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Commons Chamber

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

House of Commons

Wednesday 9 May 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Democratic Republic of the Congo

We have given significant support to civil society in the DRC, both before and during the elections, to enable organisations to undertake civic education and to act as observers, and we are also supporting the media to help improve accountability. More than 30 per cent. of our support goes mostly to international non-governmental organisations to deliver programmes. That support will include £27 million over three years to two large NGOs to provide free basic health care in 20 health areas.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the continuing concerns highlighted on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning about arbitrary arrest and violence by President Kabila’s regime towards political opponents? There are also problems of rampant corruption, especially in the extractive industries, and a continuing history of a lack of development in the basic infrastructure. Will the Government put renewed pressure on President Kabila to end those autocratic practices, as without a real and meaningful development of civil society all our increased aid budget will be frittered away? Is not a significant civil society a prerequisite for meaningful and long-term economic development?

I agree completely with the hon. Gentleman. The DRC is a country where virtually everything is broken. That is the truth, as I saw for myself on my recent visit, and as did the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell), the Opposition spokesman on international development, who has also been there recently. I raised precisely that point in my meeting with President Kabila, because the people of the Congo want to see that the Government will reach out and embrace the Opposition there and allow civil society the time and space to acquire a voice. In that way, for the first time in their lives, people will be able to experience good governance. Unless good governance comes to the Congo, none of the problems to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be dealt with, but establishing it will take time.

I strongly commend the Secretary of State for the huge personal effort that he has made, and the amount of work that he has done, in supporting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in getting the election process under way. Will he do his best to ensure that the Government of the DRC use the country’s enormous mineral wealth, and any aid that is being donated, to develop primary education? I visited the DRC last year as an election observer, and it seemed to me that the illiteracy rate was rising not falling. Unless we address that, all the other development goals will be impossible to achieve.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and to hon. Members on both sides of the House for the interest that they have taken in the Congo. Indeed, a number of hon. Members acted as observers in the elections to which the UK was proud to be the largest contributor. That was an extraordinary moment in the country’s history.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the DRC does not lack natural wealth. The truth is that it has been raped and pillaged—first by its colonial masters, and then by some of the neighbouring countries. That treatment is now being continued by some Congolese, but good governance is the solution, as that will ensure that the natural resources are used in the interests of the people and not of the private pocket.

We are working with the World Bank on a programme to help abolish school fees in part of the country. For the very poorest families, they act as an obstacle to getting children into the classroom, which is where they belong. Education, good governance and an open form of politics are three essential elements that must be secured if the country is to make progress.

I commend the Secretary of State for what he is doing in Africa and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he will be aware that the Government of that country and President Kabila have a unique relationship with President Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Is the right hon. Gentleman able to exert pressure on Zimbabwe, through President Kabila, to promote civil society in that country? I hope that he feels that we should use every avenue open to us to try to bring a change in Zimbabwe, as well as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

May I simply say that the development of civil society is vital for all countries and communities, including Zimbabwe? As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, if the countries neighbouring Zimbabwe spoke up more loudly and truthfully about what is going on there we would see faster progress towards enabling the people of Zimbabwe—and of the DRC—to express their views, openly and without fear, about what they want to happen to the future of their country.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Congo’s ruling elite has understood that the purpose of government is to benefit the welfare of the people, and that it is not an exercise in looting? What progress has been made towards the integration of the army? As he knows, it does not defend the people but poses a threat to their welfare.

The cultural and political change—if I may describe it in that way—to which my hon. Friend refers in the Congo can be described only as work in progress, because it has a long way to go. Army integration is an example of that. There has been some progress, but one of the difficulties is that the large amount of money that comes out of the Exchequer every month to pay for the armed forces does not bear a direct relationship to the number of soldiers who need paying. One of the points that I made to President Kabila both on my recent visit and previously is that if the Government of the DRC want the international community to give more support to army integration—the UK is doing something to provide tents and clean water to those who are part of the integrated brigade—they have to demonstrate that the money that the donors are putting in is being used for the purpose for which it is intended. Army integration is crucial to the future of the country. The country has to stop having separate armed forces representing separate political groups. There is one elected President. The army must come behind that President and act on behalf of the country as a whole.

In spite of the Congo’s awful history and the accurate comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), does the Secretary of State agree that the recent elections, the performance of the United Nations forces, whose mandate must be renewed, and the support of the British taxpayer all give some grounds for optimism in a country whose stability and prosperity is crucial to that of all of Africa? Since it is clear that building space for the Opposition in Parliament there is of vital importance, will he say a little more about his Department’s future plans for supporting the promotion of that?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Despite all the difficulties that we have just been discussing, the transitional Government represented real progress and the elections—the first for 43 years— were extraordinary. I join him in paying tribute to the contribution of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I agree with him that MONUC has got to stay there for quite some time, because the country needs the security and the reassurance that it provides. I specifically raised with President Kabila the issue of space for the Opposition. I met members of the Opposition both in the National Assembly and separately. It was hoped recently that they would meet President Kabila. I understand that that meeting has not taken place, although they met one of his advisers. Some of the Opposition have now gone back into Parliament, having boycotted it for a while. This issue is the real test. In the end, President Kabila is the President of the whole country and he has a great responsibility, as well as an opportunity, to reach out to all those who won representation in the elections and to show that the Congo will be a country in which people can say what they think and participate in that very fragile democracy, which, if they commit to it, will allow the country to move forward. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that we are going to stick with that process every step of the way.

I also applaud the work of the Secretary of State and the progress that has been made in the DRC. Will he tell us a bit more about what President Kabila said, on the Secretary of State’s recent visit, about providing space for the Opposition? We have met Opposition politicians here who have been concerned about that. What support can we continue to give via EUSEC—the EU security sector reform mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—in particular in relation to the crucial issue of the security forces and their integration?

President Kabila expressed to me his commitment to the democratic process. In the end, the international community should judge the President and the country by what it does, as well as by what it says. Only time will provide the answer. On EUSEC, we have provided support in the form of the secondment of staff and we have provided funding, as I indicated in answer to an earlier question. For the reasons that I set out, it is important that the process of army integration continues.

Water Supplies

2. What steps his Department is taking to promote the availability of clean drinking water in developing countries. (136206)

3. What steps his Department is taking to promote clean water and sanitation in the developing world; and if he will make a statement. (136207)

We will double our expenditure on water and sanitation in Africa, where the millennium development goal targets are most off-track, to £95 million a year by 2007-08, and then double it again to £200 million a year by 2010-11. Last November, I published a global call to action on water and sanitation. We need both developing country Governments and donors to do more, we need to invest more and to ensure that money is spent effectively, and we need to put the best structures in place to make all of that happen.

Like me, my right hon. Friend will have visited developing countries such as Ghana and Nigeria and seen at first hand the lack of proper drinking water and the poor sanitation. What tangible efforts could be made in terms of the World Bank to assist us in our millennium goals and in solving the problem of poor sanitation in developing countries?

It is a question of funding—there needs to be more funding for water and sanitation from the international community, donors, multilateral institutions and the Governments of developing countries themselves—and giving local authorities in the growing towns and cities of the developing world the resources that they need to provide water and sanitation as their populations increase. It is also about changing cultural attitudes and habits, which is why our support for the community-led total sanitation initiative is a really good thing. The initiative has shown its capacity to change attitudes throughout the world and to get people to realise that if they do not deal with sanitation, they undermine the health of their community. We need more of that.

Given that more than 1 billion people throughout the world lack access to clean water, what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that that important issue is on the agenda of the G8 meeting in June?

By our own actions we have increased investment, which I have described to the House. The global call that I issued in November was all about trying to raise the profile of the issue. I am pleased to report to the House that at the recent spring meetings of the World Bank, we reached an agreement that there should in future be one annual report on how the world is doing and one annual meeting at which we can gather to determine what needs to be done next and to divide up the work. The UN has indicated that it is prepared to nominate one lead UN body in- country to be the vehicle through which support for water and sanitation will be provided, which represents real progress. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to press the matter, including through the G8.

To return to my right hon. Friend’s comments about changing habits, is he aware that the local authority in Nairobi had well-advanced plans some months ago to pipe water to one of the city’s largest slums, but that the plans had to be withdrawn owing to landlords’ threats of violence because they were making too much money out of selling water in that slum?

The story that my hon. Friend tells draws our attention to the difficulties that countries face as they try to make progress. In the case that she cites, the landlords have a vested interest in the existing system because, as the House knows, the highest prices for water are paid by the people who buy it in plastic bags and buckets from water sellers. In Ghana, such people pay five to six times as much for water as those who get it through the leaky, creaky water supply system. That illustrates that one problem that local authorities face is how they deal with informal settlements. There is a question whether there will be recognition of the fact that millions of people live in an area and whether clean water will be provided, and that shows what a big task local authorities face. That is partly about governance and partly about resources.

Will the Secretary of State note that I have tabled an early-day motion, which has been signed by the chairmen of six all-party groups connected with Africa, that calls for support for the “End Water Poverty” campaign? Some 193 Members—soon the number will be more than 200—from all parties have signed the early-day motion, which, as it happens, is supported by Conservative Front Benchers, to call for the problems to which the Secretary of State has just referred to be remedied. Is he aware that we are going to Downing street on Saturday to present a petition about the matter? WaterAid and Tearfund, which have led the campaign, deserve every conceivable support. Does he agree that the £95 million a year that he is proposing might not be adequate and that we need to do more?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s very last point, and that is why we will double the amount again when we reach the £95 million figure, because the problem is greatest in Africa. I am grateful to him for telling me about the petition that will be presented. I join him in paying tribute to the two organisations to which he referred, which we support and work with, because this is a great global cause—frankly, we need all the help that we can get. Above all, the people who do not have clean water and sanitation need all the interest and attention that we together can garner so that progress can be made to improve their lives.

What is my right hon. Friend doing to improve access to water and sanitation in the slums? Is his Department working with UN-Habitat to examine the upgrading of slums and the likely impact of that on improving access to these services?

I have met Anna Tibaijuka, who heads up UN-Habitat, to discuss the slum upgrading programme and the facility that she is advocating. In the end, the most important thing is to give resources to the people who have responsibility for providing clean water and sanitation in the urban areas of Africa and Asia. This country’s history shows that local authorities, as they developed, were principally responsible for putting in place piped water and sewerage systems, which did more than anything else in 19th century Britain to prolong life expectancy. Developing countries are going through exactly the same process, and we need to ensure that they have the means, the political will—that must come from within—and resources at a local and city level, given that that is where the investment must be made.

The Select Committee on International Development’s recent report highlighted the fact that sanitation is a poorly performing target within the Department, and it recommended the establishment of a sanitation agency. I cannot support that request. Does the Secretary of State not think that it would be more appropriate for him, his Department and his civil servants to highlight sanitation as an issue, to focus on it and to try to improve the situation?

I think that that is what we are doing. In fairness to the Select Committee, it acknowledged that the UK played a leading role in securing a millennium development goal target on sanitation, which was agreed in 2002. Britain deserves credit for having pushed for that. Secondly, our support for the rural hygiene, sanitation and water supply project in Bangladesh has helped 7.7 million people in the first five years, and we are funding a UNICEF programme in India that aims to reach 213 million people. In addition, the community-led total sanitation initiative is a practical way of dealing with the problem. It is very blunt and direct; it involves going into villages and saying, “We’ve got to take a decision to stop open defecation in this village because that’s the cause of a lot of ill-health,” and it works, because it does not have a fixed plan. It works with the community and finds solutions. In some cases, the price of the plates that are needed for pit latrines has come down to as little as a dollar. These are the practical steps that need to be taken if more people are to have clean sanitation.

What role does my right hon. Friend think that private water companies can play in ensuring clean water and sanitation through charitable work, and what will he do to ensure that our private companies do even more charitable work overseas?

I welcome the contribution of any organisation that supports charitable work to provide clean water and sanitation. On the public-private argument, I welcome what the Select Committee report had to say. In the end, we are not having an ideological debate about public or private; the issue that we should be interested in is the most effective way of getting clean water and sanitation to the largest number of people. I am interested in what works.

The Secretary of State must be acutely aware of the widespread concern, expressed by the Select Committee, numerous non-governmental organisations and many others, that clean water and, in particular, the unglamorous but vital issue of sanitation risk becoming the orphan millennium development goals. On current progress, we will not meet those targets for nearly 70 years. Is not all our work on prioritising health and education undermined if girls have to walk five miles each day to get water for their families, and if children risk death from poor sanitation?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and that is why providing clean water is not just good for the health of children and communities, but very good for getting girls into school. That is why, as I saw for myself on a recent visit to Malawi, providing toilets as well as classrooms is absolutely fundamental in the education work that we support. That maximises the chances of girls coming to school, and, as they get older, staying in school, which they will not do if there are no toilets for them to use. The issue is how we integrate all the approaches to health, education, water and sanitation to ensure the progress that the hon. Gentleman and I both want.

Faith-Based Organisations

4. What percentage of aid provided by his Department was distributed through faith-based organisations in 2006-07. (136208)

In 2005-06 the Department for International Development provided more than £23 million to UK-based faith groups, including Christian Aid, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development and Islamic Relief. That sum represents about 10 per cent. of funding to UK civil society. It does not include DFID funds that are passed to faith groups through multilateral donors, or through developing country Governments, so the total sum will be much higher.

I thank the Minister for that response, and I congratulate him, the Secretary of State and all officials in his Department on rightly recognising the important work that faith-based organisations such as Tearfund, CAFOD, World Vision and Christian Aid do in delivering aid and development all over the world. Would the Minister like to put on record today a reaffirmation of the importance of faith-based groups delivering such aid?

I am grateful for the opportunity that the hon. Gentleman has provided, because I share his view that faith-based groups do a huge amount of good in the direct provision of services in many developing countries. I had the opportunity to see a superb Christian Aid-funded project in South Africa that is doing a huge amount of good in the Germiston township just outside Johannesburg, helping that community to deal with the impact of HIV and AIDS. Faith-based groups do a lot more than that, too: they advocate efforts to tackle poverty, and they play a huge role in the campaigns that are inevitably mounted in the run-up to G8 conferences to encourage international leaders to do more. We welcome them.

Would the Minister join me in congratulating Hindu Aid and its chairman, Arjan Vekaria, on the excellent work that they do in building up relations between our country and India in particular? The Secretary of State will address Hindu Aid shortly. Surely, that is the best way of trying to get those networks working so that aid is properly spent.

I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to Arjan Vekaria, the chair of Hindu Aid, and the many other members who support Hindu Aid’s work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State looks forward to the forthcoming conference with Hindu Aid—indeed, I do too. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) is right that the development work that we are doing in India is extremely important. Given the huge number of people in India who still live on less than a dollar a day, there is much more to do. Hindu Aid’s work both in drawing attention to that and in campaigning for more resources and more progress on poverty in India is hugely important.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) rightly highlighted the important role that UK faith-based organisations and their dedicated volunteers play in alleviating poverty across the developing world, particularly in conflict zones and with vulnerable groups. A recent report by the World Health Organisation identifies the fact that up to 70 per cent. of the health infrastructure in Africa is owned by faith-based organisations, yet it concludes that there is minimal co-operation between them and mainstream public health programmes. Perhaps the Minister will say what specific proposals DFID has introduced to enhance collaboration with and between faith-based organisations, particularly to ensure that the goal of universal access to HIV prevention and treatment is achieved by the target date of 2010.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the need for considerably more effort across the international community by faith-based groups and international donors such as ourselves and other countries attending the forthcoming G8 summit to make progress towards the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment. We work closely with a range of faith-based organisations in a number of developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. He rightly drew attention to the report that said that more effort is needed to bring those groups together and to link them to mainstream health care services. We are seeking to do more through our investment in health care in Malawi and Sierra Leone to link those faith-based organisations together. We have come a long way but, as he said, we have an awfully long way to go, too.

World Bank

5. What representations he has made to the World Bank on the conduct of the bank’s president; and if he will make a statement. (136209)

I discussed the issue with my fellow governors of the World Bank at the spring meetings on 15 April. We agreed that we have to ensure that the bank can effectively carry out its mandate and maintain its credibility and reputation, as well as the motivation of its staff, and that the current situation is of great concern. We endorsed the bank’s actions in looking into this matter, and we asked it to complete its investigation, which is continuing.

The bank’s credibility in fighting corruption was severely undermined by the president’s decision to increase his partner’s salary. The corrupt leaders of many countries now say, “If it’s okay for the bank, it’s okay for me to channel public funds to my own family.” The bank would start to repair its reputation if the president admitted that he had made a mistake and changed the bank’s policies so that no bank employee in future will ever again reward a member of his family or a close friend. Will my right hon. Friend tell the president that if he showed a bit of humility and changed the bank’s policy there would be fewer people arguing for a change in the bank’s leadership?

The president of the World Bank said on 12 April:

“I made a mistake, for which I am sorry…I take full responsibility for the details.”

A process is investigating what went on. We should let the bank board get on with its work. We will consider its report when it is published.

How can the World Bank demand an end to corruption in developing countries when many staff in the World Bank feel that there is corruption at the very top of their own organisation?

It is very important that all institutions maintain the highest standards. It is for that reason that, as governors, we expressed concern about what has gone on. It must be brought to an end, and to a satisfactory conclusion that maintains the credibility and the reputation of the bank.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Before listing my engagements, there are a number of things that I should say. First, I pay tribute to Lord Weatherill, the former Speaker of the House, who died at the weekend. As I said then, he was a real gentleman. He was an outstanding Speaker, someone of impartiality and decency, and he will be missed by Members in all parts of the House.

