House of Commons
Thursday 10 May 2007
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked—
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out to the House on 17 April, the Treasury recycled revenues from abolishing the dividend tax credit through cutting the main corporation tax rate from 33 per cent. to 31 per cent. and then 30 per cent., cutting capital gains tax, and introducing the research and development tax credit. Since 1997, we have experienced a decade of stability, with the fastest growth in business investment in any nine-year period since data began in the 1960s.
The Chancellor told us that his aim in taking £5 billion a year out of pension fund income was to stimulate business investment. As a proportion of GDP, has business investment risen or fallen since 1997, and what does that say about the success of the policy?
As I told the House, we have had the fastest growth in business investment in any nine-year period since the 1960s. It has risen by 50 per cent. since 1997. Investment has been rising because of the stability that we have delivered and because of the tough decisions that we were prepared to take in 1997.
Recently, a prominent multinational company that employs many of my constituents announced a decision to close its defined-benefit pension scheme. It claimed that that was largely because of increased life expectancy and the changes in actuarial advice brought about by that. Has my hon. Friend made any assessment of actuarial advice in relation to increased life expectancy and the effect on pension funds, and if so, what steps can we take to make sure that these problems do not arise in the future?
I have made that assessment, as we discussed in our debate a few weeks ago. The assessment of Mr. Stephen Yeo, a consultant at Watson Wyatt and a former pensions adviser to the Conservative party, is that the dividends tax credit issue
“is not among the top three”
causes of concern to pension funds. He goes on to tell us recently that pension fund deficits are now at
“the lowest figure since records began.”
The Minister will know that the dividend tax credit changes have affected charities as well as pension funds. When I last raised that issue with the Chancellor, he claimed that gift aid changes had more than compensated for the reduction in tax relief. When he said that, was he aware that since 1997 the total tax repayment to charities has fallen by £100 million in real terms? In other words, charities are being taxed by stealth just the same as the rest of us.
Under the previous Government, one of the particular aspects of what happened was the offer of early retirement. In a whole range of employments, it was quite common for people to start retiring from their 50s upwards. Has any analysis been done of the impact that that has had on pension funds and, in particular, of the way in which that has completely skewed the employment of people in the labour market?
My hon. Friend is right to point out those trends. There is also the fact that in the early 1980s the trend began to shift away from occupational schemes. There are also the pension holidays that occurred in the 1990s. The fact is that a fall in the stock market and an increase in life expectancy were the main drivers of the change in pension funds. Despite that, as we discussed in the debate with the shadow Chancellor, the assets of pension funds have not gone down since 1997; they have gone up.
The fact is that those figures are nonsense. As I said, the assets of pension funds have gone up, rather than down. The number of pensioners in poverty has not gone up; it has gone down by 2.1 million. The Government made decisions in 1997 to make the Bank of England independent, to introduce fiscal rules, to have a windfall tax on the privatised utilities and to make tax changes—all of which have delivered stability in our economy and all of which were opposed by Opposition Members. Government is about making tough decisions; we did that and they opposed them.
There are nearly 29 million people in employment—that is well over 2.5 million more people in work than in 1997. In the Budget, I announced a new partnership with retailers that could help up to 100,000 men and women to find employment over the next five years. There is now higher employment in every region and country of the United Kingdom than in 1997.
I am grateful for that response. With unemployment so low—it has gone down by 18 per cent. in my constituency alone over the past 10 years—and employment at record highs, does my right hon. Friend agree that now is not the time to be abolishing the new deal?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Employment in the north-west is up by 250,000 since 1997. In every region of the country, employment has risen fast since 1997. One of the reasons why employment has risen is the new deal, which helps people to get back into work and to train for new skills. It would be an absolute tragedy if, at a stage when we are trying to get further people back into work, the Conservative party’s policy of abolishing the new deal was adopted. I hope that that party will think twice about its proposal to abolish the new deal, which would deprive the unemployed of help and bring us back to the days of high unemployment that we saw under the Conservatives.
Could the Chancellor tell the House his opinion of the balance between full-time and part-time employment in the creation of new jobs?
I would have thought that the best way of looking at this is that we provide choices for people in the economy. By providing such choices, some can do part-time jobs while others can do full-time jobs. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to support that, I hope that he will support the tax credit system, which enables single parents, especially, to go into work by taking part-time jobs. That is one of the reasons why the percentage of single parents in employment has risen from 43 per cent. to 55 per cent. under a Labour Government.
If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt about the Labour Government’s success in increasing jobs, let me read to him the mid-term report of a Conservative policy group:
“For the last five years interest rates have been at low levels and credit therefore has been cheap. For the past ten years inflation has been low, the stop-go cycle has given way to continued economic growth and there has been full employment.”
It is not us saying that, but the Conservative party.
Despite record high employment, far too many young people leave school without qualifications and do not go into training or a job. Does my right hon. Friend have any proposals on a new initiative to deal with that growing problem?
That was why we announced in the Budget new measures to help young people to make the transition from leaving school without qualifications and a job to getting back into the work process through getting either training or a job. It is why we are building on the situation between 1997 and now in which the number of 16 to 24-year-olds in work has risen from 3.9 million to 4.1 million, while the number in full-time education has risen from 2.1 million to 2.7 million. Let me quote the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson). He wrote:
“Most important of all, they have no trouble getting a job…we have almost full employment in this country”.
It is not me saying that, but the Conservative party.
But how much higher would employment levels have been if more people had been encouraged into work by an efficient, well administered tax credit system that had not lost £2 billion? Has it not occurred to the Chancellor that the things for which he is not responsible, such as monetary policy and the private sector, have done rather well, while everything that he has touched—tax credits, the sale of gold and pensions—has been a complete disaster?
Mr. Speaker, this Member of Parliament and his party voted against the independence of the Bank of England—[Interruption.] Conservative Members say that that is history, but we will continue to remind them of the important lessons of history. Making the Bank of England independent gave us stability and prevented us from returning to the stop-go economics that bedevilled us for 18 years under the Conservatives.
If the hon. Gentleman was being honest with us about the tax credit situation and his statements reflected what was happening on the ground, he would acknowledge that one of the reasons why we have 2.5 million more people in work is tax credits. I fear that he wants to cut tax credits because he is a member of the No Turning Back group—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”] Yes. Instead of wanting tax credits, the group wants £35 billion to £50 billion of tax cuts. That is the dividing line between the two parties.
Encouraging business start-ups and entrepreneurship is vital to job creation in Wales. What is being done to help people who want to start up their own businesses?
We have done more over the past few years to help young people and entrepreneurs, in particular, to find the chance of being able to start their own business, whether that is in Wales, through the efforts of the Welsh Assembly, or throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. When we came to power, the rate of business creation was half that in the United States of America. The rate of business creation, particularly among young people, is rising, we are giving more incentives, and the venture capital industry is developing for people who want to move on from simply starting a business to getting new capital, and we will continue to do more in the future. The record in Wales, of course, is one of more jobs since 1997, and we will continue that record in the years to come.
May I welcome the Chancellor on what must be one of the happiest days of his political career? Even the blacked-out windows will not conceal the smile today. May I ask him a question that he has spent all week avoiding? Does he think that his failed policies, including his employment policy, which the Public Accounts Committee described this week as being responsible for
“the highest rates of error and fraud in government”,
played any part in Labour’s election defeat last week, or was that entirely due to the unique leadership of the Prime Minister?
What the Conservative party will not acknowledge when supposedly talking about the economy is that, as the Conservative party mid-term report on policy said—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] They do not like it, because the report also talks about a “period of unprecedented prosperity” in our country. [Interruption.] I remind the shadow Chancellor—this is, after all, a question on employment in the economy—that there are 600,000 vacancies in the economy. There is one more today, actually, as a result of announcements that have just been made. The shadow Chancellor has acknowledged Labour’s success in macro-economic policy, and he has acknowledged that Labour has established economic credibility. Is it not about time that the Conservatives admitted that they have lost the argument on the economy, that we are creating jobs in this country, that we have unprecedented economic growth, and that we have a record of economic stability that is unparalleled in our history?
If the right hon. Gentleman’s employment policies are so popular, how come 500 Labour councillors and one First Minister are looking for jobs this week? He is responsible for the failures of this Government—the pensions raid, the chaotic administration of tax credits, the record stealth taxes and the chronic waste of money. How can he be the change that the country wants when he is responsible for the present mess? He has been in hiding for a week, but I ask him to answer this simple question: why did Labour lose last week?
What the shadow Chancellor will not acknowledge is that there are 2.5 million more jobs in the economy, that unemployment is at half the level that it was in the 1980s, that long-term employment has gone down by 75 per cent., and that youth long-term unemployment has been virtually extinguished as a result of what we have achieved. If the Conservative party will not, through the shadow Chancellor, face up to its weakness on the economy, let me tell Conservative Members about the speech of their guru, the former shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), who says in explicit terms that the age of talking about the economy is over for the Conservative party; it will now just talk about social issues. He says:
“Instead of arguing about systems of economic management, we have to discuss how to make better lives out of the prosperity generated by the free market.”
Is it not about time that the shadow Chancellor admitted that in his two years as shadow Chancellor, he has made absolutely no progress in developing an economic policy? He cannot even tell us, having promised to do so, that he will match us on public spending. We are the party that is creating economic stability, economic growth and jobs for the people of this country.
The Prime Minister is in his Sedgefield constituency this morning, where the level of unemployment is now below the national average, at 2.3 per cent. Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer tell the House whether he will continue with the policies of supporting science and co-operation between universities and industry that have brought so many jobs to the north-east?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I know the interest that she takes in both employment and the development of creative and science industries. We have doubled the science budget; we have created a science city in Newcastle, and there is a science city in York. There is pressure to do more in other parts of the region, and we will respond to that, both through the development agency and through what central Government can do. We will continue our record, which has created in the north-east alone 108,000 jobs since 1997. The one thing on which the Conservatives are totally silent is any economic policy for the future.
The Chancellor is quite right that there is a positive story to tell about employment growth, but does he acknowledge that serious problems remain in the labour market? How, in particular, does he explain the fact that the employment rate among men is now 10 per cent. lower than it was when Harold Wilson presided over the economy?
There are 2.5 million more jobs in the economy. The reason why there are 29 million people in work is that we did not take the advice of the Liberal party but did the right thing by the economy, both in our policies for economic stability and in our public investment. If I may say so, the very tax credits that the hon. Gentleman’s party opposes are one reason why more single parents are in work today, and we will continue with that.
On the question of unemployment, in my constituency it has dropped like a stone since 1997. However, has the Chancellor taken stock of the position after the election last week on the momentum of those jobs and the continuing increase in jobs north of the border?
Scotland has increased its employment by more in the past year than almost any other part of the country, and it will continue to create jobs if it produces the right policies both in the Scottish Parliament and in the UK Government. One of the things that we are determined to do over the next few months is help people get jobs in the retail, construction, and hospitality and hotel sectors, and there are programmes to develop the new deal in those areas that will create more jobs both in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Stability in the economy, together with the new deal, the national minimum wage and tax credits, has led to a strong growth in living standards across the whole range of income levels. Employment is up by 2.5 million; the number of children below the poverty line has been reduced by 600,000, and the number of pensioners in that position by 1 million.
The figure that the hon. Gentleman gave is 1 million less than it was 10 years ago, thanks to the success of the policies that we have introduced, particularly the success of the pension credit, which has relegated abject pensioner poverty, which was far too widespread in 1997, to the history books. It has had a dramatic impact, and the level of pension credit was subject to its biggest increase ever last month. We will maintain that policy. The consequence is that whereas in the past pensioners were more likely to be poor than other population groups, today they are less likely to be so.
How can the Minister reconcile himself to the notion of reducing inequality when his own Department has pioneered regional pay rates throughout the civil service, which means that people in different areas are paid different rates for doing exactly the same job? What message does that send out on the future of the national minimum wage? Will we have a regional minimum wage in future?
I think that it is right to ensure maximum opportunities for employment around the country, because it is the case that wage levels vary. On inequality, may I tell my hon. Friend that a good measure of income inequality is the ratio between incomes at the 90th and 10th percentiles of distribution, and that that ratio has fallen under the Government’s policies?
A commitment to reduce inequality is totally at odds with the slashing of grants for domestic microgeneration announced yesterday, depriving the less well-off of access to new green technology. Is that not just further evidence of the fact that the Chancellor’s sudden interest in the environment and climate change is about as credible and genuine as his professed love of the Arctic Monkeys?
