across the country.

As Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, said:

“A country can truly call itself sporting when the majority of its people feel a personal need for sport.”

He also said:

“In no way can sport be considered a luxury object.”

Clearly, we have gone a long way with the Government’s plans to have everybody within 20 minutes of a sporting facility by 2008 and the work that Sport England is doing, and the consultation on the new framework for community sport from 2008 to 2013 will set out some of those targets. However, it comes down to two or three key factors that we need to ensure are in place. The first has been mentioned: finance. At the end of the day, whatever we would like to think, sport costs money. Fortunately, we have some 5.9 million volunteers who ensure that we do not need as much money from the Government or other sources as we would if all those people were working full time.

My latest figure is that 120,007 people have registered themselves on the website for 2012, ready to volunteer for the 70,000 places that are needed. That was the figure on Thursday, but it might have gone up—it might be 120,009 or 120,010 by now. It is clear that people are passionate about getting involved. We need to tap that not only among the 120,000 who have volunteered to be ready in 2012 to come down to London and to be part of the Olympics, but among the others, who might number in their hundreds of thousands, who see the potential as we increase our interest in sport across the board—not only in the Olympic sports—to become involved in their local clubs and societies. Volunteering will be one of the key elements that will increase the level of participation.

Although facilities are important—we have talked about the holding of camps, and the need to be within 20 minutes of a decent sporting facility so that people can use them—the crucial point, as I have mentioned with regard to my son’s football, is having the right people and the right coaches. The Minister is to be congratulated on recognising that, even with the best facilities in the world, without the right people and coaches in place nothing can ever be achieved. That was brought home to me when the Olympic swimmers were at Loughborough using the baths that were built in the late ’50s, and yet we were producing world-class swimmers without a 50 m swimming pool. It was achieved in a horribly steel-walled 25 m swimming pool that one would not want to send one’s children to if it was part of a local authority facility, never mind part of an elite facility.

It is amazing what can be achieved with the right people. If we get the combination of the right people and the right facilities, I hope that we will go even further. The Minister must be congratulated on ensuring that the 3,000 community coaches are in place. However, we need to ensure that that number is not only sustained but increased, and that we increase the number of volunteers to build up the level of participation at a grass-roots level that would make it a sustainable future for so many people.

The delivery plan for Olympic sub-objective 4.4 states that it wants to maximise the increase in UK participation at community and grass-roots level, but without a national strategy and some drive from the centre, the potential for building on the brand that is the Olympics could easily be lost. If I were to ask for one specific action, to follow up on my correspondence with my right hon. Friend the Minister, with the Secretary of State and with the Leader of the House, who I understand chairs the Olympic and Paralympic Games Committee, it would be that we should ensure that we are not left behind. The evidence from my county sports partnership and the work at a sub-regional level shows that tourism and the business sector are moving rapidly ahead, yet we seem to rely on Sport England to pick up the participation baton and we seem to expect that somehow it will magically happen.

I understand that later this spring LOCOG will have in place a symbol that fits legally in the framework of what can and cannot be done. That will be a unit with which we can work. That Olympic symbol can be used at a community level and will then, I hope, be part of a brand in which the Government will take a lead. The danger is that if we leave things as they are, there will be no central driving force and no direct link with the Olympics and what can be achieved. All the evidence shows no automatic corollary between acting as host and increasing participation.

One example of when we have achieved those increasing levels of participation that the Minister will know well—although with cricket at the moment, it is probably not the best example—is that the England and Wales Cricket Board was good at recognising the power and value of the Ashes when we won them last year. It recognised that we cannot rely on people turning up at their local clubs and staying merely because they are interested. A sustained plan is needed to ensure that the facilities are in place and the coaches and people are in place and ready to support the influx so that it is not lost.

My main worry is that we have been successful—and will be more so by 2010—in what we achieve in school sports, but we still have a 70 per cent. drop-off rate at 16. One of the reasons for that is that we are clearly not yet doing enough to support people when they want to move out into the community. Their lives change and they drift away from the school sport environment and so it is vital that we strengthen the work that we are doing, which is already fairly good, on the school and club link. It is clearly not working yet if we are still seeing such drop-off levels.

I am not asking for a great deal more money. It would be nice, but I know that in the current climate that will not be possible. I urge that the £340 million that has been allocated should not be raided further, as did the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. Fraser). Sport as a whole is making a sufficient contribution towards the Olympics, and I would not want to see it making a greater contribution. We need a step change in attitude, with a national strategy that builds on the already excellent work of Sport England in its new framework for community sport. The targets that we have already set it are pretty challenging, but I believe that with the Olympic brand and with the energy to keep going forward we can take one further leap.

My measure of the success of the Olympics is not the regeneration of the east of London, welcome as that will be, nor how successful we are in the medal table, although I hope that lots of Loughborough, Sheffield and Bath constituents are among those medal winners, as they generally are. It is not about how successful the games are as a spectacle for the tens of thousands of spectators. My measure of success is that when we get round to 2016, our levels of growth and participation should have increased to a level of which we are proud and we should have the next generation of elite athletes.

We cannot do that without a sustained platform and strategy. Australia has a worldwide reputation for its sporting excellence, but if we scratch beneath the surface, its participation rates are not that impressive and obesity levels are growing. It does not want to know about disability sport and such things, but merely to pick out the elite. We have a golden opportunity not only to deliver and to beat the Australians in the medal table, but to beat them on the sports field across the board, whether at disabled sport or community sport. This is a golden opportunity, and I hope that the Minister can tell us exactly how we will deliver the grass-roots increase in participation that we all want to see.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) on securing this debate. He has outlined to the House the context in which he wants it to take place. I concur with him about the Olympic Delivery Authority and LOCOG. They are probably two of the best organisations to both drive forward construction and deliver the games in their many facets. I am sure that the leadership of Roy McNulty of the ODA and Seb Coe of LOCOG will make that happen.