I am sure the whole House will once again wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of Guardsman Simon Davison from the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, who was killed in Afghanistan last Thursday, and Private Kevin Thompson from 19 Combat Service Support Battalion, who died at the weekend from injuries sustained in Iraq. Once again, we salute their courage and their sacrifice.

Finally, I am sure the House would also wish to send our condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of PC Richard Gray, who was tragically shot on Sunday. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

I associate myself both with the tribute to Lord Weatherill and the expressions of condolence.

In this historic week, I thank the Prime Minister and his Government sincerely for all the work that they, with so many others, have done to bring peace and hope to the 6 million people of Ulster and of Ireland. Before he retires, will the Prime Minister offer some hope also to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by mental illness in our capital city, who fear that if the Government do not change their decision to close the 24-hour emergency clinic at the Maudsley hospital next week, they will be severely affected and the Government will have made a terrible mistake?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words on Northern Ireland.

We have significantly increased mental health funding. It has gone up by a very large amount—hundreds of millions of pounds—over the past few years, but the way in which mental health services are delivered must always be a matter for local decision making. As the hon. Gentleman knows, although I understand the controversy about the Maudsley, there will be a new, designated space at King’s hospital, which will provide a safe environment for mental health service users. A massive amount of additional health care investment, including for mental health, is going into not just his constituency but neighbouring constituencies. What we cannot guarantee, at the same time as we are making this investment, is that health services will always be delivered in exactly the same way.

On Tuesday last week the French pharmaceutical company Ipsen Biopharm announced a £37.5 million investment in Wrexham. Does my right hon. Friend consider that that had anything to do with the fact that, two days later, Wrexham was a Labour gain in the National Assembly elections?

I am certainly happy to celebrate Labour gains last Thursday. I congratulate the new Assembly Member. The fact that major investment is still being made in our economy is one reason the British economy is doing so well, why we are still leading the world in foreign and direct investment, and why many of the leading pharmaceutical companies find Britain the place to come and invest.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Guardsman Simon Davison and Private Kevin Thompson, who died serving their country. Conservative Members also strongly agree with what he said about the serving police officer, Richard Gray in Shrewsbury. We join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Jack Weatherill. He was a kind man, a dedicated public servant and a great Speaker of this House.

Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will announce his departure. Today, he is announcing the splitting up of the Home Office. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), says that the splitting of the Home Office is a “completely batty idea” that will “damage our national security”. Why is he wrong?

He is wrong for this reason: if we want the Home Secretary to focus on terrorism, it is important that we make sure that the Home Office is better able to do so by moving prison and probation services to where the courts are. That makes sense, it is what is done in many other countries, and it is a far better idea, if I may say so, than retaining all those functions in the Home Office and doing what the right hon. Gentleman wants, which is to appoint a special Cabinet Minister under the Home Secretary to take responsibility for terrorism. That would simply confuse the lines of accountability. It is far better, given that this terrorist threat is a new and very dangerous threat that we face, to have the Home Secretary focused on the issue of terrorism to a greater degree. That is the reason for the change.

The last thing a Department in crisis needs is the huge distraction of a big reorganisation. Let us try another former Home Secretary—after all, there are plenty of them about; in fact, some of them might be coming back. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said that this

“is the wrong move. The last thing this department needs right now is fiddling about with structural changes.”

He went on to say:

“It’s like re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic”—

with which the Prime Minister is probably becoming rather familiar. Why does he think that that Home Secretary is wrong as well?

I have already explained why I believe it is right to take the prisons and probation out of the Home Office and into a new Ministry of Justice. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Home Office has failed across the board, but whereas crime doubled under the previous Government it has reduced under this Government. When we took office, there was a backlog of about 60,000 asylum claims, whereas the figure is now down to 6,000. Whereas trials frequently used to collapse, the figure has been reduced by 20 per cent; the collection of fines is up; and there are extra numbers of police and community support officers, and antisocial behaviour laws. If we want the Home Office to focus on terrorism—I think everyone agrees that we face a different and new threat today—it is sensible to move part of its functions to a Ministry of Justice. That is why it is the right thing to do.

Of course we want the Home Office to focus on terrorism, but let us take just one example of a Home Office fiasco—the failure to deport foreign criminals; we all remember that one. Under the Prime Minister’s plans, one Department will be responsible for putting them in prison and another Department will be responsible for deporting them. How is that going to help co-ordination?

As a matter of fact, as a result of the changes that are already being made, the number of foreign prisoners being deported is about 50 per cent. up from last year. [Interruption.] The criticism was that we were not deporting them; we now are. Having the prisons and probation with the courts will make a lot more sense, because such cases can be managed from the courts system through to prisons and probation. That is why many other countries have the Ministry of Justice system.

If the right hon. Gentleman wants to talk about deportations and policy, let me bring the House up to date with Tory policy in this area. A couple of months ago—[Interruption.]

The right hon. Gentleman said a couple of months ago that the way to deal with this issue was to say no to ID cards. He also said,

“we are announcing plans for the development of a dedicated border police.”

Two days later, the shadow Chancellor said: “until we’ve made” a

“study…we couldn’t be sure it would be a serious proposal we could put in our manifesto.”

Better than that—who is to carry out this study? Lord John Stevens, who says:

“I see the absolute benefits of an ID card system.”

The right hon. Gentleman should work his policy out before he criticises ours.

The Prime Minister wants to know our policy, so I shall tell him.

“In my view, the fit between immigration… crime and prisons… is a proper fit.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 964.]

Those are not my words; the Prime Minister said them at the Dispatch Box a year ago. If splitting the Home Office is such a good idea, why is not the Home Secretary hanging around to see it through?

The reason is the one I have given. The result of looking at how we best focus the Home Office on fighting terrorism was not to do what the right hon. Gentleman proposes—his foolish idea of having two Cabinet Ministers with the same responsibility—but to move some of the functions out of the Home Office into the Ministry of Justice. If the right hon. Gentleman would move them back, let him say so, but I think it would be a foolish thing to do.

If the Prime Minister wants to stop that happening, he could call an election and we could stop it right away. I asked him about the Home Secretary and he failed to answer. Is not the problem the fact that the Government are now paralysed? The Home Secretary is splitting his Department, but he has already resigned. We have a Foreign Secretary who is negotiating a European treaty that she will not be around to ratify. We have a Prime Minister, who, even after last week’s drubbing, simply does not understand that it is over. Everybody knows who the next Labour leader is—thank God he has got out of his blacked-out limo and come to the House of Commons. Why does the country have to put up with another seven weeks of paralysis?

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman on what I shall concentrate in the next seven weeks: policy—on the economy, health, education and law and order. Let me give him some advice: if I were him, I would concentrate on policy, too. I have something else of which to inform the House. Yesterday, there was a leading policy speech by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who is in charge of the Conservatives’ policy commission. The speech was entitled:

“Is Cameron Conservatism just a set of attitudes, or is it a political theory?’ asks Oliver Letwin”.

Here is the answer:

“Cameron Conservatism is… an attempt to shift the theory of the State from a provision-based paradigm to a framework-based paradigm. The provision-theory of the modern State is the successor to socialism in the post-Marxist era.”

It concludes with the words:

“It all goes back to Marx.”

That is Groucho, I assume.

Soon, the Prime Minister will have plenty of time to read all our speeches, but he just does not get it. How can the Department of Health sort itself out when we all know that the Secretary of State is for the chop? The new Secretary of State for Justice was pathetically pleading for his job on the radio this morning: everyone knows that he will not last five minutes. [Interruption.] I do not know why members of the Cabinet are shouting. The Chancellor’s spin doctors are wandering around the lobby handing out all their jobs. This is the Government of the living dead. Why do we have to put up with even more paralysis?

The Government have run the strongest economy that the country has seen in 10 years. Just last week, health service waiting lists were down again. We have the best school results that the country has ever seen, and living standards for every section of the population are up. The right hon. Gentleman can be as cocky as he likes about the local elections; come a general election, policy counts. On policy, we win and he loses.

Will the Prime Minister join me in sending the best wishes of the House to the people of Northern Ireland on this week’s momentous occasion? Will he also send a clear message to the politicians in Northern Ireland that, this time, we expect them to make it work and not let things break down, no matter how hard it gets?

One of the most remarkable things about yesterday was not just the fact of the institutions being up and running but what I might call the atmospherics in Northern Ireland. They were an extremely good augury for the future. I accept my hon. Friend’s point, but I believe that there is now the will to make things work in Northern Ireland. One of the most interesting things about the recent election is that it was back to the normal bread-and-butter issues of politics. That is a huge advance.

I associate myself with the generous tribute that the Prime Minister paid to the former Speaker, Baron Weatherill, who was particularly generous with his hospitality and advice, especially for new Members. May I also associate myself with the Prime Minister’s expressions of sympathy and condolence?

Two years ago, the ombudsman produced a report into the tax credit scheme. Why have that report’s recommendations not been fully implemented?

Many of the report’s recommendations are being implemented, which is why the difficulty described today by the National Audit Office is reducing all the time. Let us be quite clear about this. Some 6 million families benefit from tax credit and 10 million children get it; and take-up is way above the old family credit. About 2 million pensioners have been lifted out of acute hardship and about 700,000 children lifted out of relative poverty. That would not have happened without the tax credit system. I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman is indicating that he is opposed to it, but I can tell him that it has worked miracles for many of the lowest-income people in this country.

It certainly has not worked miracles for everyone. Why are some of the poorest families in this country—38,000 alone last year—being pursued through the courts for money they simply do not have? Why should the most vulnerable pay for the mistakes of the most powerful?

If there is a mistake and an overpayment, the Treasury is obliged to try to claim that money back. It would not be fair to the remaining taxpayers if that did not happen. Let us be absolutely clear about the vast majority of the millions of families who have benefited from tax credits as a result of that. That is why the incomes of the poorest 40 per cent. of this population have gone up in percentage terms roughly double what they were in the previous 18 years. It has made an immense difference to many families in this country. We must all know of people in families in our own constituencies who, as a result of the working tax credit, have been able to go out and get a job. The job has paid and they have been able to look after their families properly: it has dramatically transformed their lives. Yes, it is true that we must make sure that we remove some of the problems within the system, but tax credits have brought an enormous amount of social justice and benefit in this country overall.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that over the past four years Liberal-Tory Luton council has wasted unprecedented millions on temporary and agency staff—and on consultants who told it not to waste money on consultants—while cutting services to the elderly and disabled? Will he ensure that we never see such waste again, that we secure better rights for temporary and agency staff and, most particularly, that we congratulate the people of Luton on showing great wisdom in ensuring a Labour council in Luton?

I congratulate all my hon. Friend’s constituents who worked so hard for that victory. It is absolutely true that many of the cuts imposed on services are indicative of what would happen if the Conservative central Government got back into power. That is one very good reason why they should not.

Q2. As someone who voted for the Iraq war, I know that the events leading up to it and its aftermath have substantially reduced trust not just in the Prime Minister but in the whole political process. Given that the Leader of the House seems to have indicated that there will be full Privy Council inquiry “at an appropriate moment”, would not the Prime Minister do a lot to restore his reputation if he held that inquiry now, not waiting for his successor, and apologised for the more obvious errors of judgment? (136185)

I am afraid that I do not agree with that. Let me say this about what has happened, particularly in the last two or three years in Iraq; it is important that people understand it. What is happening in Iraq is essentially that al-Qaeda on the one hand and elements of the Iranian regime on the other are backing terrorism in that country, the purpose of which is to destroy the prospect of that country being able to have the democracy its people have voted for and want. In those circumstances, it is extremely important that we fully support the work that our forces are doing and rebut this idea that somehow people are dying in Iraq as a result of the activities of British or American or other coalition soldiers. They are dying as a result of the activities of terrorists, and our job should be to stand up to them and not give in to them.

The Prime Minister might well remember our telephone conversation of Saturday 15 August 1998 when, as duty Minister, I had the sad task of informing him that the bomb that had gone off in Omagh 30 minutes earlier was likely to be Northern Ireland’s worst atrocity. Does he agree that it is a testament to the courage and will of people in Northern Ireland that we have come a long way from that almost fatal wound of Omagh so that once mortal enemies are now discussing the real stuff of politics—education, jobs, welfare, and, dare I say it, water rates? Will the Prime Minister congratulate Northern Ireland Assembly Members and, more importantly, the people of Northern Ireland, on their courage and indomitable spirit over these many dark and heartbreaking years and wish them well?

I do, of course, recall that conversation with my right hon. Friend. The Omagh bomb was a terrible and destructive act of terrorism, and in its aftermath the choice had to be made whether it should be allowed to wreck the peace process or whether it should mean that we redouble our efforts to reach peace. Fortunately, the will of the people in Northern Ireland was that the terrorists should not have their way, and that we should redouble our efforts to find a lasting peace. That is the best thing that we can do to honour properly the memory of those people who died in Omagh on that day.

Q3. As the Prime Minister knows, Shropshire attracts many retired people. If he plans to spend his retirement there with his family, he will have noticed the spectacular Conservative gains that were achieved there last week. The issue was local democracy, and the Government are consulting the public on a costly reorganisation of local government. The public have spoken through the ballot box. Will the Prime Minister give a parting gift to the people of Shropshire by committing not to put a costly unitary authority in place in Shropshire? (136186)

The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne) obviously has strong support from his colleague. The same controversy has arisen in County Durham, and I am afraid that we have to go through a consultation process and a decision will be made. I suspect, however, that in Shropshire—as, indeed, in County Durham—there are different views about the future.

Q4. When my right hon. Friend became Prime Minister, pensioners were the most likely section of society to be living in poverty. Today, they are the least likely, sharing in the economic prosperity under Labour. Will he contrast this Government’s achievements on behalf of pensioners with the attempts in the House of Lords and the Greater London authority to cut the availability of the freedom pass, which is enjoyed by thousands of London’s pensioners? If the Tories will cut the freedom pass for pensioners, what else does my right hon. Friend think they would cut? (136187)

I thank my hon. Friend for what he said about pensioners in 1997 and now—[Interruption.] It is all very well for Tory Members to shout, but we should remember that, over the past 10 years, about 2.5 million pensioners have been lifted out of acute hardship. There has also been a dramatic improvement in the living standards of the poorest pensioners. Many of us remember when every single winter there were stories about pensioners not being able to afford proper heating, but now they have the winter fuel allowance. We have introduced a whole series of benefits for them. The freedom pass is extremely important; it has been a tremendous boon for pensioners and disabled people in London. It has been introduced through partnerships with the Mayor of London and with local councils, and we have managed to ensure that that free local transport is available to pensioners. When the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill comes before the House on Monday, I hope that the Opposition will not put that progress at risk.

As someone who voted against the Iraq war, I can still admire the Prime Minister’s consistency of purpose. Does he acknowledge, however, that with British and American troops increasingly becoming a magnet for terrorists and therefore often becoming part of the problem rather than the solution, a growing number of people who voted for the war in the United States Senate and in this House, and who think that we have acted with honour, now believe that the time has come for an ordered withdrawal of western troops from the country so that it can find peace and justice according to its own lights?

I do not in the least disrespect the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman’s views, or the fact that he has held them from the outset. However, I want to tell him why I believe that he is profoundly wrong in saying what he has just said, and why, if there are voices across the Atlantic saying it, I disagree with them as well. The fact is that the people who are in the best position to judge are the Iraqis themselves. They have a proper democratically elected Government today, and there is a unanimous view among all sections in Iraq—Sunnis, Shi’as and Kurds—and the people they have elected, who should not be disfranchised in this debate. With one voice, they are saying, “Yes, we wish you to go when the time is right, but not before.” And it is not right yet. We still need to ensure, whether in the south or up in Baghdad, that those people who, through terrorism, are trying to destroy the possibility of Iraq getting on its feet are unable to do so. Of course, it is difficult at the moment—our troops are facing an immensely challenging and difficult time, as are the American troops up in Baghdad. The fact is, however, that they are now working with Iraqi security forces, which, in many cases, are taking the lead—three of the four provinces in the south are now in Iraqi hands—in standing up to those, often linked to outside groups, who are trying to destroy the country. When such carnage is being visited on the country through terrorism, the last thing we should do is get out. Instead, we should stay until the job is done, and the best people to judge that are the Iraqis themselves. At least some credit should be given to the democratically elected voices of the Iraqi people.

Q5. At a time when I and a great many others are working hard to attract inward investment to my constituency of Barnsley and make it an attractive place for public sector relocations under the Lyons review, is not it shameful that the Department for Constitutional Affairs has imposed regional pay rates for court staff in this country, which means that Barnsley will be designated to the lowest pay band and designated a low-income area, and court staff in Barnsley will be paid a lower rate than their exact counterparts working in Sheffield, 14 miles way? Alternatively, is my right hon. Friend’s legacy to the country to be one of unfairness in the workplace? (136188)

It is correct that in some cities—London, Manchester, Bristol and Sheffield—higher rates are often paid to attract staff. That is nothing new. We have also done our best to try to make sure that premiums are given to the lowest paid, as is the case with the DCA proposals for Barnsley. My hon. Friend would fully support what we have done for the low paid in this country, in agreeing the minimum wage, the signing of the social chapter, paid holidays, the first rights to trade union recognition and the same treatment for part-time workers as for full-time workers. We can be justifiably proud of the provision for the lowest paid in this country.