The hon. Gentleman’s question is inventive, given the topic for the original question. He should be speaking to his own Front-Bench team, who have failed to match our projections on public spending. If he wants more grants, he will need to persuade them to spend more money.
I do share that pride, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining that. It has been an historic breakthrough, thanks to the introduction of winter fuel payments and all the other steps that we have taken, and in particular the success of the pension credit.
The Minister did not mention equality in his original answer, so may I ask him this about the Chancellor’s legacy: has the ratio of incomes of the top 20 per cent. compared with the bottom 20 per cent. risen or fallen since the Chancellor took office in 1997?
Let me underline what I said a few moments ago. The ratio of income at the 90th percentile of the distribution, which is what the hon. Gentleman is asking about, and the 10th percentile rocketed under the policies of the Conservatives when they were in government, but it has now fallen. Under the Tories, the richer one was, the faster one’s income grew. Under the policies that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been promoting, income growth for the least well-off 40 per cent. of households has been faster than for the better-off.
I salute what the Government have done for today’s poorest pensioners. However, we are building up a problem for the future in relation to equality for tomorrow’s pensioners. We have tax relief that costs the Exchequer £18 billion a year. It is incredibly regressive—50 per cent. is claimed by the top 10 per cent. of earners, and 25 per cent. is claimed by the top 2.5 per cent. of earners, yet the Department for Work and Pensions has no evidence that tax relief on pension contributions encourages pension savings. Will my right hon. Friend re-examine that £18 billion giveaway, mostly to the rich?
We have considered all those issues in the recent review of policy on pensions, and the decisions that we set out in the White Paper have been taken forward in legislation. It is right that we continue to encourage pension saving, including through the tax relief arrangements that we have in place.
Levels of household debt have risen over the past decade, as in other European countries. As a proportion of total debt, unsecured household debt is at its lowest point since 1997, but levels of secured household debt have risen by 153 per cent. as a result of the 1.8 million rise in the number of home owners in Britain.
But can the Minister confirm that the average UK consumer owes more than twice the average of the average western European consumer? Related to that, has he read a recent speech by the Governor of the Bank of England, in which he spoke of the rise in indebtedness and bankruptcies, and described it as a
“social problem that is materialising”?
Does the hon. Gentleman agree, and what does he intend to do about it?
The right hon. Gentleman is right. We have a higher level of household debt than other European countries, because we have a higher number of people with mortgages who are buying their homes. Since 1997 we have also had a 65 per cent. rise in the wealth of households, and the average net wealth of households in the UK is higher than in France or Germany. The right hon. Gentleman is right that where consumers get into distress, we need to do more to help them. I shall be in Leeds tomorrow, launching a Leeds pilot on tackling loan sharks who exploit people who get into trouble with unsecured debt. However, the fact that there are more people with mortgages who are buying their homes is a good thing, which has been delivered since 1997.
Will my hon. Friend accept my commendation of the initiatives that have taken place to improve the availability of products to poorer families, which take them away from the loan shark market? That may be a partial explanation of the fall in unsecured loans to which he draws attention.
My hon. Friend is right. We need to crack down on illegal loan sharks through policing and trading standards, but at the same time ensure that there are decent, affordable alternatives. That is why we have a £36 million growth fund which we have increased by £6 million so as to provide, through credit unions and other mutuals, more affordable credit for low-income consumers. We are determined not only to crack down on illegal lending but to ensure that decent alternatives are available for those families.
The House will be aware that households struggling with problem debt are likely to face a further increase in interest rates this afternoon. Is the Minister concerned that after 10 years the Chancellor’s economic legacy will be personal debt at £1.3 trillion, falling living standards, rising interest rates, and inflation at a 16-year high? Does he agree with Kate Barker’s analysis that the Chancellor’s fiscal policy has been partly responsible for the increasing interest rates that are hitting so many families so hard?
I do not agree with the hon. Lady at all. The fact is that we have more people with mortgages buying their own homes and they are paying lower levels of interest rates than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Under the Conservative Government, we had 15 per cent. interest rates, negative equity above 75,000 and record repossessions. Since 1997, this Government have put that instability behind us and delivered stability. That is why people can afford their mortgages and their debt and can live with prosperity.
If we might revert to the question, I hope that the Conservatives are not suggesting that the Government should dictate to people what they can and cannot borrow to buy a house, a car or whatever. Where the Government do have control over debt—that is to say, national debt—is it not a fact that British Government debt is about two thirds of the EU average, half that of Belgium, half that of Greece, far lower than France—where every penny of income tax is used to pay off French national debt—and 10 percentage points lower than when the Conservatives were last in power, when so much of our income tax was used to pay off debt because of their economic incompetence?
My right hon. Friend is right. We have low levels of national debt because of tough decisions that we took on fiscal policy and on tax, including on pension credit in the early period of this Government. A few weeks ago, the shadow pensions Minister told “The Daily Politics” that the decision we took on pension credit should be looked at and that the Conservatives would like to find a way of putting that kind of money back into pensions. The question that I would like to ask is whether the shadow pensions Minister was acting with the permission of the shadow Chancellor.
It is right that in a dynamic economy we create businesses, and also businesses go out of business. In fact, we have a much lower level of insolvency than in the United States, which is a more dynamic economy. It is important to have more risk-taking businesses. We have many more small businesses now than 10 years ago, which is a sign of success in our economy.
International Debt Relief
Twenty-two countries have now received debt relief. We expect another five countries to qualify for cancellation in 2007. I am also working with international colleagues to ensure that Liberia can receive debt relief as soon as possible.
In congratulating the Chancellor on his leadership of the international community on debt relief, which stands in stark contrast to the record of the Conservatives, may I probe him on the issue of international development? Does he agree that if we are to see long-term positive developments in the third world, it is important to have co-operative models that empower individuals and communities to be entrepreneurial and to take control of their own futures?
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has done to promote international development, particularly through his interest in Africa. The discussions that we are having are not simply about debt relief, education and health, important as those are, but about how we can raise levels of agricultural productivity, enhance micro-credit and bring about economic development in these countries. It is, however, necessary, when we are doing these things, to ensure that there is sufficient international development aid available for supporting micro-credit and economic development, as well as education and health. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the record of the Conservatives, who halved the level of overseas aid as a percentage of national income. The figures that have just come out show that under a Labour Government we have doubled it.
One of the countries in particular need of development assistance is Iraq. The position is worsened by the internal conflict, which we have partly helped to precipitate. What changes in Government policy on Iraq can we expect when the Chancellor becomes Prime Minister?
At the recent conference where the Iraq compact was discussed, more countries agreed to provide additional debt relief to Iraq. Everybody understands that it is incredibly important for the future for people to have a stake in Iraq through policies of economic development and creating employment. To answer the question specifically: there has been more debt relief for Iraq.
May I genuinely congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being about to achieve a long-standing ambition, and wish him well? And in respect of this question, may I ask how he selects the countries that are eligible for debt relief? Clearly, it is important to select countries to give them debt relief, not only to enable them to borrow more money but so that they can create a better quality of life for the people of those countries. How are those countries selected?
The hon. Gentleman is right; we cannot give debt relief unless there is a guarantee that the money will go towards poverty reduction, education and health. In recent years, it has been remarkable that, as we have given debt relief and provided aid, in Kenya, for example, 1 million children have been able to go to school, in Uganda we have trebled the number of young children in education, and in Zambia and Tanzania the number of children in education is rising. Those are examples of the results of debt relief and providing aid. I hope that Conservative Members will not say, as they tend to do, that aid does not work. What does not work is doing nothing. What does work is what we have done to provide educational opportunity and health in Africa.
Millennium Development Goals
Since 2004, there has been an increase of 25 per cent. in real terms in aid. The UK has contributed £1.3 billion over 20 years to the international finance facility for immunisation to vaccinate 500 million children. We are one of six donors to a £1.5 billion fund to prevent more than 5 million childhood deaths from pneumococcal disease by 2030.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on all that the Government have done to tackle global poverty, especially in Africa? I recently visited John Harrison school in my constituency to see the marvellous work that the children were doing as part of the “Send my friend to school” and “Every child needs a teacher” initiatives. Will my right hon. Friend send a message to those children about what the Government will do to secure free primary education for all?
Our aim is that the 80 million children who do not go to school at the moment will get the chance to do so. One of the ways in which that can be progressed is linking schools in our country with schools in Africa, so that teachers undertake exchanges with teachers in Africa. We thus build up the links that consolidate public opinion not only in Britain but in other countries, so that we can support the education for all initiative. [Interruption.] I am sorry that Opposition Members have lost interest in such issues over the past few months. I am sorry that they are not prepared to match us on overseas development aid. I am also sorry that, although the shadow Chancellor was asked on 1 March, and promised to tell us, whether he would match our spending programme, he has refused to do so—
It was precisely because we were worried that we would not meet the millennium development goals by 2015 that we held the education conference in Brussels last Wednesday. We received promises from a whole range of countries that they would step up to ensure that we meet the educational goal by 2015. As far as health is concerned, we are trying to bring together the international community to work together to eliminate diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, which will also require additional funds over the next few years. It is precisely because the rest of the international community has not done what we have already done, which is to raise development aid substantially, that we will continue to press the international community to do so—and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us in doing that.
As a member of the all-party group that recently visited India, can I assure my right hon. Friend that we were very much focused on millennium development goal 6, particularly when 1,000 people a day die of tuberculosis in India and the country has other problems such as HIV/AIDS? The other side of the picture is that the growing economy in India offers hope that if resources are widely shared for the many and not the few, we can indeed achieve the millennium development goals. Will my right hon. Friend continue to support that strategy?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has taken a long-standing interest in these issues and who, like me, recently visited India. He has seen that there is a long way to go in India, with 10 million children still not in school. There is also a long way to go, even as that country develops its wealth, to solve the health problems that my right hon. Friend mentioned. We will continue to support the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which is not simply for HIV/AIDS, but for tuberculosis and other diseases. We will support all the necessary research to provide a preventive cure for malaria and other diseases where new inventions and innovations are needed, and we will continue to build the capacity of health care systems in the poorest countries in the world and work with those countries to do so. I see emerging partnerships between trusts and foundations such as the Gates Foundation and private sector companies, as well as Governments, in doing exactly that. I hope that we will gain all-party support when we do so.
The Chancellor has just highlighted the importance of education in achieving the millennium development goals, particularly in Africa—something with which I and, I am sure, all Members agree. Why is it, then, that a British-based charity, Book Aid International, which has a 40-year track record of providing books to schools in Africa—indeed, to 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa—last month had its annual long-standing grant terminated by the Chancellor?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that that was not a decision by the Treasury, if it was a decision by the Government at all. I shall look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises with me. I also have to say that I have had talks with many educational publishers and foundations about how to increase the supply of books to Africa. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that we have doubled the amount of money invested in schools, teachers, books and education generally in classrooms in Africa. I hope that, whatever has happened to that individual charity, the hon. Gentleman will not deny the basic fact that we have doubled expenditure on education, made £8.5 billion available for the next 10 years and done more than any other country to make such finance available, and are calling on the rest of the international community to join us.
The answer is yes. I can confirm that where fees charged by doctors for completing cremation forms are within the scope of VAT and are, from 1 May, no longer covered by the medical services exemption, VAT is still not chargeable. This is covered by the exemption in relation to services for burials and cremations. My hon. Friend is chair of the all-party funerals and bereavement group, and I hope that he and the other members of the group will welcome the announcement.
The whole industry will welcome what the Minister has just said. There was grave concern—[Laughter]—Pardon the pun. There was much concern within the industry that VAT would be levied at 17.5 per cent., so I am grateful for the Minister’s response. Will he continue his dialogue with the National Association of Funeral Directors, so that these services, which are very serious for many of us at a time of loss, are continued?
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will indeed continue its discussions with the National Association of Funeral Directors. My hon. Friend will recognise that the United Kingdom’s VAT system has some of the most generous and wide-ranging reliefs and exemptions in Europe, and the Government have fought hard to keep it that way. I am glad that we have been able to avoid imposing additional costs in this area, as this is clearly a matter of concern to many in the industry, and to bereaved families at a time of great concern.
