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Commons Chamber

Volume 461: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2007

House of Commons

Wednesday 13 June 2007

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Darfur

The situation in Darfur is appalling. Over 2 million people have been forced from their homes, with 110,000 people displaced between January and March this year. The extraordinary work of humanitarian agencies is helping to keep alive the 4 million people dependent on aid, but worsening security is making that increasingly difficult. The continuing violence aimed at civilians and humanitarian workers must cease.

When does the Secretary of State expect the second full phase deployment of UN personnel to be on the ground, so that the aid agencies can get to the more than 1 million people whom they cannot currently access? When will the international community get its act together when it comes to Darfur?

The answer is: as quickly as possible. The light support package is largely but not yet completely deployed. The Government of Sudan gave their agreement some time ago to the heavy support package, which, speaking from memory, I think would bring in about 2,000 UN support personnel and other equipment. Most significantly, yesterday, President Bashir of Sudan indicated Sudan’s willingness to accept the hybrid package, following the proposals that had been put to him by the United Nations and the African Union. I welcome that commitment, but as ever, we will judge the Government of Sudan by what they do, and it is very important now that everybody makes every effort to enable that force to deploy, because that will eventually get in about 20,000 troops to provide better security for the people who have suffered far too much.

The Secretary of State is right to say that the situation is appalling, and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) is clearly right to say that the international community must get its act together. Surely the only way to bring pressure on the disgraceful regime in Khartoum is to impose tough international sanctions? What chance does the Secretary of State think there is that that can happen through the United Nations, with a possible Russian or Chinese veto? If that is impossible, should Europe and America go it alone?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is precisely because parts of the international community have been threatening sanctions that we got both the result in relation to the heavy support package and yesterday’s decision by the Government of Sudan on the hybrid. Our position as a Government, as he will be aware, has been extremely clear that the Government of Sudan must honour the commitments that they have entered into, and we need to keep under review what further steps need to be taken, because commitments are not good enough; they must be matched by actions to support the deployment. We should say to the Government of Sudan, “We will continue to watch the steps that you take, and if at any point you fail to honour the agreement that you have given, we will go back to the UN Security Council.” As the right hon. Gentleman will also be aware, however, not all members of the Security Council are in the same position as the United Kingdom Government, the United States of America and one or two other countries on the question of further sanctions.

My right hon. Friend will know that, with colleagues, I was in Rwanda last week and, sadly, could not take part in the debate. One of the alarming bits of information that we picked up was that the Rwandans had not been paid recently. They are a major contributor to the AU force and Rwanda is one of the African nations that is willing to put more troops on the ground if and when we get the hybrid force in place. But can he just chase up the money? Otherwise that will blow up in our face?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he does through the all-party group. Secondly, he highlights a really important issue. The truth is that the African Union mission in Sudan has been living hand to mouth. We have provided a lot of support and committed £73 million. The European Union announced a further €40 million in May. Part of the problem is the difficulty that AMIS is having in satisfying Europe’s requirements in demonstrating how that money has been spent. The real solution is to end the hand-to-mouth existence and fund the African Union effort and the UN part of the hybrid force through UN-assessed contributions. That is exactly what we are trying to do. That is why yesterday’s announcement is so important, and everyone must get on and make it happen as quickly as possible.

Given that the Government of Sudan have, among other things, a record of truly shameless mendacity, what credibility does the right hon. Gentleman attach to the latest intimations from the Government of Sudan that they would be prepared to accept a hybrid force? In the circumstances of not being able for sure to believe them, will he undertake to look very seriously at, and give his verdict on, the proposal for an oil trust fund? It is a regime driven by oil. It needs to be squeezed into behaving better than it has so far behaved.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that pressure is very important in getting the Government of Sudan to do the right thing. As I said in answer to the earlier question, in the end we must judge yesterday’s announcement by the actions of the Government of Sudan and nothing else. There are proposals for an oil trust fund, but the question is how that would be established without the agreement of the Government of Sudan.

There is a second issue in relation to disinvestment, which is another matter that we discussed in the debate last week, and the genuine difficulty is that, given that the proceeds of Sudan’s oil wealth are shared with the Government of South Sudan—for them, that is an important part of the comprehensive peace agreement—one would need to be careful about taking steps that reduced the money available to that part of Sudan’s new Government, because the need for resources, health and education is huge in that part of the country.

The Secretary of State has just said that pressure was important. Bashir’s agreement for the deployment of the force does not come into effect until 2008, so has the Secretary of State considered using the international spotlight on China, owing to the Olympics, as leverage to encourage China to use its influence with Khartoum to end the genocide and stop Darfuris being killed between now and when Bashir may or may not allow troops to be deployed in 2008?

We certainly have encouraged China and all members of the Security Council and other nations to play their part in encouraging the Government of Sudan to do the right thing. I welcome the fact that the Chinese have now appointed a special envoy, Liu Guijin. That, plus the effort made by China in November when we had the meeting in Addis Ababa, chaired by Kofi Annan, which came up with the proposals for the hybrid force that have now been agreed by the Government of Sudan, demonstrates that China has taken a greater interest in trying to play a part. But the truth is that every single country has a responsibility to do more and to use all the influence that it has, including, if required, the threat of sanctions, to ensure that fine words are turned into action, because action is what is needed.

We agree with the Secretary of State and welcome Sudan’s acceptance yesterday of the revised plan for a joint African Union/UN force. However, Sudan’s compliance has conditions, including requiring all hybrid force troops to be African, which will make the construction of the force difficult, if not impossible. What is the UK Government’s ongoing strategy—alongside the international community, including China—to guarantee that Khartoum does not renege on assurances again and continues the search for a comprehensive and inclusive ceasefire? What additional support and assistance is being put in place in the interim to ensure the safety of the Darfurian people until the proposed deployment of the hybrid force in 2008?

I set out in my earlier replies the steps that we are taking to ensure that the Government of Sudan honour those commitments. In the meantime, the best that we can do is to provide support to the African Union mission, which we are doing via the substantial amount of money we have put in, and by getting agreement through the UN to the use of assessed contributions. The Government of Sudan have said that they want an all-African force and I hope very much that Africa will be able to come up with the number of troops. We discussed that in Addis Ababa in November and said that we should look to Africa first, but if the troops cannot all come from Africa, we should look elsewhere. I hope that it will be possible to find those troops.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that a comprehensive peace agreement is the only real solution to the crisis. I hope that he and the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Mitchell) will recognise the statement that was agreed at the G8 in Heiligendamm, which was raised in the debate last week. The statement shows that we have continued to press to make sure that the G8 gives a very strong lead. We have to get the talks going. That is a responsibility both on the Government of Sudan and on the rebels, because they too are partly responsible for the current banditry and attacks on humanitarian workers. They too have to stop doing that, get round the table and negotiate a peace deal.

Doha Trade Talks

2. What his assessment is of the current status of the Doha trade talks as they relate to international development issues. (142237)

We have been encouraged by the new momentum in the Doha talks: for example, by the many recent discussions between key countries and the continuing support at the G8 last week for a deal that delivers a good outcome for developing countries. In Potsdam next week at the G4 ministerial meeting we hope that there will be a breakthrough that can be taken forward by all World Trade Organisation members.

European agriculture subsidies remain a major obstacle to the successful conclusion of the Doha trade round. Do the Minister and the Government believe that the new French President has the political will to tackle that issue?

We will enter a series of discussions with the leader of France as part of the EU’s review of the budget, and the common agricultural policy will be part of that discussion. Preparatory work is under way prior to ministerial discussions next year. I do not believe that the common agricultural policy is holding us back from getting a deal. There is sufficient flexibility available to our Trade Commissioner. We need to see more movement by our American friends, but I hope that we will see that in the next week and that we will be able to get the broad agreement that we need.

While the Doha round is taking an extremely long time to reach some form of conclusion, what is my hon. Friend doing to support the role of co-operatives in developing many trades and industries, especially for crops such as coffee? Through investment from his Department he can ensure that people on the ground are getting a fair deal for their products, which they often produce at a loss when they are not part of a co-operative. Can he assure me that his Department takes the role of co-operatives seriously and is ensuring that money is reaching them to aid their development?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we must concentrate on trying to secure an agreement through the Doha round of talks. At the same time, we must look at the barriers to trade that many organisations face, including the particularly important form of business organisation that he describes—co-operatives. We work closely with a number of international organisations, not least the International Labour Organisation, to which we have recently committed some £5 million so that it can expand its support for work with co-operatives in Africa.

In his statement to the House on Monday, the Prime Minister said that there were only a few remaining percentage points either way, and that the Government would do all they could to bridge the gap. What are the outstanding issues, and what do the Government hope to do to bridge the gap?

As the hon. Gentleman will remember from his time as Chair of the Select Committee, the key issue on which we need progress is access to agricultural markets. As he said, and as the Prime Minister said on Monday, we are much closer to a deal than we have ever been. Through the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for International Development, we have been talking to a range of partners with influence in those negotiations. A series of further conversations is taking place, and next week there is the Ministers’ meeting to try and make progress. We continue to be optimistic that a deal is possible. We hope that the enthusiasm that we saw at the G8 last week for a deal to be concluded will lead to the broad agreement that is necessary next week.

Given that those negotiations are so clearly in the last chance saloon, will the Minister set out precisely what the Government are doing to add urgency and energy to reaching a solution—hopefully, as he said, at Potsdam next week? Will he ensure that the important compromise proposal being tabled by Ambassador Crawford Falconer, the chairman of the agricultural negotiating committee, is given the attention that it clearly deserves?

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the issue a particular priority in his bilateral conversations with President Bush, President Merkel and a range of other EU colleagues, and in discussions with President Lula of Brazil and Prime Minister Singh of India, so we have been at the forefront of seeking to generate new momentum in the talks. We believe that there is a broad appetite among the G4 for progress next week. Of course we will seek to make sure that all options are available to the negotiators who meet next week. We believe that our negotiator, Mr. Mandelson, has the flexibility that he needs within the EU package, but we need some additional “give” from our friends across the Atlantic and from India and Brazil too, in specific areas. If there is a little movement, we remain confident that a deal can be achieved.

Pakistan

3. What programmes his Department has to assist participation of women in civic society in Pakistan. (142238)

We assist the participation of women in civic society in Pakistan in a number of ways. For example, we provide support to the 24,500 relatively newly elected women councillors so that they can do their job more effectively to represent the poor and socially excluded. We are also supporting the establishment of over 50,000 citizens community boards to drive development at the very local level, which require at least a third of board members to be women.

The Asian Human Rights Commission reports that between 2000 and 2006, almost 9,500 women were killed in Pakistan as a result of rape, gang rape, honour killings and burning to death. How can DFID support women in their fight for equality and status in Pakistan when they take on the risk faced by women such as the Punjabi Minister Zille Huma Usman, and the fatwa against tourism Minister Nilofer Bakhtiar? How can DFID protect women in Pakistan who take on civic roles?

I join my hon. Friend in condemning the murder of the Minister in Pakistan and the continuing intimidation that is happening on too many occasions against women in Pakistan, especially those who enter civic life. Our key role must be to continue to support the Government of Pakistan in dealing with that intimidation. In that light, we have welcomed the Women’s Protection Bill that President Musharraf took through Pakistan’s National Assembly in November 2006, which dramatically reformed the rape laws and laws on adultery in Pakistan. We welcome, too, the further legislation that he has put before the National Assembly seeking, for example, to outlaw forced marriage and to safeguard women’s rights to property and inheritance. Of course, the crucial thing will be how those laws are implemented in practice. We can continue to support, through our financial assistance, a variety of programmes to help to improve a range of Pakistani authorities, so as to ensure that that legislation makes the difference that we all want to see.

Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways of encouraging women’s participation in civic society in Pakistan and throughout the developing world is through the Grameen bank, which lends small amounts of money to women who otherwise would not be creditworthy and increases that loan as they go along? What has DFID done to encourage micro-finance throughout the developing world?

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point about the power of micro-finance to empower women, in particular. The Grameen bank in Bangladesh has been an important pioneer in this area. We are working with the Kashf Foundation in Pakistan, which is seeking to help some 300,000 people with micro-finance loans, the vast majority of them women.

May I ask my hon. Friend for an update on the help given by his Department to the women who were rendered homeless and/or widowed by the Pakistan earthquake last year?

My hon. Friend will remember that we provided some £58 million in emergency relief assistance to help all those who had been made homeless or had lost loved ones as a result of the earthquake. We continue to support the recovery and reconstruction process with some £70 million of aid. We are working closely with the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority in Pakistan, and through the UN, to build up the effectiveness of Government institutions in the earthquake-affected areas, especially in supporting the most vulnerable who have suffered as a result of the earthquake, among whom women particularly feature.

G8

4. What assessment he has made of the outcomes in terms of international development of the recent G8 meeting. (142239)

On climate change, the G8 summit made significant progress towards a new global agreement, which is very important for developing countries. The summit also reaffirmed the Gleneagles commitments on development assistance, and set out how the fight against AIDS will be taken forward with additional funding and help for vulnerable mothers and children. There has also been considerable progress on debt cancellation.