At this transitory phase in the right hon. Gentleman’s political life, may I commend him for managing to portray, despite the deep disillusionment of his fellow countrymen with his premiership, an optimism that eluded King James II and would have delighted Walter Mitty?

Some things are never transitory, and the hon. Gentleman is one of them. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has just reminded me, King James was not re-elected three times as Prime Minister.

Q6. What can my right hon. Friend do to allay the fears of my constituents about the proposed tax increases that might be imposed on them? Young families are struggling from day to day to pay the mortgage, never mind an exorbitant tax bill. What can he and the Government do to support those people? (136189)

It is important to remind people that although, for all sorts of reasons, they do not enjoy paying the council tax, they would enjoy a local income tax a lot less—especially two or three-earner households, who would be very hard hit. The single most important thing that we can do is to keep the economy strong. Fortunately, the economy of Scotland is strong today, and we need to make it even stronger.

Q7. Last week, a boy of 13 pulled a fake gun on a teacher in Mereway community college in my constituency. Earlier this year, we experienced a spate of vicious attacks on bus drivers. Yesterday, we learned that muggings in Northampton in April exceeded the previous monthly average by a massive 79. Is the Prime Minister happy that my constituents have already defined his legacy as failed on crime, and failed on the causes of crime? (136191)

According to the information I have here, in Northamptonshire there has been an 8 per cent. fall in overall crime—and, incidentally, an 8 per cent. fall in domestic burglary and a 15 per cent. fall in motor vehicle theft—and there are actually 1,300 more police officers than there were 10 years ago.

Of course I am very sorry about what has happened in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Crime will still happen, as it will under any Government; but under this Government crime has fallen significantly in the past 10 years, following a Conservative Government under whom it doubled.

Q8. When and how will my right hon. Friend insist on the supremacy of this elected House over the other place, and ensure that the 17 casinos to which we agreed are built? (136192)

We hope very shortly to present proposals to ensure that the regional casinos are agreed and introduced. I entirely understand what my hon. Friend says, and he will know that not only am I extremely sympathetic to the point of constitutional principle—which is that this House should have primacy over the other House—but I have never understood why Blackpool and Manchester should be pitted against each other. If the money is there and the investment is possible, let us have both. [Interruption.] I find it extraordinary that the Conservatives have put the Manchester casino in jeopardy, and are going around the streets of Blackpool telling people that they support the casino there. If we had had our way originally, without their intervention, we would have been able to have both.

Northern Ireland

Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Northern Ireland.

I do not think it possible to overestimate the significance of yesterday’s events at Stormont. In effect, we witnessed the final resolution of what has for centuries been the most intractable source of political conflict in the whole of Europe, and its significance is not confined to relations within these islands. What happened on 8 May 2007 showed the world how “A Shared Future” can emerge from even the most bitterly divided and blood-stricken past—and we must never forget how much misery and suffering that caused.

Many people, including Members in all parts of the House, worked tirelessly to make yesterday possible. The foundations were set by the 1998 Good Friday agreement, with the principles of consent and power-sharing at its core, but seeing the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein going into government together on a fair and equitable basis makes “historic” seem a cliché. The fact that they have done it without the DUP’s ceasing to be the DUP, and without Sinn Fein’s ceasing to be Sinn Fein, is all the more remarkable.

When we all witnessed that now iconic picture of the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Fein together for the very first time on 26 March, we knew that Northern Ireland and the wider world would never be the same again. Since then, by working together, the DUP and Sinn Fein have shown that the greater good can be served without the sacrifice of either principle or integrity. Indeed, I was delighted that the first letter signed jointly by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister asked me to leave my office in Stormont castle to enable them to move in, in time for yesterday’s first meeting of the Assembly and formation of the Executive. Never has an eviction notice been so eagerly anticipated or so warmly received.

Having met the First and Deputy First Ministers together, I have been struck since by their business-like approach to preparing for government and—perhaps even more remarkably—by their cordial and warm personal interaction. Above all, they have shown that age-old enmities can be overcome. That is truly inspirational, as we saw yesterday when they preached together at Stormont a common gospel of healing.

I am convinced that devolution is here to stay. It would now be as unthinkable for Northern Ireland to ask for a return to direct rule in the future as it would be for Scotland or Wales. Indeed, who would have imagined that, as of today, of all the devolved Administrations, Northern Ireland has the only settled Government in place?

The key to the future peace and prosperity of everyone in Northern Ireland lies in the shared future that the new Assembly and Executive epitomise. That shared future must go beyond the “big politics” of Parliament Buildings. Astonishing as the political transformation over the past two years has been, there is much more to be done. We must find a way of dealing with the past and addressing the needs of victims and survivors. Although last summer’s marching season went off more peacefully and with greater consultation than ever before, a global solution to parading still needs to be negotiated. I hope that the review team headed by Lord Paddy Ashdown will help to achieve that. There are still too many so-called “peace walls” that divide communities in Northern Ireland, and some parts of Northern Ireland society continue to feel isolated, marginalised, deprived and out of the mainstream. I am thinking especially of loyalism and its place in the shared future.

We have always said that we would support and encourage those who wanted to work to a positive agenda, who wanted to bring about change and who had sustainable mechanisms for doing that. People have a right to have their identity, their culture and their traditions respected, but if loyalism does not get into the mainstream and catch the tide that is taking Northern Ireland forward, there is a real danger that, despite the best intentions, the loyalist community will be left behind and further isolated, because no one will understand why there are groups within loyalism that still cling to an armed past. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando that they will end their paramilitary activity was therefore very welcome.

Guns, drugs and crime have no place within a community whose people want the best for their families, the best for their community and recognition of their core values. I want loyalism to play a full part in the new Northern Ireland—a full part in the shared future—as we should all want it to do, because loyalism anchored to peace, the rule of law and democracy has an honourable place in that future.

Northern Ireland has changed immeasurably since direct rule was introduced in 1972—the year when, as a student, I first visited. Apart from anything else, Northern Ireland is fast becoming a multicultural, multi-faith and forward-looking community, as evidenced by the election of Anna Lo as the first person of Chinese origin to become a member of a legislative body in Europe. That is not the only such first for Northern Ireland; it also had the first civil partnership ceremony anywhere in the UK. That is all part of the shared future.

The whole process demonstrates what relentless attention by Government and persistent negotiations regardless of crises, collapses and depressing stalemates can achieve, and that must give hope to those trying to resolve conflicts the world over. For generations, the politics of Northern Ireland has been a sometimes murderous zero-sum game of winners and losers. Yesterday saw an end to that, and whatever the challenges that lie ahead, they will be played out on the field of politics and democracy.

The Members of the Legislative Assembly who came together in Parliament Buildings yesterday amidst a great joyous mood of reconciliation carry the hopes and aspirations of a people who have yearned for peace, stability and prosperity, and who have waited so terribly long to see it. I know that the whole House will support all of them as we enter this new and exciting era.

May I first thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for giving me advance sight of it? As the restoration of devolution to Stormont has resulted in changes in the Secretary of State’s ministerial team, may I also take this opportunity to say that Conservative Members will miss the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) and the hon. Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns)? Both of those former Northern Ireland Ministers have always been courteous and good-humoured in their dealings with the Opposition and we wish them both well.

I am happy to associate myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Secretary of State’s words about all those whose efforts over the years made possible yesterday’s historic and moving ceremony at Stormont. Of course, politicians of all parties did their bit, but I hope that the Secretary of State agrees that peace today would not have been possible without the courage and sacrifice of the police and the armed forces, and the dogged endurance of the people of Northern Ireland over nearly 40 years of violence.

As the Secretary of State acknowledged in his statement, devolution now opens the door to enduring peace and genuine reconciliation, but daunting challenges nevertheless remain. I want to put questions to him about three of those challenges, the first of which concerns loyalism. Last week’s declaration by the Ulster Volunteer Force was indeed welcome, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is not enough for the UVF just to declare that it has abandoned violence? It needs to show by its actions that it actually has done so. It must decommission its weapons, and decommissioning needs to be independently verified by General de Chastelain’s commission.

The second challenge concerns the future of the Provisional IRA. The Government and the Independent Monitoring Commission say that the IRA is no longer a terrorist threat, which is welcome news indeed, yet it remains a proscribed terrorist organisation on both sides of the Irish border. If we are to consider devolving criminal justice, including decisions about prosecutions, to devolved Ministers in as little as 11 months from now, surely that paradox has to be resolved. Do the Government believe that the IRA has now transformed itself into a kind of old comrades association that no longer needs to be proscribed? On the other hand, if proscription is still right and necessary, do the Government believe that at the same time it is right to entrust the criminal justice system to people who include those who, until recently, were active IRA commanders and who still maintain the strongest of ties to that organisation?

Thirdly, what steps do the Government propose to take to help Northern Ireland come to terms with its past? As the Secretary of State knows, there are nearly 2,000 unsolved murders from the troubles—2,000 families and networks of friends who have had no sense of justice being done. Thousands of victims and bereaved families will carry physical and emotional scars for as long as they live. At present, a number of different types of selective historical inquiry are taking place into particular killings. As the Secretary of State knows, responses to those inquiries are eating up a vast amount of police time and resources, which are having to be diverted from current policing priorities. I acknowledge the acute sensitivity of this issue and I accept that there is unlikely to be a quick or easy answer. However, does the Secretary of State agree with me that coming to terms with the past is essential if we are to build genuine reconciliation in Northern Ireland, and that that should be done in a way that puts the interests of victims and families first? Will he work now with other parties in this House and in Northern Ireland to see if together we can agree on a way forward?

I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s statement in broad terms, but first, with permission, Mr. Speaker, may I send my commiserations to the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), at the death over the weekend from cancer, at the age of only 45, of George Dawson, a Member of the Legislative Assembly? He was the grandmaster of the Independent Orange Lodge, and his funeral is tomorrow. Also, I acknowledge that, because MLAs are today running procedures for appointing their committee chairmen and women, vice-chairs and other committee members, DUP Members have been unable to attend the House today as I know they would have wished to do.

In responding to the points made by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington), I first thank him for the warm remarks he made about my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), who played an outstanding role over the past two years, helped me and the whole process immeasurably and is hugely respected. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (David Cairns) has also done excellent work over this past year. My right hon. Friend’s remaining portfolio of the political process and criminal justice will be taken over by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who will do an outstanding job as she has done in the past year in other areas, and by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), who has gained huge respect. He has been a fantastic security Minister, and he will continue to be so.

I agree with the hon. Member for Aylesbury about the outstanding courage that has been shown by the police and the armed forces over the decades of the troubles. He made the strong point, with which I agree, that loyalism and the loyalist leaders must do more than simply make promises, as the UVF did, in very welcome terms, last week. I have asked the Chief Constable for advice on whether specification is still appropriate for the UVF and I await that advice in due course. It was very important that the leadership of the UVF declared its intention to abandon paramilitarism and criminality in the clearest terms, but the hon. Gentleman was right to say that there has to be delivery on the decommissioning of weapons. There was a certain uncertainty about what that meant exactly, and the only legal way to decommission in the sense that will give confidence to the rest of the community—including this House—is to engage with the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning.

On the question that the hon. Gentleman raised about the future of the Provisional IRA, he will know that the IMC made a particular point of saying not just that it had disbanded its paramilitary capacity and its engineering capacity to wage terror or war or violence in the future, but that the leadership had also, through the discipline of its organisation, managed to deliver that and get all the members and so-called volunteers to abide by its diktat, including ending criminality. The IMC was clear on that point. Obviously, there need to be further developments, but the intention to devolve policing and justice is an ambition of the Government’s, agreed at St. Andrews and repeated since.

We would like to see a target of May next year, by which time the devolution of policing and justice can be achieved. That policy is supported by all the parties in Northern Ireland, although there are disagreements, especially among the DUP and the UUP about whether the target of barely a year’s time is achievable. Let us see whether the incredible pace of change over the past few weeks, expressed yesterday—and, in a sense, sanctified yesterday—can see that progress being made. Undoubtedly, that will have to take into account the wider security situation.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sinn Fein Ministers, and it was significant yesterday that they willingly and without qualification took the pledge of office, which included an absolute commitment, as the House legislated in the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, to support the police and the rule of law.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman’s final point about the past, and that is why I said in my statement that the past still has to be addressed. I was very struck, as I know he will have been on his frequent visits—people appreciate the diligence with which he pursues his duties—by the fact that, despite the incredible events that led up to the remarkable nature of yesterday, Northern Ireland still keeps getting dragged back to the past. Although inquiries must naturally reach their end—costing £2 million so far; £100 million has gone to pay lawyers’ fees, which are ratcheting up astronomically day by day—I do not think that they will deal with the past, whatever may emerge from the reports that are produced. We need to have a frank debate and I will certainly give the hon. Gentleman a categoric assurance that we are considering the issue. My hon. Friends the Under-Secretaries and I will look into that and consult widely with the parties, and I will certainly talk to other parties about it, including the hon. Gentleman’s. We must try to find a way of consulting that enables us to move forward and underpins the developments of yesterday. I am grateful for his support.

I very much welcome the wholesome and full statement made by the Secretary of State to reflect what happened at Stormont yesterday. It was a day that I have longed to see throughout the time that I have been in public office—and I have held office for some four decades, during the worst of the troubles. Enormous progress has been made.

Like those who spoke yesterday, the Secretary of State was right to remember the victims and survivors in our society. They must be remembered, as must the fact that some of the people who hold the highest office have been purveyors of hatred and perpetrators of violence. They in turn must do all in their power to undo their evil deeds and attitudes. I hope that the Secretary of State will use his office to facilitate that.

In his statement, the Secretary of State said that we had witnessed the “final resolution” of the problems in Northern Ireland, but does he agree with the First Minister, who said yesterday that we were at the beginning of the resolution of our problems, and that yesterday was a new beginning? Also, does he agree that the shared future to which he referred, and to which we all aspire, is one that must be shared not only by the extremes but by the entire community?

Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Chancellor makes available a reasonable financial package to assist progress in Northern Ireland? We do not have a begging-bowl attitude but, over 35 years of direct rule, much of our infrastructure has been neglected or, at the very least, not been kept up to standard. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take on board the points that I have made.

I agree with virtually everything that the hon. Gentleman said. Yesterday closed the door on the past and opened the door to a new future, but there are still many challenges ahead. I agree too that the shared future must involve everyone, and not just the most polarised parts of the politics.

I pay special tribute to the role played by the hon. Gentleman and his Social Democratic and Labour party colleagues. They were there right at the beginning of the process, along with members of the Ulster Unionist party. I should also like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and her colleagues. David Trimble and others showed tremendous courage at the beginning of the process, and took a lot of hits for doing so, but the SDLP deserves particular praise for expressing its support for policing at a time when that was a most difficult thing to do in nationalist communities. That helped to create the circumstances that were signalled and symbolised so momentously yesterday.

The hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) asked about a financial package, and he is right to say that that has nothing to do with a begging-bowl mentality. It is about giving the new Executive a flying start and the best possible financial platform from which to deliver for the voters, so many of whom made it clear in the elections in February and March that they wanted devolution to be successful and local politicians to take charge. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor is very aware of that, and big progress has been made even over the past few days. I am sure that a satisfactory package can be finalised.

As the longest serving Northern Ireland spokesperson for any mainland party, I have seen the peace process from its difficult beginning to its happier end. In those 10 years, as the Government’s critical friend and ally, I never lost faith. In that context, I applaud the current Secretary of State—and especially his predecessor the late Mo Mowlam, without whom the peace process would never really have got off the ground.

I also add my praise for the contribution made by David Trimble, which has never really been fully appreciated by the House at large. In addition, we should acknowledge that this is a truly valuable part of the Prime Minister’s legacy, and something of which he can be proud.

The unsung heroes of the peace process are the members of the Alliance party of Northern Ireland. Their contribution far exceeds the size of their party, and it is important to give them the recognition that they are due.

Looking ahead, what changes will there be in the way in which Northern Ireland business is handled here? Will the Secretary of State confirm that important decisions affecting Northern Ireland will no longer be taken after short debates on unamendable orders in Statutory Instrument Committees? Surely they are a thing of the past. What is the Secretary of State’s role going to be? Does he intend to continue administering legislation from Westminster, or will he disengage his Department by creating direct links between Whitehall Departments and the Northern Ireland Assembly and its Ministers? Finally, will the Secretary of State make available significant funds to facilitate true progress towards integrated education and health services, and to provide much needed infrastructure?

It is a good time to be generous, now that Northern Ireland politicians have made the hardest investment. They have replaced heartbreak and division with a shared future, where the bombs and gunshots are the echoes of a tragic past that we must never forget, or relive.

I welcome what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I thank him for the bipartisan support that he has given to the Government over the years that he has held the Northern Ireland portfolio. I also thank his party colleagues, as their contribution has been extremely valuable.