It is helpful to concentrate on the games’ legacy. I have said many times that the Olympics games are not an end in themselves, but a means to many ends. My hon. Friend has been exploring how to use the games and that little bit of magic and gold dust that they undoubtedly provide to drive up participation in sport and physical activity and to ensure that it is sustained.

I reassure my hon. Friend that I do not want another national strategy. We have enough strategies; what we want is action on the ground. To some extent, that has happened. Well before we decided to bid for the games, we were mindful that we wanted to ensure that young people in particular became more engaged in sport and physical activity, if for no other reason than their health. Unfortunately, it is a damning indictment of our society that our young people are now exposed to obesity and type 2 diabetes in a way that they were not before. To argue purely from the Exchequer’s point of view, physical activity has a major role to play in reducing the burden on the health service, as indeed it does in social inclusion. More and more, we see it playing a role in ensuring that some of those at the bottom of the economic ladder continue to be part of society in a positive way.

What have we done to ensure continuing participation in sport? How do we get young people to participate in sport? Statistics were released a few months ago on our schools, which were our first port of call to increase participation. In 2001, fewer than 2 million of our young people were getting two hours of quality physical activity or sport every week. I am pleased to say that that number has now increased to more than 5 million. That means that in our schools, young people are having 6 million more hours a week of quality physical activity or sport than in 2001. That is very important indeed.

We want to extend such activity beyond the school gate, and we want every young person between five and 16 get two to three hours of quality physical activity or sport every week. It is a challenge to take that beyond the school gate. To some extent, that is where the Olympics come in. My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the response to calls for volunteers. Some 127,000 people have now expressed an interest in volunteering for the games, and we will want about 80,000. We want to convert that interest into involvement in sports clubs, coaching and officiating, as we are doing in a number of ways. There is a wealth of people out there who want to get involved in the world of sport—not necessarily to participate, but to volunteer to ensure that sport continues to grow in the UK.

My hon. Friend was right about the role that volunteering plays in sport. In fact, 27 per cent. of all volunteering in this country involves sport. We want to increase the quantity of volunteers, and we have a number of projects to deliver that, but we also want to ensure that the quality improves. It is important to see volunteering as a force for good in sport that could deliver not just greater participation, which is important, but sustained participation. Many of our schemes and projects to encourage people to volunteer have been described, but I shall cite one more. Step into Sport is helping 16 to 18-year-olds enter sport and show leadership. Many of them go on to run sports days in schools and communities. In my view, they will eventually be part of development for the Olympics as well.

Facilities are also important. The debate on this matter has been a long one; I dealt with it in a speech last night. The playing fields organisations have had a legitimate case to prosecute in that playing fields were closed. That has now been reversed. During the past two years, we have opened more playing fields than have been closed. More importantly, we must provide facilities that our young people want to use. It was interesting to talk to Mick Hill, the great javelin thrower, at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. He said, “Richard, if we had had these facilities when I was throwing the javelin so many years ago, how many more medals would we have won and world records would we have broken?” That question will never be answered, but one thing is for sure—we are now giving our young people the opportunity to use the best facilities available.

I should like briefly to refer to the intervention by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). I congratulate Bob Reeves, the head of sport at Bristol university, on the work that he has done with the Kenyans. Again, it is not just about the Olympics. The Olympic games involve 26 sports in summer, or 35 in total with the winter games, but sports beyond that such as rugby, cricket, netball, golf and so on have been part of the discussion as well. Although the Olympics will be the motivating force, the issue is much wider. It is pleasing that the press release about this matter says that the agreement that may well eventually be signed will involve more than 20 schools in an exchange of young people between Kenya and the south-west of this country. That is to be welcomed.

This is about the power of sport to bring young people together. We are starting to deliver on the narrative that won us the Olympic games on 5 July 2005, which seems a long way back now. I am convinced that that was what won over the International Olympic Committee and gave London the opportunity to host the games in 2012—we said that we wanted to reconnect the young people of the world to sport through the power of the Olympic movement and of the five rings. What we see happening in Bristol is delivering on that, and delivering it more widely.

On coaching, it is absolutely clear that unless we get it right, we will miss a golden opportunity. The Olympics will give us the opportunity through UK sport to deliver the five levels of coaching to which all governing bodies have subscribed. There are now 3,000 community coaches on the ground helping in clubs, infant schools and the probation service. We want to build on that to make coaching a profession. I want this nation to be the best coaching nation on earth by 2016. That is achievable, and it will be a massive turnaround, but it will not just be about sport. It will be about how coaching and sport can play a much more proactive role in the communities that we in the House represent.

We want to ensure that social inclusion, health and education are increasingly assisted by sport and quality coaching. Linking that principle to facilities and exploring what we can do with the Olympic ideals gives us a great opportunity to move forward not just to 2012 but well beyond it, to when we will have the most sustainable sports structure anywhere in the world. That is what we can achieve, and that is what the Olympics can help us to do.

Aviation White Paper

I am grateful for the opportunity to lead an Adjournment debate on the aviation White Paper and, in particular, on the issues that relate to Heathrow. This is the second debate on the subject that I have had during my tenure as an MP. In July 2001, I led a debate in which I raised some of the issues that I will raise again today. I introduced a debate at that stage because it was when the third runway was first mooted. We are now closer to a decision on that.