I applaud efforts made at the G8 last week to get its less generous members to pay more, but surely the Secretary of State agrees that quality matters as well as quantity? Does he agree with the proposal by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State to create an international independent aid watchdog to assess international aid efforts, and will he start at home by creating one for us in the UK?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was interested in the Opposition spokesman’s recent proposals, which came after the statement that I made to the House announcing, first, that we are going to set up an independent committee to oversee our aid evaluation, and secondly, that we are pursuing with colleagues in the international community a means of doing exactly what the hon. Gentleman proposes. In the end, it would be sensible, where we are pooling our efforts in a country—which is the right thing to do to help to overcome poverty—if, rather than individual donors trying to assess the effectiveness of the aid which we collectively give, donors came together to find a way of making that assessment jointly.

Given the centrality of reproductive health and family planning issues to DFID’s new health strategy, published this week, what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of new funding commitments to reproductive health commodities at the G8?

Let me say to my hon. Friend, who does a great deal of work on those issues, that the increased commitments to the fight against HIV and AIDS are significant, because AIDS is an epidemic that now affects women and young girls in sub-Saharan Africa more than anyone else—approximately three quarters of young people who live with HIV and AIDS are women and girls. Making reproductive health services available to them, including condoms, other means of protection, and more information so that they have greater control over their lives and their bodies is essential if we are to win that fight.

Does the Secretary of State understand and appreciate the deep concerns of non-governmental organisations, the aid community and campaigners about the announcements in Germany? Does he agree that it does the G8 no credit to indulge in creative accounting when presenting its new aid package for the developed world?

I do not agree because I do not believe that that was a case of creative accounting. The first thing that the G8 summit did was to reconfirm the commitments that were made at Gleneagles. Genuine progress has been made on debt cancellation—that should be acknowledged—and global aid to Africa increased last year. The hon. Gentleman and the NGO community need to recognise that. The most important aspect of the summit was that countries agreed to specify how the increased aid will be spent, especially for the fight against HIV and AIDS. The American Administration announced a significant increase in their spending through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief—PEPFAR—programme. There is a long way to go, but when progress happens, it is right to acknowledge it.

Does my right hon. Friend believe that the G8 decisions will have a genuine impact on development—or, perhaps more accurately, de-development—in the Palestinian territories? Does he share my concern about the violence that currently engulfs Gaza and parts of the west bank, which is born of despair, itself born of the blockade of many months—some would say years? Will he assure me that, as well as putting money into those areas, the policies of the Government and the international community will support rather than undermine the democratic institutions of the Palestinian territories that we helped to create?

I say to my hon. Friend, who works hard in support of an agreement in the middle east, that the Palestinian people are already among the most heavily aided people on earth. Their condition is desperate because of a failure of politics. I share his concern about the current violence, which is engulfing Gaza in particular. It offers no way forward for the Palestinians. Progress will be made only if people commit to a peace process, recognise each other and are prepared to sit down and negotiate the agreement, which, as everybody acknowledges, must be reached to enable the people of Israel and the people of Palestine to live in safety and security alongside each other.

On aid, does the Secretary of State understand the irritation that many feel about the smoke-and-mirrors way in which the G8 presents the figures for aid? People want to know how much each country gives and when it gives it so that they can hold their leaders to account for their promises. Secondly, they want to know that the money genuinely reaches the people at the end of the track, who do not have basic health care, a school to attend, clean water or sanitation. How will he bring transparency and accountability to the promises?

The best way in which we can do that is, first, through the United Kingdom keeping its promises—that is exactly what we are doing—because leading by example is the greatest contribution that we can make. Secondly, we can examine the figures that the OECD Development Assistance Committee publishes. That tells us all about the progress that individual countries are making in keeping their commitments. Thirdly, we should support those who continue to campaign to ensure that Governments throughout the world keep their promises, and then ensure that the right mechanisms are in place so that the money helps the people for whom it was intended.

World Bank

5. What recent proposals he has made for reforming the World Bank; and if he will make a statement. (142240)

The World Bank plays an important part in tackling global poverty. It has many strengths but must reform if it is to respond to a changing world. Its priorities should be: providing more long-term, predictable funding for developing countries; finding better ways in which to assist middle-income countries; helping to tackle climate change; giving developing countries a greater say in its decisions; and continuing to change its use of conditionality.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer and I agree with him. However, does he agree—[Interruption.]

In the light of the nomination by the United States of Robert Zoelleck to be the next president of the World Bank, does the Secretary of State agree that as long as the Americans have the gift of the presidency as their prerogative, the poor of the world will have little confidence that the bank’s overriding objective is to reduce poverty rather than to further the influence of the US or any other developed nation?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be better if we had a different system for agreeing the president of the World Bank and the person in charge of the International Monetary Fund. That is the position of the UK Government, but we can make a change only if there is a consensus to make a change, and there is not. Having met Robert Zoelleck, the nominee, on Monday this week, I must say that my discussion with him gives me a great deal of confidence that he has the interests of the World Bank at heart and understands the nature of the challenge he faces if his appointment is confirmed by the World Bank board next week. We intend to work with whoever is ultimately appointed to ensure that the World Bank continues to play a really important role in overcoming global poverty.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

Before listing my engagements, I must ask the House once again to join me in sending profound condolences to the families and friends of the soldiers who have fallen in the last week. Lance-Corporal Paul Sandford from 1st Battalion the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters and Guardsman Neil Downes from 1st Battalion the Grenadier Guards were killed in Afghanistan, where our troops are performing a magnificent and heroic job in fighting the Taliban. Our condolences also go to the family and friends of Corporal Rodney Wilson from 4th Battalion the Rifles, who was killed last week in Iraq on a search and detention patrol. As the House may know, he showed immense bravery under fire to help his colleagues. We pay tribute to all of them, and to those who are still serving our armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I am sure the whole House will also wish to join me in sending our condolences to the family and friends of PC Jon Henry, who was killed on duty on Monday. His death highlights the dangers that our police officers face every day in their task of protecting the public. We send our profound condolences to his family also.

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

May I associate myself with the Prime Minister’s expressions of condolence?

Last week, figures were released for March on the percentage of NHS hospital patients treated within 18 weeks of GP referral. Milton Keynes general hospital in my constituency was among the top 10 hospital trusts in the country, with 73 per cent. of patients treated within 18 weeks. That is obviously a credit to the hard work of the hospital staff, but also to this Government’s investment in new buildings, extra operating theatres and more doctors and nurses. The Prime Minister will know that Milton Keynes is continuing to deliver high housing growth. Can he assure me that NHS funding will continue to reflect that population growth so that waiting times at Milton Keynes can improve still further?

First, I add my congratulations to the Milton Keynes general hospital on the outstanding work that its staff are doing to ensure that more than 70 per cent. of patients are seen within 18 weeks. As we can see from the waiting times and waiting list figures today, the 18 weeks is not based just on the old in-patient list, as it includes the out-patient, diagnostic treatment as well as in-patient treatment. The 18 weeks figure, relating to all of that, is a magnificent achievement, and we are en route to 18 weeks as the maximum, door to door, from GP to operation, for everyone in the country by the end of next year. That will effectively mean the end of waiting as we know it in the national health service. It is of enormous importance to the country and it is, of course, a great tribute to those working in the NHS.

I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lance-Corporal Paul Sandford, Corporal Rodney Wilson and Guardsman Neil Downes, who died serving their country. I also endorse what the Prime Minister said about the dedication and commitment of PC Jonathan Henry. We all send our heartfelt condolence and sympathy to his young family.

For months, the Government have been briefing the tabloid newspapers that they would introduce Sarah’s law. The headlines reported “stunning victory” and that Sarah’s law would “start in months”. This afternoon, the Home Secretary will announce that Sarah’s law will not be introduced. Is the Prime Minister at all surprised that the press are cynical about his Government?

What we said was that we would investigate the possibility of greater disclosure. We have indeed investigated that, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will make his announcement later today. We are proposing that there will be circumstances in which, for the first time, members of the public will have the right to request details of possible sex offenders. It is true that this does not go as far as what is currently happening in the United States of America, but it is a change in practice. It is sensible to take this a step at a time, and also to see how it works in practice. It is important that, at the same time as doing everything that we can to protect young people against sex offenders, we also ensure that we protect the proper liberties of people in this country.

I have to say to the Prime Minister that he knows exactly what his Government were doing, and he knows exactly how disgraceful it can be. I have to tell him that they are at it again today. The headlines of the tabloids today are screaming out about “chemical castration for paedophiles”, but if we listen to what the Home Secretary said on the radio, it is about giving a few of them Prozac pills. Let us look at something that would really make a difference in terms of stopping sex offenders preying on children. After the dreadful Soham murders, there was the Bichard report, which recommended a system for the police to share information so that we could stop more sex offenders more quickly. The Home Secretary said that that information-sharing system would be ready this year. Will the Prime Minister tell us whether that promise will be kept?

First, let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of what Sara Payne said about what the Home Secretary is going to announce—[Interruption.] I do not think that it is wrong to discuss this with somebody who, for very obvious reasons, has a particular interest in what we are about to do. She said:

“It’s a massive step forward. If you have a child or look after a child you have a place you can go and have some access”—

to details about paedophiles—

“You don’t have full access but you have some access.”

This has also been welcomed by Dame Mary Marsh, the director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. So it is a sensible, worthwhile step forward. As for the measures that were recommended by the Bichard inquiry, it is precisely for that reason that we have systems that share information far better. What we are trying to do all the time, however, is to improve this in the light of experience. We will continue to do that, but we have acted on the recommendations in the Bichard report.

The Prime Minister has completely failed to answer the question. The fact is that the Home Secretary told us that the system would be in place this year, and it is not going to be. Is that not completely typical of the way in which this Government operate? Initiatives that are never going to happen are endlessly spun to the media, but when it comes to serious measures that would really help to protect our children from sex offenders, this Government are completely incompetent at introducing them. Will the Prime Minister confirm today that the full system of information sharing recommended by Bichard will not be introduced for another three years, until at least 2010—yes or no?

We are building up the system of sharing information—[Hon. Members: “Answer!”] It has to be done in a way that is careful to protect the interests of everyone concerned. The right hon. Gentleman says that we have done nothing about sex offences, but let me just remind him that the Sex Offences Act 2003 created and redefined more than 50 sex offences and set tough new maximum sentences. We set up the sex offenders register. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows us, for the first time, to give indeterminate sentences for the most dangerous, violent or sexual offenders. What did the right hon. Gentleman do when that Act came before Parliament? He voted against it. [Hon. Members: “Oh!”] It is true. This is the single most important thing that we can do. For the first time, we can keep those who are a threat to the public behind bars—but when it came to the tough decision, he ducked it.

With reference to what the Leader of the Opposition has just said about press coverage, why did my right hon. Friend pull his punches when speaking about the press yesterday? Is he not aware that, over these years, a huge proportion of the press coverage of politics has consisted of fiction, propaganda and gossip—[Interruption.]

A serious deterioration in standards has occurred since I worked as a political journalist in the House.

Yesterday I made my point in my way. Today my right hon. Friend makes it in his. I do not think that there is anything more to add.

Once again, I join the Prime Minister in his expressions of sympathy and condolence.

On Monday the Prime Minister told us that the Government were co-operating fully with the OECD inquiry into the Saudi Arabian arms contract. Can he tell us today which Minister is answerable to the House for the decision to withhold information from that inquiry in relation to payments made by the Ministry of Defence to Prince Bandar?

First, whether to give the information to the OECD was a decision of the Serious Fraud Office. Let me make it clear that the criticism of the Attorney-General in relation to this matter is completely unfair and wrong. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to blame anyone, he can blame me. I am perfectly happy to take responsibility for it. Let me explain why I gave the advice that I did. First, the allegations are strenuously denied by the Saudi royal family. Secondly—[Interruption.] Well, were we to conduct an investigation into the allegations, which might last two or three years, frankly, I think that it would lead absolutely nowhere. It would, however, lead to the complete wreckage of a relationship that is of fundamental importance to the security of this country, to the state of the middle east and to our relationship with countries in the middle east. That is why I took the decision. I did not regret it then, and I do not regret it now.

If the Prime Minister is taking responsibility, can he tell us what payments have been made since 2002? What did he know about those payments and when did he know it? What legal advice did he take about those payments after the law changed here in 2002? Finally, whatever happened to Robin Cook’s “foreign policy with an ethical dimension”?

First of all, I do not negotiate these contracts. I am delighted, however, that we managed to win that contract, which protects thousands upon thousands of jobs in this country. Secondly, let me repeat again to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I was asked for my advice as to what damage the investigation would do if it continued. I gave that advice, because of the huge importance of working with Saudi Arabia on the middle east peace process, on counter-terrorism and on the situation in the middle east. I stick by that. Frankly, the idea that such an investigation could be conducted without doing damage to our relationship is from cloud cuckoo land—which is, after all, the natural habitat of the Liberal Democrats.

Later today, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North (Jim Sheridan) will introduce a ten-minute Bill that aims to extend the provisions of the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to the construction industry. Is the Prime Minister aware of the terrible impact that gangmasters are having on the construction industry in this country, with intimidation, violence and illegal deduction of earnings? Will he join us in outlawing such activity?

We will certainly consider carefully what is in the private Member’s Bill. My hon. Friend will know that we have already introduced certain protections. It is fair to say that concerns remain about the activities of some gangmasters, and it is important that we keep the matter under review. I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend a commitment on the Bill today, but we will certainly consider carefully both the Bill and the debate that follows.