I agree that the Alliance party politicians have made a big contribution. They continue to do so: it is significant that the party gained at the last election, even though many people had predicted that it would lose members and even be almost extinguished. Earlier, I mentioned the election of Anna Lo, which says something about the new Northern Ireland.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned my predecessors, and I paid tribute to them on Second Reading of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) (No. 2) Bill, and in passing in my statement today. I should like to single out my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy), from whom I took over. During a difficult period, he did an enormous amount of the spade work needed to bring people together for the 2004 Leeds Castle talks. Were it not for the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney and so on, he might have been the one to make the statement that I have made today. We are all in his debt for the work that he did. That work lasted longer than the three years for which he was Secretary of State: my right hon. Friend worked with Mo Mowlam right at the beginning, when the Good Friday agreement was negotiated. Those who know the detail of the period know that he did a great deal of the leg work and heavy lifting at that time.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked about Northern Ireland business in the House. Obviously, the ministerial team still has a considerable amount of important business to do. I shall have an overview of security and justice and of the political process, while the Northern Ireland Office will retain responsibility for the Prison Service, the probation service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and so on. Those are proper matters for us to undertake, and we will continue to engage with our ministerial opposite numbers.

In that connection, I remind the House that I am also Secretary of State for Wales. I believe that the role of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, especially once the devolution of policing and justice has taken place, will increasingly resemble the role of the Secretary of State for Wales—that is, being a facilitator and interlocutor for the devolved Governments, and the person who assists them in their ambitions.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about Orders in Council. Obviously, their numbers will diminish to a considerable degree, but some will still be brought forward, for example in the implementation of the devolution of justice and policing provisions that have been passed by this House already. There will be Orders in Council procedures to implement those provisions when the Assembly decides that it wants to accept that devolution. Therefore, Orders in Council will still have a role, and I hope that we will be able to carry on working with the hon. Gentleman. I hope too that he will not suffer an allergic reaction, as it were, to every Order in Council necessary to take Northern Ireland forward. However, I am sure that he will be relieved to know that there will be fewer and fewer of them.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and many others, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy). Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that all of us on the Labour Benches are very pleased indeed that the name of Mo Mowlam has been mentioned today? She was a politician of great political courage, as she showed time and again when she was the first Secretary of State for Northern Ireland after we came into office. Does he agree that one other person should be mentioned? John Hume, who initiated the talks between his party—the Social Democratic and Labour party—and Sinn Fein, was often denounced by some people in Northern Ireland and perhaps here, but he pioneered the process that led to what happened yesterday in Northern Ireland.

I wholeheartedly agree with everything that my hon. Friend said about Mo Mowlam’s crucial and healing response and the role that she played at the beginning and about John Hume’s outstanding courage from the moment he engaged with Gerry Adams. The way in which John Hume drove the process through, and his vision and eloquence, helped to get us to where we are. On the Second Reading of the emergency legislation on 27 March, I paid tribute to all the individuals that my hon. Friend has mentioned and to John Major, the Prime Minister and many others who played a crucial role. I did not think it was right to repeat what I said, but I agree with my hon. Friend.

May I say on behalf of the remaining Ulster Unionist Members in the House that I am unanimous in welcoming what happened yesterday? The Secretary of State is correct: we did take hits. But, having said that, I welcome enormously the events of yesterday at Stormont. I would like to place on the record thanks on behalf of the Ulster Unionist party to various and successive Secretaries of State and direct rule Ministers, who may be leaving us on account of the restoration of devolution. I am most grateful to the Secretary of State for putting on the record a tribute to George Dawson MLA and for sending his condolences to the family. His death was a very sad loss to the Democratic Unionist party—the alternative Unionist party—and a huge loss to his wife and two daughters.

I need an assurance on one particular matter, please. I am talking about the fact, and it is a fact, that the new First Minister, whom I welcome warmly to his position, as I do the Deputy First Minister—I look forward with great expectation and interest to seeing how they work together—is the Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church. That Church teaches that homosexuality is evil. Will the Secretary of State kindly give assurances to the many young and not so young gay and lesbian people and transsexuals in Northern Ireland that, in the forthcoming new, rosy Northern Ireland, there will be no diminution or erosion of the rights and protections that are extended to them?

On the hon. Lady’s latter point, the legislation, including the somewhat controversial legislation that I and my ministerial team took through Parliament earlier this year, makes it completely impossible to exercise any discrimination against people on the grounds of sexuality, adding to the other grounds already in the statute in Northern Ireland. That answers her point.

The hon. Lady said that, representing the UUP, she was unanimous. I have to say that she is unanimously admired and held in affection by all Members of the House. I thank her for what she said about George Dawson. I remember him being at the first ever meeting of the loyal orders with any Secretary of State—I think he was helpful in facilitating that—which I held with them last year. He helped to achieve a situation in which greater trust was built around parading.

May I add my words of condolence about George Dawson and tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his team, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, how much I have admired the work that they have put in, particularly in the last year or so, on what has now been achieved in Northern Ireland? May I also mention those members of the Conservative party, including Sir John Major and the Ministers who handed their baton to me when we took over in 1997, who worked to bring about peace in Northern Ireland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) said, although it is absolutely right to pay particular tribute to Sinn Fein and the DUP for the enormous amount of work that they have put into the settlement, the Good Friday agreement was about the inclusivity of all parties in Northern Ireland, including the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist party, because they hold ministries, the Alliance party and the Progressive Unionist party? In this new devolved Northern Ireland, they too will play an important role in making Northern Ireland a more prosperous and stable place in which to live.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all that he has said. I want to echo and underline the points that he made about the inclusivity of the process in relation to all the parties, including the SDLP and the UUP—which are in government with Sinn Fein and the DUP—the Alliance party, the Greens and everybody else, although people will not think I am churlish when I say I am glad that that does not include the independent Unionist party anymore. He is right to say that the Good Friday agreement included all parties, and that is very important. That spirit should be taken forward. I think that this situation will stick because the two most polarised parties have agreed. The problem that the SDLP and the UUP faced in the past was that there were people further away from the centre on both sides who in one way or another undermined what they were trying to do and were not in the tent. What is good about the current situation—this is why I believe this is the political end game in a real sense—is that the two most polarised parties are included. They must remember that all parties are part of the Good Friday process, as my right hon. Friend has emphasised.

In this momentous and splendid week for Northern Ireland—a week that many of us, in the bleakest moments, thought would never actually happen—does the Secretary of State think that it is worth reflecting that patience really has been a virtue? It would have been all too easy at times to have compromised with the men of violence. The fact that that did not happen has meant that this can now be a lasting peace. He and his Ministers are to be congratulated on their patience.

I am particularly grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said, given his role over the years and his interest and experience. Even though I, as the person to whom the baton fell as Secretary of State at this particular time, was increasingly optimistic that things would work over the last few months—the hon. Member for Aylesbury knows that I have been optimistic throughout—nevertheless many of us never believed that we would see what we have seen, in the visual pictures and in every other respect.

The right hon. Gentleman’s point about patience being a virtue is right. I made a point, using other terminology, about the doggedness of trying whatever device one could use or opportunity one could find to keep going and keep the process alive, even in the bleakest moments—my right hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen knew many of those during his period as Secretary of State and before as Minister of State. There were high points and there were very low points. This process can be a bit of a model for other processes around the world. People have given the middle east attention from time to time, but there has not been the same relentless forensic attention as there has been in Northern Ireland. That was started by Conservative Governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major and carried on—I think everybody will agree—by the Prime Minister and his Secretaries of State and Ministers with tremendous verve, dynamism and energy. That needs to be recognised.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on the achievements yesterday and on the whole process. It really is a quite incredible achievement altogether. Will he acknowledge that those people who managed to maintain a dialogue with all sections of the community, including the nationalist communities, in the 1970s and 1980s played an important part in opening the doors, and that the Hume-Adams accord was an important step towards bringing about the Good Friday agreement? Will he acknowledge that the origins of the troubles in 1968, and all the awful conflict that went on after that and all the deaths that resulted, lie partly in the exclusion of a large proportion of the population from decent employment and decent opportunities? Will he acknowledge that it is important that the Assembly recognises it has to deliver good quality public services, employment and hope to the entire population it serves to ensure that that horrible period never returns?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the origins of the dispute are historically complex and go back centuries. They include the relationship between the island of Ireland and Britain. However, social exclusion and fierce discrimination against the Catholic population were undoubtedly an important part of what led to the troubles, with all the terror and unacceptable violence that occurred.

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued interest in Northern Ireland and the whole island of Ireland during his time as a Member of Parliament and before that. I agree that dialogue with everyone has been a lesson. John Hume’s actions were very unpopular at the time of the Hume-Adams initiative, while Gerry Adams was courageous as well. However, the process triggered the start of the melting of the ice that allowed things to be picked up later on.

As a committed Unionist—I make no bones about that—I warmly welcome the developments in Ulster and the return of peace, stability and devolved government. Does the Secretary of State agree that that has happened partly because of the very brave stance taken by the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley)? He has perhaps made a great sacrifice to lead, with the support of Sinn Fein, all the people in Northern Ireland back to peace, democracy and stability. Will the Secretary of State assure me that the Government will always be totally even-handed when they deal with the Assembly in Northern Ireland and that they will not in any way put pressure on the Assembly in respect of any particular policy? Surely, allowing Assembly Members to sort out their own problems, as the Government are apparently willing to do, is the best way to achieve future peace, prosperity and success in Ulster.

I could not have put the hon. Gentleman’s last point better myself—I thank him for it. I have never thought that exerting pressure is a very profitable exercise, especially regarding the right hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), and I think that the same goes for the Deputy First Minister. I intend that we will support the devolved Government in Northern Ireland in whatever way we can, including through a decent financial package, but this is a matter for them. As I said to the First Minister yesterday, “The power has passed to you. Good luck.” We will be watching in the wings and giving support, but we will certainly treat everyone even-handedly.

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) describes himself as a committed Unionist. Committed Unionists have nothing to fear from the future. They have the votes in the referendum behind them. If there is a change in the future, it will occur democratically through the will of the people, if it happens at all. I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a committed Unionist, will respect that, because that is democracy.

I warmly welcome the process, as far as it has now gone, and what looks like a period of stability. Hon. Members should pay tribute to the former Member for Upper Bann, who sacrificed his party by being the flexible Unionist in Northern Ireland and was then crushed between two dominant hard-line forces. I hope that there will be a revival of that flexible Unionism.

The Secretary of State will know that I have been engaged in the process for a number of years, both here and across in Northern Ireland. I thus have many unanswered questions about how we will go forward. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) talked about the unsolved murders. The Secretary of State will know that a member of my extended family was killed by a murder squad from the Ulster Volunteer Force in McGurk’s bar in 1973. The driver, Mr. Campbell, admitted his guilt and served time, but the bombers have never been named. Whatever process takes place, I hope that such unsolved crimes will be raised. Philip Garry—we called him Uncle Philly—was killed and his last remaining relative, Eilene Killin, still lives in Belfast. I hope that someday she will get the peace of knowing that the people who did that at least admitted it and felt a sense of sorrow for what they did during those terrible times.

The Secretary of State might be able to answer a question about engagement that remains unanswered. When I was last in South Armagh as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I was told that the police still could not drive into South Armagh and that they had to be brought in by helicopter. Has the situation advanced and will people living in what seems to be a criminal environment in South Armagh admit of the rule of law there?

Finally, will the Secretary of State give the necessary resources—

I thank my hon. Friend for the interest that he has shown in Northern Ireland over many years and for his activity. It was valuable that he and other hon. Members did that because it brought a wealth of experience and expertise to our debates, which meant that the people and parties of Northern Ireland always knew that there were Members on both sides of the House, including my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), to whom they could turn when they wanted to put forward a point of view.

I know about the member of my hon. Friend’s extended family who was savagely murdered by the Ulster Volunteer Force because my hon. Friend and I have been in touch about that matter. I hope that there will eventually be a solution to that case and all the others. I am struck by the fact that, as things settle down, it might be a good idea to consider whether hon. Members can develop a relationship with Members of the devolved Assembly in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend talks about south Armagh and policing. The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), the Minister with responsibility for security, drove himself into Crossmaglen a few weeks ago, which would have been unthinkable for any security Minister or Secretary of State even last year. The police now do so. I am not saying that there are not dissident republicans around who, though marginalised and isolated, are still dangerous and threatening and that everything is a bed of roses, but the security situation has completely transformed to the point at which soldiers were withdrawn from Crossmaglen at the end of March. The remaining home-based Army soldiers will be withdrawn at the end of July, which will leave still stationed in Northern Ireland only a garrison that can be deployed anywhere in the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) mentioned in particular the role played by the armed forces. On this momentous day, may I invite the Secretary of State to pay particular tribute to the contribution, courage and determination of all the members of Her Majesty’s armed forces who gave their lives in the pursuit of peace in Northern Ireland, which we celebrate today? We should send a message to their families who, perhaps even 30 years on, are feeling hurt and pain after their family members gave their lives for the cause of peace in Northern Ireland.

I heard what the Secretary of State said about inquiries. He knows my view: the Saville inquiry should never have been set up in the first place. To prevent the reopening of old wounds—perhaps this can take place in the context of the other inquiries that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury mentioned—will he ensure that the Saville inquiry is wound up with the lawyers sent off to do more lucrative business, if they can find it?

The Saville inquiry is due to report—[Laughter.] I hesitate to use the word “shortly”, but the inquiry has been going for quite a time and it is in its twilight period. I do not think it would be sensible to wind it up at this point.

I certainly join the hon. Gentleman in wholeheartedly paying tribute to the armed forces and the role that they played over many difficult years. Given your interest in Northern Ireland, Mr. Speaker, I know that you would have been very excited by the joyous mood at Stormont Buildings yesterday. I was struck by the fact that several victims and victims’ representatives were present, including one of the most prominent Royal Ulster Constabulary George cross widows, Wilma Carson, who was really pleased by the way things were going. One of the most striking things about what has happened is that a healing process has started, although it still has a long way to go, as I said earlier.

In the warm spirit of bipartisanship and cross-party agreement that exists on this occasion, may I mention that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), would certainly have been present today if he were not unwell? I am sure that the whole House sends its best wishes to the hon. Gentleman, who, I am sure, has had a radio receiver brought to his bedside so that he can follow our deliberations.

When the Secretary of State referred to the fair following wind that should be given to the newly established Assembly in Northern Ireland, he answered a question that caused many of us concern. It is important that infrastructure in Northern Ireland receives the financial attention it desperately needs. Will he tell the House what the mechanism will be for that fair following financial wind? Will it be a statement, part of the pre-Budget report, or, as is traditional, a report to the Northern Ireland Grand Committee? That is an extremely serious issue on which the House will have to concentrate in the months, and possibly even years, ahead.

In respect of the financial package, I agree with my hon. Friend. Let us remember that the Chancellor has already offered £18 billion—an enormous amount for a place the size of Northern Ireland—in infrastructure support over the coming period. That is part of a package worth more than £50 billion over the next four years. It is the only part of the United Kingdom that has some certainty about its budget for the next four years at this relatively early stage of the comprehensive spending review. The Irish Republic has committed £400 million to infrastructure, too, so there is tremendous opportunity and support for taking forward the projects to which my hon. Friend referred.

I received a message from the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to say that he was indisposed with bronchitis. He was not able to be at Stormont yesterday, although I know that he wanted to be there. He probably not only has a radio next to him, but has the BBC Parliament channel on by his bedside. He is one of the most respected parliamentarians in the House, and I pay tribute to the role of the Committee, which has given us valuable advice, and sometimes valuable criticism, over the period of its work.

On behalf of the Scottish National party and Plaid of Wales, and as a Scottish nationalist with an Irish mother, I would like to add my voice and express my relief, but overwhelmingly I would like to offer my congratulations on the developments in Northern Ireland yesterday. If ever there was an example of Churchill’s maxim

“To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war”,

we are seeing it in Northern Ireland today. We should praise the efforts made over the years by the Democratic Unionist party and Sinn Fein, but also by the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party and, in the Republic, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I know that my aunt in Dungarvan, County Waterford, would want me to recognise the efforts of John Major and the current Prime Minister, which indeed I do. Finally, I add a comment in my native tongue of Scottish Gaelic, which is a first cousin of Irish Gaelic, but without any of the perceived tribal, political or religious overtones: gum bi mile mile beannachd air sluagh Eirinn a Tuath.

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am sure that it is in the spirit of this debate.

I thank the Secretary of State for his kind comments about the servicemen and women who have given so much for Northern Ireland and our country over the years. As a humble Guardsman, I served in Armagh in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, and we sacrificed an awful lot. On that note, before we close the door completely on the past, may I bring up the tragic situation of Captain Robert Nairac, who was my captain from 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards? He was the first man to break my nose; he was an excellent boxer. His family, quite rightly, would like to know what has happened to his body, and we would all like to put that question to rest. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what is happening in the negotiations to find out what happened to Captain Robert Nairac?

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s role and that of his colleagues. The predicament experienced by the family of Captain Robert Nairac is appalling and unacceptable. Many relatives of those who have disappeared face the awful situation of not knowing what happened to loved ones or where their remains might be. We have provided the opportunity, through recent legislation, for death certificates to be issued. That is at least something, but it is not sufficient and we will continue to pursue the matter.

In the spirit of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, I talked to a former Ulster Defence Regiment sergeant who had twice suffered horrific attacks by the IRA, in which he narrowly escaped death. I was struck by the fact that despite his being injured, and despite his family having seen the events on at least one occasion, he still wanted the process to work, and he welcomed the fact that Martin McGuinness was the Deputy First Minister. He said, “Look, I may have fought all these people, and they may have tried to take my life away years ago, but I want to see them in government with other parties, democratically pursuing their interests in peace and with respect for the rule of law.” I thought that that change of heart by somebody who had suffered what he had suffered boded very well for the future.