By way of an introduction, I will explain where I am coming from and my broad approach to the issue. I am one of the MPs for Heathrow; Twickenham is part of the south-west London area directly affected by Heathrow. That tends to produce a mix of concerns. Many of my constituents are concerned about aircraft noise and, in a wider sense, pollution and, equally, many are airport employees. I recently brought the highly controversial issue of the wearing of a Christian cross by Miss Nadia Eweida into the public domain. That concerned someone employed by British Airways; as are hundreds, possibly thousands, of other people. In addition, my constituents use the airport for business travel. I get opinions from both sides of the argument, but I sense that the centre of gravity in the debate is shifting towards greater sensitivity to environmental concerns, as opposed to protecting the economic position of Heathrow airport.

It is often argued that there is a tension between economic and environmental objectives. I do not take that view. In the 2001 debate, I argued that it is possible to reconcile those objectives providing we use market instruments in airport policy. There is much evidence that the Government have moved a long way on that argument. My approach is still broadly that aviation should be priced correctly and capture environmental costs. The introductory passage of the 2003 White Paper also places aviation within that context and argues that the aviation sector must fully meet its environmental costs. If that happens, we should get sensible and rational decisions.

I am well aware that there are big decisions in the offing and I do not expect the Minister to anticipate those today. We are expecting a decision on runway three in the next two or three months, but more important for my constituency is the linked issue of runway alternation. In some ways, that matter is of greater concern because it could bring considerably increased numbers and density of flights at a much earlier date. I am aware that the Government are limbering up for a consultation exercise and are not pre-empting that decision. However, I want to draw attention to that particularly sensitive and difficult issue. We are aware that the combination of those two policies, if followed through, would result in an increase in the number of flights from 480,000 to 700,000 in the next decade and a half. That would have a massive impact on the quality of life of people in my part of London.

I will raise a series of fairly broad issues, some of which have more specific questions attached. How far is Government thinking in relation to the quantitative assumptions in the 2003 White Paper on airport expansion being modified to take account of the rapidly developing argument about global warming and CO2 emissions? It is clear that the Government are sensitive to the issue. We have had the Stern report. It is striking that, in the progress report, 10 out of 76 pages are devoted to global warming issues in relation to aviation. Out of the 170 pages of the White Paper, only three pages were devoted to climate change. That is a good measure of the extent to which that issue is becoming dominant, if not pre-eminent.

I want to establish how far the Government have taken on board the issues of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in framing their projections and growth forecasts for airports in the south-east, with particular reference to Heathrow. Clearly, there is an awareness of the issue, but how far has that translated into growth assumptions?

When we look at the broad aggregates, the importance of global warming in the context of airports is understated. At a global level, around 3 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions come from the aviation sector, which is often used as a reason for dismissing the issue. Britain is a relatively important user of aviation and roughly 5.5 per cent. of Britain’s CO2 emissions come from that sector. However, even that is a massive understatement of the importance of the problem because other greenhouse gas emissions are created by aviation; through chemical reaction, NOx creates atmospheric ozone—another greenhouse gas. When taking all those indirect effects into account, the current assumption is that roughly 11 per cent. of greenhouse gases in the UK originate in the aviation sector. Some of the assumptions of the intergovernmental panel on climate change suggest it could be double that. We are talking about broad aggregates and there is a lot of uncertainty, but a substantial share of greenhouse gas emissions originate in the aviation sector.

The rate of growth is much more important than the level of emissions. The Department for Transport’s projections suggest that there will be an increase of approximately 10.8 million tonnes of carbon in 2010 to 17.2 million tonnes in 2050. There are other projections on the upside of around 30 million tonnes even from the Department for Transport. In a highly constrained environment in which people are increasingly concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, a virtual doubling of emissions is assumed to be coming from the aviation sector. However, even that is highly conservative. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has commissioned Owen and Lee to undertake a separate study of greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation sector and that has come up with much higher figures. That estimates that by 2050 there could be 29 million to 44 million tonnes of carbon—significantly higher than the Department for Transport’s estimate.

The rate of growth is important because, based on the Government’s assumptions, by 2050, 40 to 60 per cent. or more of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK will come from the aviation sector. That matters not just for aviation, but for the rest of the economy because, if a 60 per cent. cut is to be achieved, as the targets require, there must be a much bigger squeeze on the rest of the economy. The transport, industrial, and power generation sectors will have to make a cut of around 80 per cent. to accommodate the growth from aviation. Those are big arguments that go way beyond the remit of this rather narrow and short debate. However, the fundamental question is: how far are the Government modifying their growth assumptions? That question feeds into the Government’s belief in the need for expansion through further runways, or runway alternation. How far are the Government taking factors relating to growth forecasts into consideration?

On a smaller but related set of issues, we know—and the Secretary of State made clear when the White Paper was announced—that the Government are limited in their commitment to a new runway by European Union regulations on pollution, particularly on NOx emissions. The Government have categorically said that they will not allow a third runway to proceed if there is any question of the European pollution rules being breached. That is clear and we respect that. What is less clear is what will happen if decisions are made on ending runway alternation. That would result in increased flights without the necessary safeguards built in that the Government have said would apply in the case of a third runway. Therefore, my question is how far a decision on runway alternation and increasing flights through that route is affected by the NOx limit—how far those pollution limits apply to that decision as well as to the later, more headline decision on a third runway. Is it a constraint? Would it be a binding constraint?