Q2. For decades there has been talk of a Severn barrage or similar scheme. The Prime Minister has now been in office for another 10 years, during which there has been a lot more talk but precious little action on that scheme. If the Government were serious about renewable energy, would we not be harnessing the tidal power of the River Severn by now? (142222)

Yes, it is absolutely right, but we must ensure that that can be done on a cost-effective basis and in a way that will provide the renewable energy that we want. So far we have not been able to find a satisfactory way of doing it, but we will continue to look at what we can do. In principle, of course we want it to happen, but it must be done in a way that is cost-effective.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best mental health care is provided by multidisciplinary teams of professionals working together in the best interests of the patient? Does he agree that the amendments made to the Mental Health Bill in the House of Lords were not made in that spirit, and that people with serious personality disorders can benefit from treatment in a modernised mental health service? [Interruption.]

Before Opposition Members start shouting, we should understand the seriousness of the issue. About 1,300 suicides and 50 or more homicides are committed each year by people who are in touch with mental health services, and almost 15,000 people are under compulsory powers at any one time under the Mental Health Act 1983. We introduced the Mental Health Bill because we believe that we need to give greater protection to the public as well as to those who are mentally disordered.

Let me read a statement from Jayne Zito that was read to me by the Zito Trust today.

“Nearly 15 years have passed since my husband Jonathan Zito was killed. I firmly believe that these measures in the Bill are both balanced and necessary.”

We as a House have a duty to protect the public. This House of Commons has expressed a very clear view, and I think it should be upheld.

In the last few days, members of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet have called for the trade unions to be given more money, more power, and in some instances both. Does the Prime Minister agree that they are all wrong?

Obviously I do not agree with changing our trade union laws, but if we are talking about leadership campaigns, I might remind the right hon. Gentleman of what he said when he ran for the leadership of his party. He said:

“consistency in politics is vital”,

and then proclaimed his support for grammar schools and selection. I think that rather than worrying about our deputy leadership campaign, he should worry about his own leadership.

I know that the Prime Minister does not want to talk about the deputy leadership campaign, because the contest appears likely to achieve the impossible and make the current Deputy Prime Minister look like a cross between Ernie Bevin and Demosthenes. In the last few days, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has said that the new anti-terror laws could make us the equivalent of Guantanamo Bay, and the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), has said that we should review the Trident decision. Does the Prime Minister think that they are both wrong?

No, I do not agree with either of those statements—but let me return to the subject of leadership for a minute. May I give the House an update on the married couples allowance? Members will remember where we left it: the Tory policy was that married couples without children should receive the allowance, but gay couples would have to have kids. However, the Tory leader has now clarified the position: he says of the married couples allowance that

“it could be something to do with married couples”.

I think the Prime Minister should focus on the big picture, which is that we are on the way up and he is on the way out. I have only a couple more goes left! I am going to miss him.

In the last few weeks, the right hon. Gentleman’s Ministers have told us that they want to increase taxes, that they want to hand power to the trade unions, and that they want to end reform. The whole thing has been one long lurch to the left. They are even arguing about how much money people should be allowed to spend on a handbag. Now that this contest is looking like a cross between “Big Brother” and “The Muppet Show”, can the Prime Minister answer this question? Which one is he going to vote for?

Actually, I am going to focus on the big picture. I say this with the greatest respect for all my colleagues who are standing for deputy leader, but the leadership is the important thing. We will have a leader who is strong; the Opposition have a leader who bears the imprint of the last person who sat on him.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that when large organisations such as Sony find that their copyright has been breached, they are quick to use the law. Does he agree that when Sony used images of Manchester cathedral as part of a game that extolled gun violence, it was in bad taste and very insulting, not only to the Church of England, but to people across the land who think that it is inappropriate for big corporations to behave in that way?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important that any companies engaged in promoting such goods have some sense of responsibility and some sensitivity to the feelings of others. I think that it is an immensely difficult area—the relationship between what happens in those games and the impact on young people. I have no doubt that this debate will go on for a significant period, but I agree with him: I think that it is important that people understand that there is wider social responsibility, as well as simply responsibility for profit.

Q3. Does the Prime Minister believe that it is right that, on the one hand, he and his Government should be critical of the Sudanese regime’s butchery in Darfur, yet on the other hand, at British military establishments, Sudanese military personnel received training as recently as April this year? (142223)

I would have to look into that fairly carefully before I agreed with the premise behind the hon. Gentleman’s question, if I may say so. As far as I am aware, any training that we give to the military of whatever country is training that also upholds respect for law and order, human rights and so on. I simply do not know about the particular instance that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but let me tell him that we are continuing to put all the pressure we can on the Sudanese Government to come into compliance with the international community’s recommendations, and over the next couple of weeks, if there is not action by the Sudanese Government, we will be tabling a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Q4. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the good work that the trade unions, Church leaders and the Mayor of London are doing to try to secure a London living wage for all new procurement contracts? Yesterday, an indefensible decision was taken to try to block the paying of the London living wage to cleaners in our fire stations by the Tory vice-chair of the body concerned. That just goes to show that, no matter how the Leader of the Opposition parts his hair, they are still the same old Tories. (142224)

That seems a very reasonable comment to me. Let me point out that the minimum wage has now brought benefit to more than a million people in this country, in raising their living standards and their wages. It particularly helps women, and it is excellent that London is focusing on paying the living wage to the cleaners. I very much hope that those concerned will reverse their position, if the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) can assert a bit of control over his party.

Q5. At the end of the G8 summit, when President Sarkozy was asked about the Euro-constitution, he said:“Tony Blair and I have just agreed on what might be the framework for a simplified treaty. That is quite something.” Simultaneously, the Foreign Secretary said that “nothing you could really call negotiations”had taken place. Which is true, and if it is what Sarkozy said, what was the agreement? (142225)

Obviously, we are trying in advance of the summit next week to gain allies and to co-ordinate positions with those who do not want a return to the constitutional treaty either, but do want a return to a conventional amending treaty. It is sensible for us to build allies in Europe. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to shake his head, but I want to take him back 10 years: in 1997, after what people remember as the beef war, we had no allies and no influence in Europe. We could not even bring ourselves to sign up to the social chapter in Europe. Ten years on, we are managing to determine the agenda in Europe, and it is important that we keep on doing it.

Does the Prime Minister share my concerns and those of other County Durham MPs that the current regional spatial strategy for the north-east is potentially very damaging to economic and housing development in the county? If he has a little more time in his diary in a few weeks, will he join us in trying to rectify the shortcomings in that document?

I certainly look forward to that possibility, and I will look very carefully at what my hon. Friend has said.

Q6. The Prime Minister, in a recent newspaper article, deplored the way in which the courts use the European convention on human rights—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] It was not me who objected—it was the Prime Minister, who objected to the way in which the courts use the convention to strike down anti-terrorism measures. We can, however, override that convention if we wish, as Parliament is supreme in this matter. Why, then, did the Prime Minister sign the European Constitution, which contains the much stricter and more extensive EU charter of fundamental rights, from which no exceptions are permitted, and which would explicitly override the House’s powers? Will he, even at this late stage, repent of his folly in signing the European Constitution and reject any revival that would bind the House in a way that even he now objects to? (142226)

First of all, Parliament is always sovereign. It is always up to Parliament to decide what it wishes to do and what it wishes not to do. Parliamentary sovereignty always remains: that is a constitutional principle, and it is a constitutional fact. Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the European convention is not to do with the European Union. It is a separate convention, to which we have been signatories for over half a century. Yes, we are worried about the way in which it is interpreted, which is why we have joined other countries to try to get the ruling in the Chahal case changed so that we can deport people who are a threat to this country. Thirdly, in relation to the European charter, I will agree to nothing that allows Europe to alter our laws without the consent of this House.

The Prime Minister will know that a consultation is under way into the future of Remploy, which suggests that many factories should be closed and that there should be greater emphasis on trying to get disabled people into mainstream work. Will he guarantee, on the Government’s behalf, that no one who is working for Remploy will be compulsorily made redundant? Will he ensure that there is a lifelong guarantee of terms and conditions, including final salary pension schemes?

Obviously, terms and conditions must be negotiated by Remploy and its employees, but we are watching the situation very closely. My hon. Friend will know the difficulty. Many hon. Members, particularly Government Members, have Remploy factories in their constituencies. Remploy does excellent work, and it provides important jobs for people. On the other hand, it is important that it modernise and go through a process of change. That is strongly supported by many bodies that represent those with disability. We will have to try to match those two principles up, but I assure my hon. Friend that we will look very carefully to make sure that terms and conditions of employment are given the utmost protection that we can give them.

Q7. All seven north Yorkshire Members of Parliament of all political persuasions, all the district councils, every major business organisation and the vast majority of parish councils and individuals in north Yorkshire utterly oppose the Government’s proposals for a unitary council in the area. Will the Prime Minister, as part of his legacy to the people of north Yorkshire, agree to scrap those proposals? If not, will he at least allow the people to hold a referendum to decide for themselves what sort of local government they want? (142227)

I think that, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the final decisions have yet to be made about which of the 16 bids will proceed to implementation. When the consultation ends on 22 June, all the proposals will be carefully assessed against the five criteria that we set out to councils last October. That means that proposals will not go forward unless we are convinced that they are affordable, provide strong leadership, improve public services, empower local communities and have a broad cross-section of support, too. Obviously, the fact that seven Members of Parliament have made their views known is very powerful, but the decision will be made at a later point.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Industry and Parliament Trust, of which I believe you are a patron, Mr. Speaker. How useful does my right hon. Friend believe that the trust has been in fostering understanding between business and Parliament?

Let me congratulate the trust on its 30th anniversary. In providing over 300 fellowships and a number of opportunities for Members of Parliament to interact with business, it has done immensely valuable work over the years. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have benefited enormously from that work.

Q8. The Chancellor recently told a group of schoolchildren:“I did maths at school…but I don’t think I was ever very good at it—and some people would say it shows.”Does the Prime Minister agree with that self-assessment? (142228)

He obviously does not do irony in a good way, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman that what is more important than whether the Chancellor passed his school maths exams with flying colours is the fact that he has passed with flying colours his time as Chancellor for 10 years. I should thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to point out once again that, thanks to the Chancellor, we have 2.5 million more jobs, unemployment at its lowest level for more than 30 years, interest rates half what they were in the Tory years, and the strongest ever period of economic growth. I thank the hon. Gentleman again for giving me the opportunity to remind the House of that.

I would like to point out to the Prime Minister that there is a group that represents British nuclear test veterans, including those who worked on Christmas Island. Some startling work from New Zealand shows that genetic abnormalities are associated with the brave men and women who stared into the face of atomic bombs. Does the Prime Minister agree that we ought to help the people from our country who went out there and served for us?

Yes of course I agree with that, and I might be able to correspond with them about what help we can give them.

Child Sex Offender Review

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the child sex offender review. Few crimes are more horrific than sexual offences against children. Ensuring that that most vulnerable group in society are safe should be, and is, at the heart of the Government’s agenda and of my role as Home Secretary.

I am delighted to be able to say that the United Kingdom already has the strongest restrictions on child sex offenders. We have now considered how we can further improve the system to provide maximum protection to our children. In June last year, I commissioned a comprehensive review of the management of child sex offenders. Over the last year, Home Office Ministers and officials have consulted widely with stakeholders in the UK and abroad, including all the major children’s charities. I would like to put on record my thanks to all those who contributed to the review, especially the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who led the review, and Sara Payne for her support and understanding throughout—and for her long years of campaigning when it seemed that no one was listening.

The Home Office today publishes the report of that review, and I am delighted with the welcome it has received, including that from Sara Payne. The report contains a number of actions that will make short, medium and long-term improvements in the way we manage child sex offenders. The review shows that the multi-agency system we operate to manage high- risk offenders—the multi-agency public protection arrangements, or MAPPA—can work well, and that the professionals working on the front line to protect children deserve praise for the excellent work they do. However, the review has also identified some areas where improvements can be made and our regime can be strengthened: we can share more information with the public; the treatment of offenders can be improved, and MAPPA can be enhanced; and the supervision and management of offenders can be strengthened and improved, including through the use of technology. I shall deal with some of those points in turn.

On the sharing of information, when I commissioned this review I started from the position that information should and could no longer remain the exclusive preserve and monopoly of officialdom. Although the police and other agencies can already disclose information about specific offenders to members of the public, local practice varies, sometimes significantly, and some areas do this far more than others. In addition, there is no statutory obligation on them to do so. I wanted then, and still do, to see much greater consistency between areas and a new presumption in law that, where there is a potential risk, relevant members of the public should and will be told about that risk to themselves or their families. That information sharing will now be both proactive and reactive.

On the proactive side, we will therefore update the law to give police and other local agencies a duty to consider—in every case—whether a member of the public needs to know about an offender’s history in order to protect a child or children. There will also be a presumption that the authorities will disclose that information if they consider that the offender presents a risk of serious harm to a member of the public’s children.

However, I want to go further than this and to give the public a more active role and right in this process. At present, information is disclosed only on a limited basis and usually with the consent of the sex offender—himself, in most cases, or herself—for example by agreeing to a criminal records check for employment with children. However, we already know that 90 per cent. of child abuse occurs in different circumstances from employment, by those who are known to the child, such as a family member or close acquaintance. Therefore, we will target paedophiles who deliberately ingratiate themselves into families, and the risk that that carries with it to children.

So in a reactive sense, we have determined that parents and guardians who are concerned about someone with whom they have a relationship, and who has unsupervised access to their children, will be able to register an interest with the police in that person. If that person has convictions for child sex offences, there will be a presumption that those offences will be disclosed to the parent or guardian if it is considered that the child would be at risk, and if disclosure is necessary to manage that risk.