I congratulate the Minister on securing that exemption, but is he committed to securing similar arrangements regarding the requirement for two doctors’ signatures in these circumstances? In cases of untimely and unexpected death, which cause supreme shock and loss to a family, will he confirm that the present arrangement involving two doctors will continue for the foreseeable future?
We wish to operate a system that causes the minimum distress to bereaved families at a difficult time, while ensuring that the right kind of checks are carried out when the registration of a death takes place. I encourage the hon. Lady to join the all-party group on funerals and bereavement if she takes an interest in these affairs. I will look at the question that she has raised, and I will write to her.
One hundred and twenty-five thousand—and all of them will be entitled to help, thanks to my right hon. Friend’s Budget announcement on the financial assistance scheme.
Will the Minister confirm, or categorically deny—he may confer—that when referring to the 125,000 extremely unfortunate people who have lost the prospect of a secure and prosperous old age through the collapse of their pensions, the Chancellor said, with his usual compassion, “These are not our people”?
I never said that at all.
No, that certainly was not said. Those people have suffered an appalling loss, and every Member of the House will have met people who have been in that position. Certainly no one on this side has made any such remark. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the expansion of the financial assistance scheme that my right hon. Friend has announced. That will mean that people will get 80 per cent. of the pension that they were expecting to get at 65.
I know that my right hon. Friend will welcome the strengthening of company pension schemes over the past couple of years. With many companies now making record profits, what steps is he taking to persuade them to divert more of those profits into their company pension schemes?
It is certainly welcome that we have seen a big increase in employer contributions to pension schemes. Under Tory tax rules, companies were encouraged to take pension holidays and, in far too many cases, not to contribute to their schemes at all. One of the most important steps that we have taken to build confidence was to introduce the Pension Protection Fund, which is boosting confidence in pension savings. It is a scandal that although the US equivalent of that fund was in place by 1979, for 18 years the Tory Government did nothing to protect pensions. However, the fund is now in place.
Perhaps the Chief Secretary would care to answer the question that the Economic Secretary did not answer earlier. According to independent experts, the abolition of dividend tax credits in 1997 has cost pension funds a minimum of £100 billion. What assessment has the Treasury made of this? Does it disagree with that figure, and if so, what is the figure?
I certainly do not agree with that figure. As my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary said earlier, pension fund assets have risen. They actually rose immediately after that announcement. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the assessment made last year by the Pensions Policy Institute, which came up with a figure a great deal lower than the one usually cited by the Conservatives.
The workers at H. H. Robertson in my constituency are extremely grateful for the increases in the financial assistance scheme introduced in the Budget. Their pension scheme collapsed under the previous Conservative Government, partly because of the practices of that Administration. Will my right hon. Friend have a word with the usual channels to ensure that the regulatory changes necessary to bring about those Budget increases are brought before the House at the earliest opportunity? My constituents, whose scheme collapsed in 1996, are now getting elderly, and the small amounts of money that some of them get from their pension scheme are very important to their economic well-being.
The arrangements for funding the identity cards scheme were agreed in November 2003. Costs will be met from existing departmental budgets, and from charges.
It is rather alarming that the Chancellor and the Home Secretary have not had discussions about such an enormous issue. Perhaps the Chancellor’s famous inability to get on with Home Secretaries might be an explanation. The London School of Economics estimates that the cost of the identity cards scheme could run to £20 billion—four times the current projected cost—which will punch an enormous hole in the Home Office budget, creating a serious threat to the United Kingdom in terms of the Home Office’s inability to protect our country from terrorism. Is it not about time that proper contingency arrangements were made, as this massive IT scheme is being administered by the Home Office, and we cannot expect it to run to budget?
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The project will be well planned and taken forward in partnership with private sector suppliers. The threat to the security of our country comes not from that source but from his right hon. and hon. Friends’ refusal to match our spending commitments in that crucial area.
Clearly this is a good day to bury bad news, and that is why the report on the cost of the ID cards scheme has been published today, nearly a month late and in breach of the law. In an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), the Chief Secretary said that despite the fact that the Cabinet backed ID cards, the Treasury had yet to approve the expenditure. Has approval now been given—or, once the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary are out of the way, will the Chancellor follow our advice and scrap the scheme that he once backed?
HM Revenue and Customs
As the hon. Gentleman knows, HMRC is carrying out a series of regional reviews of all its office accommodation. It has more than it needs at present, and far more than it will need in the future. Every review will involve detailed consideration and an impact assessment of any proposed closure, and that will take account of the impact on staff, local areas and the local community.
I am grateful to the Financial Secretary for that response, but I am sure that the whole House will be interested in any calculations and assessments that Ministers have made of the impact of staff reductions on recoverable tax. Given his remarks, will he emphasise the extent to which the Government will satisfy concerns in constituencies such as mine, which includes west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, that the true socio-economic impacts should be taken into account, and the local community should be fully and properly consulted before final proposals are brought forward?
I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. If there are proposals to close offices in Cornwall as part of the review, which is unlikely to kick off in full until next year, full consultation will take place among staff, with local communities also involved, and there will be a full impact assessment on the local economy and the local area. We will take into account the responses that we get during the consultation. That is an important part of the process, and the hon. Gentleman might like to look at our revised proposals for central London, which were heavily influenced by the responses during the consultation period.
May I tell my hon. Friend that there is already anger and concern in my constituency and the whole of Derby about the prospect of 430 staff being moved down the road to Nottingham—well over an hour’s journey? That does not make financial or economic sense, and it certainly does not make environmental sense. It is already clear that the move should not take place. In relation to that specific case, will he consider not going ahead with the proposed moves?
No decision on the closure of any offices will be made before Ministers have looked carefully at the results of the consultation and the assessments, and we will do that in the case of my hon. Friend’s area. The representations that he and other Members have made will be among the matters that we will consider. At present, however, HMRC has about 40 per cent. more office accommodation than it needs, and taxpayers expect us to use their money in the most efficient way to deliver good services.
What assurance can the Minister give about the continuation of the Welsh language helpline, which for many years has been run from Porthmadog in my constituency? It may now be moved to Cardiff, where all employers report intense difficulties in recruiting Welsh speakers in the first place. Can the Minister reassure us that the line will continue to be run properly, from Porthmadog?
Concerns and questions about the Welsh language helpline will be considered as part of the review of the office and the location of services in the hon. Gentleman’s area, but I can tell him this. We have given a clear commitment that in each and every case, an inquiry centre where taxpayers seek face-to-face advice will remain in its current location or, if necessary, move to another location in the same locality.
During the last decade the introduction of strict fiscal rules has been an important part of the United Kingdom’s macro-economic policy framework, which has delivered higher growth, lower inflation, more jobs and greater stability than existed in the years before Britain had a Labour Government.
I am grateful for that answer. I am also grateful for the consequences of the Government’s policy, which include the hundreds of millions of pounds being invested in my constituency. Two examples are the building schools for the future investment and the investment in Hammersmith hospital, which is bidding to become the first academic health science centre in the country. What, however, is my hon. Friend’s estimate of the prospect of that investment continuing if a third fiscal rule is adopted?
We have two central fiscal rules which have played a big part in the fact that the level of stability, growth and jobs has been higher over the past decade than ever before. The third fiscal rule that some have proposed would inevitably lead to deep public service investment cuts, amounting to more than £20 billion in the current year alone.
If, as he hopes, the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Chancellor becomes First Lord of the Treasury, will the Minister—who, I am sure, will remain a member of his right hon. Friend’s team—urge on him that when helping to determine the Government’s future fiscal policies, he should agree with President-elect Sarkozy’s strong belief in the importance of retaining large national gold reserves, and with his fierce criticisms of the incompetent behaviour of the independent European Central Bank?
The Chief Secretary gave the House a laugh a few minutes ago by talking about well-run Home Office IT projects. Perhaps he should read the startlingly honest remarks of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe)—the prisons Minister—who told me last week in a written answer:
“These figures have been drawn from administrative IT systems, which, as with any large scale recording system, are subject to possible errors with data entry and processing.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2007; Vol. 459, c. 1421W.]
If the Home Office admits that it cannot cope with processing 80,000 prisoners, what hope has the Chief Secretary? Why is he wasting billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on trying to record the details of 60 million British citizens?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will listen to the views of Lord Stevens, who is advising his party on these matters and who, as the Prime Minister pointed out yesterday, has acknowledged the absolute benefits of an identity card scheme. He may well find that he, along with his hon. Friend, must rethink his position.
As I told the hon. Lady and her colleagues a few moments ago, we took that action to address the historical problems of under-investment and short-termism which had held back the British economy, and following that, the assets of pension funds in our country rose.
The Economic Secretary has not replied to the simple question posed earlier: exactly how much? Does he recall the dire warnings given to the Chancellor, which were put into the public domain only after a two-year campaign by The Times? Those warnings highlighted the groups of people who would be adversely affected by the abolition of direct tax relief, and said that the lower-paid would be worse off under the new rules, that pensioners due to retire would lose out immediately, and that businesses would struggle to adjust to the change. Will the Economic Secretary apologise to those groups?
As I said a moment ago, that decision also involved the recycling of revenues back to pension funds and investors through corporation tax and other tax cuts. Some people feared that the stock market would fall in 1997; in fact, it rose. Some people feared that investment might go down; in fact, it went up. Some people claimed that pensionable assets would decrease in value; in fact, they went up. However, if Opposition Members think that that was the wrong decision, why will they not make a commitment to reverse it? The shadow pensions Minister has made that commitment, but the shadow Chancellor cannot tell us whether he agrees with the shadow pensions Minister or not. Until that is cleared up, there will be no clarity on this issue.
On Tuesday, I paid tribute to Speaker Weatherill on behalf of the House. Lady Weatherill has told me how touched she has been by the generous support given to her by Members and staff of the House. Immediately after business questions, I shall call those Members who wish to pay their tribute to Speaker Weatherill.
Business of the House
May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity that you have given the House to pay tribute after business questions to the memory of Lord Weatherill?
The business of the House for the week commencing 14 May will be:
Monday 14 May—Second Reading of the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 15 May—Opposition day [11th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled “Parliamentary Approval for Participation in Armed Conflict” on an Opposition motion.
Wednesday 16 May—Motion relating to the home information pack regulations, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill.
Thursday 17 May—Remaining stages of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill (day one).
Friday 18 May—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 May will be:
Monday 21 May—Second Reading of the Further Education and Training Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 22 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill.
Wednesday 23 May—Opposition day [12th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 24 May—Motion on the Whitsun recess Adjournment.
Friday 25 May—The House will not be sitting.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business.
Last week, as Ministers celebrated the anniversary of their Government and the Prime Minister boasted about his record, the people gave them—in the words of the Secretary of State for Wales—“a bad kicking”. The Labour party lost 500 council seats. The Liberal Democrats lost 250 seats. The Conservatives gained 900.
Last week’s elections also gave us yet another of the Chancellor’s Macavity moments, although beforehand he had said that the people would be “voting on all” the Government. Does the Leader of the House agree, and as he is the Chancellor’s campaign manager, will he make a statement on his behalf?
When everybody’s attention was on last week’s election results, the Government were up to their old tricks and quietly buried 12 bad news stories. They were not about minor and petty issues. We learned that the Chancellor spent £5 million on legal fees to recover tax credit overpayments from vulnerable, hard-up families. The NHS spent nearly £500 million on clinical negligence claims last year, and the Chancellor’s friends at Opinion Leader Research won a £150,000 contract to organise a one-day seminar. Can we have a debate on honesty in government?
I was going to ask the Leader of the House to confirm that no bad news would be deliberately buried today but I understand that it is too late, because the Government have already started by burying the identity cards report. Perhaps he will tell us what other bad news is being announced today.
As I said, the Chancellor spent £5 million trying to recover overpaid tax credits, but according to the Public Accounts Committee £557 million in tax credits has already been written off and a further £1.4 billion is likely to be lost. The Committee says that that was caused by
“the highest rates of error and fraud in central government”,
“the design of the internet system for tax credits was deficient from the outset”.
Can we therefore have a debate on the Chancellor’s mismanagement of the tax credit system?
I have previously asked for a debate on the creation of the Ministry of Justice—a decision that two former Home Secretaries called “batty” and “balkanisation”. When the Leader of the House was Home Secretary, he did not think that it was too much for one person, so may we have that debate? The Lord Chancellor—the new Secretary of State for Justice—wants to reduce the number of custodial sentences to deal with prison overcrowding. Given that the Leader of the House might be Home Secretary again soon, can he make a statement confirming that sentencing policy must be based on the severity of the crime, and nothing else?
As Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman is responsible for the reform of party funding. While he is still in the job, will he confirm that, as proposed by Sir Hayden Phillips, the Government will not legislate on party funding without cross-party agreement?
There is another post that will be vacant when the Chancellor becomes Prime Minister. The Health Secretary has refused to resign—but I am sure that she will be sacked soon enough. One in six hospital trusts treats patients in mixed-sex—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I was going to ask for a debate next week on boom and bust in the national health service, given the figures released today showing that one in six hospital trusts has mixed-sex wards. Moreover, cancer survival rates in this country are the worst in Europe, and there are 10,000 fewer nurses and health visitors than last year. A debate on boom and bust in the health service would give us an opportunity to set out the Government’s failure in all those respects.
All these issues show that, whatever the Chancellor spins about providing a new start, he has been the No.2 in this Government for 10 years. Spin, crises in sentencing policy, boom and bust in the NHS—it is not just the Prime Minister’s record, but the Chancellor’s, too.
[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Speaker—I missed the fact that the right hon. Lady had finished; I do apologise. I was waiting for the finale.
As the right hon. Lady knows, I spent 18 years in opposition and I am looking forward to her spending—[Interruption.] I therefore have avuncular, comradely advice for the Opposition. They should not believe their own propaganda when it comes to local election results. We had a difficult day last Thursday and Friday—that is obvious—and the Conservative party had a slightly better day. In my Blackburn constituency, however, the popular vote was up and we gained a seat. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) can speak for himself about what happened in his constituency. If I were a hard-headed Conservative business manager looking at the next election, I would not regard the recent results as anything like the breakthrough that the Conservatives needed. They certainly did not parallel the situation that we achieved in 1995—or, indeed, in 1990, when, sadly, we went on to lose the following election.
On the right hon. Lady’s question about the expenditure of £500 million on clinical negligence claims, all of us regret the fact that such large sums are paid out in respect of clinical negligence, but I would be interested to know whether she will make proposals to cut that sum in her manifesto at the next election. Sums paid out for clinical negligence have been rising because of an increase in patients’ rights and a greater readiness by courts to award high amounts of damages. If she is saying that in future patients will not have those rights or that the sums paid out—[Interruption.] The right hon. Lady is wittering on about honesty in Government, but I do not understand what point she is trying to make.
On the ID cards report, I was asked about it two weeks ago as it was slightly overdue. As ever, I took the issue up and we announced it today on the Order Paper. The right hon. Lady witters on about this, but one of the many differences between this Government and the Government whom she supported is that we have greatly increased the accountability of Ministers in large ways and small. One of the things that I had introduced was proper notice for written ministerial statements. One used to have to find planted parliamentary questions buried in the Order Paper, which were sometimes not there at all—
No, we have stopped that because it was wrong. Written statements now appear in the Order Paper.
I note the right hon. Lady’s request for a debate on the Ministry of Justice, including sentencing policy, and I will follow that up. In respect of party funding, she should read what the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome and I said about any legislation. I hope that we are able to reach all-party agreement in the talks that are due to start next Tuesday, but before she starts looking at the mote in our eye, she should examine the beam in the Conservatives’ eye. They never sought all-party agreement on party funding. The only legislation that they sought to introduce on party funding was against the Labour party’s funding and also protected their funding. The legislation that I introduced in 2000 was done on an all-party basis. I want all-party agreement, but that depends on all parties to the talks being ready to be fair in respect of their opponent parties. I look forward to that happening in respect of the Conservative party—for the first time in its history, going back to the Osborne judgment in 1909.
As far as business for Friday 18 May is concerned, is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are deeply disappointed that party managers are actively encouraging Members to come in to support the private Member’s Bill that would exempt Parliament from the freedom of information legislation? Having legislated for everyone else and rightly so—we should be proud that as a Labour Government we did that—why should we exempt ourselves? Why are the party managers so determined that we should do so? If the Bill is carried—and it probably will be because of the active canvassing—Parliament will be accused of hypocrisy, and rightly so.
How Parliament is treated remains to be considered and the Bill will be decided on a free vote by Members. It is important that the House has an opportunity to make the decision. As someone who introduced the original freedom of information legislation in 1999, I can tell my hon. Friend that the original intention—which had all-party agreement—was that Parliament should be exempted from it, as is the case in respect of many other Parliaments, because parliamentarians can use other means to extract information.
I leave aside the issue of Members’ expenses and Mr. Speaker has already made clear his intention that the publication scheme will continue regardless of any exemption. That must be right. Indeed, the publication scheme may need to be strengthened. It is right, in this respect as in every other, to review the progress of legislation. It was never an anticipation of this or the other place that a consequence of the freedom of information legislation would be that confidential Members’ correspondence on behalf of constituents would be at risk of publication. That was never, ever the intention. Publication of such matters would drive a coach and horses through the relationship that we have with constituents. It is all very well for some people to say that there are some exemptions, but the truth is that the way that some journalists and the Information Commissioner are acting means that that intention is not being met in practice by the Information Committee.
Last Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Scotland made a statement about the failure of electoral arrangements in Scotland. May we have a similar statement about electoral arrangements in England? It should deal with the isolated but quite serious instances of alleged fraud—to which the only response from all parties must be zero tolerance—and the mismanagement in many areas that resulted in postal and proxy votes not being sent in time, and in polling cards sometimes being sent in multiple numbers or not at all. Such a statement will be needed sooner rather than later, given that we will surely have a general election following the forthcoming change in the Administration.
The Finance Bill is in Committee at the moment. Will the Leader of the House look into why that Bill, uniquely among public Bills, is not open to evidence sessions? Surely it is most important that those who are affected by the Finance Bill should be able to give evidence so as to facilitate an informed debate, but it is the one Bill for which we cannot have evidence sessions.
May we have a debate on legal aid? The Government are precipitating a crisis of their own making in what is one of the key fundamentals of the welfare state. That crisis was precipitated by the report from Lord Carter—who, for heaven’s sake, has now been asked to review our prison arrangements. It is essential that we get an opportunity to have a debate on the matter and, I hope, to forestall a very serious result arising from the changes to legal aid.
I was surprised that the Leader of the House was not able today to give us a date for a statement on the future of post offices. That is a matter that affects the constituencies of all hon. Members, and I had hoped that we might have a clear date for the Government’s response.
Lastly, today we have finally learned the date of departure of the man who has characterised and epitomised the Labour Government for a decade. Therefore, can we have a debate on what exactly is the role of the Deputy Prime Minister, and why he costs so much?
The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked first for a statement on electoral fraud. All parties take very seriously any allegations of electoral fraud or mismanagement, and I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and invite him to consider making either a written or an oral statement. It is important that we learn the lessons in respect of fraud, which is isolated but which needs to be investigated, and any failures in the administration of postal voting.
The hon. Gentleman’s question about the Finance Bill is a rather late entry. We introduced changes to the public Bill procedure to provide evidence sessions for Bills that are programmed. I do not think that there is any objection in principle to having evidence sessions for the Finance Bill, but they would have to be programmed and I am not sure that the House would find that acceptable. Moreover, if the hon. Gentleman looks at the parliamentary proceedings on the Finance Bill, he will see that they are more extensive than those on almost any other Bill. The four days of debate on the Budget deal mainly with the legislative proposals that it contains. They are followed by one day for Second Reading of the Finance Bill and two days for Committee stage on the Floor of the House, after which the Bill goes upstairs. Whatever else one might say about proceedings on the Finance Bill, one cannot argue that it is not examined fully. It is examined very extensively, and although a few years have passed since I sat on Finance Bill Committees, my experience is that hon. Members of all parties are very well briefed and that some forensic examination is carried out.
The hon. Gentleman asked about legal aid, which was the subject of a debate in Westminster Hall in January. I am aware that there are some concerns about the future of legal aid, but the hon. Gentleman will know that its budget has been vastly increased in recent years, with no commensurate increase in court proceedings. The Government must take account of the fact that money is limited—I know that Liberal Democrats do not have to bother about such matters—and make choices accordingly.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about the Deputy Prime Minister, but I was not quite sure what his point was. The role of Deputy Prime Minister goes back to a time way before this Administration.
Given the continuing, unfolding tragedy in Darfur, where latest estimates are that more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2 million people have been displaced, will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the Floor of the House about that tragedy?
The answer is yes. I think the whole House shares my hon. Friend’s profound concern about the deteriorating situation in Darfur. Although the business is still provisional, we plan to hold that debate in the week beginning 4 June—the week we come back after the Whitsun recess.
The Leader of the House will be aware that I represent a large number of constituents who are members of the Albert Fisher pension scheme and have obviously suffered a huge amount of grief over the past five years. Those people have been seeking the advice of the pensions expert, Ros Altmann, so will the right hon. Gentleman clear up some confusion? Did she advise No. 10 and the Government on their pension policy over the past five years?
My deputy tells me that she was never a formal adviser. All of us have constituents who have suffered from the collapse of private pension schemes, but I have personally looked closely at the evidence behind their collapse and there is much independent evidence—I am happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with details—that suggests that the impact of the abolition of advance corporation tax on the later collapse of the schemes was remarkably small. Their collapse was principally to do with other reasons.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1303 on the effect of legal aid reform on black and minority ethnic solicitors?
[That this House notes the speech by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs Vera Baird QC to the Black Solicitors Network in June 2006; further notes that she told her audience that black and minority ethnic solicitors should regard her as an ally in the fight ‘to make the legal profession one that represents Britain in the 21st century’; further notes that black and minority ethnic solicitors are more likely to undertake legal aid work than the profession as a whole and that they are more likely to be small firms; further notes that one of the intended consequences of the Government's legal aid reform is to cut the number of small firms and encourage consolidation and that the Black Solicitors Network now estimates that up to two thirds of black and minority ethnic law firms will have to close as a result of the Government's legal aid reforms; believes that such an outcome would be bad for the cause of encouraging black entrepreneurship and for the cause of encouraging diversity in the legal profession and above all bad for clients; and urges the Government to look at this issue as a matter of urgency.]
The whole House applauds the Government’s wish to get value for money in legal aid spending, but it is becoming increasingly clear that among other flaws the legal aid reform will decimate black and minority ethnic solicitors who are more likely to be in new or small firms, or more likely to be dependent on legal aid work. Will my right hon. Friend make time for a debate on the Floor of the House on the excellent report of the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs on legal aid reform, which particularly emphasises its worrying effects on black and Asian solicitors?
I know that my hon. Friend held a short debate on that yesterday in Westminster Hall. I understand the concern she shares and, going back to my time as Home Secretary and my establishment of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, I know how important it was to getting the inquiry established that there were minority ethnic firms of solicitors who could represent the family during their campaign in the mid-1990s for me—as it happened—to set up the inquiry in 1997. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and I am glad that she, in turn, recognises the pressures on the legal aid budget. I shall certainly consider a longer debate, either in Westminster Hall or on the Floor of the House, and in addition I will ensure that her concerns are made known to my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor.
Is the Leader of the House aware that each year hundreds of people are needlessly killed and scores more injured all because we go through the ridiculous ritual of putting our clocks back every autumn? May we, therefore, have a debate on the benefits of extending British summer time throughout the year? [Hon. Members: “Definitely not.”] If the Leader of the House cannot give us that debate next week, will he at least tell the House today why the Government appear to be wedded to the current obsolete and unsatisfactory practice?
All I say to the right hon. Gentleman is that if he were to observe the views of his colleagues he would say that it is not a Government issue, but one on which there is much to be said on both sides. All of us greatly regret road and other deaths, but to attribute them to the change from summer time to Greenwich mean time is questionable, but I wish the right hon. Gentleman luck in obtaining a debate on the matter.
I think that the Leader of the House is aware of the proposals of Post Office Ltd to close 70 of its Crown post offices in our town and city centres and also of the proposal to replace them with outposts in nearby branches of WH Smith, and in the case of Leicester in the basement of a nearby branch of WH Smith—much smaller premises. As Post Office Ltd is not allowing debate on the principle of those moves, may we have a debate here about that serious change in the provision of vital public services so that the considerable public concern that has been expressed can be reflected in the Chamber?