My third question relates to one of the key assumptions in the White Paper, which is the desirability of Heathrow continuing and expanding as a hub airport. That is very much part of the philosophy of some of the airlines, including British Airways, and of the airports authority. Clearly, from the point of view of many users, there are considerable attractions in a hub-type system—a hub business model. For the people who use the airport, there are more destinations, a greater frequency of flights and a reduced need to change, but there is a downside, and I do not get from any of the Government publications any sense of a critique of that type of airport development and the problems that it presents.

One of the most obvious problems with that type of airport development is that it is generating large numbers of passengers through the UK who are in international transit. I believe that the total number is about 12 per cent. I have asked a series of parliamentary questions about that. It is important because, although those passengers are clearly attractive to the airlines—they bring in revenue for them—and they may be attractive to the airports authority to the extent to which they use the duty-free facilities and others, it is difficult to understand how that benefits the UK in a broader sense, because bringing in more passengers increases our carbon emissions and, as I understand it, those international transit passengers generate no revenue, for the reason that they have been exempted from the ticket taxation system.

Have the Government reviewed that policy? In particular, do they not consider that there is a case for including those passengers in the taxation framework? I know that that is predominantly a Treasury question, but the Department for Transport presumably has a view on the extent to which transit passengers might be dealt with differently.

The fourth issue relates to surface transport. I know that one of the Government’s aims is to improve surface public transport as a way of taking some of the pressure off the roads around Heathrow and thereby contributing indirectly to the reduction of NOx emissions. There is the proposal for Crossrail, which does not directly affect my part of London, but there is also a proposal to introduce the AirTrack concept. AirTrack would flow through my constituency and others in south-west London. That proposal is often presented unambiguously as a positive, but I am concerned about it. Will the Minister agree to have a careful look at it? I ask that for one simple reason. The rail companies are now arguing that there are so many pressure points in the rail network generally and, particularly in the south-west London area, our trains are so congested, that AirTrack could be accommodated only by cutting conventional commuter services, with a deterioration of services following from that.

In other words, AirTrack would not be an additional facility, but would be at the expense of others.It is possible that those people have got that wrong or have some interest in promoting that argument, but will the Government examine carefully the interaction between the AirTrack proposal, which is seen as an unalloyed good, and existing public transport services and the possible dangers that the proposal would undermine the quality of the public transport service from the south-west London area? I do not think that that question has ever been properly examined.

I shall finish where I started, by saying that I broadly support the philosophy, which the Government have been identified with, of trying to use market instruments as a way of helping to manage demand as well as to capture the environmental costs of the aviation industry and airport expansion. Where are we withthe various approaches to that problem? Market instruments can be employed in different ways. One is by having economic landing charges. The Government have shifted policy on that in the past few years. I believe that there is now a growth factor of 6.5 per cent. a year in landing charges, bringing them up to a more serious economic level. As I understand it, however, the revenue is linked to terminal 5 expansion; it has not been used as a mechanism for managing demand, which it should be.

The process of auctioning landing permits is apparently not an option because of legal problems in the European Union. I believe that the Government are introducing secondary trading, but not the auctioning of the permits themselves, which would be one mechanism that could be used for managing demand. I just want to be clear on whether that has been ruled out.

There is a proposal to incorporate aviation within the European trading permits scheme. The Government are keen to press ahead with that proposal, but there are problems, not least American objections, German lack of enthusiasm and the fact that it will not take effect for some years. A brief statement on where we are with that would be useful.

We have the existing mechanism, which is the use of taxation and of the airport passenger tax. That is the Government’s chosen mechanism. I shall refer to this briefly, because the Minister will know of the enormous annoyance that it has caused in the air travel industry. It just so happens that I have in my constituency the headquarters of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, one of the main groups of operators that face that retrospective tax. The AITO does not object to the principle of the tax on economic or revenue grounds, but it objects enormously to the way in which it is damaging its industry because of the retrospectivity. Of course, that is a Treasury issue primarily, but I know that this Minister will have received many representations on it.

The other point that the AITO makes, which is perfectly valid, is that the existing tax applies to passengers and not to aircraft. That is a rather inequitable and inefficient way of trying to manage demand. With that point, I shall conclude to give the Minister ample opportunity to reply to at least some of the points that I have made.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on securing this debate on the important matter of the Government’s air transport White Paper. I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss that, particularly at a time when there is increasing public interest in aviation’s impact on the environment and its contribution to climate change. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has taken such a positive and balanced view of aviation and the White Paper in particular. His view compares interestingly with those of others on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. I am sure that the House would appreciate some clarity about Liberal Democrat policy on aviation but, for today, I am delighted to welcome the consideration that the hon. Gentleman has given to the issue.

The Government published the White Paper in 2003. That was the first time in 20 years that a Government had set out a national long-term strategy for the sustainable development of airports across the UK. In my response to the debate, I would like to deal with the main policy and assessment criteria. The White Paper was based on extensive research and consultation. It was widely welcomed at the time, and still is, as it brings clarity and direction to the aviation sector and more widely. In my experience, it has been very much a working document.

In December 2006, we published a progress report, reaffirming our commitment to the strategy and the progress that has been made. At the heart of the White Paper’s strategy is the recognition not only of people’s growing aspirations to travel and the economic benefits that aviation brings, but of the need to tackle environmental challenges, as the hon. Gentleman said. Sir Rod Eddington’s recent review of the development of transport infrastructure confirmed the White Paper conclusion that international connectivity is important in boosting national economic performance. The Stern review on the economics of climate change makes it clear that there is no contradiction between economic growth and tackling climate change, and that clear international action is required.