This new system, I believe, is proportionate but significant. Moreover, it will initially be piloted in three police force areas as soon as the legislation can go through—hopefully from April 2008—and will be backed by about £2 million in new resources and overseen by a national stakeholder advisory group. The Association of Chief Police Officers has written to every chief constable to inform them of the plans. I am grateful for the support that has already been given to these plans by Terry Grange, ACPO’s spokesman on these matters. The Ministry of Justice will also be writing to chief probation officers. In addition, we will be committing £150,000 to the piloting of a community awareness campaign, in partnership with the Stop It Now! charity. This will develop messages and deliver information better to equip parents and carers to safeguard children effectively.

I turn to improving the multi-agency public protection arrangements and the treatment of offenders. We intend to introduce national standards for all MAPPA areas to improve the quality and consistency of decision making, and to increase MAPPA’s capacity to manage dangerous offenders. The Home Office and the Ministry of Justice will provide an extra £1.2 million to MAPPA areas to enhance a number of things: to underpin standards and to promote public protection outcomes; to introduce a standardised set of rules of residence for approved premises housing offenders on probation; and to introduce compulsory programmes of purposeful activity to occupy offenders’ time in approved premises, thereby increasing the amount of supervision that they are subject to.

We will also work towards developing a more flexible approach to providing treatment to maximise the number of offenders treated and the effectiveness of that treatment. That will include developing the use of drug treatments alongside existing psychological treatments. For example, anti-androgen drugs and SSRI—selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor—antidepressants have been shown to be effective in reducing sexual drive and reducing offending, sometimes significantly. But that will obviously need to be on a voluntary basis to prevent re-offending effectively, because to succeed it relies on the co-operation of the offender. It is not a substitute for punishment or prison, but an essential element of expanding treatment.

I turn now to the use of technology in management and supervision. We will improve the supervision and management of registered sex offenders by increasing the amount of information they must provide to police, such as their email and internet identities; their passport details; and when they begin new relationships with single parents. That is another element of enhanced supervisory mechanisms. They can be further supplemented by the development of new technologies. However, new technologies such as the internet have opened up new avenues of risk for children, and new opportunities for offenders. Our response must match those new risks, and we must ensure that we take the fullest advantage of technology to protect children. So we will increase the use of the internet to publicise and track down high-risk offenders who have gone missing. We will review the use of satellite tracking to monitor offenders on licence and extend it where it is effective and appropriate. We will pilot compulsory use of polygraph—lie detector—tests and this House has already agreed the necessary amendment to the Offender Management Bill earlier this year.

I want to make it plain that polygraphs, or lie detectors, are routinely used by probation officers in the US. I am recommending them, and we intend to use them here not as part of the route to conviction, but as part of the strengthened supervision mechanisms after conviction. Initial trials in this country on a voluntary basis showed that polygraph testing may be useful in the supervision and treatment of offenders, and in preventing further offending. I am now committing £800,000 for further trials and a scientific evaluation of compulsory lie detector testing to determine whether it is an effective risk-management tool and, if so, to adopt it.

These actions, and many more outlined today—20 in all—will bring considerable improvements to the way we manage child sex offenders. We already have probably the most robust regime in Europe, but the improvements will continue our agenda of refocusing the criminal justice system on the rights of the victims—in this case, innocent children—rather than the rights of the offender. Above all, they will further enhance the protection of that most vulnerable group of people in our society, the future generation and today’s children.

I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. I cannot honestly express any surprise, however, that the Government are in an awkward position today. It was unwise to give the impression that they were about to introduce some version of Megan’s law. Senior police officers, probation officers, the official Opposition and even one of his predecessors as Home Secretary predicted exactly what his junior Minister found on his trip to the US: states that have implemented Megan’s law found that up to 25 per cent. of paedophiles went underground. As they were often the most serious offenders, the rate of paedophile offending did not go down. Sometimes it went up. The question that has to be answered is whether the Home Secretary’s new compromise proposals will avoid those problems. In particular, will he say how they will ensure that information passed to mothers of at-risk children—clearly, that is a tense environment—stays private? If it does not stay private, might the proposals still drive some paedophiles, and perhaps the worst ones, underground? The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has warned that the police are overstretched and do not have the resources to manage the system properly.

I turn now to the much wider issue of enforcement. No policies will work without competent implementation: they may give a false sense of security, but they will give no protection. Today’s headlines are all about “chemical castration”, which is an odd and probably inappropriate phrase. A voluntary system of medication may well be useful in some cases, as the Home Secretary said, but the reality is that it will not deal with the worst offenders who do not wish to reform.

Another problem has to do with the sex offenders register, which is central to all the Government’s public protection measures in this area. Three years ago, the Police Federation warned the Home Office that a loophole in the law allowed sex offenders to give only vague addresses to authorities. The Home Office did nothing, and as a result more than 300 potentially dangerous sex offenders are unnecessarily at large today without the knowledge of the police.

The Home Secretary, I think wisely, has promised satellite tagging, but in March this year it became apparent that a number of supposedly tagged paedophiles were going completely unmonitored. No technology will work if it is not monitored. Also, we need to understand how many offenders the police are able to keep track of. Low-risk offenders are visited by police once a year, and medium-risk offenders up to twice a year. The police visit the absolutely highest-risk offenders only once every three months. Is that really enough?

However, that is not the worst problem. In August 2002, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were murdered by the vicious paedophile Ian Huntley in Soham. In June 2004, the Government’s Bichard inquiry showed that a massive failing in police intelligence-sharing arrangements had allowed the Soham murders to happen. The report recommended that a

“national IT system to support police intelligence…should be introduced as a matter of urgency.”

The Home Office set in motion a plan to introduce such a system, and the first stage of it was the cross-regional information-sharing programme, or CRISP for short. That would have allowed every police force access to critical databases, including the intelligence database and at-risk registers of every other force, and the sex offenders register, among other things. The programme was due to take effect this year, but it was cancelled on 31 May—because of a lack of money, according to reports. Its substitute will not be in operation until 2010 or 2011, at least three years late. Therefore, our police will be handicapped, and our children kept at risk, for an unnecessary further three years—that is, until almost nine years after the tragic events at Soham.

The Home Secretary said this morning, and has repeated just now, that protecting vulnerable children was his highest priority. In which case, they deserve much better than this.

I can cover some of the points that have been raised. On the risk of public disorder, it is not within my power or the power of any hon. Member to create a society without risk. Whatever we do here, there will be a degree of risk—a degree of risk to children and, no doubt, a degree of risk to paedophiles. I have tried to minimise that, but I wish that some of the commentators would show the same sensitivity when it comes to protecting children as they do when it comes to protecting the interests of paedophiles—both are important, but with innocent children, the burden of the obligation on us to go that bit further and err on their side is, to me, one that we should take. So we have reached a system of sharing information that gives more information and, indeed, for the first time, in a significant step, the right to the presumption that information will be given to ordinary members of the public to protect their families where that is relevant. Despite the hysterical accusations that were levelled against me at the beginning, we have done it in a way that safeguards public order and is acceptable to all the children’s charities. That is always what I intended to do. I will come back to the question of Sarah’s law and what we call it later.

On resources, police effectiveness and their lack of resources, first let us note that we should ask the police themselves before we ask the politicians. The police today have welcomed the recommendations and plans that we have outlined. Secondly, we have made it plain that there will be more resources: £1.2 million immediately and £1.5 million for the pilots.

Of course, drugs will not deal with the worst offenders. What will deal with the worst offenders—those recidivist paedophiles who are likely to commit crime again—is indeterminate sentences that keep them in prison for as long as necessary and for life if necessary—proposals which the right hon. Gentleman voted against when we brought them to the House. So let us be quite clear: the drugs element is not meant to deal with recidivists who cannot be released from prison. Our other measures have dealt with that: indeterminate sentences. For those of the lower risk, we are strengthening the supervision by using new technology, and I hope that we will get support for satellite tracking and lie detector tests. In that context, we are saying that the evidence suggests that drugs can be very effective in reducing reoffending—in some cases, by up to 50 per cent.—and we are suggesting that as part of the treatment.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the no-fixed-abode issue. He misrepresents the position. Until three years ago, sex offenders who were of no fixed abode—he mentioned 300, out of the 30,000 who are on the register—did not have to give any address whatsoever. They had an automatic way around giving an address by saying that they were of no fixed abode. What we required of them, even if they were of no fixed abode, was to give the location where they could be found most regularly, even if it was a park bench. So that was not a weakening of requirements; it was a strengthening of requirements, compared with the position under the last Government.

As for the Bichard report, why do we not ask Sir Michael Bichard himself? Sir Michael publicly agreed with the decision recommended by ACPO—the police chiefs themselves—that the interim IMPACT system should not be continued owing to concerns about operational effectiveness. So when we are asking these things, why do we not refer to the people who are named in the reports?

That brings me finally to Sarah’s law. It does not matter to me what the law is called—what matters to me is that it protects children more than it did previously—but if I was asking anyone whether or not this merited a welcome as a massive step and as a link with a campaign for Sarah Payne’s law, I would ask Sara Payne, which is precisely what I did as late as yesterday, at the latest meeting that she has had with myself and Ministers. I am delighted that Sara Payne has welcomed this as, in her words, “a massive step forward,” and it is more of a consolation to me that it is welcomed by Sara Payne than that it is opposed by the Opposition Front-Bench team.

The onus on offenders to provide information such as DNA samples if they have not already done so, passport numbers, e-mail addresses and other information is very welcome, but has the Home Secretary any plans for judges to be encouraged to provide the kind of sentences that make it an offence for offenders even to approach children or try to work with them, as part of the sentencing that they have been given?

We continue our discussions with Ministry of Justice colleagues on all these matters. Let me make it plain: I have tried in this case to take a significant step forward in the sense that we have now established a principle that people other than those in officialdom should have the right to the information that is necessary to protect their children. We will road- test that; we will pilot it; we will treat it cautiously. It is possible to be both radical and cautious. That is what we will do. If the evidence suggests that that needs to be changed or strengthened, I believe that the Government should and would strengthen it. We would, however, do that in a way, as we have done, that carries all the charities, all the professionals and all the stakeholders involved alongside it. It was predicted that we could not do that; we have done it today, and I wish that the Opposition would be rather less churlish on the political points and a little more welcoming of the substantial step forward.

I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of the statement and broadly welcome the proposals—although, of course, they raise a lot of questions about how they will work in practice. He is right to say that nothing is more important in this House than our taking the necessary measures to protect all our children.

I welcome the proposals broadly as much for what is not in them as for what is in them. Why did the Home Secretary, perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, announce in a fanfare of headlines in the News of the World that he would look into importing a version of the US Megan’s law into British law, when he knew at the time that his predecessor, the police and every child protection expert in this country said that it was not a good idea and all the evidence from the United States showed that, far from bolstering child protection, it would undermine it? Why did it take him 12 months to arrive at the same conclusion that most of us had reached before he had even taken up his present position?

Does the Home Secretary not worry, again with the benefit of hindsight, that his various pronouncements have a very deleterious effect on the deepest fears and anxieties of many parents of young children in this country? Why was his office furiously briefing the press last night that it would pilot so-called chemical castration—a phrase that has appeared in headlines all over the country today—when I understand that it is a lurid euphemism for voluntary hormone treatment, which has been available for the past 20 to 30 years?

Why, when the Government rightly pledged in 2004 to build five new treatment centres to deal with the most serious offenders, has not a single one been built? Would that not have been a better use of the Home Secretary’s time and energy over the past 12 months?

Will the Home Secretary publish authoritative evidence of the utility of selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor antidepressants, given that medical experts tell me that there are serious doubts about their efficacy as used in Denmark and other countries?

There is much to welcome in the package; but frankly, over the past 12 months, we have seen the constant drumbeat of populist headline-grabbing announcements, as the background to the Home Secretary’s proposals, unveiled today, when the public rightly expect a sober, considered assessment of the evidence about what is the best way to protect our children. Does he not think that the public deserve better?

I think that the public deserve better than to be treated with patronising contempt for their opinions on this matter. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should distinguish between the sincere views of the public, represented by parents such as Sara Payne, who have gone through hell, and tabloid headlines. If he spent a little more time listening to the public rather than the Westminster elite, perhaps he would be on the side of the public on these issues.

Let us be absolutely plain about why I took 12 months. I said that I would consider this with all the stakeholders and the evidence at home and abroad. The problem with the hon. Gentleman is that he predicted that we would not, should not and could not share this information outside of officialdom. He is on the side of the officials and the professionals; we have now carried the officials and professionals with us. [Interruption.] The parents of this country have the right to the information—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for Taunton (Mr. Browne) will let the Home Secretary answer. That is courtesy in the House.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The parents of this country have the right to the information that is necessary directly to protect their children. I briefed one thing a year ago: I said that it was no longer acceptable that officialdom should have the exclusive monopoly of information concerning the risk to parents and their children, and that I would examine a way to provide such information to them, commensurate with safeguarding public order.

I have done that. That is not a source of disappointment to those who have campaigned for it; it is a source of relief that, after years of asking for it, in the face of opposition from people such as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), we have delivered that. I would have thought that he would celebrate that.