Ministry of Justice

Today I am delivering a statement that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will make in another place at 3.30 pm. Today is the first day of the Ministry of Justice. Creating our new Department is the right thing to do; it is the logical next step, after decades of constitutional and criminal justice reform, in delivering what I believe will be a world-class justice system that has the protection of the public and the reduction of crime and reoffending at its heart.

The independence of the judiciary is paramount to the success of any justice system and vital to the well-being of our nation. I will continue to uphold that independence, as is my constitutional and statutory duty, and so, too, will my successors. The Ministry of Justice deals with all justice issues, in conjunction with other criminal justice Ministers. The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are engaged in fighting crime and protecting the public, and the two Departments will continue to work closely together to deliver that. Appropriate working arrangements will be put in place at official level to ensure that that happens, particularly on criminal law and sentencing policy—areas in which the relationship between the two Departments will be vital. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Cabinet Committee on criminal justice and crime policy, which he will chair, and on which my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General will sit. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has responsibility for the family and civil justice systems, which remain vital.

In this first statement from the Ministry of Justice I want to address and set out our approach to penal policy. Copies of the document, “Penal Policy: a background paper” are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The Government have made significant progress in tackling crime since 1997. Over the past decade, according to the British crime survey, crime has fallen by 35 per cent. Offences brought to justice are up by nearly 40 per cent. since 2002. Ineffective trials have more than halved in the Crown court since 1997. Fine collection is at 91 per cent., up from 74 per cent. in 2003-04. The Government have continued throughout to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims and the community.

The creation of the Ministry of Justice offers a significant opportunity to build on that success with the following three-part programme. First, we will continue to protect the public by ensuring that we provide prison places for people whom the courts determine need custody. The Government have already built 20,000 new prison places over the past 10 years. That is an increase of 33 per cent., and those places were built faster than ever before. Some 8,000 further places will be built by 2012. We want to examine the question of how to modernise the estate to provide more cost-effective facilities that are better equipped to reduce reoffending. We also want to identify whether the resources in our estate can be used to finance new accommodation, whether that be new large state-of-the-art prisons, or smaller local provision for women and young offenders.

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has asked Lord Carter of Coles to provide an assessment of the plans for the 8,000 prison places and of the longer-term issues affecting the estate, including the interrelationship between prisons and the rest of the Ministry of Justice estate, to ensure that we have a coherent strategy. Our prison building programme will therefore continue to ensure that we have capacity to lock away the most dangerous prisoners for as long as they are dangerous, and to enable sentencers to send people into custody whenever they think that that is required. The new indeterminate sentence for public protection is now in place, ensuring that the most dangerous prisoners are released only when it is safe for that to be done. Over 2,200 such sentences have been issued so far.

The Government have always recognised that prison must be used for those who need it, and that sentences should be designed to reduce reoffending. However, over decades we have learned that some short custodial sentences are not effective in reducing reoffending. That is why we want greater use to be made of the best community sentences where evidence shows that they reduce reoffending and offer more effective punishment than custodial sentences of less than 12 months. Sentencing policy must support the use of our resources in such a way as best to protect the public, punish offenders and reduce reoffending. Prison should be used to protect the public to the extent and for the periods necessary to deliver the statutory aims of sentencing in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with alternatives to custody used when they are more effective in reducing reoffending and providing payback to the community.

We will ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review whether its guidelines fully reflect the principles set out in the 2003 Act. We will ask it, too, to look at its processes to ensure that it can operate in the way that it considers best enables it to produce effectively such guidelines as are necessary. We will ensure that where serious and dangerous offenders breach their licence conditions, the punishment is a swift return to custody, for as long as is necessary. For non-dangerous prisoners, we will propose new arrangements for them to be recalled to prison for 28 days. We propose, too, that suspended sentence orders should apply to more serious offences, as we originally intended when they were created in 2003, not to summary ones.

Secondly, we need to increase confidence in community sentences and to support their greater use where they are more effective in reducing reoffending. Offenders will be required to undertake programmes to stop them reoffending, and training to equip them with the skills to get back into work. They will also be required to carry out unpaid work in their local community, organised by the best available providers, whether in the public sector or the private sector—or, indeed, in the voluntary third sector. They will be subject to packages to restrict their liberty and movements, to make them face up to the consequences of their actions, and to pay back to the communities that they have harmed. The individual being punished, the community, and the sentencer all have to understand that if the penalty is breached, punishment will follow, with custody if necessary. We will ensure that prison places are available for that purpose.

Thirdly and finally, we will renew our commitment to delivering in line with the vision set out in the Carter report of December 2003, including end-to-end offender management and public service reform. There is excellence in the public, private and voluntary sectors in the delivery of prison and probation services, and we want to build on that to reduce reoffending further. In particular, that means commissioning the most effective interventions that will best support the management and rehabilitation of offenders, and making use of the fullest range of providers.

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and the ministerial team present today have put in place the framework, the people, the programmes and the knowledge to make a massive difference to the way in which we deal with crime and protect the public in this country. We must make sure that that investment pays off. Above all, that means the right punishment, for the right length of time, for as long as necessary, with the right interventions and the right level of supervision for each offence to prevent reoffending. I commend the statement to the House.

I start by congratulating the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) on assuming his new duties after his spell in Northern Ireland—seemingly quite a successful spell. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who is responsible for prisons and has joined the team. I thank the Minister of State in the usual way for giving me early sight of his statement.

The Opposition have repeatedly said that to put prisons and the courts into a single person’s hands is potentially a recipe for constitutional crisis. The Lord Chancellor has tried cajoling judges about sentencing, and he has tried threatening them; now he will simply be able to dictate to them, on the basis that if too many people go to prison, the budget for the courts will be cut. The Lord Chancellor has a constitutional duty to uphold and protect the independence of the judges and the rule of law. However, it is now his Department that poses a threat to the judiciary.

It is no surprise that on 29 March, when the Home Secretary announced that he was donating his problem areas to the new Department, it was the Lord Chief Justice himself who said:

“The announcement raises important issues of principle…Structures are required which will prevent the additional responsibilities of the new ministry interfering with…the independent administration…of the court service.”

A working group has been set up with the judges, but it is clear from the Minister’s statement that agreement has not been reached. Will he tell us what areas of agreement there are regarding those important assurances, and what has not yet been agreed by that important working group? He must tell us, because it is absolutely vital that the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law is protected.

The background to the statement is the continuing problem of prison overcrowding. The Lord Chief Justice also said that

“there is a risk that the new Ministry will be faced with a situation of recurrent crisis, or judges will be placed under pressure to impose sentences that they do not believe are appropriate.”

I believe that the word “pressure” puts it far too lightly. It was the Lord Chancellor himself who, when he was a Home Office Minister, said:

“it is unwise to comment on prisoner projections…as they always turn out to be inaccurate”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 2003; Vol. 648, c. 1046.]

One thing is for sure: the Government have always underestimated the need for prison places, given their home affairs policies. Given that they have passed so many criminal justice Acts—there are now 3,000 extra offences—it is not surprising that they need more prison places. Everyone predicted that, yet the prison places to which the Minister referred were ordered in the time of John Major. We therefore need a bit more joined-up thinking from the Government.

How can those duties be passed to what remains of the Department for Constitutional Affairs—from one failing Department to another? The Magistrates Association says that it is impossible for magistrates courts to perform adequately at present. London’s most senior county court judge, Judge Collins, described the county court as being in “chaos”. The verdict of the Constitutional Affairs Committee on the legal aid changes was that

“the Government has introduced these plans too quickly…with insufficient evidence.”

Who advised on those changes? Oh yes, it was Lord Carter. And what is his job now? He is going to review prisons. My goodness, the prisons should watch out.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs was responsible for all those problems, and for electoral administration; it was the Department in charge of postal voting and electronic counting. Is it really right that these important functions should go from the Home Office to this failing Department?

The last time the Lord Chancellor tried to encourage judges to keep the prison population down we ended up with a convicted sex offender being released on bail. What guarantee can the Minister give that proper safeguards will be put in place to protect the public? What sort of offences will no longer lead to short custodial sentences? What sort of offences will no longer attract suspended sentences? Are we really going to let off sexual offenders, shoplifters who are drug addicts, and people who have committed offences of violence such as assault occasioning actual bodily harm? On the recall of serious offenders, are we really saying on the one hand, “Short custodial sentences are no good”—that is what the statement said—and on the other hand, “Oh, but with serious criminals, we can recall them from licence for 28 days,” which is a short custodial sentence? None of that adds up.

The Minister said that he would ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review its guidelines, but why is he going to do that? Is it because he thinks that sentences are too long at the moment? What guarantee can he give that prisoners are not going to be released early from prison, as everyone expects? We have hundreds of prisoners in police cells. The prisons are full. It is the Government’s fault, but what is the Prime Minister doing about it? He is moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. That is what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are here today and gone tomorrow. What assurance can the Minister give us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the new Prime Minister—goes along with any of this? And as for the Home Secretary, as so often, he is cutting and running, leaving a problem for someone else—talking tough but leaving criminals on our streets.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome to me in my new position, following the success in Northern Ireland. I am grateful also for his welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has done a sterling job in the Home Office on these issues.

The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State are a new Department and a new team, taking work from the Home Office and from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and putting together a new Ministry of Justice to tackle the tasks that I hope the hon. Gentleman would want to tackle—reducing reoffending, ensuring punishment for reoffenders, and ensuring that we make Great Britain a safer place for our constituents and our communities. That is the purpose of the Department, and if we are judged on it, my right hon. and hon. Friends will welcome that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the judiciary. That is an important issue, and I know that there are concerns about that, from which I will not shy away. We have a statutory duty to ensure the independence of the judiciary, to ensure that it is funded properly, and to make sure that it is accountable to the House of Commons and another place. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will not shirk those statutory duties. We are willing to continue engagement with the judiciary. There will be discussions over the next few weeks. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that independence will not be compromised, nor will the resourcing. I hope that the judiciary have a shared objective with the Government to reduce offending and ensure the protection of our community.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about prison places. During my party’s term of government—which, as I recall, now amounts to 10 years—we have built 20,000 new prison places, and 8,000 prison places are planned between now and 2012 at a cost, through the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, of some £1.7 billion-worth of capital expenditure—expenditure to which I doubt whether a Conservative Government would be able to commit, as they are committed to putting in place tax-cutting policies for the future. When HMP Kennet opens in June this year with 350 places, and when new prisons are opened at Belmarsh West, Maghull and Rochester in years to come, I will remind the House that they were paid for by the Government, whereas the hon. Gentleman’s party opposed every cent, and would not have been able to deliver.

There are issues to do with a range of matters—the penal policy document is published today—but I have every confidence that the Ministry of Justice team, under the Lord Chancellor, our Secretary of State in another place, will deliver to ensure that we reduce offending and provide greater protection for the public. I am willing to debate with the hon. Gentleman, on any occasion that he wishes, in a friendly and joyous manner, the effects of our penal policy on the prison population and on reoffending. Our job is not to put people in prison, but to discourage reoffending. I believe that the community sentencing that we have proposed today, and the extra prison places, will meet the needs of the public.

I warmly welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice and the new ministerial team that has been assembled, and wish them well. However, I have two concerns. First, as regards the judiciary, I do not think that my right hon. Friend has dealt with the matter properly and adequately today. It is our unwritten constitution, not the Government, that is the guarantor of our liberties. Lord Woolf was very specific: he had deep concerns about what the Government were proposing. Has my right hon. Friend met Lord Woolf, and what has Lord Woolf said, subsequent to the decisions that have been made? As for the choice of Lord Carter of Coles for the prison inquiry—he was the man who completely mucked up our legal aid system. Putting him in charge of the prison system was the wrong decision. If that is what the Lord Chancellor is proposing to do on prisons, he is in for a rough ride.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. He will understand that having been appointed some 12 hours ago, I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Lord Woolf.

My right hon. Friend will understand that on the first morning in office, we have important duties to undertake. I intend to meet the judiciary, as does my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. I am willing to engage in discussions with members of the judiciary over the next few weeks and months. I know that they are meeting next Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss their response to the proposals for the Ministry that were published today. I give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that I believe, as my right hon. and noble Friend will emphasise in another place this afternoon, that the judiciary is independent, will be safeguarded by the Department, and will be fully resourced. I know that there are concerns, and with my right hon. and hon. Friends I am happy to meet representatives of the judiciary over the next few weeks to discuss still further the concerns that they have. I hope they will share an agenda with us, and I hope and believe that in due course they will come to welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice today.

On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome the government’s interest over 10 years in improving the criminal justice system. We welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice and we welcome the right hon. Gentleman and the the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) to the team. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he and his colleagues will have to work hard to reassure the public that the decision to create the Ministry has been fully thought through, and in particular to explain how the constitutional and electoral matters fit comfortably in a Ministry of Justice dealing with justice and the criminal justice system?

Can the Minister give an assurance—this picks up some of the questions that he has been asked already—that the new Ministry will have the resources that it needs for the jobs that it has to do? It needs money for the probation service and adequate money for the Prison Service, and must ensure that there are no cuts in courts that are needed around the country, in addition to the many that we have already, or further holding back of the money for legal aid, which has been hugely criticised, not least in the recent report of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to review the policy on legal aid, and take the advice from around the House that another contract with Lord Carter to do another job for the renamed Ministry will not add to anybody’s confidence in the new team?

On sentencing, there was a welcome recognition in the Minister’s remarks that many short custodial sentences are not effective, and that community sentences are under-used. Can he tell us whether, when he introduces his new legal proposals for sentencing policy changes and for sentencing guidelines policy, sentences will in future mean what they say, which is what the public want above all? Do the Government accept, by implication, that their prison policy has failed? Either we have in England and Wales the most criminal population in western Europe, which I do not believe can intrinsically be the case, or there is no logical explanation for 80,000-plus prison places and building, because reoffending prisoners come back so often.

Finally and importantly—a topic picked up by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), on the Conservative Front Bench—there is a welcome commitment to the independence of the judiciary, who are not yet fully on board with the new plans. Can the Minister give an absolute pledge from the Front Bench that during his time in office and that of the Ministry, no Minister in any Department, including the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), will criticise judges, and that they will be allowed to do their job free of political criticism by the Government of the day?

I am grateful for the support from the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat party. There is in many ways a synergy with the policy objectives that we seek, and I hope we can consider a range of sentencing options which will provide a greater menu for the judiciary to examine. One of the key issues that the hon. Gentleman alluded to was that of community-based sentencing. Yes, the objective in all this has to be punishment, and we need to have strong punishment even in community-based sentencing, but we need to have it with the objective of preventing reoffending. We must ensure that individuals learn from their experience in the community, get better trained, recognise, through reparation work, the damage that they have done, and return to the community as better citizens as a result.

With regard to the financing of the Department, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are in the middle of a comprehensive spending review settlement. I can assure him that the resources from the Home Office and the DCA are there on the table for this year, as planned. Obviously, that will be subject to negotiation. However, he can take the reassurance that the Government are committed to reducing crime, and one of the main methods of doing so will be the work of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and my other colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. I very much hope that the CSR settlement will reflect that.

The hon. Gentleman said that we wish sentencing to mean what it says. Obviously, we want greater clarity in sentencing. There will be options to ensure that, as with indeterminate sentences, those who are a danger to the community spend longer in prison, until such time as they are deemed not to be a danger to the community. That is a solid basis for the policy.

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on the question of the Labour Government’s “failure” on prison policy. I do not agree with his statement. We now have an option to look at a wider range of sentencing policies. The 20,000 prison places that have been built over the past 10 years and the 8,000 that are being built between now and 2012 will make a difference. However, at the heart of our whole criminal justice policy must be the objective of preventing reoffending.

Lastly, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I hope that I have made it clear to the House that the independence of the judges is paramount, and it is part of the role of a criminal justice Ministry to ensure that that independence is maintained. I can never give a blanket guarantee on the issues that he examined, but I would say that our role is to set a framework for a sentencing policy and a prison policy that prevents reoffending, while the judiciary’s role is to interpret that on a case-by-case basis. I believe that they do a very good job in the vast majority of cases, and I look forward to working with them to prevent offending still further.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment and on his success in his work in Northern Ireland. He knows that I have an interest in issues to do with local justice in my constituency and throughout Cheshire. He may not yet be aware of the close collaboration that I have had with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), over certain difficulties that we have faced locally. To enable us to get the maximum confidence of all the professionals and the judiciary, particularly the lay magistracy, as the new system beds down, will my right hon. Friend ensure that mechanisms are in place so that proper feedback can come from the people who practise on our behalf throughout the country at a local level? We do not want filter mechanisms that cut out the words of the people at the coalface; we want them to get their words directly to Ministers in positions of responsibility, such as himself.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. We share a constituency border—although there is a large river in the middle of it—and I know his constituency very well. I give him the assurance that through the proposals on the National Offender Management Service, which we are bringing forward as part of the Home Office responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, we are trying to ensure that we increasingly involve the community in these decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) will know that we are looking to establish probation trusts in each of the probation areas and to ensure that we have community involvement in those trusts, as well as involvement from local authorities and elected officials. It will be rocky and difficult, but the potential is there to ensure that we have more community involvement in managing the probation service.