On an international level, I welcome the EU’s recent announcement on the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme in 2011 and 2012. The Government have led the debate in Europe on that issue and will continue to work on the detail of the proposal, including its earlier introduction. We are also committed to modernising the International Civil Aviation Organisation, and are working to ensure that it focuses on the challenges of the 21st century, most notably on climate change and the need to ensure security in global aviation. In the UK, we have recently announced the creation of a new mechanism—an emissions cost assessment that will allow the Government to track whether the aviation sector is meeting its climate costs—on which we will consult.

The Government’s approach to airport development follows two important principles: making the best use of existing airport capacity, and ensuring that any new capacity that is required is provided in line with our environmental obligations. To put things into perspective, some 15 runway options were considered in 2003, of which only four were supported in the White Paper. Two of those options are for after 2016—in Birmingham and Edinburgh.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that our policy is informed by extensive and robust modelling of the likely future demand for air travel. The demand forecasts assume that aviation will start to meet its full climate change costs after 2010 through either the inclusion of the sector in the EU emissions trading scheme or the adoption of a national policy to achieve that goal. Even taking full climate change costs into account, we expect the demand for flying to double by 2030.

Pressure on capacity is clearly greatest in the south-east. That is why we support the development of Stansted and Heathrow if stringent environmental conditions are met. A second runway at Stansted would be the first new runway in the south-east for 50 years and would provide a substantial increase in new capacity there in the next decade. It would also contribute to the £17 billion in net economic benefits that Sir Rod Eddington identified would be generated by having two new runways in the south-east.

Having a new runway at Stansted alone will not satisfy demand in the south-east. That is why the development at Heathrow is also a crucial part of our White Paper strategy. Heathrow has played a central role in the country’s aviation sector for several decades, and our commitment to managing the impact of airports is nowhere greater than there. We set out our position on Heathrow very clearly in the 2003 White Paper, in which we noted that demand there far exceeds supply; that additional capacity would generate substantial net economic benefits; and that failure to secure capacity would cause its route network to shrink over time. We also noted that if nothing is done, traffic will be lost to continental airports, and access to Heathrow from UK regional airports will be diminished.

None of that has changed since 2003. If anything, it is more true today. Recent events have shown just how finely balanced operations at Heathrow are now that it is running at capacity, and how quickly they can be upset by adverse weather, for example. We continue to support the building of a third short runway at Heathrow, but it is qualified support.

Many people in London are overflown by aircraft today, but things were a great deal worse when the hon. Gentleman bought his house in Twickenham 33 years ago. The number of people significantly affected by noise has more than halved since then. However, I assure him and his constituents that we remain committed to bearing down on noise. In June 2006, the Secretary of State announced a new night-noise regime that will bring a progressive reduction in the noise quota between now and 2012.

Adding a third short runway would theoretically allow Heathrow to handle around 720,000 movements a year, compared with the current cap of 480,000. In 2003, we said that development at Heathrow must be subject to a stringent limit on noise. I confirm that, despite what has been reported in the press recently, we are not prepared to contemplate any worsening in noise from that in the summer of 2002, as measured by the 57 dBA Leq noise contour. That is a tough test, but we must set it if traffic is to grow at Heathrow. It is a fair test and we stand by it. Technology will help, but the noise limit that we have imposed will constrain the rate at which Heathrow can grow. That is part of our sustainable strategy.

We have also said that a new runway can be supported only if we can be confident that mandatory limits on air quality can be met. We take that second key condition seriously, and are exploring what measures are needed to meet our obligations in that area. Again, our commitment to sustainable development means that traffic volumes will inevitably be constrained by what can be delivered within environmental limits.

We acknowledge that we will need to deal with the additional pressures caused by the greater numbers of people travelling to and from the airport. Further work to review how those conditions could be met—with a new runway or with more intensive use of existing runways—is now in its final stages. When it is completed, we will report on our assessment in detail and conduct a full public consultation, in which the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will, I am sure, want to have some input, before reaching any final decisions.

I recognise the real concerns of local communities around the airport. The pre-conditions that we have set out ought to provide considerable reassurance in that regard. I am also well aware of the importance that is attached to runway alternation and the periods of predictable relief from aircraft noise that it gives to local communities. Introducing mixed mode either in its own right or as an interim measure before any third runway is built would involve losing alternation for at least part of the day. We will address that in the consultation and will want to take careful account of responses.

As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, we must also take into account the benefits that a thriving Heathrow has on local employment and the regional and national economy. Balancing competing interests will not be easy, and that is one reason why we are determined to review the matter thoroughly. When we consult, we will do so with the best possible information, and the responses that we receive will help us to take a decision that is informed by the fullest appreciation of the issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about AirTrack. No final decisions have been taken on that. The AirTrack scheme appears to offer benefits, especially in providing new rail services in areas that are not well connected, and BAA has agreed to take it forward to a transport and works application. We are examining its contribution to improving the public transport share of airport trips, which is important.

The hon. Gentleman asked how far we are modifying growth assumptions. I emphasise that the 2003 White Paper already took account of aviation meeting its environmental costs. Even though forecasts assume that that will have some impact in depressing demand, we still forecast substantial upward pressure. I am sure that he will have taken the opportunity to look at the progress report.

I conclude by saying that our overall approach to airport expansion strikes a responsible balance between the economic importance of the industry and the global and local environmental challenges that it poses.

Bokhari Family (Deportation)

I rise to draw attention to the case of Sibtain Bokhari, his wife and four children, who are aged between eight and 14. They were deported as failed asylum seekers on 22 January.

Mr. Bokhari was a rights worker at the Lahore Bar and a Shi’a Muslim in a Sunni-dominated area. His chambers were trashed, his house was stoned and he was threatened. I understand that all of that was accepted by the adjudicator and the tribunal, yet they still ruled that he should return to Pakistan. They did so because those things did not constitute persecution by the state, which is true, and because they said that he could rely on the protection of the police—that is much more arguable. I disagreed with the decision and made representations along that line.