My right hon. Friend will know that the reconviction rate for prisoners who have attended the sex offender treatment programme is as low as 5 per cent. Unfortunately, that is not applicable to those offenders, including high-risk offenders, who have not attended the sex offender treatment programme. I remain deeply concerned about the offenders currently in prison who refuse to enter into sex offender treatment programmes. What does he intend to do to address that problem?

I have already said—and I repeat this—that it is not possible for me to stand at the Dispatch Box and promise a country without risk, in which children will never be under threat and paedophiles will cease reoffending as a result of treatment. There is a range of strength of paedophilic drive, which requires a range of responses. In some cases, the tendency to recidivism is such that, unfortunately, for the protection of society, some people may have to spend their whole life in jail. In other cases, although offenders are released, I want to be assured that they will be subject to the maximum scrutiny and supervision, which is why I am trying to strengthen the measures. Where it is possible to reduce the reoffending rate by psychological or psychiatric treatment, supplemented in some cases by drug treatment, we ought to use everything that is available. That is the only answer I can give to my hon. Friend. Such is the range of strength of the tendency to reoffend in these cases that we need the full gamut of treatment, protection and supervision to be deployed appropriately.

The Home Secretary is right to adopt the view that we should protect children above all others. I discovered the importance of that when I was deeply involved in the preparation of the Protection of Children Act 1978, which involved a major shift from the so-called liberal attitudes of the 1960s. I suspect that he would acknowledge that one of his biggest problems in drafting legislation to achieve that objective is the panoply of human rights legislation, including the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), myself and others have mentioned, there are also the problems inherent in the charter of fundamental rights, which is currently under discussion. Will he therefore simply tell us that we will protect children in this country by legislating on our own terms in Westminster and that we will simply introduce into any such legislation the words “notwithstanding the Human Rights Act or the European Communities Act”?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I am convinced that what I have proposed can be done in compliance with the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act. Of course, if we found that the protection of our children was somehow diminished by any convention, here or internationally, we would have to take the necessary steps to make sure that our children were protected.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, through Operation Awaken, the police in Blackpool have developed some good joint working with the local authority, the Connexions service and other agencies to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation? Will he reassure me that, where there is such good joint working, it will be further enhanced, and, where there is not, it will be developed?

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend makes an important point. Both our overall regime and the multi-agency public protection arrangements are enormously strong at present—certainly when compared with other countries. In general, we have a very robust regime indeed, as a result of the sex offenders register and the Prison Service, the probation service and the police working together on MAPPA. I have tried to accept that we may need to strengthen supervision and treatment, and, where appropriate, to strengthen the information to allow the public to protect their children. At the same time, we need to do that on the basis of the framework of MAPPA. The police, the probation service, the charities and everyone else who is working so effectively—as my hon. Friend has pointed out—have been consulted and, I am glad to say, carried with us on this occasion. As we pilot the measures, we will attempt to do the same again.

When a conviction is disclosed, what arrangements will there be for the counselling of the woman and, most importantly, the children who might have been exposed to the attentions of the paedophile?

That is precisely why we will pilot the measures. Obviously, we are trying to achieve a balance when it comes to safeguarding and protection. Whenever information is released, other risks open up. We have tried to have a safeguard that is commensurate with giving the other information. We can rely on the police to handle matters sensitively in the vast majority of cases. Sometimes this is already done, but there is no statutory presumption that it should be. We want to change that and put resources in. As we pilot the measures, we will find out whether counselling or an additional panoply of services are required.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s proposals and think that the measures are very sensible. Does he agree that many sex offenders display their behaviour at a much earlier stage, in their childhood? What does he plan to do to tackle the issue of young children who sex offend, in order to prevent them from becoming dangerous adults? Will he consider targeted, specially funded programmes to address their behaviour?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is a tragic truth that in many cases a sex offender may himself—and it is mainly men—have been abused. There is a cycle of abuse. We continue to look at whatever projects we can so that we can intervene at the earliest possible stage. What I have suggested today is not in any way a substitute for punishment after conviction or the panoply of treatment and interventions that we try to carry out through the work of forensic psychiatrists, psychologists and so on. The measures supplement those things and we continue to look at the area that my hon. Friend has mentioned to see how we can more effectively deal with that issue.

I welcome the statement as part of a long series of statements that I anticipate we will have on this difficult area. I want to draw the Home Secretary out on a couple of points. First, we have been waiting for the statutory instrument relating to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and encryption for many years. Can he give us a date for that? Secondly, he will be aware that computer-generated imaging is now extremely sophisticated and is being used by paedophiles for what we could call cybersex between children and between adults and children. Will he comment on his and his Department’s thinking on that area?

On the first point, I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman in order to be precise about the dates. His second point was a good one. The police-led online protection service, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection service—CEOP—has been looking at that very issue. We have brought in a range of measures to try to intervene to, at the very least, reduce the opportunities that the internet offers for grooming by paedophiles, to alert parents, and to try to get kite standards applied to the systems of software that alert parents if certain words or expressions are used. As regards the adult-to-adult transfer of graphics that are not actually pictures, he is absolutely right to say that those images are very realistic. We are presently examining how we can outlaw that, or bring it into line with the measures relating to normal photographs.

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that my constituents will welcome this announcement? As someone who worked with paedophiles, I think that the announcement about satellite tracking will be particularly reassuring to my constituents. The sad case of Maddie McCann has affected the whole country. It is interesting that the press have stated that there are organised British paedophile groups in Portugal and Spain. I wonder whether he has given any consideration to restricting the travel of such individuals.

Absolutely. I do not want to appear complacent when pointing to the successes that we have, on occasions, but if my hon. Friend checks the latest report from CEOP—the online protection service that we have established—he will see that we have recently smashed three such rings. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) and I recently visited some of the people who work on CEOP, including Jim Gamble and his staff, as they monitor some of that stuff. I thank them for performing a pretty gruesome task but a necessary one, and for the success that they have had.

I welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State and believe that it will help to reduce some of the risks, but I have one question. In his statement the right hon. Gentleman said that there would be a presumption that the police would disclose offences when a parent comes to them and draws attention to a relationship, but there are two caveats—two ifs. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that there are no circumstances in which, when a parent draws it to the attention of the police that they have entered into a new relationship and the police know that that relationship involves a paedophile, the offence will not be disclosed to the parents?

I cannot account for human error, so to give such a blanket guarantee is not within my power. All human organisations, including the police service, and those involved in the MAPPA arrangements, the Prison Service and the probation service, can make a mistake. However, for the first time there will be a legal duty of presumption that where there is a risk at all, the parent should be informed. At the very least, if a decision is taken that someone who has such a conviction is not to have that information passed on, there would have to be pretty extraordinarily good reasons for it and those would be noted, so that if anything ever went wrong, people would be entitled to ask why there was alleged incompetence or negligence in that case, reflected in the decision not to release the information. That should be done where there is a risk. The procedure would be that the parent would register their interest with the police and register the name of the person. The police would check the records. If it was found that the person had a police record, they would, under the MAPPA arrangements, have to make the decision to release that. The presumption would be that where there was a risk, they would have to do so.

I welcome the proposals. My right hon. Friend referred to new technologies opening up new avenues of risk for children. As he knows, we have developed in the UK the best system for bringing together internet service providers, charities, police and so on to deal with those who download images of child abuse—an evil multi-million pound industry. Will he ensure that the excellent CEOP and Jim Gamble, to whom he refers, get sufficient resources for continuing to oversee their work on online exploitation of children? Will he also look at my ten-minute Bill on the mushrooming use of child tracking devices and the need to license those because they are being bought by parents to give their children safety and security, but without licensing, the devices can just as easily be accessed by paedophiles for entirely the opposite reason?

I concur with the general sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend and with her specific comments about Jim Gamble, CEOP and the work that it does. I note the request that it be funded and resourced to meet the task. Of course there are always many demands, but I am glad to say that only recently we supplied an additional £400,000 for referral tests so that it is better equipped when people bring problems relating to the internet or suggestions that it could deal better with some aspects of interventions. We will continue to review the resources and, as I said, we have recently made more resources available.

I broadly welcome the Home Secretary’s approach, which I believe is incremental, as there will be still further steps to take in the future. I want to be constructive. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, because of a technicality, some child protection agencies and Church authorities are unable to put known child sex offenders who are Church ministers on the Government’s sex offender register, even when those ministers have admitted committing sexual offences against children in the past, for which they would and should go to prison if they committed those offences now? That prevents the authorities from taking appropriate action to protect children. Will he review this serious gap in the law?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome and for the comments that he makes. I hope he will allow me to check that out and satisfy myself. We would all be surprised if a cassock and a collar were claimed as an exemption from the registration to which others are subject.

I welcome the proposals that my right hon. Friend has outlined. Can he say more about the nature of the public involvement and disclosure? I have seen probation officers bravely involve a residents council chair and other key community figures in the management of a sex offender in the community. Might such bold but effective good practice be underpinned by the terms of the disclosure of information in the new legislation?

There are three elements to such information sharing. The first is the proactive obligation, which will be imposed upon the MAPPA officials and authorities to disclose any risk that they discover to the subject of that risk—the guardian or parent of the children in question. Secondly, an obligation is placed upon MAPPA to respond to an inquiry from someone who has a legitimate interest in the protection of children and registers it. Thirdly, we have not mentioned a great deal today the general education and information that the police have carried out in certain areas. We have provided several hundred thousand pounds so that that can be done better. Part of that is related to the nature of neighbourhood policing and the sort of partnership that my hon. Friend has identified. Terry Grange, the spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers, this morning indicated the intention to try and carry that forward within the general framework of what we are doing.

In his statement the Home Secretary said that SSRIs have been shown to be effective in reducing sex drive and reducing offending. If he could place the published research evidence for that in the Library, it would be helpful. Following a request from me this morning, neither his office nor the Royal College of Psychiatrists could lay their hands on anything specific. I understand that it is a difficult area, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman is right to go ahead with the treatment, but if the evidence is not conclusive at present, would he consider doing that as part of a trial so that in a couple of years we can get a definitive answer once and for all and enable it to be used worldwide? He would be contributing to the worldwide research knowledge on that basis.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. We try to learn from the rest of the world—in this case, Scandinavia and one or two other places. In a sense, we both want to proceed cautiously within a framework of treatment and then perhaps pass on our experiences to the rest of the world. At the appropriate stage we will try and issue a compendium of information. Many discussions and consultations have taken place in the United Kingdom and abroad showing the upside and the downside of some of the proposals, and we will publish that. We would do that in a manner that had regard not only to the benefits but to the risks, as we would with any medication.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. The proposals therein are well thought out and proportionate and will help towards protecting vulnerable children. Does he agree that the handling by certain sections of the press of this particularly difficult subject has left a lot to be desired, and has probably had more to do with circulation wars than with child protection?

We have to distinguish between public opinion and some of the tabloid headlines. The truth is that ultimately, in a free country, none of us here is responsible for the press and the way in which they portray things. However, what I will not do in general terms is criticise campaigning newspapers for taking up issues. In a free country, issues that have the overwhelming support of the public should be aired. To be truthful with my hon. Friend, I was amazed at the hysteria that was caused by my simple proposition that some people might be entitled to information to protect their children, so I do not think that the alleged hysteria is all on one side.

May I ask the Home Secretary for some reassurance on two practical aspects of the registering of an interest by a parent about a particular individual prior to the disclosure of any potential conviction information? First, will the Government ensure that that process is not unduly complex and that it is straightforward? Secondly, will it be possible for that to be done confidentially, so that it does not come to the notice of the person about whom information is sought, and so that women—it will, as the Home Secretary has said, normally be women—are not deterred from making those requests for fear of damaging or losing a relationship for apparently no good reason?

The hon. Gentleman makes two good, reasonable and constructive points. The answer to both is yes. The third point, which is implicit in what he said, is that we try wherever possible to ensure that the information is conveyed where it most effectively reduces the risk and does not go wider. It is not possible to guarantee that that will never happen. During the pilots, we will want to try to ensure that what he requests will happen. There is an array of weaponry, metaphorically speaking, available to the police, to deal with any public disorder issues that may arise.

I welcome the Home Secretary's recognition of the importance of the use, and indeed the abuse, of technology in tackling those issues. The Internet Watch Foundation will no doubt have informed him that there is growing concern about the proliferation of commercial child abuse sites, 90 per cent. of which involve children under 12 and 60 per cent. of which involve grade four or five images—the worst possible images. In that context, will he look at tackling e-payment systems that allow paedophiles to bypass the ordinary credit card or banking payment systems, so that they can anonymously get on to those child abuse websites and perpetuate child abuse in this country and around the world?

That is a very good point. As the House may know, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), chairs a taskforce on those matters, and it includes the internet service providers. We have touched on some of the problems and challenges that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) mentioned, and we will continue to do so. As she points out, the increasing sophistication of the internet is not always an opportunity for good and we have to be careful that we are ahead of the use by paedophiles of the opportunity to make contact with and to groom children.

The Soham tragedy was a ghastly, wicked affair and obviously it hit East Anglia particularly hard. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has asked about the cross-referral information-sharing programme, which was postponed. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition asked a similar question earlier and did not get an answer, either. That programme will not require legislation. Why has it been delayed? The legislation will be the weaker without it.

I think that everyone in the House is committed to making sure that the recommendations put forward by Bichard are implemented as effectively, operationally and speedily as possible. Twenty-one out of the 31 recommendations are already deemed to have been substantially delivered, so it is not quite as simple as the hon. Gentleman makes out. Two thirds of the recommendations are already delivered in substance, and that is agreed. One, which I have already mentioned—the interim IMPACT system—is, with the agreement of Sir Michael Bichard, not being continued owing to concerns about operational effectiveness.