Most of all, I want to ensure that when community reparation is undertaken by people through probation and community services, as it now is in my constituency in Flintshire in north Wales, the community is involved in determining those projects, seeing those reparations made, determining the priorities at a local level, and making it known to people who have committed offences that none the less, the work that they are doing is productive to society at large, and giving them back their self-respect. There are great opportunities there for my hon. Friend, and I welcome his comments.

I welcome the two new Ministers, whom we look forward to questioning in the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Why was this important constitutional change rushed through without any prior parliamentary discussion so that some of the concerns of the judiciary, for example, could have been resolved? That was surely the lesson to be learned from the last round of constitutional changes, which was suddenly sprung upon everybody and had to be modified subsequently. Given that there was no significant new policy on prisons in today’s statement, would it not have been better to use this first opportunity to tell the House that the Government are rethinking the proposals that the Select Committee believes will seriously damage access to justice through legal aid?

I welcome the opportunity to go before the Select Committee—although perhaps not today because we have enough on our plates, but certainly in the near future. I am sure that the Select Committee will do what it is supposed to do, namely, to hold Ministers to account and determine input into policy for the House as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament, as did my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. These are machinery of government changes, as we have made clear. Time will tell how the Ministry of Justice beds in. He said that there is no new policy direction in my statement. I disagree—there are new policy nuances in the direction of policy on supporting reoffending reductions in the community. No doubt there will be a major opportunity to discuss those over the next few weeks and months.

With regard to legal aid, the Under-Secretary, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), has taken a great deal of interest in that at the DCA and will continue to do so in the new Ministry of Justice. I am confident that the reforms will create a sustainable legal aid system for the future that is fair to clients, to the taxpayer and to practitioners. It will continue to be an integral part of the criminal justice system. I know that my hon. and learned Friend will also relish the opportunity to go before the Select Committee to have a nice friendly chat about those matters over a quiet glass of water.

Is it not significant that while the first statement from the Ministry of Justice makes passing reference to the independence of the judiciary, the main thrust concerns penal policy, which may end up tying the hands of the judiciary?

On drugs policy, will splitting the Home Office provide a co-ordinated and effective response to drugs enforcement and treatment, stem the tide of drugs flowing into our country and communities—particularly into our prisons—and provide the drugs treatment that our prisons and communities need and deserve?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting a problem of which I think, even though I have been in post for only 12 hours, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is very well aware—drugs policy and how that affects prisoners. A large number of prisoners enter prison with drug problems and continue to have them, and we need to take strong action to help them through that. Unless we stop the drugs problem inside prisons, it will continue to drive crime levels in terms of feeding people’s habit once they are outside and in the community. We have spent a considerable amount of resources on drug treatment. In fact, over our term in government there has been an increase of some 974 per cent. in spending on drug treatment through the criminal justice system, and we want to focus on that for the future.

Although I am only 12 hours into the job, I do not hide from the fact that there is a very difficult issue as regards the prison population. With growing numbers of people in prison and a need to increase prison places, we need to look at how we manage the prison estate more effectively and stop people going to prison in the first place through reoffending. That is a big task for the Government to undertake, but the prison building programme and the changes in offending behaviour programmes that we have discussed today give us an opportunity to do so. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s input because there is a common agenda for all parties in this House in ensuring that we protect the public and reduce reoffending.

The Minister said that he wanted to deliver a world-class justice system. However, we clearly do not have a world-class prison system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, our prisons are not only full but spilling into our police cells. I saw that with my own eyes when I recently visited Dorchester prison, where not one single cell was spare. Will the Minister elaborate on the way in which we can prevent the dilution of sentencing? More important, when will police cells stop being used for the overflow from prison cells?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the use of prison cells. Under Operation Safeguard, and through the Under-Secretary, we are implementing policies that we introduced in the days of the Home Office to ensure that we use police cells only as a last resort. Sadly, given the prison population, we have had to use them. In several places, police cells are used as temporary accommodation for prisoners. That is not ideal and I want the practice to be reduced and stopped. We need to take action on that.

I believe that the twin approach of increasing proper prison places—as we are doing in HMP Kennet in June, and in Belmarsh West and in Maghull near Liverpool later this year—and considering community-based sentencing to reduce the number of people who go to prison, is important. Frankly, some people can be better served in terms of punishment and rehabilitation by not serving a prison sentence.

I recognise the problem, which we need to tackle, and I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I hope that, over time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I can bring better news to the House.

I join other hon. Members in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), with whom I have had some helpful and positive exchanges in the past few years, to his new position.

The Minister said that the right interventions for offences were necessary. He highlighted the new Cabinet Committee and the new protections that will be introduced at official level for interlinking the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. When the Lord Chancellor recently gave evidence to the Select Committee about the construction of the new Department, he suggested that it would cover new offences. We are expecting new provisions in the Session on violent offenders. Will the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office take the lead on that? If the answer is the Home Office, what role will the Ministry of Justice play in that context?

The new Department is responsible for criminal law in England and Wales and it will take measures on that through the House. That will involve discussions across government, through the Cabinet Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about identifying the priorities for the Government. It will be up to the Home Office to implement existing legislation on policing and a range of similar issues. It will also be the Home Office’s role to suggest, if it wishes, legislative options for the Ministry of Justice to consider. Our role is to consider criminal law, pilot criminal law measures through the House of Commons and win the House’s support. The Home Office’s role is to implement them in due course.

I add my congratulations to the Ministers. Are the new community punishment arrangements that the Minister outlined his way of describing what is already in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, or does he propose yet more legislation?

Obviously, a considerable amount of activity is undertaken under the 2003 Act. The hon. Gentleman knows that, for example, unpaid work, supervision programmes, drug rehabilitation, alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, residencies, activities, prohibited activities, exclusion and curfew can all be tackled in the community. We want to consider how we can develop that to ensure that, when appropriate—I stress “when appropriate”—and when the punishment fits the crime, we expand the use of the mechanisms in the 2003 Act. We want to ensure that individuals feel punished, but also consider community reparation. To revert to the point that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, we also want to prevent reoffending.

In 2006, more than 35,000 items of unpaid work constituted sentences. Some 6.5 million hours of work to the value of £35 million were undertaken in the community. I want that to be expanded for the good of the community and to ensure the objectives that, I am sure, the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey seek: to punish the individuals responsible, but rehabilitate them in the long term.

After the Minister’s enormously positive and enthusiastic contribution in the Northern Ireland Office, he will be sadly missed in Northern Ireland. However, I welcome him and all his team members to their new positions.

The statement is interesting. Given that the new Ministry of Justice has at its heart the reduction of crime and reoffending, why does the statement say so little about the valuable work of the probation services? Does not the Minister believe that they are fit for the 21st century?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments about my tenure in Northern Ireland. Not only will—I hope—Northern Ireland miss me, but I will certainly miss Northern Ireland. I had a productive and useful two years there and found the friendship and support of not only Members but the people of Northern Ireland welcome.

Offender management and the probation service are key to delivering the objectives that we set in the overall context of the policy announced today. For that reason, I want the Offender Management Bill, which is currently in another place, to be carried in both Houses. I greatly regret the fact Opposition Members voted against it. I hope that they will realise its benefits and recognise that there is an agenda, which I know the hon. Lady shares, of reducing offending, making community-based sentences more appropriate and ensuring that we protect the public at large and reduce crime. The probation service has a key role to play in that and I know that I have the hon. Lady’s support in trying to make that a success.

Point of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the Speaker’s Office received a request from the Department for Transport for a Minister to come to the House to make a statement about the growing crisis in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency? Yesterday, 81 per cent. of union members voted to take industrial action. For people in coastal and island communities, the coastguard is as important as the fire, police and ambulance services. I cannot believe that we would—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not press his point of order too far. As he knows, strictly speaking it is not a point of order. The short answer to his question is no, but he has had the opportunity to place his concern on the record. I am sure that it will have been noted.

Copyright Term for Performers and Producers

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the period of time over which royalties are payable to performers and producers of recorded material; and for connected purposes.

Having met Lonnie Donegan’s widow, Sharon, and their son Peter last week, it was suggested to me that I should begin the debate by reminding hon. Members of the words of “Cumberland Gap”, which was at the top of the hit parade in 1957 for five weeks. It runs:

“Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Gap,

15 miles to the Cumberland Gap.”

It was suggested that the second line should be changed to, “50 years to the copyright gap”. Uniquely, we have a position whereby people who record and produce music, which is a single creative act—often not repeated, despite the number of times people try to re-record the same tune—suffer a disproportionate imposition. After 50 years, their music can be taken, put on another CD or included in another collection, sold around the world, often with the revival selling more than the original, with nothing being paid to the recording artist, the producer, the band or the individual’s family or estate.

We are not talking about millionaire pop stars. I compliment Sharon Donegan, who opened the books to us. When Lonnie Donegan died aged 71 in 2002, his total estate amounted to £82,000. His income, which also meant that of his wife and children, ran to £30,000 to £40,000 a year from his royalties in a good year. We are talking not about millionaires, but about working musicians. In fact, the Musicians Union has done a detailed analysis and found that the average income from royalties for people who work in the music industry—even someone who may have been well known in their time—is about £15,000 a year, which is not a great deal.

This debate is significant now because it is 50 years since many of the original rock and roll tunes were released. Lonnie Donegan recorded “Rock Island Line” in January 1957—my preference over “Cumberland Gap”—but his family has received no money for it. Tommy Steele recorded “Singing the Blues” and had a hit with it. As a primary school pupil, when I went out for my Halloween, as they called it in Scotland, I had to give a performance to get my treat. It was not like it was in America—where it was trick or treat, but if they did not get a treat they smashed the windows or something like that. We had to sing and I learned “Singing the Blues” for my little treat because it was easier to sing than others.

The late Adam Faith recorded, in the same year, “What do you Want?”. I think the line was, “What do you want if you don’t want money?” Well, what we want—the people who are supporting this Bill and those who signed the early-day motion, which now has 52 signatures—is equality, fairness and justice for those recording artists and producers. It is not just people such as Adam Faith, Tommy Steele and Lonnie Donegan who are affected. Lonnie Donegan’s band—Denny Wright, John Nicholls and Mickey Ashman—do not get anything like the amount of money that they should. Indeed, they get only a paltry sum compared with the main recording artists. Their company, Pye Records—which found and cultivated them, advanced their careers and recorded the music—also lose out. We want equality, and the Bill is based on common sense.

On a CD, or an LP as it used to be, the composer, the lyricist and even, believe it not, the photographer and the artwork designer enjoy copyright not just for 70 years, but for 70 years after their deaths. We are not asking for that sort of equality. We would settle for the same situation as that in the USA, where copyright is paid for 95 years. There are many sensible reasons for that, one being that it supports the musicians.

As I said, 90 per cent. of musicians are not millionaires—they earn about £15,000 a year from their royalties. In the UK alone, 7,000 musicians will lose their rights to any payment for the recordings in the next 10 years. Some of them are very well known. In 1961-62 the Beatles came on the scene, but in four or five years’ time many of their hits will stop being eligible for royalty payments. People may well say that that is fine because the Beatles are millionaires and can afford it, but that is not true of many of the people who recorded the strings in the studios, for example, or other recording artists. Indeed, whoever played the drums instead of Ringo Starr on the Beatles early records—it is often said that he did not, in fact, play on them—receives only a pittance, and those records will soon cease to be eligible for royalties.

The creative economy of this country is in serious danger. People are now twice as incentivised to record and release a record in America because the right to copyright for the company and the artists applies for 95 years. That makes it twice as intelligent, so to speak, to go to the USA to release a record than anywhere in the EU. That is why 40,000 musicians and 3,500 record companies signed a Phonographic Performance Ltd petition to improve the copyright terms in the UK to the same level as those in the USA. We have already lost some of our creative industry to America because of the mass culture, but our unique musical culture still rests in the independent record labels and is still to be harvested. We should not allow it to be taken from us.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers study concluded, strangely enough, that irrespective of whether a recording is in or out of copyright, it has no impact on the price of the recording. It makes no difference whether people are making a cheap record or a more expensive first release, as the price of the recording is no different. There are massive disparities, of course, in the price that will be paid for the second releases and the compilations, which are not the unique set, as things are taken from here and there and the best parts are often missed out.

We are trying to get the Government on side, which is why we want Parliament to show its support for the Bill. If Parliament supports it, the Government will, hopefully, have a stronger arm when they go to the EU. The matter will be decided in the EU and our group will go to Brussels to argue the case with Commissioner Charles McCreevy on 27 June. There is much to say, but much has already been said, particularly about the mistake in the Gowers report on intellectual property. It treated this unique creative effort the same way as if someone had invented a chemical that would have a shelf life and then something new would be invented to take its place.

As a jazz lover, I know that it is possible to hear two unique versions of the same song. There is the version of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ “You’ll Never Walk Alone” that has been stolen by the fans on the terraces, but if we listen to Nina Simone singing it as a blues song, we realise that the same music with a different time frame and different singer is a unique experience. I think that Gowers missed that point, because a song cannot be replaced by someone recording it later. My particular favourite recordings of the Bruch and Mendelssohn minor key symphonies are by someone called Grumiaux, a Belgian who recorded in the 1950s. I have three or four versions, but none of them compares with that. That is the uniqueness that we are talking about, which should be paid for, for at least the lifetime and beyond of the recording artist.

Debates took place in the House on 17 May 2006, when the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) participated, and on 10 March 2007, when the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) took part. I direct anyone who wants to know why they should support my Bill to those two debates, which developed the theme more fully.

The Bill is not an attack on those who say that music should be cheap and accessible to everyone to download on the internet. It is not about that, as we want that too, but we also want the money to go back into the pockets of the recording artists, producers and companies. We want the companies to be incentivised to record and release music in the EU and to spend more money looking for talent in the UK and the EU. If the Bill goes through and we persuade the EU to move forward on it, we would want certain conditions to be attached.

What we are saying is that the copyright gap should be filled. We want the Bill passed and Parliament to tell the Minister to go to Europe to argue for fairness and equality on behalf of the creative industry of this country. It is crucial to argue for fairness in respect of these unique UK recordings of 50 years ago and also for those in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Michael Connarty, Mr. Bob Blizzard, Peter Luff, John Robertson, Nigel Griffiths, Derek Conway, Mr. Tom Clarke, Bob Russell, Alan Keen, Rosemary McKenna, John Hemming and Pete Wishart.

Copyright Term for Performers and Producers

Michael Connarty accordingly presented a Bill to extend the period of time over which royalties are payable to performers and producers of recorded material; and for connected purposes: And the same was read First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 101].

Parliament (joint departments) bill [lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 90(1) (Second reading committees), That the Bill be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Question agreed to.

Orders of the Day

UK Borders Bill

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

New Clause 9

Search for evidence of nationality: other premises

‘(1) This section applies where an individual—

(a) has been arrested on suspicion of the commission of an offence, and

(b) has not been released without being charged with an offence.

(2) If, on an application made by an immigration officer or a constable, a justice of the peace is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that—

(a) the individual may not be a British citizen,

(b) nationality documents relating to the individual may be found on premises specified in the application,

(c) the documents would not be exempt from seizure under section 44(2), and

(d) any of the conditions in subsection (3) below applies,

the justice of the peace may issue a warrant authorising an immigration officer or constable to enter and search the premises.

(3) The conditions are that—

(a) it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant entry to the premises;

(b) it is practicable to communicate with a person entitled to grant entry to the premises but it is not practicable to communicate with any person entitled to grant access to the nationality documents;

(c) entry to the premises will not be granted unless a warrant is produced;

(d) the purpose of a search may be frustrated or seriously prejudiced unless an immigration officer or constable arriving at the premises can secure immediate entry.

(4) Sections 28J and 28K of the Immigration Act 1971 (c. 77) (warrants: application and execution) apply, with any necessary modifications, to warrants under this section.

(5) In the application of this section to Scotland a reference to a justice of the peace shall be treated as a reference to the sheriff or a justice of the peace.’.—[Joan Ryan.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 10—Police civilians.

Government amendments Nos. 23 to 26.

I should like to preface my remarks on new clauses 9 and 10 and Government amendments Nos. 23 to 26 by noting that we had a productive and thorough debate on these matters in Committee. This group of amendments is one of the results of that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) for his scrutiny in Committee of the search for evidence of nationality clause. New clause 9 is designed to address a concern raised in one of the amendments that he tabled in Committee, as I am sure he has recognised.

I should like to emphasise the importance of the power to search for nationality documents, which will assist in ascertaining or confirming the nationality of persons in order to consider cases liable for deportation. This is part of our plan for improving the effectiveness of handling foreign nationals in the criminal justice system. Concerns were raised in Committee that nationality documents might be held on premises other than those set out in clause 43—for example, those belonging to friends or family, or to persons involved in illegal immigration or illegal working.

The effect of the amendments, in addition to the existing clauses, will be that immigration and police officers will have the power to search premises occupied or controlled by the person, premises where the person was arrested, or premises where the person was immediately before being arrested; and to search for and seize relevant documents, so that the person’s nationality may be established at an earlier stage of their entering the criminal justice system than at present. Immigration and police officers will also be able to obtain a warrant to search other premises, if they believe that documents relating to the person might be found there.

What steps are being taken to ensure that this new power will not be misused, particularly in cases involving people who are here for a legitimate reason? I am worried about the effect that its over-use could have on community relations.