I know as little about violence, tolerance and community tensions, and the threats to rights lawyers in Lahore as the Minister does, so I was not exactly qualified to deal with the issue. My concern is not the principle of the family’s going, or the ruling of the tribunal or the Minister, but the manner of their going and his responsibility for that. Although I hope that he will introduce an element of independence into the adjudication process, as his race monitor has recommended, that is not part of today’s discussion, which is about the deportation of the Bokharis.

The manner of the Bokharis’ going is part of a numbers game: the aim is to get as many failed asylum seekers out of the country as possible. As a result, the easy victims, such as the Bokharis, go first. I shall go into poetic mode and say that the heart is God, the name is Byrne, women and children get first turn. The Minister has boasted on Radio 4 that he is now deporting one failed asylum seeker every 26 to 27 minutes, so the Bokharis gave him a good two and a half hours of happy motoring in the deportation programme. Questions arise from that and I should like to put them to him.

I made representations to the Minister for a substantial period, many of which centred on the family’s adjustment to Grimsby. Both the Bokharis were school governors in the town and were training as classroom assistants. All four of their children were doing well at local schools. So we are talking about model pupils and model citizens. The representations made through me to the Minister by the Grimsby Telegraph, the schools, church groups, friends and ordinary citizens all supported that idea and argued that the family should be allowed to stay on that basis.

My first question is: does any of that count? In each reply, the Minister has effectively said, “That is all very well. I am glad to hear that they are good citizens, but”. The “but” means that the Bokharis would have done better by disappearing into the night, going to ground and going into hiding, like so many other failed asylum seekers, who do not get expelled because they have disappeared. The immigration and nationality directorate does not know where such people are, so they do not get deported. By being model citizens and by being in the public eye, the Bokharis made themselves an easy target for the deportation process.

I was making representations partly on the basis of my first question—whether any of that counts. However, I was also doing so on the basis of evidence that Mr. Bokhari was getting—I could not obtain it myself—from Lahore. Lawyers were giving reports about the problems and the possibility of violence that he would face, and the violence that had taken place. Family were telling him about their fears about what would happen if the Bokharis were returned. Newspapers talked about communal violence, terrorism and instability in the area. I sent all that evidence to Ministers as part of my representations.

My second question therefore is: is it any use making representations to Ministers or is doing so just a drawn-out, protracted farce? There is no evidence that the representations were listened to, looked at or read. All the evidence suggests that documents were not translated from Urdu. I do not know whether or not the Minister speaks Urdu; I do not. The whole process was like throwing stones or pennies into Gaping Ghyll in Yorkshire. One can throw them in but nothing happens; there is not a sound and they disappear. It makes me think about the process of adjudication by Ministers, particularly given the fact that they confirm the verdict of the tribunals in the overwhelming majority of cases. It would be nice to know how many of those verdicts he rejects. So what is the use of the representations?

That leads me on to my third question. On 21 September, I wrote to the Minister insisting on a meeting with him, but he told me that a meeting was not necessary. I wanted a meeting because it was my right to have one and because Mr. Bokhari was still gathering evidence from Pakistan. The meeting had not taken place when the IND swooped on the family and carted them away. My third question is: did the IND know that a meeting had not yet been held and that representations were still ongoing or was it acting automatically? Did the Minister know that the IND was going to do the raid and take away the family? Is he told of such planned raids? Is it right that they should occur when representations are ongoing and when a meeting has been requested?

The whole family were originally taken away in a dawn raid on Monday 6 June 2005. I tabled questions about dawn raids but the Table Office told me that the Home Office does not like the term “dawn raid” because of its jackboot overtones. I can understand that, so let me immediately admit that I was wrong to call it a dawn raid—it occurred at 6 am, so it was a pre-dawn raid.

My fourth question is: why are we still using such a brutal procedure—pre-dawn raids—to deal with failed asylum seekers and their families? Why are we raiding them in the early hours of the morning and getting their kids out of bed before they can go to school? These are the methods of barbarism; they are not the methods of a decent humane society. Such methods were used on Ruth Turner, the Prime Minister’s gatekeeper.

Pre-dawn raids produce widespread indignation and are monstrous, but they are an everyday story of asylum folk because they happen all the time. Why should we use that approach? Why should we use that brutal method to deal with these cases, which involve families appealing to stay in this country?

The raid was witnessed; of course, the neighbours came outside because they heard noise. A friend of the family told me:

“The children were brought out 1 by 1 and put into a car then Mrs Bokhari was brought out. Mr Bokhari was brought out screaming. He only had his nightwear on and no shoes. 2 of them put Mr Bokhari in a separate car, pulling him down the street. These children will be scarred for life. They looked so frightened. When they’d been taken away, more neighbours came out and said how disgusted they were at the treatment of such a lovely family.”

That approach causes shock and horror, and dislike among the neighbours. Why are we taking it? My fifth question is: why was the pre-dawn raid so badly prepared? No domiciliary assessment seems to have been made. Mr. Bokhari is a diabetic and needs to have three insulin injections a day to keep him in a reasonable state, but all the insulin was left in the fridge and he was taken away without it. He was taken to Yarl’s Wood, with the family, without being treated. I understand that he received no injections for 36 hours. He was carted off despite my having made representations that he should not be left like that because he is a diabetic. The family were not told where he was. He was brought back three days later somewhat bruised on the wrists and on the head.