I am afraid that it is not always possible for me to stand here and say that every one of the 31 recommendations has been delivered absolutely on time, because some of them depend on new technology, but we have made substantial advances and we will continue to do that. The key early recommendation, which was called the IMPACT nominal index, was implemented on time by the end of 2005, so it is not as if no progress was made in that area. However, we will attempt to ensure that we deliver the rest as soon as possible.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the robust research in the United States which shows that convicted paedophiles will often have previous cautions, warnings and even convictions for abuse of animals? In the context of the Bichard report and sharing police intelligence, will his Department look at those who have been convicted of abuse of animals and see whether there is any intelligence that can be shared?

The Home Secretary has just made an important statement and one would expect the press gallery to be packed. It is empty. Yesterday, the media had knowledge of what the Home Secretary has said today. When he sat down with his media advisers, did he say to them, “This is a really important statement, Members of Parliament should hear it first, there must be no leaks to the press,” or did he say, “Why don’t you brief this or that newspaper”?

Actually, we did brief the press this morning and we had an embargo. I appeared in the media today but I kept it in very general terms. I have been discussing the issue, as have two other Ministers, for a year with innumerable stakeholders, some involved here, some abroad. It is not within my power to carry out prolonged scrutiny and consultation, yet make sure that none of that ever appears in the press. I can do many things, but I cannot square circles, even for the hon. Gentleman.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, as you will know, yesterday we discussed the Serious Crime Bill in the House, a serious piece of Home Office legislation, which involves burdens of proof and admissibility of evidence and which affects the liberties of all people in this country. Is there anything you can do to persuade the Government to inform their Back Benchers of the serious nature of legislation going through the House, because apart from a couple of interventions not one Labour Back Bencher contributed—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in Westminster Hall, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) said in an Adjournment debate:

“nearly 70,000 people in Milton Keynes are still unable to register with an NHS dentist.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 5 June 2007; Vol. 461, c. 62WH.]

The claim was repeated in the local press and it obviously caused enormous concern to many of my constituents, as well as to those of the hon. Gentleman. Because of the seriousness of the figure, which represents nearly a third of the population, I checked with the local Milton Keynes primary care trust. It confirmed with me that the waiting list for NHS dentistry in Milton Keynes has been totally cleared as a result of the new contracts and the extra £500,000 funding, that no one in Milton Keynes is waiting for access for longer than a week and that new practices are actively taking on new patients.

Order. I am going to rule that it is not a point of order, so there will not be a further point of order.

The hon. Gentleman is right: it is on the record, and some of the points of order that he has raised are on the record, too, and they have not been points of order. The hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) is using the system of points of order to put the record straight. In future, if she wants to put the record straight and to rebut the case that an hon. Member has put, she can apply for an Adjournment debate. Then she will have at least a quarter of an hour on the Floor of the House to put the case. That would be the best way. I think that, in fairness, the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes (Mr. Lancaster) should have an opportunity to say something, but I know that it is not going to be a point of order.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. May I take the opportunity to apologise to the House, because now that the figures have been checked, it would appear that the 70,000 figure is not correct. According to the latest figures published, there are in fact 120,853 people, a massive 54 per cent. of residents in Milton Keynes, currently not registered with an NHS dentist. I make no apology for continuing to pursue that matter on behalf of my constituents.

Order. This is not a debate on Milton Keynes.

BILL PRESENTED

Protection of Adults in Care (Prevention of Harm and Exploitation)

Mr. Paul Burstow, supported by Mrs. Joan Humble and Sandra Gidley, presented a Bill to amend the Human Rights Act 1998 to extend the definition of public authority to include any body acting pursuant to a contract with a public body to perform a function of a public nature; to confer new functions on local authorities in relation to persons in need of care or protection provided by such authorities; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 123].

Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 (Amendment)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to extend its provisions to cover construction work; and for connected purposes.

As the House will know, gangmasters are labour providers who operate throughout the UK economy. The House will also be aware that in summer 2004 the private Member’s Bill on gangmasters received Royal Assent. With the indulgence of right hon. and hon. Members, I should like briefly to remind the House of what the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act is all about. It applies to all labour providers operating in the agricultural and shellfish industries and the food processing and packaging sectors. It requires all those gangmasters to be licensed, establishes the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to run a register of gangmasters and enforce a licensing scheme, and creates penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for gangmasters who break the law. The Act had support from every political party and from across society, the endorsement of trade unions and employers, and even the backing of legitimate gangmasters. As legislators, we should be proud of the Act, especially as the passage of that landmark law coincided with the heart-rending loss of life that took place in the Morecambe bay tragedy.

The Act is performing four crucial tasks: first, it is protecting vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse; secondly, it is driving rogue labour providers out of business by driving them into court; thirdly, it is safeguarding the future of the decent, law-abiding agencies which do well by their workers and play by the rules; and fourthly, it is ensuring that the Treasury is not cheated and defrauded of millions of pounds of tax and VAT by criminal gangmaster bosses. However, while I can rightly argue that the Act is good law, I am also forced to admit that it is a limited law, because it applies only to a narrow, albeit important, sector of industry. Two years on from its hitting the statute book, the impact of its limitations is becoming all too apparent, especially if we take a long, hard look at the UK’s construction industry.

Let us make no mistake about it—construction matters to this country. It employs more than 2 million people, contributes more than £70 billion a year to our economy, and is literally helping to build a better Britain—from terminal 5, to constructing the power stations that we need to deliver energy security, to providing the homes that we need to solve the housing shortage, to the construction of the Olympic village. In the context of the Olympics ideal, fragmentation and self-employment across the 9,000-strong work force would be a gangmasters’ gold rush which would compromise safety, drive down pay and conditions, and fail to deliver the promised legacy of creating skills and jobs for local people. The benefits of regulated employment can be seen from other Olympic examples. At least 13 construction workers died during the building of the Athens Olympic site in 2004, which relied on casualised self-employed workers. There was one fatality during the construction for Sydney in 2000, which used a direct employment model. We do not need another Morecambe bay-type tragedy that would tarnish the London Olympic games.

Sadly, UK construction has a darker side, where vulnerable workers are ripped off by unscrupulous labour providers, health and safety law is ignored by dodgy employers, and the lives of innocent, hard-working people are lost through criminal, but too often unpunished, negligence. If we look carefully into the long shadows of construction, we will detect the outline of a familiar figure—the rogue gangmaster. Yes, there are a huge number of decent labour providers who not only provide an excellent service to a construction sector dependent on a quality work force but abide by the law and treat their workers with respect, but there are also a growing number of rogue operators in the unregulated construction sector who operate in precisely the same shameful way they once did in the sectors now regulated by the 2004 Act. By that, I mean that they will break any law, cut any corner, undermine any good employer, evade any tax, exploit any worker, and use any loophole to earn a quick buck and make a quick getaway. The sad paradox for vulnerable workers and decent bosses is that construction is the fastest growing sector of the economy, yet it is also the least regulated. Although I would never argue for any industry to be overburdened with regulations that it does not need and which would not work, I believe that balanced regulation is as good for business as it is for workers. In other words, I am talking about regulation for a purpose, not regulation for its own sake.

Let me give a few examples of why construction is crying out for balanced and meaningful regulation. Construction workers are being forced to operate under bogus self-employed status so that their employers can avoid their tax and national insurance responsibilities. They are being redesignated as security staff so that they can sleep on site at night. They are being brought in from the EU and sent on to sites without the training or the language skills to understand health and safety warnings. Pay is plummeting as rogue employers force wages below the going rates. Fly-by-night gangmasters are driving down costs and putting legitimate labour providers out of business. Worst of all, health and safety laws are being broken to such an extent that deaths in construction rose by a staggering 25 per cent. last year. In fact, things are now so dangerous that construction workers are seven times more likely to die at work than workers in any other industry. With the greatest respect to our emergency services and our armed forces, whenever there is a death in any of those professions there is widespread reporting by the press and media. However, when construction workers lose their lives it goes largely unreported.

The number of rogue gangmasters operating in construction is growing at a rate of knots, but here is the irony: many have simply switched from providing labour to farms and food processing factories to providing labour to building sites and construction firms. Why is that? It is because the licensing, regulation and enforcement that would seek them out and lock them up in the food and agriculture sector is absent from the construction sector. Put simply, there is a legal vacuum in construction and the rogues have filled it. In construction, no law means no chance—no chance to protect vulnerable workers, no chance to track down the rogue operators, and no chance to bring them to justice.

If we take a moment to think it through, we can see that the absence of effective law in construction makes no sense at all. Where is the logic in a state of affairs where a labour provider needs a licence to supply a worker to a food processing plant but does not need one to supply that same worker to a building site? One does not have to be Einstein to know that there is no logic in that. A worker is a worker is a worker; a principle is a principle is a principle. Everybody is equal under the law or nobody is equal under the law. Members should not take my word for it; they should ask the Government. After all, Ministers support licensing and registration in other sectors, both in principle and in practice. When the Government have recognised a problem and witnessed exploitation, they have acted through the law. I ask them to do the same with construction.

I have admitted that the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act is limited in scope, but I have also argued that it is effective in practice. Its effectiveness brings me to my feet today. The Act offers a template, which provides a model for the way in which labour providers in the construction industry could and should be regulated. I am not alone in thinking that. Even the chair of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, Paul Whitehouse, has argued the case for including construction in the remit of his regulator.

The law matters—it is what we do here first, last and always. It is why we were elected. Therefore, a failure to give the protection of legislation to vulnerable workers and decent bosses in construction is not merely a failure of law but an abdication of our core responsibility and solemn duty as Members of Parliament.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Jim Sheridan, Mr. Nicholas Brown, Mr. John Denham, Tony Lloyd, Anne Moffat, Mr. Jim McGovern, Mrs. Madeleine Moon, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Mr. Michael Clapham, Harry Cohen and Mr. David Hamilton.

Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 (Amendment)

Jim Sheridan accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 to extend its provisions to cover construction work; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 29 June, and to be printed [Bill 122].

INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNALS (SIERRA LEONE) BILL [LORDS] (ALLOCATION OF TIME)

Ordered,

That the following provisions shall apply to the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [Lords]:

Timetable

1. Proceedings on Second Reading, in Committee, on consideration and on Third Reading shall be completed at this day’s sitting and shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption or six hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order, whichever is the later.

Timing of proceedings and Questions to be put

2. When the Bill has been read a second time—

(a) it shall (notwithstanding Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills not subject to a programme order)) stand committed to a Committee of the whole House without any Question being put, and

(b) the Speaker shall leave the Chair whether or not notice of an Instruction has been given.

3.—(1) On the conclusion of proceedings in Committee, the Chairman shall report the Bill to the House without putting any Question.

(2) If the Bill is reported with amendments, the House shall proceed to consider the Bill as amended without any Question being put.

4. For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1, the Speaker or Chairman shall forthwith put the following Questions (but no others)—

(a) any Question already proposed from the Chair;

(b) any Question necessary to bring to a decision a Question so proposed;

(c) the Question on any amendment moved or Motion made by a Minister of the Crown;

(d) any other Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded.

5. On a Motion so made for a new Clause or a new Schedule, the Chairman or Speaker shall put only the Question that the Clause or Schedule be added to the Bill.

Subsequent stages

6.—(1) Any Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(2) Proceedings on any Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

7.—(1) This paragraph applies for the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 6.

(2) The Speaker shall first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair and not yet decided.

(3) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown which is related to the Question already proposed from the Chair.

(4) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown on or relevant to any of the remaining items in the Lords Message.

(5) The Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question that this House agrees with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Proposals.

Reasons Committee

8.—(1) The Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the appointment, nomination and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the appointment of its Chairman.

(2) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which it is appointed.

(3) Proceedings in the Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion 30 minutes after their commencement.

(4) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with sub-paragraph (3), the Chairman shall—

(a) first put forthwith any Question which has been proposed from the Chair but not yet decided, and

(b) then put forthwith successively Questions on motions which may be made by a Minister of the Crown for assigning a Reason for disagreeing with the Lords in any of their Amendments.

(5) The proceedings of the Committee shall be reported without any further Question being put.

Miscellaneous

9. Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply so far as necessary for the purposes of this Order.

10.—(1) The proceedings on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.

(2) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business) shall apply to those proceedings.

11. Standing Order No. 82 (Business Committee) shall not apply in relation to any proceedings to which this Order applies.

12.—(1) No Motion shall be made, except by a Minister of the Crown, to alter the order in which any proceedings on the Bill are taken or to recommit the Bill.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

13.—(1) No dilatory Motion shall be made in relation to proceedings to which this Order applies except by a Minister of the Crown.

(2) The Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.

14.—(1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies if—

(a) a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) has been stood over to seven o’clock, four o’clock or three o’clock (as the case may be), but

(b) proceedings to which this Order applies have begun before then.

(2) Proceedings on that Motion shall stand postponed until the conclusion of those proceedings.

15.—(1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies if a day on which the Bill has been set down to be taken as an Order of the Day is one to which a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 24 stands over from an earlier day.

(2) The bringing to a conclusion of any proceedings on the Bill which, in accordance with this Order, are to be brought to a conclusion on that day shall be postponed for a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on that Motion.

16.—(1) Sub-paragraph (2) applies if the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, before the conclusion of any proceedings to which this Order applies.