That is an important point, and we have taken some considerable time and effort to think through the safeguards, which I will come to in a moment. I want to reassure all communities that this legislation will be used fairly and for the benefit of all, and not in a disproportionate manner. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that our debate on this question in Committee, which was identified by the hon. Member for Ashford, centred on the proportionate nature of the power. That is why we are now introducing the need to obtain a warrant to search more widely than was allowed in the original clause. Such a warrant will be required to search other premises where it is believed that documents relating to the person might be found. That should ensure that people do not place relevant documents in someone else’s safe keeping in order to avoid their being seized. We did not want inadvertently to create an incentive to avoid detection in that way by leaving the clause as it was.

Safeguards have been put in place to prevent misuse, and I shall give the hon. Gentleman some details. For example, when applying for a warrant, an immigration officer or constable must specify to the magistrate the grounds on which the application is being made, the provision under which the warrant is to be issued, the premises that they wish to search, and the articles for which they are searching. The warrant must specify the name of the person applying for it, the date of issue, the premises to be searched, the provision under which it is to be issued, and the articles being sought.

Warrants issued under this provision will authorise entry on one occasion only, and will be valid for one month. Entry and search must be undertaken at a reasonable hour, unless it appears to the officer executing them that the purpose of the search might be frustrated by so doing. The immigration officer or constable must identify themselves to the occupier of the premises—or, in his absence, to another person who appears to be in charge of the premises—and produce identification, show the occupier the warrant and supply him with a copy of it. In the absence of anyone appearing to be in charge of the premises, the warrant should be left in a prominent place on the premises.

A search under such a warrant may be undertaken only to the extent required for the purpose for which the warrant was issued. A warrant must be endorsed, stating whether the object of the search was found and whether anything else was seized. Warrants, whether they have been executed or not, must be returned to the issuing court and retained for 12 months, during which time they will be available for inspection by the occupier of the premises.

I should like to give the House some reassurance on another issue that was raised in Committee, relating to the guidance and training that will be available. Instructions will be issued to immigration and police officers on when the power—with and without warrant—should be used. The guidance will take account of the nationality pilot that is being conducted in three charging areas. Hon. Members will be aware, as we have discussed this matter before, that immigration officers will be arrest trained. Matters relating to good communication with the police, to contamination and to other important issues that need to be taken into account are part of the training that immigration officers undergo. This measure, as applied to immigration officers and the police, will lead to greater and better communication.

I am grateful to the Minister for the safeguards that she has just outlined. What monitoring and reporting arrangements relating to the use of this power are to be put in place?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, from our debates in Committee, of the role of the inspectorate. He will also know that many of the issues relating to the identification of nationality are covered by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—PACE—codes. If immigration or police officers want to conduct a search without a warrant, they have to ensure that they have the authority of a senior officer to do so. I should also like to draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the two or three pilots that we are undertaking into the use of these powers. The feedback from those pilots will be important when we consider further the issues that he has raised.

New clause 9, when applied to Scotland, will require a sheriff or a justice of the peace to be involved in the issuing of a warrant, and that is right and proper. The Minister mentioned the PACE codes, which are mentioned in clause 44, which is the subject of an amendment in this group. Clause 44(5) refers to provisions for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There is no reference, however, to the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995, which details how seized information and evidence should be treated. Should such provisions be included in the Bill, just as similar provisions were recently incorporated into Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs officers’ powers in relation to seizures? Is it an oversight that they have not been included?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the PACE codes apply to England and Wales. He might know that we are seeking to change the code of practice in relation to code C, which covers the police being able to ask the nationality of a person who has been taken into custody when it is unclear whether they are a UK citizen. It was in that sense that I referred to the PACE codes. I have already talked about all the checks and balances that will apply to the proposed power. In regard to the hon. Gentleman’s question about Scottish legislation, however, I undertake to write to him with the details.

Having given the House those reassurances, I hope that hon. Members will be able to accept the new clauses and amendments.

I should like to thank the Minister for the kind remarks that she made at the beginning of her speech. We welcome the thrust of the new clauses and amendments. We made an effort in Committee to ensure that the Bill would have a practical effect and make a significant difference to the practice of immigration control, and to the enforcement of the important laws in this area. That was the intention behind our various amendments to that part of the Bill.

I am glad that Ministers have reflected further and turned our amendments into the new clauses under consideration this afternoon. Not only is that good for the Bill and for the practice and enforcement of immigration control, but it represents a small victory for scrutiny by the House of Commons, which is much abused. It is a textbook example of how scrutiny can work, and of how the Committee stage can improve a Bill in small but important ways, if Ministers are flexible enough to take on board arguments made in good faith by Opposition parties.

I would like the Minister to return to one detail. Although she has rightly emphasised the issue of proportionality of response—and she has talked a lot about the safeguards over the past few minutes—she said previously that our amendment was unnecessary and potentially disproportionate under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, especially in relation to widening the power to enter and search premises for relevant documents. We suggested expanding the scope of the provision to cover “any other premises”, to ensure that those searches were as effective as possible. Clearly, that is an extremely serious consideration for Ministers to take on board. Will she therefore reassure the House that the powers in the new clauses do not in any way breach article 8 of the ECHR, and explain why they do not?

With that one potential caveat about the new clauses—as I said, they grew out of amendments that we tabled in Committee—we welcome their inclusion in the Bill.

Like the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I welcome the revised amendments submitted by the Minister, notwithstanding her detailed explanation about the safeguards and operation of the Bill.

In that regard, I have a question about the role of the chief inspector of the Border and Immigration Agency. If there is concern about an immigration officer’s pursuit of such searches, is it correct that the chief inspector can refuse to co-operate with, say, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, the Independent Police Complaints Commission or other bodies that might be concerned about the operation of the clause? I have no objection to the use of the provision; it is important that the powers that officers have are clearly laid out. As I mentioned, however, I am concerned about the effect on community relations, which is why I asked about monitoring. If there are concerns, is it true that the chief inspector will be able to block any investigation?

The hon. Member for Ashford is right that the European convention on human rights was discussed in relation to the proportionality of the legislation. As I understand it, the amendment that he tabled would have extended the powers sought by the clause then in the Bill. The introduction of the seeking of a warrant helps to satisfy the requirement to protect people’s rights under the legislation. We are satisfied that the new clauses and amendments are compatible with the convention.

It was interesting to consider the examples given in relation to the new clauses and amendments. Of course, police already have powers to deal with the criminal offence outlined by the hon. Gentleman. The provision is about the seeking of documents relating to nationality, in order to effect removal and deportation at the appropriate time. With regard to that analysis, he had a point. We wished to address that, not leave a loophole in what we all agree is necessary legislation, or create an incentive for people to hide their documents with family, friends and so on. Although the majority of documents are found on the premises where the person is arrested, or on premises under the person’s control, we recognise the possibility of creating a perverse incentive for those documents to be stashed away somewhere else, so we wish to extend the powers. Given the analysis that we have undertaken, there is no question but that extending the safeguards to include the seeking of a warrant—which does not apply to the powers to search the premises where the person is found or premises under the person’s control—satisfies the requirements.

In response to the question of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), the chief inspector will have oversight of Border and Immigration Agency activity, and will therefore oversee immigration officers exercising powers. The IPCC will oversee the police. I hope that that clarifies the relationship, but I can write to the hon. Gentleman in more detail if he still has concerns. I thank both hon. Gentlemen, and my hon. Friends, for their support for the measures.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Police civilians

‘In Part 2 of Schedule 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002 (c. 30) (powers exercisable by police civilians: investigating officers) after paragraph 18 (entry and search after arrest) insert—

“Entry and search for evidence of nationality after arrest

18A Where a designation applies this paragraph to any person—

(a) sections 43 to 44 of the UK Borders Act 2007 (entry, search and seizure after arrest) shall apply to that person (with any necessary modifications) as if a reference to a constable included a reference to that person, and

(b) a provision of the 1984 Act which applies to constables in connection with any of those sections shall apply (with any necessary modifications) to that person.”’.—[Joan Ryan.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Deportation orders: provision of information

‘The Secretary of State shall comply with any request for information from the victim of an offence about a deportation order made under the provisions of section 31(5) in respect of the person convicted of that offence.’.—[Mr. Kidney.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 34, in page 16, line 6 Clause 31, leave out from ‘whom’ to end of line and insert ‘the condition under subsection (2) applies.’.

No. 35, in page 16, leave out lines 7 to 13 and insert—

‘(2) The Condition is that, in the opinion of the sentencing judge, there is no public interest or other lawful reason why the person should remain in the United Kingdom.’.

No. 15, in page 16, line 7, leave out ‘of at least 12 months’.

No. 8, in page 16, line 12, after ‘criminal)’, insert

‘or is an immigration offence under the Immigration Acts’.

No. 2, in page 16, line 37 Clause 32, leave out ‘conviction’ and insert ‘the offence’.

No. 14, in page 17, line 32 Clause 33, leave out from ‘requires’ to end of line 33 and insert ‘the Secretary of State to—

(a) make a deportation order no less than one month before the end of the individual’s sentence, and

(b) ensure the deportation of an individual against whom a deportation order has been made occurs not more than six months after the making of the order.’.

No. 9, in page 19, line 21 Clause 37, leave out subsection (1).

No. 10, in page 19, line 23, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).

Government amendments Nos. 17 to 22 and 27.

New clause 1 is grouped with a large number of amendments, none of which I tabled, so I shall leave their explanation to others.

New clause 1 sets out a simple proposition: when foreign nationals are deported because they have committed relevant crimes, their victims should be entitled to know about the deportation. In the Bill as amended in Committee, clause 31 provides for what the heading calls “Automatic deportation”. At its most basic, my argument is that if the deportation is automatic, what is the problem in telling the victim that it has happened?

The truth, however, is that not every foreign national convicted of an offence and sent to prison will be deported. For some offences, there will be a sentence of less than 12 months, which will not trigger the power. Clause 32 provides for a number of exceptions that will mean that others will not be deported. To my mind, the fact that, in some instances, uncertainty remains as to whether a deportation will take place strengthens the case for victims to know what has happened. I want to illustrate that argument with reference to the constituency case that first attracted my interest in the issue.

In 2005, a young female adult was walking home from work on a Saturday night. She was followed by a man for two miles until she was in a road where no one else was about. There she was brutally raped. The offender was arrested. He was a foreign national. He was tried and convicted, and the judge, sentencing him to six years in prison, said that he had shown absolutely no remorse. It was at that point that I was asked by my constituent’s family to find out whether the offender would be deported from prison.

The young female was understandably suffering not just physical but mental trauma because of her experiences. She wanted to know whether there was any risk at all that the offender might one day be back on the streets where she lives. For her that is an ever-present, uncomfortable thought. I was quite willing to help to try to put her mind at rest.

I wrote to Home Office Ministers several times to find out about the fate of the foreign national in prison. To my surprise, they responded each time that they could not disclose any information to me. Here is a typical response, in a letter dated 22 August last year:

“As you will appreciate, Home Office records relating to individual overseas nationals are confidential and information from them can only be disclosed to the subject or his appointed representative. This is in accordance with the Home Office's legal obligations under common law, human rights, data protection and the Code of Practice on Access to Government information. Unfortunately, the Home Office has not received any written confirmation from”

the offender

“that”

the victim

“can be treated as such.”

For obvious reasons, I have omitted the names of the two people involved.

My response to being told that the offender had the right to block the victim’s access to information that she wants only because of the offender’s wrongdoing was that it offended my sense of what was right. I double-checked the Home Office’s stance by tabling a parliamentary question, believing that an hon. Member asking a parliamentary question would be entitled to information about the deportation. Once again, however, my request was stonewalled, as can be seen at column 1044W of the 16 October edition of Hansard.

Not wishing to give up, I spoke in the debate on the Queen’s Speech on 23 November 2006, again raising the specific case of my constituent and the point of principle about access to information for victims. That can be seen at column 780 of Hansard. The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), who is in the Chamber today, responded sympathetically, and I subsequently corresponded with him on the subject. However, his reply also relied on human rights and data protection as reasons for his inability to provide the information.

After my contribution to the debate on the Queen’s Speech, I learned that I was not alone in experiencing this difficulty. Other Members, and indeed journalists, contacted me about many similar stories. Obviously my research has not been extensive or systematic, but it has left me with the impression that just beneath the surface the problem experienced by my constituent and by me is a common one. That, surely, is a very undesirable state of affairs.

New clause 1 is an attempt to give the Home Office parliamentary authority to break through the obstacles and give victims information to which I believe they should be entitled. In recent years, we have legislated to give more entitlements to victims. The Domestic Violence, Crimes And Victims Act 2004 enables victims of some sexual offences, for instance, to obtain information from the probation service about licence and supervision conditions when an offender is released from prison. New clause 1 is an attempt to nudge the law slightly further in favour of relevant information for victims, in this case on whether a foreign national has been deported.

In a written statement on 23 May 2006, the present Home Secretary said:

“My first priority has been to protect the public”.—[Official Report, 23 May 2006; Vol. 446, c. 77WS.]

It is worth recalling that at that time the deportation of foreign nationals who had committed serious offences in the United Kingdom was a topic of intense public interest. In part at least, the furore arose because the record keeping of the Home Office and its agencies was not very good. Perhaps if there were more openness, and more access and exposure to public scrutiny of these matters, there would be fewer problems of this kind. I hope the Minister will tell us what arrangements he envisages in the context of the deportation power in clause 31, not just in respect of access to information about deportation for victims, but in respect of what information Parliament and individual Members should have.

There are victims of serious crimes who have a legitimate interest in knowing whether a deportation, as directed by clause 31, has indeed taken place. For the sake of those victims and, indeed, for the sake of the public’s confidence in our laws, it is in the public interest for the information specified in new clause 1 to be given to those victims. In weighing the interests of the offender and the victim, surely we should give the victim’s rights the higher priority. For those reasons, I urge the Minister to respond positively to new clause 1.

I shall concentrate mainly on the four amendments tabled in my name, but let me first comment on what was said by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who made a powerful case.

When the rights of the victim are balanced against those of the offender, it is clear that the victim’s rights should come first. I am sure the Minister agrees with that, but—coming fresh to the matter—I am puzzled by the response that the hon. Gentleman received from the Home Office, which told him that owing to a number of legal restrictions his constituent could not have the required information.

Given that we have been through a phase during which the Government were prepared to circulate posters and leaflets about hooligans who had received antisocial behaviour orders, and were making a virtue of naming and shaming people who were guilty of what I suspect were, in this context, relatively minor offences, and given that anyone who will be subject to deportation under the Government’s proposals must have been convicted of an offence and been in prison for more than 12 months—and must therefore have been convicted of a very serious offence—I feel that the hon. Gentleman made a good case for the new clause, or a similar measure. We need an appropriate balance that gives more weight to the victim’s rights than the current arrangement as explained to him by the Home Office. I hope that the Minister, who will have seen the new clause on the amendment paper for some time, will be able to respond positively to his hon. Friend.

Amendment No. 8 would add to those considered for automatic deportation people who have committed immigration offences. As it stands, the Bill provides for what it calls automatic deportation, but I think it was widely agreed in Committee that that is a misnomer. It is automatic deportation except when it is not automatic, and that means a huge number of exceptions. The deportation provision applies to foreign prisoners who are sentenced to more than 12 months in jail, yet the Bill itself sets the punishment at 51 weeks for the new immigration offences that it creates. That means that anyone committing an offence under the terms of the Bill would not be subject to the part of it that provides for what it calls automatic deportation, which strikes me as perverse. It is not credible that a Bill that purports to protect our borders excludes from its own provisions automatic deportation of those who commit serious crimes against immigration officials and those who seek to enter this country illegally.

As it stands, the Bill sabotages its own effects. I am sure that the Minister will say, as he did in Committee, that a dim view will be taken of people discovered in the UK illegally and that the chances of their being allowed to stay will be limited. However, the Opposition believe that a strong message needs to be sent: “We will stop you if you try to come to this country illegally, but if we cannot we will catch you and send you away again quickly.”

Previous mistakes in that regard are the main cause of problems in the entire immigration system. The number of asylum seekers has dropped considerably in recent years, mainly because of the end—thankfully—of wars on the continent of Europe, but there is a huge overhang in the system, which is one of the main problems the Government face. We want to prevent anything similar from happening in the future, if there should again—God forbid—be large-scale movements of refugees across Europe, which would inevitably end up with hundreds of thousands of people coming to this country, as we have found in the past. That is the purpose of amendment No. 8.

Amendment No. 14 would require the Secretary of State to make a deportation order at least one month before the end of a prisoner’s sentence and would provide for that person to be deported within six months of the order being served. The Minister assured us at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill that he had the right systems and manpower to ensure that the deportation system would work better in future than it has in the past. He said that resources in what was the IND and is now the BIA—the immigration and nationality directorate and the Border and Immigration Agency for those who are not keeping up with the fast-moving world of Home Office acronyms—had increased tenfold over the past year.

The amendment is designed to probe whether the Home Office’s systems will ensure the deportation of the individuals it wants to deport, precisely because the scandal that cost the still immediately previous Home Secretary his job arose in part because of the inability of the Home Office, the Prison Service and other agencies to communicate and work together to get serious criminals, out of the country. One fears that with the split in the Home Office, which we discussed in previous business today, those communication problems are likely to get worse, as the Prison Service has been even further removed from the ambit of the immigration service. The situation will certainly not get better and it may get worse, so the need for the amendment is even more urgent now than when we discussed it a few weeksago in Committee. The amendment would ensurethat arrangements were already in progress when an individual neared his or her release date, to make the whole process smoother and more efficient.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 and Government amendments Nos. 17 to 22 relate to exemptions from automatic deportation and share a common interest. We want to achieve the same things. At present, people who have been handed a suspended sentence are exempt even if they serve some of the sentence, and the amendments would close that loophole. We wanted to delete subsection (1) of clause 37 in its entirety, but the Government want to do that in another way.