When people rang in during that period, they were given various interpretations of where Mr. Bokhari was. One person was told that he had been taken to Heathrow, which naturally caused a lot of alarm. At that point, the Minister suggested a meeting. I thought that he was covering his backside by doing what he should have done earlier: holding a meeting. I did not want it to be merely a formality, so I suggested that Bokhari should be taken back to Grimsby before the meeting. However, the Bokharis told me that they were being deported on the 8.25 flight on 22 January. I agreed to a meeting, spent the weekend preparing the case, and met my hon. Friend on 15 January when his secretary assured me that the new date was just a formality and would not apply until my hon. Friend had made his decision. Bokhari trusted me when I told him that and I trusted the Minister. Question six is: was that a mistake on my part?

On Monday 22 January I was talking to the eldest son on the telephone just before midday when the call was cut off. The next call from the Bokharis came from a car when they were being taken to Heathrow. I rang the Minister’s office. He was not there, but his secretary assured me that the Minister had not made a decision. I relayed that to the Bokharis and told Heathrow. The last contact was at 8 o’clock when the eldest son telephoned from the plane. In the background I could hear Mr. Bokhari shouting, Mrs. Bokari sobbing and the kids crying. That was the last contact I had with them. Evidently, the Minister had decided, but no one knew that. I do not whether the IND knew, but by then it was irrelevant because the Bokharis were on their way. The Minister’s fax reached my office in Grimsby at 5.30 when, predictably, it was closed. His e-mail reached my inbox at 8 o’clock, and his letter arrived the next day. Question six is widened to: is my hon. Friend really in charge, or does the machine steamroller on to maximum deportations while the Minister meekly runs behind ratifying its every move because it is too late to do anything else by that stage?

I hope that none of this will damage my hon. Friend’s reputation or stop his remorseless rise. He is apparently the only functional part of a dysfunctional Department. His efforts are so stakhanovite that he is almost certainly in line to become the Daily Mail’s Minister of the year, although I see in today’s Daily Mail that the Bokharis’ deportation might not have taken place this week because the deportation centres are now being filled with criminal asylum seekers or immigrants released from jail. I will make this question seven: are they too full to deal with the Bokharis?

The Minister is now more popular among readers of the Grimsby Telegraph’s website than I am, which will be tragic for me when I face the next election. I shall give a sample quote from Annie, who said:

“SEND THEM HOME…6 more gone! They should all be sent home…give us back all of our houses, flats and apartments, corner shops, takeaways, restaurants, chemists to name but a few!! OUT WITH THEM ALL!!!”

That is stirring stuff. I am receiving mail from liberals who were shocked by the process, but they usually end by saying that they will never vote Labour again, which does not make me too happy.

I asked my questions in the hope of receiving some answers, but before sitting down, I want to correct an impression. The Independent said last week:

“Our Government’s treatment of this family makes me ashamed to be a Labour MP.”

I did not say that and I would not say that. I am proud to be a Labour MP, but the way in which the Government treated the Bokhari family makes me ashamed.

It is a pleasure, Mr. Hood, to speak again under your chairmanship.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond not only to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), but to some of the discussion that he has chosen to have in The Independent. I have probably spent more time on this case than on any other since I became a Minister. I have been involved in looking at and answering my hon. Friend’s representations at all stages. I regret that he has not reflected the application, work and emotional impact that such cases sometimes involve not just for the Ministers who are responsible for making these important decisions, which they are charged and paid to do, but for immigration judges, caseworkers and front-line staff, and indeed the civil servants who work hard in my office. The impact of such cases is significant, which is why it is misleading for anyone ever to say that family removal cases are somehow easy targets. They are the hardest of all, and the House should remember that. There are many myths about the immigration system. There are stories about numbers and about abuse of benefits, and sometimes there are myths about the removal of families. I shall try to answer most of my hon. Friend’s questions briefly.

For any immigration control system to work, it is important that those who do not have the right to be here are, ideally, stopped before they arrive, but if they are in the country they should be quickly, safely and securely removed. I bend over backwards to help people to go home voluntarily, which is why we have put in place schemes such as the assisted voluntary return scheme. It is not popular with tabloid newspapers; it is not popular with the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, which attacked it remorselessly yesterday, but we put it in place because it is the right thing to do and a sensitive way of helping families that should not be here to go home.

However, despite that help and support, people sometimes do not want to go home voluntarily. Families and individuals arrive in that position when a decision has been taken on their case and in cases involving claims for asylum. Consideration has been given to the Government’s obligations under the 1951 convention on the status of refugees and the European convention on human rights, which the Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated into British law, involving not only article 3, but article 8, which covers the right to family life. When unsuccessful applicants are notified of a decision, they are, rightly, given the right to an independent appeal. That allows independent immigration judges to review the evidence to ensure that civil servants in the IND have not made wrong or misguided decisions, but have taken the full facts into account and applied the law correctly. The protection system is comprehensive, and that was the system that was put into action in this case.

Because of the comments that have been made, I want to say a little about this case. The family entered the UK as visitors on 27 September 2003, and although they entered as visitors, they claimed asylum three days later. After consideration of their application, it was refused, and the family, as was their right—it is a right that we defend—sought an appeal. The adjudicator heard evidence at great length. Having read the judgment in full, I believe that a carefully reasoned determination was given, and it was by no means unsympathetic, but none the less the appeal was dismissed. Substantial evidence was submitted to the tribunal, but it concluded that it did not in any way undermine the conclusions of the adjudicator and the appeal against the decision of the adjudicator was refused.