I shall certainly consider that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will make a statement on the issue in due course. In my case, the Crown post office building in Blackburn is not an object of beauty—unlike that in King’s Lynn—so I have never been given a print of it. The Crown post office was moved to one run by a private contractor. I am afraid that the public meeting I attended attracted only 50 people, so the move came into force without incident. Although it is hard, the fact of the matter is that the Post Office is having to adjust to major external changes in people’s habits; above all, the internet facilities that have greatly reduced post office business. There is a lot of external competition as well.
Following the Scottish Parliament election results and the victory of the Scottish National party, may we have a debate in Government time so that we can learn how they will work constructively with the incoming SNP Administration? Will the Leader of the House clarify the Government’s position, bearing in mind the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s statement that he will not work with the SNP? Perhaps the Leader of the House would like to take this opportunity to be the first Minister graciously to commend and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond). [Interruption.]
The Opposition Whip says, “Don’t be tempted”, but I always congratulate everybody who wins an elected position in any forum because that is the essence of our democracy. That can be taken in the spirit in which it is intended—[Laughter.]—generously.
On the wider issue, it is of course the duty of the British Government to co-operate with all institutions of governance across the country. We have shown that we do so in respect of local government and we shall do so in respect of the devolved Administrations. That is nothing new and it will continue.
May we have a debate on the security procedures at airports, especially those of the British Airports Authority, where personal searches have become robust and intrusive? Many of my constituents have complained to me about the process and I have experienced it myself as I travel back and forth. Could we not introduce a system of handheld scanners, such as that in other countries?
It is an issue about which I have thought a great deal. I understand my hon. Friend’s concern and will certainly give consideration to a debate on the matter. However, on the other side, BAA and all other airport operators are under a paramount duty to ensure security—
It is also a Government requirement, as the right hon. Lady says. Although the process can be inconvenient, it is inconvenient for everybody, and none of us would forgive the Government or the airport operators if, as a result of changes in procedure, a terrorist got through and passengers’ lives were put at risk.
May I ask the Leader of the House a serious question? Mention has already been made of the freedom of information legislation. Is it not wholly unacceptable that private and confidential correspondence between a Member and a Minister does not remain private and confidential? It should not be released into the public domain. Departments are releasing correspondence from Members, on what they say are legitimate requests, so will the Leader of the House give instructions to all Departments that Members’ correspondence with Ministers is private and, if necessary, will he come to the House and make a statement on the matter? I believe that trust and confidentiality between Members and Ministers is at risk unless action is taken immediately.
I am happy to accede to all the requests that the hon. Gentleman makes. I share his concern. The House of Commons Commission has given consideration to the issue. New guidance has been agreed with the House of Commons and what was then the Department for Constitutional Affairs and is now the Ministry of Justice, advising public authorities on how to handle requests that involve the correspondence of Members of Parliament. I personally accept that certainly the spirit, and in some cases the letter, of the guidance has not been properly followed and that public authorities, including—but not exclusively—Departments have sometimes been too ready to accede to third-party requests for the release of such correspondence without giving the Member of Parliament any say whatever. The issue is not about protecting the amour propre of Members of Parliament; it is about protecting the rights of our constituents to correspond with us in confidence.
May we have a debate on so-called size zero models? [Laughter.] I am not joining them. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning the organisers of London fashion week, who have not followed the lead of the organisers of Madrid fashion week by condemning size zero models? Two models have died recently. Sadly, such women are role models for many teenagers and we have seen a substantial increase in anorexia.
I will certainly give consideration to that. My hon. Friend puts his point well. As he says, there is no danger that he will drift down that route, but he raises a serious issue. Anorexia nervosa is a terrible disease. The fashion industry has a profound responsibility not to do anything directly or indirectly to encourage young women, in particular, to become anorexic.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 814 on excessive packaging?
[That this House notes with concern the excessive levels of packaging used by manufacturers and retailers, accounting for 4.6 million tonnes of household waste every year and 17 per cent. of the average household food budget; commends the recent campaign against excessive packaging run by the Independent newspaper; and urges supermarkets to reduce where possible packaging on goods sold, encourage the re-use of plastic bags, recycle packaging waste and encourage suppliers to reduce packaging further up the supply chain.]
May we have a debate on this important issue? The early-day motion has been signed by 147 Members, so there is clearly concern across the House. At a time when there is concern, controversy and debate among the public about how to deal with our refuse collections, should we not have a debate in the House about how to reduce what goes into bins in the first place?
My right hon. Friend will be aware that next Tuesday the Department for International Development, on behalf of the Government, will publish the first ever report to Parliament to arise from the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006. Given that, on Third Reading, when the Act was carried unanimously by the House, there was an overwhelming view that the report should lead to a debate on the Floor of the House, is he in a position to assure us that that important debate will take place? The report covers issues such as the achievement of the 0.7 per cent. gross domestic product target, the millennium development goals, aid effectiveness, and, above all, transparency itself.
My right hon. Friend is right to highlight the great achievement of the Government over the past 10 years—one of the many achievements of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister—in ensuring a huge increase in the resources available to the Department for International Development and ensuring that resources are better targeted. Our record on international development is exemplary and better than the records of any of the other major industrialised countries of the world. As he says, the report is due to be published. We are certainly giving active consideration to whether there can be a debate on the Floor of the House.
When we get to Question Time for the Ministry of Justice, which has substantial new responsibilities, including prisons, does the Leader of the House agree that the House is entitled to hold to account a Secretary of State who sits in the Cabinet?
There will be questions on Tuesday in respect of the Ministry of Justice. [Interruption.] May I just say in response to the sedentary intervention that the time allocated for parliamentary questions to the new expanded Ministry should be longer? We are looking at that. On the wider issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman, I refer to the statements that were made when the original announcement was made in March about a Ministry of Justice. There is an expectation that in due course the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will sit in this House.
May I support my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby) in asking for a debate on the takeover by WH Smith of the Crown post offices, including the one in my constituency? I believe that that will be bad for customers, that the facilities provided will be inadequate, and that there will be a cut in the wages of the counter staff and a cut in their conditions. A debate would give the Minister responsible for the Royal Mail the opportunity to defend himself against the charge that he is indifferent to the concerns of hon. Members on the issue.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is not remotely indifferent to Members’ concerns. It was he who secured hundreds of millions of pounds by way of additional subsidy to ensure that post offices, including those in rural areas, can continue to operate. But none of us is able to resist the changes, not necessarily in our habits, but in the habits of our constituents, and the advance of technology. Of course I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns and I will ensure that they are relayed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We will also look for an opportunity to debate the matter.
May we have a debate on houses in multiple occupancy or HMOs? Their impact on constituencies such as mine is considerable. The problem seems to be that dwellings that were built with just two or three bedrooms are being converted to have six or seven bedrooms, with a major impact on parking, antisocial behaviour, noise and nuisance. Local authorities seem powerless to do much about it.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important issue. I will certainly look for an opportunity for a debate. It may have to be in Westminster Hall. If he wishes to give me more details, I will make sure that they are put before the relevant Secretary of State. There were some improvements to the powers for local authorities under housing legislation about two years ago. The legislation gives local authorities powers better to control and regulate private landlords, who often lie behind houses in multiple occupation. But I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman raises.
May I ask for a debate on a sensitive matter? There is never a right time to mention it, but it is a serious constitutional point. I am talking about what happens when a Prime Minister suffers a sudden incapacity or dies. Neither of the two main political parties has adequate arrangements to deal with such circumstances. Is there not a case for institutionalising the post of the Deputy Prime Minister? The Conservative party does not have an elected deputy leader. The Labour party does, but that deputy leader might be out of government. Buckingham Palace would be obliged under the conventions to send for that person to fill the post. It is rather sloppy of our generation that, at a time when the country could be in the middle of an international crisis, we could have uncertainty about who should be in charge of Government if the Prime Minister were incapacitated or suddenly died.
Yes, but he was shot and the protection arrangements are different now. That was a very long time ago. Our constitutional arrangements, which have allowed for the transfer of power between one Prime Minister and another mid-term on five occasions since the last world war, are perfectly adequate.
Given the enormous financial commitment that the nation is making to the 2012 Olympics, does the Leader of the House agree that we should have a debate in this House on the legacy of the Olympics? Given that not everybody can compete in the events, we want to give a chance to young people and British companies at least to get involved and participate.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the notice he gave me of his question. We had a statement in March, but there has not been a debate on the Floor of the House since the proceedings on the legislation two years ago. I will certainly give consideration to a debate. I cannot promise exactly when it will take place.
Tributes (Speaker Weatherill)
As I said earlier, I am extremely grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for giving me and many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House the opportunity to express our condolences to Lady Weatherill and to pay tribute to the memory of Jack Weatherill, as so many of us knew him.
The most important and fundamental role of the House is to hold the Executive to account. The Speaker, above all, is here to protect and enhance the duty of all Members to fulfil that important role and to defend the rights and privileges of individual Members representing their constituents. From the moment that Jack Weatherill took the Speaker’s Chair in 1983, he never forgot the duties of the House or the importance of his position in sustaining the democratic process.
Many of the tributes to and obituaries of Jack Weatherill have highlighted his kindness. He was indeed a kind man, as you and I, Mr. Speaker—we came into the House just four years before he assumed the august office of Speaker—have good reason to remember. Other obituaries have highlighted his professionalism and quick wit. Both were absolutely the case. He was always on top of procedure and Standing Orders—and sometimes, when necessary, individual Members. Many of us who were around at the time will remember receiving the sharp end of his tongue.
Of all Jack Weatherill’s qualities, the one that I wish to emphasise is his courage. In the early and mid-1980s, politics in this country was raw and the divisions between the political parties were bitter. Without television, as all of us who were here at the time will recall, this place could be like a bear pit. The external divisions of British politics ran very deep inside the House. Jack Weatherill had to control the House. He also had to resist the ire of Ministers—I am not making a party point because you also know, Mr. Speaker, that that is a function of all good Speakers—to ensure that the fundamental role of holding the Government to account could be fulfilled and so that Members on both sides of the House could give vent to their anger.
Jack Weatherill was a traditionalist. He was the last Speaker to wear the full-bottomed wig and while he sometimes used to complain about it, he continued with the tradition. However, he was also very alive to the need to modernise this place. He embraced the idea of television and was the Speaker in the Chair when television was first introduced. Through that, he became the first Speaker to become not just a national but an international figure. He thus enhanced the reputation of the House throughout the world. Although the notices that we receive for our performances in the House probably mark us down compared with our predecessors, the House is still regarded as one of the most vibrant democratic Chambers in the world. For that, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the pioneering work of Jack Weatherill, who ensured that the introduction of television meant that Members were better behaved and properly reflected the dignity of the House.
There is much else that I could say about Jack Weatherill, such as his contribution to his party in which he had a distinguished career before he took the Speaker’s Chair. In the other place, after he left the Chair, he pursued many great and small causes. I will mention just one such cause, which goes back to what I said about his courage. He had a profound commitment to the sub-continent of India. He had great affection for the place and he was ready to speak up for constituents and those who had made this place their home at a time when doing so was far less popular than it is today.
We send our condolences to Lady Weatherill and her family. We salute a great Speaker and mourn his loss.
I, too, am grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to Lord Weatherill.
As many have already said, Jack Weatherill was not just an esteemed parliamentarian but a true gentleman. He served his country throughout his life. As a soldier during the war, he served in the Dragoon Guards and in the Indian army with the 19th King George V’s Own Lancers. It was during his time in India that he learned to speak Urdu. During the 1942 famine, he became a lifelong vegetarian. Later, as we know, he served the constituents of Croydon, North-East from 1964 until 1992, after which he continued to serve his country in the other place. Between his service in the Army and Parliament, he worked as a tailor in the family business that his father established.
Jack Weatherill was, in many senses, the embodiment of the changes to the world, politics and Parliament that took place in the last century. As the Leader of the House mentioned, he was the last Speaker to wear the traditional wig and the first Speaker to see television cameras in the Chamber. At a time when we all talk a great deal about connecting Parliament with the public, we would do well to remember Jack Weatherill, who was determined that Parliament should be as relevant to the real world as possible. He said that it was his absolute intention to ensure that everything that went on in our nation was exposed in our House. That is not a bad motto for us all to remember today.