I am sure the Minister agrees that if a person is handed a suspended sentence he has committed a crime of some seriousness in the first instance. The suspended sentence is activated only when somebody is in trouble for a second time and is, therefore, by definition a repeat offender, so it seems entirely reasonable to us that such a person should have the hospitality of this country withdrawn from them. I am glad that the Government have once again shown flexibility in the wake of the discussions in Committee and that they agree with us on that point.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) will speak to his amendment No. 2, which also deals with exemptions from automatic deportation. Under clause 32, people are exempt if they are under 18 when convicted and, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment, he wants to focus on the date of the offence rather than the date of conviction. I have a degree of sympathy with Ministers on that point, as clearly they need to select one event as the cut-off point for the exemption. None of the options is perfect, but the advantage of using the date of the offence is that it will seem fairer. Justice can occasionally take a long time, so it is not difficult to imagine a situation where two 17-year-olds might commit a crime on the same day but one might be deported because his case took longer to get to court and he had passed his 18th birthday, while someone committing the same crime on the same day would be allowed to stay in the UK because he received justice more quickly. Such a hypothetical situation is not difficult to imagine; nor is it difficult to imagine that the public would find it somewhat unfair.

But does my hon. Friend not agree that one down is better than none down at all, and that we are better off getting rid of at least one prolific offender? Most people would find that a better solution all round.

It is an unarguable fact that treating one offender properly is better than nobody being treated properly, but I hope my hon. Friend agrees that everyone being treated fairly by the law should be our aim when passing legislation in the House, so that all offenders know that what is coming to them is the same punishment as for those who commit equivalent offences.

I have a deal of sympathy for the amendment and I shall be interested to hear the counter-arguments the Minister deploys against it, if indeed he does so. I know that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) wants to speak to amendments Nos. 34 and 35, so I shall let him do so before commenting further.

I want to comment briefly on the new clause moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), which is about people obtaining information.

There are good reasons why we have data protection legislation and why third parties are not normally given access to information under that legislation. In general, it is right that the legislation applies. I am familiar with the type of problem to which my hon. Friend referred and have seen a significant number of such cases, although they do not always involve criminal offences. A common situation might be that a marriage has broken up less than two years before an application for indefinite leave to remain was granted and a constituent claims that the person they left was violent and subjected them to harassment. Often, no criminal offence is committed in such cases so it can be difficult to decide whether information should be released, because when someone approaches us in such circumstances we inevitably hear only one side of the story. We might have an opinion on how valid that side of the story is, but we are only hearing one side of the story.

I have handled cases similar to those described by my hon. Friend. Recently, a constituent I was dealing with had separated from her husband who had been violent. He had then been convicted of a sexual offence elsewhere in the country. He had also been subjecting her family to considerable harassment after the marriage broke down. In my opinion, we should have got rid of him as quickly as possible. However, we ran into the problem of not being able to get information about what was happening to him and whether he was going to be deported.

As my hon. Friend said, we will not necessarily always get the result that the constituent wants—the other person being removed. However, whether or not they are removed it is common sense that the victim ought at least to have information on that. Has the person been subject to a deportation order? Has that order been signed? Has it been put into effect? If that has happened, it will give the victim some peace of mind. If for some reason it has not been possible to deport the convicted person, at least the victim will know that and can, if necessary, take whatever precautions they think are reasonable to try to avoid coming into contact again with the criminal.

The examples given are all very familiar. In some such circumstances, the assailant and the victim are married. In many cases, the victim—usually a woman—is also the assailant’s sponsor for being in the United Kingdom in the first place. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in such circumstances at the very least—where there is a clear locus in addition to someone being the victim of a crime, subject to the other person being convicted of that—information about deportation should be provided?

That is a common scenario, but I can think of situations in which it would be difficult to give out such information. There might not have been a criminal charge. The person might not have been convicted. A constituent might come to their MP with allegations about someone’s behaviour but the police have not been involved and there has not been a conviction. In such circumstances, we hear only one side of the story. We might well believe it, but there has been no conviction.

However, we are currently talking about people who have been convicted—and of serious offences. The new clause does not ask for wide, generalised information to be given. It does not ask for information to be given about anything other than the deportation order itself. That is worth considering. Even if the Minister feels that the new clause as it stands is not appropriate and that what is needed are changes to existing legislation—perhaps to data protection legislation—I hope that he will look into the matter.

We are discussing narrow but clearly defined circumstances. I and other Members have dealt with constituents who have been very distressed when they have been the victim of a serious crime and it is not possible for them to know what is happening to the individual who committed it. We should contrast their situation with that of someone who has been a victim of crime in other circumstances and who would be able to get some information—who would know if someone were to be released on parole, for example. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter.

I rise to support amendments Nos. 34 and 35, on which we hope to have an opportunity to vote at a later stage. Perhaps one of the biggest issues with automatic deportation is that, in the Bill, automatic deportation is not automatic deportation. The key question about the processes whereby somebody goes through a criminal conviction and then ends up at some stage being deported is this: at what stage should the judicial consideration of the merits of the case for deportation occur? We have strongly argued that that should happen at an early stage. We argue that the court of first instance at which the decision is taken about whether someone is guilty and what sentence they should receive should also be the point at which it should be decided whether they ought to be deported. The Government’s alternative—having failed previously to execute judicial recommendations for deportation—is for the Home Secretary still to decide whether certain exemptions apply. As a consequence, the decision will be subject to judicial review. Because it will be subject to judicial review, there will be a stay of deportation proceedings until the judicial review has occurred.

Therefore, rather than the judicial consideration occuring right at the start, it happens at the end of the process. Therefore, we can envisage a prisoner being released because judicial review proceedings have been initiated and wandering off somewhere. The judicial review proceedings then continue and it is decided that there is no case to answer, but the person concerned has been released. That is absurd. Even if the Conservative party’s recommendation for deportation decisions to be taken at least a month before the end of the sentence is accepted, we could end up with people being released and there being a stay of proceedings. With no deportation, violent criminals could be allowed to wander the streets when they should have been deported.

It is clear that these issues should be dealt with at the start. Some offences that result in imprisonment—such as not paying council tax, stealing electricity, or not attending probation meetings—do not make someone a major threat to society. If someone has been living in the country for 30 years, we would not expect them to be deported for not going to a meeting or not paying council tax. That would not be reasonable.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that nobody has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison for not paying council tax. Therefore, the situation he describes is very unlikely to arise. No more than a handful of people each year are convicted of stealing electricity, and I am sure that the sentences for doing so are extremely light and of less than 12 months.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current wording of clause 31. Obviously, some cases are covered that do not have a 12-month sentence applied. Suspended sentences are applied in some circumstances. It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman did a little more research on sentences.

We are saying not that criminals should not be deported under certain circumstances, but that judicial consideration should happen at the start of the process. That deals with one of the points of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), in that at that stage the victim is involved in the criminal process. It is at that stage that it should be decided whether it is appropriate to deport someone. There is no disagreement in this House that someone who comes to this country and goes about causing all sorts of problems, involving violence, for example—the situation in which the victim is the sponsor is a good example—should be subject to deportation. The question is: what is a firm but fair and effective way of doing that? The Government have failed to be effective in the past. We are simply saying that this decision should be taken by the initial court.

I am not sure that that solves the good point of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). A Judge might decide in the first instance that someone should be deported, but during the period of the prison sentence, the country to which he ought to be deported became so dangerous that he could not be deported there. Things might be even worse in the current situation in which someone might get a letter saying “X will be deported” but they are not deported. I am not sure that this problem has been addressed.

I accept that our suggestion only partially addresses that, in that the victim will be involved in the initial process and in the decision-making process as to whether someone should be deported.

There is a good argument in favour of new clause 1. As things stand, without new clause 1, there would be so-called automatic deportation as a result of some serious offence. A decision then would be taken by the Home Secretary as to whether that satisfies certain exemptions, and that would then be subject to judicial review, but the victim would not even know that a judicial review had gone through. Therefore, someone would be released from prison and be free to move anywhere in the country. However, the victim may believe, because of the flaws in the design of the system, that a deportation is occurring, only for the person concerned to turn up on their doorstep.

Frankly, the Government have got to get their act together and start designing systems that are firm, but fair and effective. The current proposals are not effective. They put the judicial process at the end of the system, rather than at the beginning, and that process should take place at the beginning.

I wish to speak briefly in support of my amendment No. 2 and of new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney).

I have previously raised with a Home Office Minister a case involving a constituent of mine, a young man from Leicester who was studying in Manchester. He was killed in a road accident by a Chinese citizen. The matter went before the courts and there was a series of adjournments before the final hearing took place. Unknown to my constituent’s parents, the person responsible for the crime, although he had not been convicted—he had been charged and was to appear for trial—was removed by the Home Office back to China. So although they were ready to attend the trial of this gentleman and were seeking closure in order to move on, they were told by the court staff that he had been removed.

The then Minister with responsibility for such matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)—he is now a Minister of State in the Department of Health—told me that new procedures would be put in place to ensure that someone who was part of the judicial process would not be removed without people being informed. I am not sure whether that has happened. When the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality sums up the debate on this group of new clauses and amendments, he will doubtless tell us what has happened as a result of the issues raised in the Adjournment debate on this matter. Although I was satisfied with the actions of the then Minister, I was not convinced that the procedures adopted then by the Home Office would help us to ensure that such a situation would not occur again.

Hence the need for new clause 1, which is a sensible, reasonable provision that would help the Home Office and the victims of crime. In the light of today’s statement about splitting the Home Office in half and putting the Prison Service and the probation service under the remit of the Ministry of Justice—a move that I support—we will be dealing with two Departments instead of one. The flow of information might therefore not be as seamless as one would have liked; it certainly was not seamless before. However, if we adopted new clause 1, which has the support of other Members, such information would be forthcoming. As a result, victims would be informed and people would not be left in the situation faced by my constituents, to whom information was given only when they happened to ask. If the new clause was accepted, such information would be given to victims not by the Crown Prosecution Service or the police, or by the opposing side’s solicitors to their solicitors, but by the appropriate authority—in this case, the Home Office.

The gentleman to whom I refer was removed to China, but we do not know whether he has come back to the United Kingdom. We have no indication whether a cross was put on his passport or whether the Home Office told the Foreign Office about this case, which would mean that when he applied for entry clearance, the officer concerned would be aware that he had committed a crime for which he had not been charged. That is why this information is vital and why new clause 1 is so important. For those who will suffer in future, such a provision would be a great comfort; and my constituents, who have suffered following the death of their son, would be able to feel that the Government have acted responsibly to ensure that they can obtain closure.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on making the case for new clause 1 so well. When I first read it I did not realise its significance, or that such a problem existed in obtaining information. If it is accepted, it would help the victims of offences and it would help Members of Parliament to help those whom we feel have a genuine case for staying here. We cannot always get the information that we require about foreign nationals in this country.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) echoed that concern, but I disagree with him slightly on one point. There is a wider malaise in the Home Office; not at the top, for once—I am not going to blame the Government for this—but among its middle-management, who seem to feel that victims do not have the right to information about offences, be they offences involving foreign or British nationals. I was involved in a case concerning a British national, and it was impossible to get information for the victims of that crime on when that person was going to be released from custody, or even on what his sentence was. Such information should be freely available, but the reality is that it is not. I therefore hope that my colleagues will consider supporting new clause 1.

I fear that I will not win so many friends in talking about the amendments in this group. Amendment No. 35 appears to be an attempt to take away from the Home Secretary the power to take decisions about deportations and to give more powers to the judiciary.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the Home Secretary’s decisions are subject to judicial review in any event?

Of course, but the hon. Gentleman will know that it is very difficult to initiate judicial review—one has to prove not that one disagrees with the decision, but that the way in which it was made was fundamentally flawed in a legal sense. The amendment would make it easier for those who have committed offences to stay in this country.

I turn to amendment No. 2, tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), amendment No. 15 and the various Government amendments. It is my fundamental belief that those who come to this country who are willing to work, play their part and make a contribution should be welcomed. However, I am afraid that far too many people who come here have no intention whatsoever of living up to the high standards that we set in this country, or of obeying our rules, and are prepared to commit crimes persistently and with no regard whatsoever for their victims.

As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wear another hat as a special constable, and every time I log on to the force computer it becomes clear that gangs of pickpockets from several European countries—some inside the EU and others outside it—and from one African country are operating in this country, and that they have committed numerous offences and are arrested regularly. I can see their names and addresses on the computer and the long list of offences of which they have been convicted, and I know from statistics that they have been convicted of only a fraction of the offences that they have actually committed. However, they are not deported. Even when these provisions come into force, it is unlikely that many of them will be deported, because they are committing crimes that often carry a sentence of less than 12 months’ imprisonment.

It is my contention that there are far too many people in this country who should not be here as it is, and that we should be doing far more to get them out.

In a moment—when I have made my point about whether we should be booting out people aged over 18 or under 18 at the time of the offence. If we can remove more people from this country, we should do so if they are breaking the law. There should be no place in Great Britain for those who come here as career criminals.

Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that our amendment would enable a persistent pickpocket to be put through the deportation process, and that, unlike his proposal, it would lead to their deportation?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Although his amendment would make deportation possible, it would be unlikely to happen in practice. Low though my opinion is of the Home Office, the Home Secretary is at least accountable in some way to public opinion. That is one of the reasons we have had a few Home Secretaries recently. The public have lost confidence in them. Ultimately, I would prefer to put my faith, little though it is, in the Home Office rather than in the judiciary, because the judiciary is completely unaccountable and, in far too many instances, passes sentences that defy rationality and common sense.

I shall make my final point bluntly. There should be no country in the world considered so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they are persistent criminals or have committed serious crimes such as rape. I do not know what case the hon. Member for Walthamstow was talking about, but at least one rapist was imprisoned, and not deported on release, because Somalia was deemed to be too dangerous, and went on to commit another rape. I do not know the outcome, but I suspect that he still has not been deported.

The Foreign Office was able to spend £10,000 on sending a private jet into Somalia, presumably containing security guards, to rescue people who had British passports and who had been fighting on one side or the other in the Somali civil war and were connected with al-Qaeda. We were able to get planes in to pick people up—although I suspect that they will not make a great contribution to this country—so we should be able to send planes to take back people who are detrimental to the safety of the public in this country, such as the rapist I mentioned.

As anyone who has been to Africa or anywhere in the third world will know, a little bit of money goes a long way. If we wanted to deport someone to Somalia, we would not need to go to the expense of chartering private jets. We could simply take them to the Kenyan border and pay someone a few dollars to take them over in a minibus. It would be easy to deport people to Somalia. Put me into the Home Office and I will deport people who do not belong in this country left, right and centre. There is no single country to which we cannot physically deport people, and there is no country so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they have committed the most serious offences.

I hope that the Minister will accept new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 2. We are having this debate about automatic deportation because last year the Home Office failed to review and implement deportation orders on several criminals in the system. The Home Secretary did not exercise his powers and ended up losing his job.

I agree with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). In the short time I have been a Member of Parliament, I have dealt with several cases of women subject to domestic violence in forced marriages. I have written to the Minister about some of those cases and the most frustrating aspect for the women is that their husbands are still around, having served their sentences. Data protection legislation prevents the Minister from giving the women any indication of when their husbands are to be removed. In the past 12 months, I have dealt with four such cases. It is deplorable that women who have been subjected to domestic violence should not know how long their husbands will be roaming around or when they will be deported.

When such women come to my surgeries and ask me to write to the Home Office for all the information they can be given, the Minister or his official writes back to say, “Sorry, as you are a third party, we cannot give you any information.” The spouse is never informed of what is happening.

I agree. If new clause 1 and the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats were accepted, the victims would know at the time of sentence whether the offender was to be deported. The Minister can dress up the issue any way he wants—it might make good headlines to claim automatic deportation for a sentence of more than 12 months—but the clause is riddled with so many exceptions and ifs and buts that it will not happen. If our amendment is accepted, a decision will have to be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) gave the example of a pickpocket who commits a series of offences that do not qualify for an automatic 12-month sentence. Under the present rules, that person will not be subject to automatic deportation.

The automatic deportation provisions are not simply confined to those who have been given a 12-month sentence. They include the 324 offences that sit on section 72 of the 2003 Act. To take the excellent example of the recidivist pickpockets, their offences would be defined under the Theft Act 1968, which are on the section 72 order and so would be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

I am grateful to the Minister for that information. But let us take the example of a child asylum seeker—I have dealt with one such case in the past 12 months—who comes to this country with a false passport or no passport. At present, that offence attracts a 12-month sentence. The amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, which applies the age limit of 18 to the date the offence was committed, rather than the date of conviction, would at least ensure some sort of parity when people are sentenced. The 12-month sentence limit is very arbitrary. Someone can be sent to jail for 12 months for not paying their council tax, for fly-tipping or for possession of cannabis.

The hon. Gentleman is being naïve. He talks about research, but nobody is sentenced to prison for 12 months for not paying their council tax, smoking cannabis or fly-tipping, although given our environmental problems, it would be good if they were for the latter. Let him give the House a single example of one council tax defaulter or cannabi