That meant that by 15 October 2004, the family had exhausted all appeal rights and were subject to removal. They were detained prior to removal on 15 March. When IND officers attempted to effect the removal, the family initially refused to leave the detention centre, and I am informed that they became abusive. As a result, the removal had to be deferred, and the family was given temporary release while my hon. Friend’s representations were considered. As he is aware, removal was deferred by my predecessors, so I subsequently had the opportunity carefully to consider his many representations. However, it is sometimes difficult for an elected politician to overturn the decision of an independent immigration judge, and that was even harder when no substantial new evidence was presented, despite my pleas for such evidence.

The family continued to refuse to leave voluntarily. On 9 January, therefore, immigration officers visited the home again to effect removal. Again, the family was unco-operative throughout the visit. As a result, unfortunately, it was necessary to handcuff Mr. Bokhari for his safety and for that of his family. It is sometimes necessary for the IND to enforce removal in that way. The visit will also often take place early in the morning, simply because that is when the family is together. I have made it my business to go along on such visits sometimes, because it is important that I, as a human being, understand their impact, as well as the realities and implications of my actions, for which I am responsible to myself and the House.

Sometimes, restraint methods are used, and that is possible under the law. However, they are only ever used to protect an arresting officer or the person who is being arrested. Although I can speak only from my own experience, I believe that the tact, skill, diplomacy and care shown by front-line immigration officers is second to none. When one asks them which cases are easy and which are difficult, one gets a pretty simply answer: the removal of families is, to use a phrase that was once used to me, “gut-wrenching work”—it is extremely difficult. Many immigration officers have families of their own, but they do their job with some professionalism and skill.

The medical history of Mr. Bokhari, in particular, was well known, not least because of my hon. Friend’s representations. Detention co-ordinators and escorts were therefore made aware of his potential medical condition in a risk assessment that they were sent before the visit.

Removal did not take place on 9 January, and directions were reset for 22 January. The family was notified on 16 January to allow me further time to consider last-minute representations. On this occasion, the family remained in detention while my hon. Friend’s representations were considered. On the day of removal, unfortunately, the family was once again disruptive and abusive. No member of the family was handcuffed. The only time that a member of the family was handcuffed was when Mr. Bokhari was taken from the home, and that was for the reasons that I explained.

It has been intimated that the Home Office sometimes handcuffs children, but that is absolutely not the case—the Home Office does not handcuff children to effect removal constraint. Control of minors is limited to situations in which it is necessary for an officer to use physical intervention to prevent harm to the child or the individuals present. Children up to and including the age of 17 are considered to be minors.

The fact that the family established itself in the UK was not due to a delay in the processing of its application, which was fairly speedy. Despite full knowledge of its immigration status, however, the family chose to put down roots in the community, as is their right. The decision, the appeal and the permission to appeal to the tribunal were all dealt with in less than 12 months, but the family remained here for a further two years, in the full knowledge that it had no basis for doing so.

The point that I want to make is that the immigration rules are approved by hon. and right hon. Members and by Parliament, so they apply without prejudice to everybody in the country. My hon. Friend said that the members of the family were model citizens, and that may be the case, but it does not follow that there should therefore be some kind of discount from the immigration rules that were approved by this House. The family’s efforts to integrate into the community did not, therefore, constitute sufficient reason to allow it to remain. We cannot go down the route of allowing families to remain on the basis of a subjective opinion about who is nice, who is a model citizen and who is making efforts to integrate into the community. The immigration rules should be applied equally and fairly to everybody.

Some hon. Members argue that we should never remove families, but such a policy would not be sustainable. Furthermore, the exceptions created would act only as an incentive for people to come to this country illegally. That would increase the risk of trafficking, given that three quarters of illegal immigration is, as we know, in the hands of organised crime. It is therefore important that we not only tackle those who traffic others for exploitation, but close down the incentives to cross our borders illegally in the first place. Tackling such abuse and increasing the number of removals reduces the attraction of the UK to those who wish to enter illegally.

I am happy to come to the House at any time to debate the Government’s immigration policy. It is quite wrong to claim that Ministers boast in some way about the number of people whom we remove, and it is regrettable and inappropriate that my hon. Friend should say that. Home Office Ministers are tasked with ensuring that the immigration rules are fulfilled. It is right and proper that we debate the way in which that policy is conducted and the way in which Ministers are held accountable for their decisions. Those are difficult decisions, and the public often have strong views about them, so it is important that right hon. and hon. Members have the opportunity to question Ministers not only about the conduct of Government policy in the round and the development of policy into the future, but, sometimes, about the conduct of individual cases. I promise my hon. Friend that I shall review in Hansard the questions that he has posed. I believe that I have answered most of them in my remarks, but I shall write to him if there are any gaps where I have not dealt satisfactorily with the issues.

I conclude, however, on the point with which I started: many people have been involved in this case. They include the caseworkers who originally processed the decision and the family’s application for asylum when they were visiting the country; the caseworkers who then supported the family; the immigration judge and adjudicators who reviewed the decision; the immigration officers responsible for effecting the removal; the people at the detention facilities where the family were held, including the medical staff; and myself. A large number of people have therefore been involved in the case, and we all take such cases very seriously, because they involve the most difficult, challenging and emotionally fraught decisions that we must take day to day. Such decisions are difficult and have an emotional impact.

Where people disagree with the decisions that are ultimately made, it is wrong to question the motives of those involved. Parliament has made its view clear and expressed the law very clearly. As a result of that law, the people at the IND and Home Office, myself included, must often make difficult decisions. If we make certain decisions, that is not because we are in some way heartless or without emotion—that would be impossible when we have children of our own—but because that is the right thing to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Two o’clock.