(2) No notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a Minister of the Crown for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.

17. Proceedings to which this Order applies shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.—[Dr. Howells.]

Orders of the Day

International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

On 4 June, the trial of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, began before a chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone sitting extraordinarily in The Hague. Former President Taylor stands charged with 11 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes, which he is alleged to have committed during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war.

Let me stress at the outset that it is for the Special Court for Sierra Leone to establish whether former President Taylor is guilty of the crimes with which he is charged. He is entitled to a fair trial and I am entirely confident that he will receive one. The simple fact that the trial is taking place sends an extremely powerful message. It sends the message that, no matter how rich and powerful one may be and no matter how untouchable one may at one stage appear, there can be no impunity regarding those most serious crimes.

All those on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone must now answer for their actions. Terrible, shocking crimes happened in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s—of that there can be no doubt. Hon. Members will recall the sickening images of that time. Civilians were slaughtered, mutilated and maimed; women were enslaved and brutalised; and killing, rape and amputation were perpetrated on a massive scale.

Uncharacteristically for the Foreign Office, the Minister underplays his brief. The genuine significance of Taylor’s prosecution is that it is the first time that a head of state has been brought before the international courts. It conveys a clear message, which I hope the Foreign Office will trumpet in Khartoum, among other places, that no one, including heads of state, is immune from the reach of the United Nations and international legal tribunals.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who makes a wise observation. He is right to say that the message will be heard around the world.

Perhaps most seriously, children were drugged, armed and turned into soldiers, then forced to wreak on others the horrors that had been wrought on them and their communities.

In May 2000, the United Kingdom brought peace to Sierra Leone. I pay tribute to the bravery and expertise of our troops who carried out that intervention. They have our continued gratitude for the typically courageous and professional job that they undertook. We know from experience that they also have the sincere thanks and respect of the people of Sierra Leone.

Since then, we have supported the Government of Sierra Leone as they have sought to consolidate the peace and rebuild a country ravaged by conflict. Seven years on from our military intervention, the people of Sierra Leone are preparing to go to the polls to elect the leaders who will take the next steps on that path of recovery. The UK is providing support for that process, and we will work closely with those leaders as they face the difficult challenges ahead. However, part of the future of Sierra Leone is in coming to terms with the past, and ensuring that those alleged to have committed the shocking crimes of the country’s civil war are held to account. In turn, taking such action sends a message to those who would commit such crimes in future, that if they do so, they will answer for it.

With those aims, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations negotiated an agreement back in 2002 to establish the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The Special Court is an international criminal tribunal of a hybrid nature, in that it combines elements of Sierra Leonean and international law, and draws on the skills of Sierra Leonean and international staff. The United Kingdom has been one of the Special Court’s strongest supporters since its inception. That has meant ensuring that the court has the resources that it needs to do its work. To that end, we recently made a further payment of £2 million towards meeting the costs of the court, bringing our total contribution since 2002 to £12 million.

Our support for international justice goes beyond the financial. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in June last year, if we want to live in a just world, we must take responsibility for creating and fostering it. In practice, that means that we and other states must provide practical assistance to the different international criminal tribunals as they take forward their important work. We live up to that challenge.

For example, we co-operate in the exchange of information with the international criminal tribunals, we take witnesses into our witness relocation system, and we imprison some of those convicted by the tribunals in the UK prison system. The legislative basis for doing that is the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which provides, among other things, for our entering into sentence enforcement agreements with the International Criminal Court and other international criminal tribunals established by resolution of the UN Security Council, such as those for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

On the wider point—the Minister mentioned the world—and particularly with respect to Uganda and the International Criminal Court warrant for Kony, the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel leader, does the Minister agree that, although the ICC is well-meaning, an arrest warrant prior to any settlement or the signing of any peace treaty may sometimes hinder rather than help peace?

I would have to look at that assertion on a case-by-case basis. The hon. Gentleman mentions northern Uganda. I know that he feels strongly about these issues, so I am sure that he would not like anyone in Uganda or its neighbouring countries to sense a degree of impunity regarding the crimes that they have committed and continue to commit. We would have to look into that matter very carefully and on a case-by-case basis, as I said, but I take his point. It can be a very sensitive issue, which has to be considered very carefully.

I heard what the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) said, but in my view the fundamental point about Uganda—and, indeed, Sierra Leone—is that the writ of the ICC in these cases must be upheld. That is of the greatest importance. One has to recognise that what happens after the proceedings—if, indeed, the arrest warrants are ever executed on Kony and others in northern Uganda—might be a matter for the international community in due course, but the writ itself must be upheld.

I agree with my hon. Friend. Although it is not the main matter under consideration today, I take his point. What he says about the ICC is a very important consideration.

I visited Rwanda with a group of colleagues last week; the issue of trials of people involved in alleged genocide is pertinent, but I shall say nothing more about that. There is an issue about the growing internationalisation of the justice system. With the best will in the world, we are talking about Sierra Leone today, but we could be talking about arrangements in Rwanda or in former Yugoslavia. Is there any move towards the consolidation of law in order to achieve a smoother transition to a proper justice system, which would be preferable to having to look at individual countries and individual issues? Otherwise, as with Rwanda, we could be completely overwhelmed by the scale of the number of those accused of perpetrating various crimes in Sierra Leone.

Order. Before the Minister responds, I want to make it clear that, in the words of the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), we are talking today about Sierra Leone. The Bill before us is quite narrowly drawn, so perhaps the Minister will bear that in mind in his response to interventions.

I know that my hon. Friend has great experience in these matters. The message sent out by the Bill is very clear. It will say many things to many people around the world, but the one thing that I hope it will say is that there really is no impunity for war criminals. We have to try to adapt wherever we can, as we have in Sierra Leone, and if necessary introduce hybrid arrangements to ensure that the guilty parties are brought to justice. That is what matters in the end. I certainly take into account—and I hope others will, too—my hon. Friend’s point that we perhaps require a sharper definition of what international law is likely to look like in the future when it comes to war crimes and so forth.

As I was saying, we have imprisoned some of those convicted by tribunals in the UK prison system. The legislative basis for doing so is the International Criminal Court Act 2001, which makes provision, among other things, for our entering into sentence enforcement agreements with the International Criminal Court and also with other international criminal tribunals established by resolution of the UN Security Council, such as those for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

It was only after the coming into force of the International Criminal Court Act 2001 that the Special Court for Sierra Leone was established. It is because the court was a new model of tribunal—a hybrid, as I mentioned—established with the full agreement and participation of the Government of Sierra Leone, that a UN Security Council resolution was not required to bring it into being. None the less, the Special Court enjoys full support from the international community. Indeed, the UN Security Council indicated its support by passing a resolution that authorised the UN Secretary-General to negotiate the founding agreement with the Government of Sierra Leone. That is not, however, sufficient to provide an adequate basis for our entering into a sentence enforcement agreement under the terms of the ICC legislation as it stands. The short, two-clause Bill before us will therefore extend the International Criminal Court Act’s provision on sentence enforcement to the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Let me briefly explain why we are taking this important step in the case of the Special Court for Sierra Leone. First, we do so because it is another demonstration of the UK’s commitment to international justice—the same commitment apparent in our steadfast support of the tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the same commitment that has since led us to help establish the permanent International Criminal Court and to take a lead as one its strongest supporters, in principle and in practice. I am pleased to note that the ICC is now playing a vital role in breaking down impunity for the shocking crimes taking place in Darfur, in northern Uganda, as we have heard, and elsewhere.

Secondly, we are moving this forward because of the UK’s particular commitment to peace, security and development in Sierra Leone. When we made that intervention in May 2000, we also made a commitment to see it through and finish the job. Our support for the Special Court is an important part of that. Through the actions that we are taking, we also safeguard the investment—military, political and financial—that the United Kingdom has made in Sierra Leone.

Thirdly—I come now to the reason for our approaching the Bill in expeditious fashion today—we do so to give effect to the commitment that we gave to imprison former President Taylor if he should be convicted at the trial, which began last week in The Hague. Let me speak for a few moments about that commitment and its role in making the trial possible.

Former President Taylor was transferred to the detention facility of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in Freetown on 29 March last year, having been indicted for alleged crimes against humanity and war crimes. Within a short period of time, considerable security concerns arose about former President Taylor’s presence in Freetown. There were fears that his supporters might seek to free him, with terrible consequences for the stability of the region. Owing to those fears, President Kabbah of Sierra Leone and President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia proposed that former President Taylor’s trial should take place away from the court’s headquarters in Freetown.

The Government of the Netherlands agreed to allow the Special Court to sit in The Hague to hear former President Taylor’s trial and the International Criminal Court agreed to allow the court to use its facilities for the trial, but the Dutch insisted that, should former President Taylor be convicted, he must serve his sentence in another state. The UN Secretary-General, in the light of the security concerns and on the advice of UN staff operating on the ground, added his call to that of the regional governments and requested that the United Kingdom agree to make the necessary commitment to the Dutch.

I should emphasise that the proposal to transfer the location of former President Taylor’s trial was considered long and hard. We and others were and remain instinctively supportive of the principle that, where possible, a trial should be conducted locally, where it is most accessible and most visible to those who have been affected. However, the security threat was significant and the requests from Kofi Annan, from Presidents Kabbah and Johnson-Sirleaf and from the ECOWAS—Economic Community of West African States—grouping of states were impossible to ignore.

On 15 June last year, we announced that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary had agreed that, subject to parliamentary legislative approval, the United Kingdom would allow former President Taylor—if convicted and should the circumstances require it—to enter the UK to serve any sentence imposed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Will the Minister confirm that there is a total of 10 indictees, including Charles Taylor, that nine others are being tried at special courts in Sierra Leone itself and that only Charles Taylor is being tried in The Hague? To prevent the Bill from becoming a hybrid one, would it be possible for the other nine indictees, if convicted, to serve their sentences in this country? Is the Minister prepared to put it on the record that it is the British Government’s intention that only Charles Taylor should serve his sentence here?

Yes, I can put that on the record without any hesitation. It is important to recognise that the other trials, which seem to be proceeding very well in Freetown, are at a rather different level from that of Charles Taylor. In that sense, Charles Taylor is a very special prisoner. That is why he is being tried in The Hague and why he could be imprisoned here. We would certainly never rule out a request from the International Criminal Court or from the Sierra Leone authorities regarding someone else whom we might consider imprisoning, but that would have to be a matter for careful consideration. We certainly do not envisage that happening at this time.

Former President Taylor’s transfer to The Hague was subsequently authorised by the president of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and confirmed by United Nations Security Council resolution 1688. Just five days after the announcement of the UK’s commitment, former President Taylor was transferred to The Hague. A real threat to peace and security in Sierra Leone and the wider region had been overcome, and the trial which has now begun had been made possible.

Let me stress again that the Bill and any subsequent signing of a sentence enforcement agreement represent a contingency arrangement. Imprisonment in the United Kingdom would take place only if former President Taylor were convicted, if the Special Court requested that the United Kingdom imprison him, and if the United Kingdom agreed to do so. I should also stress that the Bill, and any sentence enforcement agreement signed as a result of its provisions, will not apply specifically to former President Taylor. The Bill does not, therefore, get into the territory of a hybrid Bill.

The Bill, which comprises only two clauses, simply establishes the legal basis under which the United Kingdom may sign a sentence enforcement agreement with the Special Court. None the less, I can confirm that the request that was made to us and the political undertaking that we have given relate only to imprisoning former President Taylor, should that be necessary. We have not received a request in respect of any other individual on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. Indeed, our expectation is that any other individuals convicted by the court will serve their sentences elsewhere.

To put the matter into context, there are, in total, 10 persons on trial before the Special Court for Sierra Leone, although, as the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) will be aware, one of them has now died. The territorial extent of the Bill is limited to England and Wales. I should stress that that does not indicate any reluctance on behalf of the Scottish Administration, but simply an assessment that the necessary resources exist in England and Wales. It follows, therefore, that any sentence of imprisonment would be served in a prison in England or Wales.

I cannot say how long the trial of former President Taylor will last. The reality is that the wheels of international justice have so far turned relatively slowly. None the less, it is possible that the trial might come to a speedy conclusion. That is a factor beyond our control, but it could happen. Our objective is to ensure that, if we are called on to honour our commitment, we are ready to do so as soon as that becomes necessary.

The Bill is a further expression of the United Kingdom’s commitment to international justice. It is evidence of our determination to finish the job that we started in Sierra Leone, and it is a clear signal to those who would commit the most serious crimes known to humanity that justice will be done. I commend the Bill to the House.

I congratulate the Minister and his officials—especially Rob Luke in the Foreign Office—on the generous way in which they have been prepared to engage in discussions on the Bill before it came before the House. That has enabled it to pass through all its stages on the Floor of the House this afternoon, which represents exceptionally good use of the House’s time. This is a very good way of disposing of an uncontentious matter and I can confirm that the official Opposition will not oppose the Bill, which has a great deal of merit.

The Minister’s colleague in the House of Lords, Lord Triesman, opened the Bill’s Second Reading debate in the other place on 1 May. He said:

“A vicious war ravaged Sierra Leone throughout the late 1990s. Wanton killing, mass rape and sexual slavery, mutilation, amputation, the burning of homes and the destruction of property shocked the world. Tragically, those who perpetrated such crimes often used children as soldiers in their war. They enslaved them. They armed them. They made them commit terrible crimes, often against their own loved ones.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 May 2007; Vol. 691, c. 963.]