I am sure that many hon. Members are familiar with the story that shortly after Jack Weatherill was elected, he overheard an elderly grandee complain, “My God, what is this place coming to? They’ve got my tailor in here.” However, he was very proud of his background. As you said in your tribute on Tuesday, Mr. Speaker, he used to carry a thimble with him to keep him humble, to use his words. That was a mark of the man.
Jack Weatherill was indeed a fine parliamentarian. As Speaker, he was a resolute defender of the rights of Back Benchers, which was not always easy in the face of his own party in government. However, in all that he did, he won respect and high regard from Members on both sides of the House. He was a devoted churchman and a loyal family man. I am sure that the whole House will want to send condolences to his wife, Lyn, and his three children and seven grandchildren. We will all remember Lord Weatherill as a great parliamentarian, a fine Speaker and a gentleman who spent his life serving his country.
I speak not only on my own behalf but, I hope, on behalf of many of Jack’s ex-colleagues who would wish they could be here today to express their sympathies to the family. Like them, I remember him as an outstanding Speaker and, above all, as a delightful man.
Jack and I came into the House together in 1964, although we were each unaware of the other for a long time. Although I discovered this only the other day, we both ascended—if that is the appropriate term—to the Front Bench in 1967. I was a little green Under-Secretary in the Department of Economic Affairs, while he was a junior Whip. It is often the case that people can be together in the House for years and know each other to say hello without their paths crossing politically for long time. That was the case with Jack and me.
Our paths coincided, rather than collided, on an occasion that I will never forget, although I will come to that in a moment. I used to do the mischief job of trying to mobilise what the Leader of the House called the rather rowdy element on the Opposition Benches. Our job was to try to claim prime time. It was a matter not of being rowdy but of trying to use the procedures of the House of Commons to secure the time straight after questions when everyone was still in the Gallery. We used points of order and got people to table private notice questions that were backed up with requests under Standing Order No. 24. We were using the procedures of the House to try to seize the time when we still had a press audience. At the time, he was the Speaker and I was doing a massively less reputable job in the House, but I will never forget the time when our paths coincided.
Those of us who were here at the time will remember that Mrs. Thatcher did not often come to the House to take part in debates, although she took part in Prime Minister’s questions. On one very big occasion—it was a debate on the Wright affair, which was a great scandal that had run for a long time in the press—the Chamber was absolutely packed. It was so packed that when I came in, slightly late, I could not even get on to the Front Bench; I had to sit on the steps between the Front Bench and the Bench behind it. During Mrs. Thatcher’s presentation, various requests for information were made, and she insisted that she could not answer because there was a case under way in Australia and the matter was therefore sub judice. I was puzzled, because that did not quite fit in with my understanding of the rule, but I was not sure about the matter. Even Roy Jenkins, who was speaking from the third row below the gangway, did not challenge her, so I thought that I had better check.
I left through the Door of the Chamber and came down to the Table, where the ever-helpful Clerks confirmed my suspicion. I came back, muscled my way on to the Front Bench and got up and made a point of order, in which I asked Jack, as Speaker, to rule on whether the sub judice rule applied to a case in the Australian courts, or whether it applied only in this country. He confirmed that the rule was that it applied only in this country. The Prime Minister made no secret of the fact that she rather disagreed with him and she set about him, to some extent, so I jumped up on another point of order and said, “Isn’t it normal to apologise when you’ve misled the House?”
Some time later, I met Jack in connection with another issue—in fact, it related to the decision to move the time when points of order could be raised from straight after questions to after statements. In our conversation, I apologised for the grief that I had caused him on that day, and a broad grin broke out on his face. He said, “Don’t worry, I used to do the same job when I was in the Whips Office.” He used to mobilise the Maxwell-Hyslops of the House—not many of us will remember him—and other Conservative Members who were discontented with the then Labour Government. Jack said, “In fact, when I did that job, I had a nickname.” He told me the nickname, but unfortunately the proprieties of the House will not allow me to repeat it, and if I tried to, you would stop me, Mr. Speaker. If anyone wants to know it, the obituary in the online edition of The Independent carries it.
Jack was proud of the role that he played on behalf of the Opposition. In a way—I have said this on previous occasions, and not in a joking way—it would be a good thing if every Member could serve in opposition as soon as they came into the House, because it is in opposition that Members learn what accountability is about and why Ministers need to be brought to book. Today, I remember a fair, kind and humorous man, but also a very firm Speaker. My sympathies and thoughts, and those of so many of his ex-colleagues, are with his family today.
Like the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), and indeed the majority of Members of the House, I am afraid that I did not have the privilege of serving in this House while Lord Weatherill was Speaker, but I had the great privilege of meeting him, in rather odd circumstances, soon after I was elected. We were both at Farleigh Hungerford castle in my constituency on a cold December evening to celebrate the life of Sir Thomas Hungerford, the first recorded Speaker of the House. I suspect that he was a very good Speaker of a very bad Parliament. Indeed, it was dubbed “the bad Parliament” because it introduced cash for favours and the poll tax, so it was very bad indeed.
When I met Lord Weatherill on that bitterly cold night in Farleigh Hungerford castle’s chapel, which had not been heated since the 14th century, and which was therefore not the most congenial of surroundings, what struck me first was his stoicism under the circumstances. He also gave the impression of being a kind, courteous man. He was interested in me as a new Member in a way that he had no need to be. He also struck me as a punctilious parliamentarian. He did not have to be in Somerset on a cold December evening, but he was there because, as a former Speaker of the House, he wanted to pay tribute to the first Speaker of the House, and he was there as a parliamentarian. The tributes that have been paid to Lord Weatherill all mention his fairness and assiduity in the post of Speaker and his preparedness to ensure that the people who make life difficult for Speakers, for Governments and for the Opposition were properly heard. That is the sort of testament that any Speaker would wish to hear. We Liberal Democrats send our condolences to Lady Weatherill, and we mourn the loss of a great parliamentarian.
The office of Speaker of the House is never easy to fulfil, and over the centuries people have interpreted the role in entirely different ways. The tributes to Jack Weatherill have rather hidden one aspect of him that was of enormous importance, and that was his intelligence. He was an enormously warm and witty man and he was fun to know. When he left us for the House of Lords, he took with him his strong commitment to the essential qualities of a Parliament, which include the need always to represent the views of the whole community. Sometimes we underestimate the strains and the pressures that we put on the Speaker.
I was honoured and delighted to know Jack Weatherill and to have the chance to work with him, not least because he interpreted the multicultural and multi-political views of our society in a very civilised way. His civility was very important. He was so cultured and so interested in everything that we did; he was a delight. He took enormous pleasure in his family—in his marvellous wife, who made it possible for him to be such a good Speaker, and in his grandchildren and children. I remember him talking, in his last Christmas in the Commons, of the debate that the family had had about whether they should remain in the palace for that Christmas holiday. His final decision was that it had been such a pleasure and a delight to be Speaker that he wanted the opportunity to have the family with him in the palace for his last Christmas in office.
What Jack Weatherill did in the other place was representative of him. He took on the role of keeping the independent Members of the House of Lords involved in the work of the House and able to express their views. To me that was a demonstration of the man. He was a remarkable man; occasionally he masqueraded as a very ordinary man, although only idiots would have been taken in. His role in both Houses of Parliament, and among the population as a whole, was to do that very British thing of moving us forward while appearing to remain stationary, and only Jack could have done it. He will be very much missed, and I have the greatest admiration for what Jack Weatherill accomplished.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) in what she has said. To me, Jack Weatherill was, above all, a friend. Mr. Speaker, as you said in your tribute earlier this week, he was an excellent Speaker. He got to the Speaker’s Chair not because he was the chosen representative of his party but because he was the person chosen by the House. I think that that indicates just how favourably Members from all parts of the House regarded Jack Weatherill. He was, as many of us know, deputy Chief Whip. He was, as you were, too, Sir, the Chairman of Ways and Means before achieving the highest office available to the House—that of Speaker.
Jack Weatherill was primarily a friend. He invited me to become a member of the Chairmen’s Panel—a job that I have done ever since 1986, and which is a huge privilege as it enables people to serve the House and the institution of Parliament. He was a very personable man. I remember speaking in a debate on textiles. He was in the Chair, and during the debate, he arranged for a note to be passed to me. It just said:
“Nicholas, well spoken. You spoke from the heart and I agreed with you. I am pleased I was in the Chair when you spoke.”
I think that that shows the personable nature of his relationship with Members from all parties in the House of Commons. He shared another common interest with me. He was very senior to me, and served for longer, but we were both members of a cavalry regiment. He greatly enjoyed his time in the Army, particularly, as has already been mentioned, his period in the Indian army. It is not wrong to say that he was indeed in every way an officer and a gentleman.
When Lord Weatherill left the House, he did me a great favour. He was involved with three City livery companies. I invited him to be my guest of honour at a major livery dinner of the Worshipful Company of Weavers of which, between 1997 and 1998, I was upper bailiff. He attended that occasion, and it indicates Jack Weatherill’s loyalty to those organisations with which he was involved. He was a man who was greatly liked. As the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich said, he had a wonderful wife, Lyn. She was a wonderful tennis player, and I remember many games on the tennis courts of Westminster school in Vincent square. Jack himself did not come and play, but Lyn was a wonderful tennis player and a huge supporter of Jack during his time as Speaker.
I hope, Sir, that I am permitted to say that Jack Weatherill was hugely kind to my wife, our elder boy and myself. The reception after the christening of our first grandchild was held in the Palace of Westminster in Mr. Speaker’s State Apartments. Perhaps I should not have said that, as it may open the door to many approaches to you, Mr. Speaker, and I do not seek to do that. It shows the fact—it has not really been said so far in the tributes—that Jack was a real family man. Perhaps above all, to Jack Weatherill, whom we mourn—we send our condolences to Lyn, his wife and to his two sons and daughter—the House of Commons was his family; latterly the same was true of Parliament. He stood up for it. He was a great Speaker, and he will long be remembered.
I was fortunate in sharing some characteristics with Jack Weatherill. I shared with him the honour of having had conferred on me by the President of Pakistan the Hilal-e-Pakistan. Jack Weatherill was extremely proud of the place that he held in Pakistan and in the Indian sub-continent. He was held in the highest esteem in Pakistan, and he will be much mourned there.
Another shared quality, if it can be called that, is the fact that my father was a tailor, just as Jack was. Jack, however, was a master tailor—a cut above my father, who worked in a factory. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) recalled the statement made by a senior Tory when Jack entered the House of Commons:“My God, what is this place coming to? They’ve got my tailor in here.” That, of course, was in the far-off days when the Tory party was led by old Etonian toffs. What was interesting about that, as has been said, was the fact that Jack Weatherill was always very proud indeed of having been a tailor. He always dressed immaculately. Indeed, if he was sitting in the Chair today, Mr. Speaker, he might well ask whether hon. Members have a tailor any more. He was a very generous man. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) pointed out that he would be kind enough to send letters or notes to Members across the House when he appreciated something that they had done. Like the hon. Gentleman, I received one of those notes. He was very good, too, at protecting Members of Parliament when they were in difficulty.
At Prime Minister’s Questions, after Nelson Mandela was released from prison, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) put a question to the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, which began with the words, “If the Prime Minister had been in jail for 27 years”. I was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, and I muttered to a colleague that she should have been. That was picked up by the microphones in the House; it was heard by the whole House and it caused huge uproar. He beckoned to me when the event had taken place and said, “Gerald, I think it would help you with the House if you apologised for what you said.” I said, “Mr. Speaker, I very much appreciate that, but I don’t think it would help me with the Labour party if I were to apologise in that way.” He laughed, because he was a House of Commons man and he fully understood the quirks of the House. Like you, Mr. Speaker, and like his predecessor, Jack Weatherill never held high office, and I think that that is a very high qualification for being the Speaker of the House of Commons.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman). I hope that he will not dismiss me as an old Etonian toff.
I want to add a brief footnote to the generous tributes that have been paid to Jack Weatherill. Before he was Deputy Speaker and then Speaker, he was a Whip. In fact, he was a Whip for longer than he was Speaker. He was the Opposition’s deputy Chief Whip from 1974 to 1979 in a Parliament that ended with an Opposition Whip’s dream—the defeat of the Government by one vote. Whips get a bad press, but Jack never used the rougher tactics that are often attributed to members of the Whips Office. He was unfailingly courteous, good-humoured and totally disarming. If anyone threatened to rebel, he was not angry—he was disappointed. One would be invited to his office, and he would explain that the Government were on their last legs: they were losing by-election after by-election and they would not last the year so it was not the time to rock the boat. That argument lost a bit of credibility when the Parliament entered its fifth year, but it was very effective. He had a rapport with the many senior members of the party who had a good war.
Jack Weatherill was very kind, too, to those who entered Parliament in 1974, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Peter Viggers), Leon Brittan, Douglas Hurd, Nigel Lawson and the rest of that intake. He was kind and paternal to us. He was totally discreet, loyal and a shrewd judge of character, and he was very supportive of colleagues who went through a difficult time. He was a stickler for punctuality. It was not a good idea to be late for the 2.30 Whips meeting, which began with the order from Jack, “Stand by your beds.” One colleague was late, but before Jack could rebuke him, he said he was late because his tailor, a colleague of Jack’s, had been late for the appointment and had held him up.
Jack Weatherill had a difficult relationship with the leader of our party. There was a free vote in the 1974 Parliament—on whether we should have proportional representation for the Scottish Parliament, I think. Those who voted for PR found as they came out of the Lobby Margaret Thatcher taking the names of those who had voted that way. When we won in 1979, Jack Weatherill was the only member of the Front-Bench team who was not appointed to the Government. As we know, he then began an alternative career as Deputy Speaker and Speaker. He was totally fair, standing up for the rights of Back Benchers, and standing up to the gentle intimidation he received from members of his former party.
Jack was a generous entertainer in Speaker’s House. He unearthed an old Victorian song about the MP who could not catch the Speaker’s eye, which we all had to sing, with Toby Jessel on the keyboard. Jack was supported by Lyn. He had one of the happiest of political marriages. He was decent, honest, without pretension, without malice, one of the straightest men I have come across. He was not totally infallible. Just after the 1974 Parliament, he sidled up to a newly elected colleague sitting on the Back Benches and said, “I’ve been reading all about you. You’re exactly the person we need to sit on the Council of Europe.” My colleague was delighted that his talents had been recognised so early in the Parliament. Five minutes later Jack came back. “I’m frightfully sorry,” he said. “Just remind me of your name.”
Jack was a good friend. He was a popular MP for Croydon. He was a great Speaker. Our thoughts are with Lyn and his children and grandchildren as we mourn his passing.
In October 2000, in a debate about the election of a Speaker, I praised—and rightly so—Betty Boothroyd, the outgoing Speaker, and said that in my view, for what it is worth, her two predecessors who had most defended the right of Back Benchers were Selwyn Lloyd and Bernard Weatherill. It was characteristic of Jack—everyone knows that he was known as Jack—that he sent me a note, which I have retained.
It is no secret that Labour Members wanted Jack as Speaker in 1983, just as it is said that the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, did not. We thought he would defend the right of Back Benchers, and we were never disappointed. I am very pleased that he held the Chair with such distinction. I first came across him during my Croydon days, in the 1960s, when I had a Croydon constituency with a marvellous majority of 81. From the beginning I found Jack—a political opponent, obviously—very easy to get along with. Over the past few days I have tried to recall whether I ever had a quarrel with him. All that I could remember was that we had a tiff some time in the late 1960s. Given my record, one disagreement is not bad. I am glad to say that we got on extremely well.
Obituaries do not always get it right, as we know, whether of politicians or of other people. What has struck me about the obituaries of Jack Weatherill is that they have been spot-on. To a large extent, they reflected his personality, which has been spoken about today. He was naturally a kind man. He was modest, as I found on many occasions, and very helpful in situations relating to oneself or family, as the case may be. Those who wrote the obituaries understood him well, I am glad to say.
I always got the impression that Jack recognised that he had had a number of advantages in life from the beginning, but he never forgot for one moment those who had not. I do not know what sort of Conservative one would describe him as—perhaps not in the Thatcherite tradition. I have no doubt in my mind that Jack had a genuine interest in people outside who never had the advantages that he had, and was very sympathetic, as he was to migrants in his constituency and elsewhere, bearing in mind his Army service in India.
Jack always carried a tailor’s thimble. I remember that he said once that it was his mother who suggested that he should always carry it in his waistcoat pocket. If his mother had not suggested it, he probably would have kept it anyway. He knew his family background. His father had been an active trade unionist, sacked because of his union activities, and apparently his father had also been a Fabian socialist. I would have wished that Jack was a Labour Member, but he was not. Nevertheless, he was a person with the qualities that have been described. I kept in touch with him, as other Members did, when he was in the Lords. He was a good man, he was a kind man, and we shall miss him greatly.
I speak on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, who cannot be present today because this afternoon they are burying a young friend who was a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
I came to the House for the first time in 1983. Between 1983 and 1987 I had the privilege of serving under the speakership of Bernard Weatherill. I can honestly say that during that time Jack Weatherill was every bit a gentleman. He was very sympathetic, yet he was very strong. He had the strength and determination as the Speaker to control the House, but he had a sympathy for new Members who were trying to make their way and their mark in the House. That speaks much of him and the character of the gentleman.
Jack Weatherill was a great and distinguished parliamentarian who made his mark by becoming Speaker. I remember that he was not the choice of some of his colleagues, especially the Prime Minister at the time, but he certainly was the choice of the House and he had the confidence of the House. He not only allowed the House to hold the Executive to account, but defended the rights of Back Benchers and of the smaller parties, to which he gave an honoured place in the House.
Like many other hon. Members today, I salute the memory of Jack Weatherill and mourn his passing. To his wife, Lady Weatherill, and her family circle, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I offer my sincere condolences.
On behalf of the whole parliamentary Labour party, I want to join in the tribute to Jack Weatherill and offer our sympathy to his family.
I first entered Parliament in 1983, at the time that Speaker Weatherill first took the Chair. I echo the remarks that have been made. It was obvious that, as Speaker, he had command of the House, particularly when it was a little buoyant, a little excited and a little excitable. He controlled the House well on those occasions, but it is right to say that he was also a man with a great sense of justice. He recognised that the Speaker of the House had a responsibility not only to the great and the mighty, but to the relatively humble, particularly those who were new in the House.
I recall that, new as I was and coming from a local government background, when I made one of my early speeches I addressed the Speaker as “Mr. Mayor”. That was probably at 9.30 at night, when there were few Members present, so only a small ripple went round the Chamber. At the end of my speech the Speaker called me over, looked at me sternly and said, “Mayor? Not at all.” I thought that was terrible. Then, with a smile, he said, “I wouldn’t aspire to those dizzy heights.”
That is a minor footnote among all that has been said, but it conveys the humanity of the man, who understood what it was like to be new and perhaps over-awed by this place, and therefore what it was like for someone in the position of Speaker to bring on and encourage those who needed it. In the end, it is the humanity that has come across today and in the various obituaries that we have all read, which is the mark of a man who was a good, sound parliamentarian, a very good colleague and a good advertisement for what we as a democratic Parliament should be about.
For a while after the election of every Speaker, there is a period when the House wonders what kind of stamp or mark they will put on the House, so for a few weeks after the election of Mr. Speaker Weatherill the House was wondering how he would be as Speaker. During that period, there was a vigorous debate—it was a noisy event—and a very much loved, popular Member on the Labour Benches, Eric Heffer, was in full flow. If Eric Heffer had a fault, it was that he had a bit of a temper. He was being baited mercilessly by one of our younger whippersnappers on the opposite side of the House. Eventually, Heffer completely lost his cool, spun round and shouted, “Shut up, you stupid git!” From the Chair, Mr. Speaker Weatherill said, “Order, order. I think I’m meant to say that.” [Laughter.]
Jack was universally respected and popular. I should like to join those who have expressed their condolences and best wishes to his charming family.
I am very glad to be able to pay this short tribute to Speaker Weatherill.
Speaker Weatherill was my first Speaker. I entered the House in 1987 alongside the late Member for Tottenham, the former Member for Brent, South, and the current Member for Leicester, East. It is a long time ago now, but we were regarded with extraordinary trepidation by the House authorities, not least our own party managers. We were considered the very last word in black and ethnic extremism. The particular concern of the House authorities was that we would turn out to be the equivalent of the 19th-century Fenians and submit the House to endless disruption, all-night sittings, chaos and so on. I clearly remember that Speaker Weatherill went to enormous trouble to make us feel welcome and involved, even to the point of sharing a few late-night glasses of port with the late Member for Tottenham. The point of that was not just his courtesy, but that what he taught us was that every Member of the House was the equal of any other—that we were all primus inter pares. That reflected not just his kindness but his concern for the House as a living, democratic institution in which everybody ought to feel able to make a contribution; and I think that all of us, in our different ways, made some contribution to the House over the years.
I want to recognise and remember Speaker Weatherill’s care for the House, not as a mausoleum but as a constantly evolving reflection of and avenue for the democratic process. Of course, as everyone has said, he was a tremendous supporter of the rights of Back Benchers, and I am glad to be able to pay this tribute.
There have been many fine tributes in this Chamber this afternoon, all of them very well deserved. What comes through is a man of great humanity and great courtesy—a man who was respected in all parts of the Chamber.
I do not think that I can add very much to the fulsome tribute that you, Mr. Speaker, paid Lord Weatherill on Tuesday in the Chamber. However, on behalf of my party, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National party, I wish to associate myself fully with your words of tribute and condolence.
Lord Weatherill was, as we know, an outstanding Speaker, bringing gravitas to the office. He also brought wisdom and discipline to the Chamber, but always tempered by humility and by humour. He was ever mindful of the rights of Back Benchers and ever generous towards them. He was a founder member of the Industry and Parliament Trust and a founder member of the Industry and National Assembly for Wales Association, which is fairly new. He was also a great supporter of devolution, and he was a constant source of advice and assistance to my predecessor in my seat, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, the Presiding Officer of the National Assembly.
Lord Weatherill will be sorely missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him.
Mr. Speaker Weatherill was dragged to the Chair in the same year I was elected. Fulsome tributes have been paid, and I concur with them all. Like all good parliamentarians, he had a full life outside Parliament. That fact was brought home to me last September, when I attended the 80th birthday party of a mutual friend. I was struck by the enormous loyalty that he showed to his old school friends and that they showed to him. I realised, too, that his family were so important to him.
His sartorial elegance was legendary, but he also had a sense of fun, and, being a tailor, he was intensely practical. I remember that in the hot summer of 1983 I went to him in the Chair and said, “Mr. Speaker, it’s really very hot and stuffy in here—could you ask for the ventilation to be improved?” He said, “You should wear short-sleeved shirts, like me.” I have always taken that advice as the temperature rises.
On occasions such as this, one thinks it sad that the person we talk of, Jack Weatherill, cannot be here now to listen to what we have all said; I expect that his spirit may well be. Lady Weatherill will no doubt draw great comfort from the very proper tributes that have been paid to this very human of beings.
I often think, Mr. Speaker, that the job that you and your predecessors have to do is like that of a good headmaster. You have to know your pupils and your staff: you have to know what makes them tick. I have learned one or two things from the tributes that other right hon. and hon. Members have paid so far. I, too, was a recipient of one of Jack Weatherill’s little notes. I had been here for a couple of years and had made a particularly robust speech from the Back Benches, which in the days of Margaret Thatcher’s Government was quite a brave thing to do. I got a little note of encouragement, and felt absolutely wonderful as a result. One gets very little feedback in this place. Our Whips will tell us if we are not doing the job properly from their standpoint, but nobody comes up and says, from an impartial point of view, “You’re doing a good job”, or “You’re doing a bad job.” To get a note from the Speaker, a person whom one immediately respects—one’s new headmaster when one comes into this House—is very special indeed. He did, in a way, maintain a pastoral watch over Members of this House and make certain that we got the odd little bit of feedback and comment that was ever so useful.
I recall, equally, that when he left this place that kind of feedback and interest in what one was doing as an individual did not stop. I would see him in the Lobby or walking somewhere around the place, and he would stop and say, “How are you, Michael? How’s it going? What’s happening in the party?” He remained very interested in what happened in this place and demonstrated, as colleagues have indicated, that he was, without doubt, a parliamentarian to his dying day.
I should like to pay my own very brief personal tribute to the late Speaker Weatherill. I was one of the cohort of 1983, among many colleagues who are in the House today. I well remember sitting almost diagonally opposite at the time when Jack Weatherill, as we all knew him, was dragged to the Chair. He was indeed a gentleman in the true sense of the word and was very much respected. He had a depth to him that at first, perhaps, people did not realise, and he had an independence of character. He was personally extremely kind, and opened up Speaker’s House to Members on both sides of the House and their families. I remember going to Speaker’s House on many occasions and meeting Mrs. Speaker, as she was known—Lady Weatherill. I would like to express my deepest sympathy to her and her family on their great loss.
At one of those informal occasions, I was able to say to Mr. Speaker Weatherill that we had in fact met many years previously. When I was about 11, I won an award at the Royal Windsor horse show for best rider in one of the show pony classes. The prize was a pair of jodhpurs to be made by, I think, Bernard Weatherill Ltd. So I was taken by my father by train to London—a big day out—and went to this very smart tailor’s emporium, where I met Jack Weatherill. I told him that I still had that small pair of jodhpurs with buckskin strappings, which we had in those days, how very proud I was of them, and how they had done stalwart service. He was extremely pleased by that story. The fact that he carried a thimble in his pocket for the rest of life to remind him of what he was showed the character of the man. He will be greatly missed. He was a great man who was much loved, and the tributes that have been paid today bear out those comments.
Several colleagues from my 1983 intake have spoken about how they found Speaker Weatherill when they were new to the House and the proceedings and he was new to the Chair. Hon. Members have rightly said that, as an occupant of the Chair, he had complete control of the Chamber and its proceedings. When I became a Whip, I found him extraordinarily helpful in the kind advice that he gave. As several hon. Members have said, he not only presided over the Commons but gave helpful advice when he was not in the Chair.
Like you, Mr. Speaker, and Mrs. Martin, he and his wife were equally generous in Speaker’s House. When my daughter, Claudia, who is now 18, was baptised here, Mr. Speaker Weatherill generously allowed us to have the post-christening reception in his apartment. My middle son, who is now 21 but was then three-and-a-half, complained on my daughter’s arrival that he would have preferred a rabbit and was disappointed to have a baby sister. Speaker Weatherill heard about that, so after the christening, at the reception in Speaker’s House, he proposed a toast of health to Claudia—squalling baby that she was then—and, from behind his back, produced a stuffed rabbit and presented it to Freddie, who has it to this day. That was the mark of the man.
The number of times that people have commented on not how Mr. Speaker Weatherill conducted himself in your great office, Mr. Speaker, but his human side is enormously pleasing. I am sure that, although Lyn and his children and grandchildren will mourn the loss of Jack as a husband, father and grandfather, they will take enormous comfort from and great pride in the fact that, as the tributes have made clear, he was personable, kind and, above all, a great family man. That was reflected in his conduct in the great office that he held. He will be fondly remembered by those of us who saw him as our first headmaster as well as our first Speaker.
As a member of the 1997 intake, I can offer only the tiniest cameo from my knowledge of Lord Weatherill because I did not meet him until I attended a private dinner in 2003. In the course of the conversation, I happened to mention that my father, who was then only 90, had been a tailor for 71 years and recently had, sadly, had to go into residential care in the evening of his life. Lord Weatherill immediately insisted that I should give him not only my father’s name but that of the residential home and the address. He said, “I’m going to write to him as one tailor to another.” That is precisely what he did. When, from time to time in the years that followed, I bumped into him in the Corridors of the House, he unfailingly inquired after the welfare of Sam Lewis, my father. If you judge the largeness of a person’s character by the thoughtfulness of their small acts of kindness, I will always remember Lord Weatherill for that act of wonderful kindness, if nothing else.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Leader of the House said, a couple of weeks ago in business questions I asked for the whereabouts of the identity card scheme cost report. It has today been published in a written ministerial statement. I have no further questions to raise on that specific issue—we now have the report. However, there is an issue for the House. What recourse do hon. Members have when the Government fail not only to fulfil an expectation of providing material to the House but a statutory duty to provide material in a timely way. Could that matter be examined? What recourse is available to us when the Government fail in their statutory duty to the House?
Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(7)(Programme motions),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 13th December 2006 (Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill (Programme)):
Consideration of Lords Amendments
1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement at this day’s sitting.
2. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Steve McCabe.]
Question agreed to.
Orders of the Day
Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill
Lords amendments considered.
Limitation on challenge of issue of certificate
Lords amendment: No. 1.
I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.
I am very conscious of the fact that, as we are deliberating this afternoon, the funeral of George Dawson, Member of the Legislative Assembly, is taking place. Earlier, the hon. Member for South Antrim (Dr. McCrea) referred to the tragic event that occurred this week. We send our condolences to George Dawson’s family, friends and political colleagues, and especially to his wife and two children. Hon. Members will understand that, because of the funeral, several hon. Members who would usually be present cannot be in the House this afternoon.
In our deliberations in both Houses, we have had many discussions about clause 7 and the circumstances in which the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision in favour of non-jury trial should be challengeable. I am sure that hon. Members will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to go through all the arguments again. Suffice it to say that it has been our clear intention to put the case law in Shuker on to the statute book.
We have listened carefully to the concerns that have been expressed, including those in the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill. Paragraph 1.37 states:
“A prohibition on judicial review except on grounds of dishonesty, bad faith or ‘other exceptional circumstances’ does not make sufficiently clear in our view that judicial review for lack of jurisdiction or error of law will still be available.”
The amendment would reassure the Committee by confirming that a challenge on such grounds will be possible, provided that it meets the threshold of “exceptional circumstances”. It will be for the courts to decide whether that threshold is met in any given case. I want to make it clear that that does not mean that lack of jurisdiction or error of law will of themselves constitute exceptional circumstances in every case. That will be a matter for the courts to decide, based on the arguments put to them.
I hope that the further change to the clause provides additional ground for consensus and confidence.
On behalf of the official Opposition, may I send our condolences to George Dawson’s family and his colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party?
As the Under-Secretary said, we discussed clause 7 at length in Committee and there is no need to drag matters out. I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for taking our comments and those of the Liberal Democrats on board. We devised what we thought at the time to be the final solution, but their lordships have considered the matter and added a few more words to our proposal. I hope that that makes the provision as judicial as it can be in the circumstances. We have no objection to the amendment.
May I take the opportunity to join the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) in recording my condolences to George Dawson’s family? He was a fine and friendly man and I had been looking forward to serving with him in the new Northern Ireland Assembly on the Committee for Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
The Minister has explained the amendment before us, but I hope that he will take the opportunity to explain further how a defendant is meant to mount a challenge, even with the new additional wording, in circumstances where, as he has told us, there will be absolutely no information on the certificate. How is someone judicially to review a certificate in those circumstances? How can that happen when there is no information on the certificate as to what it is that the Director of Public Prosecutions is concerned about or what judgment he has made about whether a person is or was a member of a proscribed organisation or an associate of such a person? If there is no information about what has motivated the DPP’s certificate, how can anyone mount a meaningful challenge?
I echo the concern, which has been discussed at length in the past, about the complete opaqueness of the process of issuing a certificate. That, as we have already argued, is one of the fundamental flaws of this legislation. I hope that the Minister will provide some further clarification today, but I am not optimistic that, even now, the Government realise the weakness that we are pointing out.
I should have expressed at the start the condolences of the Liberal Democrats to George Dawson’s family. He died of cancer at the very young age of 45. My own brother, as the House knows, died at 37 and I know how difficult it was for my family to deal with that. I am sure that we are all unanimous in understanding the grief that the Dawson family now feels.
The advantage of the amendment is, as the Minister said, that it makes it quite clear that while judicial review will be exceptional, it will be fully available in cases involving matters other than dishonesty or bad faith. The reference to “exceptional circumstances” rightly includes cases where there was a “lack of jurisdiction” or other significant “error of law”. For that reason, it evidently extends the breadth of the clause’s operation, which is welcome, but as I said at the outset and as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) has just pointed out, it still does not overcome one of the fundamental deficiencies of the legislation—the opaqueness of the issuing of a certificate in the first place.
I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson), but I fear that other colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), may want to drag us back to Second Reading and Committee consideration of the legislation. Where we are at now is that we have achieved a great deal of consensus, including around clause 7, and are coming towards the conclusion of our deliberations. There is a clear test, which is set out in the legislation, and a decision has to be made. We have never hidden from the fact that the decision may rest in particular circumstances on intelligence or other information that is not in the public domain, or that we do not believe that the issuing of the certificate should be the occasion for putting such information into that domain.
The question has been how best to balance the need to keep a certain level of protection of the information, while allowing people in certain circumstances to be able to challenge the issuing of the certificate. We now think that, with this further Lords amendment, the balance is as right as it possibly can be. I am pleased that we were able to achieve a consensus in the other place and I hope that it is maintained here this afternoon. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle has pursued this issue and I fully understand the reasons why. However, I ask him to understand that what we have sought to do is to provide the necessary balance, including what I accept are narrow grounds for challenge, but grounds for challenge nevertheless.
Is the Minister confirming that the certificate issued by the DPP will contain absolutely no information? Will it simply say, “This is a case for a no-jury trial”? Is that all that it will say and is that what someone is supposed to challenge through judicial review?
That is all. The certificate will be issued by the DPP and it will not include any of the sort of information to which my hon. Friend refers. He knows that from our earlier discussions. All that we are doing today is further to clarify the grounds on which an appeal can be made. There has been some suggestion that what we are seeking to do here is completely to remove grounds for appeal. We are not seeking that at all, but we are limiting those grounds.
I will give way in a few moments, but I fear that, perhaps understandably, colleagues want to take us back to discussions that we have had long since. What we are seeking to do is to express our support as the Government for amendments agreed in the other place after extensive discussion and deliberation both on the Floor of the House and elsewhere, which brings us closer to the balance that we seek to strike between making sure that the grounds are narrow, but none the less there in appropriate cases. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman and then swiftly bring my remarks to a conclusion.
Let me explain that the reason why the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and I are making this point today is that we both feel that it could well become a problem. We are trying to register our concern now so that, in anticipation of the Government having to change the legislation in future, there will at least be some clarification in the record of today’s debate that some hon. Members were already foreseeing a problem. At the end of the day, even with the improvements of the Lords amendment, challenging a certificate will still be down to guesswork and assumption because the certificate provides precious little evidence for how it might be challenged.
The hon. Gentleman speaks for himself and his remarks are on the record.
Initially, clause 7 provided grounds for appeal based on dishonesty and bad faith. Consistent with the Shuker judgment, we have now included other “exceptional circumstances”. In view of the deliberations in the other place, we now confirm that those other exceptional circumstances may include
“lack of jurisdiction or error of law”.
We have now reached the point where the balance is clear and we have clarified all those points in the Bill. I hope that, as I say, that will give us a greater degree of confidence and consensus.
The House has heard the Minister and I do not want to provoke him into answering much of what I am going to say, but I want to make two or three sensible and serious remarks.
First, the likelihood of judicial review happening will, I suspect, be low, particularly if many of the hopes built up over recent months are carried forward, but it remains an important issue. The Government tend to operate to a degree by precedent and, if this goes unchallenged and unremarked, I do not believe that the House will have done its duty. I am glad that some hon. Members have put questions to the Minister and that he has responded to them.
Secondly, it may be possible to think of a parallel, albeit not a direct parallel. I remember being involved in the case of a senior officer of the Metropolitan police who had warrants issued by judges and certificates signed by Ministers saying that a particular person was a very serious threat to national security, providing reasons to grant those warrants. It turned out, however, that the information given to Ministers was completely wrong. Without opening all that up again, I hope that there will be some system whereby afterwards—whether it be immediately afterwards or after the trial or perhaps even some years after that—the information becomes open to review. If and when either judges or Ministers issuing certificates realise that they should not have done so, I hope that they will find some way of saying so.
Finding out what happens at the time is one issue, but trying to pick up the picture later is another. There needs to be some invigilation of the uses of the certificate to exclude review. I happen to believe that there are too many applications for judicial review for too many cases, but there are certainly times when they are important. There are the examples of Clive Stafford Smith’s work on Guantanamo Bay, which has embarrassed other American lawyers, including military defence lawyers; and the work of Gareth Peirce in this country, opening up to judicial supervision cases that would otherwise have gone unchallenged. I am sure that the Minister would accept that we have a responsibility to ensure that powers are used properly and limited wherever possible.