That is a pretty shocking but accurate description of what went on in Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Fortunately, the successful military intervention in May 2000 by 800 of our excellent paratroopers brought peace to the country. It secured the airport, enabled British citizens to be evacuated and subsequently ensured that the rebels were rounded up. The Bill that we are considering today is a result of those activities.

However, Sierra Leone has a history of war and the peace there is fragile; that situation will pertain for some considerable time to come. In 2002, the Government of Sierra Leone and the United Nations set up the Special Court for Sierra Leone so that war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and genocide could be punished if proven. As the Minister has said, the Special Court is an international criminal tribunal of a hybrid nature, incorporating domestic and international law. It has Sierra Leonean judges and staff sitting alongside international colleagues. The creation of the Special Court will no doubt send a strong message to those who have committed such crimes, or who might be contemplating doing so in the future. Examples that have already been mentioned include crimes involving the resistance army in Uganda, and crimes committed in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia or anywhere else in the world. As a result of this procedure and of the indictment of Charles Taylor and his fellow indictees, people who would come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court might think twice before committing such dreadful and despicable crimes.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said, the Special Court made the unique judgment in 2004 that Charles Taylor was not immune from prosecution by virtue of being a former head of state. That is the first time that that has happened. When the International Criminal Court Act 2001 was passed by this House, however, these crimes, although known about, had not been brought before the International Criminal Court. It was therefore not possible for the Act to incorporate the court, as it did in the case of Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. Two possible special hybrid courts exist at the moment, in Cambodia and in Sierra Leone.

The International Criminal Court Act 2001 needs to be amended because it does not cover these particular circumstances. I should make clear two absolute caveats, however. The Minister said that there were 10 detainees, but I believe that the figure is 11: the former Liberian President Charles Taylor and nine others, plus one who is missing and presumed dead. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that that is the case. Will he also confirm that while Charles Taylor is standing trial in The Hague, three parallel courts are each trying three people in Freetown in Sierra Leone?

I take it that the person who died, to whom the hon. Gentleman referred, is Samuel Hinga Norman. An autopsy has confirmed that Mr. Norman died of natural causes. The court has undertaken its own inquiry into the matter. I understand that he had been transferred to Senegal for medical treatment while on trial before the court. I should reiterate that we have full confidence in the court and its procedures, including the inquiry into the Norman death.

I am grateful to the Minister for that intervention. I was in no way casting aspersions on the proceedings of the Special Court; I was merely trying to put on the record what I believe to be the correct number of indictees.

First, I want to confirm that the hon. Gentleman’s understanding is accurate. Secondly, I want to reinforce for the record what my hon. Friend the Minister of State has said. I have visited the special court on no fewer than four occasions, and I can confirm that its medical facilities, which service those men, are the best in the country.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s intervention. Some concerns have been expressed about the conditions in which former President Charles Taylor has been held. Notably, in the other place, Lord Avebury mentioned the issue of a camera in his cell. I think that that matter has been resolved.

The other nine indictees, if convicted, could be dealt with under the provisions of this amending Bill. As the Minister has kindly put on the record, the Government intend only Charles Taylor to come under its provisions, although there is no reason why the other nine could not be considered on a special request from the Special Court. It would then be up to the UK Government to consider that request. Only if they considered and agreed it would they sign a special enforcement provision to that effect.

One of the unacceptable aspects of all this is the ad hocery of international justice in which the burdens fall randomly. Norway said long ago that it would be willing to take and imprison a number of those at the Special Court, if convicted. Understandably, however, it was not also willing to accept the burden of imprisoning Charles Taylor, were he convicted. The international community cannot continue in this ad hoc way for ever, whereby the UN must scrabble around to find which country is willing to imprison which person. I am not sure which departmental spending budget would cover such activity. Does it qualify as Department for International Development or Foreign Office spending?

The Minister says from a sedentary position that it would be the Home Office. That is one of the broader issues that the House must address.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that 104 countries ratified the ICC legislation in 2002. Therefore, as I understand it, any one of those 104 countries could be called on to carry out the prison enforcement agreements. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury—who is a lawyer—will have picked up, the problem in this case is that the court is a special, hybrid one, so it is not covered by the ICC Act. Had it been covered by that Act, we would not be here today, as we would not need to pass an amending Act.

The Minister will confirm that only two hybrid Special Courts are in existence—that for Cambodia, and that for Sierra Leone. Perhaps he will also confirm that the UK has no intention whatever of taking any prisoners from the Cambodian special court, as that would require another amending Act. Other than in the case of those two special courts, this type of amending legislation should not be needed in the future, unless something unforeseen arises.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury is right that a greater understanding is perhaps necessary among those 104 countries that any one of them could be asked to carry out not only the imprisonment obligations, but even the trial obligations. Although I agree with the Minister that it is desirable on the whole for the trial to take place in the country in which the atrocities have been committed, an adjoining or third country might be required to carry out a trial in certain circumstances. In this case, the facilities of the International Court of Justice in The Hague were deemed by the United Nations and others to be ideal for the trial.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. His hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) put his finger on a very important issue. When asking why we are taking prisoners from Sierra Leone, I have heard the terrible phrase used, “Well, it is our sphere of influence.” Whose sphere of influence is Cambodia? Which nations have the resources and the political will? I heard the hon. Member for Banbury say that countries may be signed up, but they will not act. We must get clarity on who is responsible for such trials in whatever part of the world.

The whole House will have heard the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend, in his customary way, will wish to pursue the matter on another occasion,

I concur with the view that the countries that have signed the agreement should take their fair share of the responsibility for housing such criminals, but the reality is that the facilities available in different countries vary enormously. They range from buildings that would easily be overcome by those who were intent on freeing individuals, to prisons such as those in the UK, which it is out of the question that anyone could break into or out of. On the basis of the construction and security of facilities, quite a small number of countries would be eligible.

The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. When the Special Court or the International Criminal Court has sentenced somebody for such a hideous crime, and asks an individual country to sign an imprisonment enforcement agreement, I assume that it will take precisely those facts into account. We shall no doubt come on to the conditions under which Charles Taylor, were he convicted, might be held in this country, and in what sort of prison.

The first caveat is that Charles Taylor could be considered along with others, so the Bill will not become hybrid. The second caveat is that the Bill is making only a hypothetical provision in the event that Charles Taylor and his fellow accused are convicted. Nothing that we say in the House today should presume that they will be convicted, and therefore prejudice their trial.

With regard to the time line, the current indictment relates to events as far back as 30 November 1996, but was not envisaged when the ICC Act 2001 was enacted. Charles Taylor and his fellow indictees face 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. On 29 March 2006, Charles Taylor was arrested and transferred to the detention facility in Freetown, Sierra Leone. As the Minister said, there were security concerns as it was felt that his supporters might destabilise Sierra Leone or the region. He was then transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. On 15 June 2006, the Foreign Secretary made a written statement to Parliament that the UK would, under legislation that we are considering today, permit Charles Taylor to serve a sentence, if it was passed by the court. On 20 June 2006, he was transferred to The Hague, as authorised by the president of the Special Court and confirmed by United Nations Security Council resolution 1688, as the Minister mentioned. On 4 June 2007, the trial in The Hague opened.

There have been various reports about the trial, and I would ask the Minister to clarify one or two matters. It has been alleged in the media that Charles Taylor’s defence counsel has funding for only six months, whereas the prosecution counsel has funding for 10 months. Can the Minister confirm that there is adequate funding for both prosecution and defence? The Minister said that he could not envisage how long the proceedings would take, but the special adviser on the case has said that they may take until the middle of 2009, or until the end of 2009 if it goes to appeal. Can the Minister give us any more information?

According to the Government’s regulatory impact assessment, the cost of imprisonment in a high-security prison in 2005-06 was about £44,000, and according to today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph Milan Martic, the former rebel Croatian Serb leader convicted of atrocities against Croat civilians, was sentenced by the International Criminal Court to 35 years in prison. Can the Minister confirm that in the hypothetical event of Charles Taylor being sentenced to a fixed term of about the same period, it would cost this country something in the region of £1.5 million? That is not an insignificant sum. I should be grateful if the Minister would put it on the record—my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, with great perspicacity, was trying to establish this—that the cost would be borne by the Home Office and not by the Foreign Office.

Does the Minister accept that it is essential, in terms of human justice, for the trial not to take too long? Mention has been made today of Sam Hinga Norman, who died at the end of a four-year trial. Four years strikes me as a very long time for a trial to last, even in international criminal law.

Does the Minister agree with the assessment of the independent expert and judge Antonio Cassese that although the verdict on the other indictees in Sierra Leone could be delivered in 2008, the verdict on Charles Taylor is likely to be delivered a year later, in mid-2009, with an appeal extending the period to the end of 2009? I have already asked the Minister about funding. I believe that he said that Britain had given £2.5 million to the International Criminal Court mechanism. Will some of that money be spent, if necessary, on filling the shortfall between the funds for the prosecution and those for the defence?

In the event of a conviction, the Special Court would ask the United Kingdom to enter into a prison enforcement agreement. No doubt there would be discussions with the Foreign Office and the Home Office. At that point, and only at that point, if the United Kingdom agreed the Bill would come into force. Can the Minister confirm that it will be for the Special Court to determine whether Charles Taylor is imprisoned in a high-security prison initially and then in a lower-security prison, and that the questions of an appeal and early release will also be matters for the Special Court? How will the court’s residuary functions be fulfilled? Will there be an ad hoc panel of judges and supporters to be reconvened as necessary when issues arise?

Can the Minister confirm specifically that in the hypothetical event of Charles Taylor requesting asylum here at the end of his prison term, the United Kingdom would consider his application on its merits, but would observe the absolute provision in asylum law that the United Kingdom can deport a non-UK citizen who is convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity?

I thank the Minister for the way in which he has handled this matter. We have covered a great deal of ground today and I have no doubt that the proceedings in Committee, on Report and on Third Reading will be succinct. I do not expect that we will have to detain the House today for the full six hours so generously allowed by the timetable motion. That would take us to nearly 7.45 pm, well after the seven o’clock motion, and I do not intend to detain you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or hon. Members for that length of time.

I have the pleasure of being chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the west African Mano river region, which includes Sierra Leone as well as Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Guinea-Bissau. I have fulfilled the role for the past two years, and it is not a particularly easy one, because not many people are interested in that part of the world. It is a very poor part of the world, there is not an awful lot of oil about, and in my opinion it is dreadfully neglected.

My involvement with Sierra Leone began when I was invited to be part of a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation at the behest of Mr. Win Griffiths, the former Member of Parliament for Bridgend. He took me to Sierra Leone shortly after the British Army brought the rebels to their knees in the centre of Freetown. It was a difficult visit for me to undertake: I knew nothing about Sierra Leone, and was as guilty of neglect and lack of interest as—I suspect—were my colleagues. Some people find it necessary to go to a place to appreciate it properly, and I am afraid that I am one of those people. I suppose it is a sad commentary on myself.

It is almost impossible to describe the state of Sierra Leone at the time of my visit. I know that other Members have been there as well, and I expect they will speak later about their impressions of the environment and the people, but at the time of my visit Freetown consisted of a collection of human beings, none of whom held each other’s hands, shuffling along the streets. There were, and still are, approximately 2 million people living in a city designed for 250,000, and during the week that I spent there I saw not one person smile. I saw not one spark of life in anyone. I suppose that a nation recovering from the worst civil war it is possible to imagine would be expected to react in that way.

The action of the British Army was greeted with tremendous gratitude. I attended our Prime Minister’s celebrations in Sierra Leone two weeks ago, when he was awarded a doctorate for services to the country, and there was not a person there who was not crying. Although the war had finished a long time ago, there was not a person in Sierra Leone who was not dreadfully affected by what the rebels had done. There was not one family who had not lost someone, and not in an ordinary way. I am not talking about a “decent” death by, for instance, shooting; I am talking about mutilation and torture of whose like no special court has heard in the history of special courts, certainly since the Nuremberg trials.

I am tremendously proud of the actions of our Government. I am proud that we stepped in as a result of President Kabbah’s request, I am proud that we are still there, and I am proud that we have provided money for the Special Court. Neither the area nor the activity is popular and justice is an expensive business, but we have stepped in. We are here today because of the nature of that Special Court, and the fact that it differs from other special courts that have been established. We are here to seek the House’s agreement that if Charles Taylor were convicted of the crimes of which he is accused, we would undertake our role and ensure that he was imprisoned here in the United Kingdom. I think it right and proper for us to take responsible action in the light of what this man has done, and the problem that he continuously presents to the people of Sierra Leone.

I know a lot about Charles Taylor because I have spoken to hundreds of people who suffered, indirectly or directly, at his hands. To say that he is the most despicable man of whom I have ever read or heard is an understatement. I spoke to the former chief prosecutor of the Special Court, Mr. David Crane. David had the challenging job of setting up the Special Court, and he did a magnificent job, along with colleagues from the United Kingdom. He said, “Every one of us working in this court has experience of the court in Rwanda, and we have worked in Bosnia. In fact, many of us were there during the latter days of the Nuremberg trials. The crimes that we are being asked to consider now make the crimes committed in those other atrocities pale into insignificance.” As my hon. Friend the Minister for the Middle East pointed out today, Charles Taylor was considered the worst of all because of the type of crime that he committed and oversaw. He was of course responsible for the rebel army that perpetrated crimes on his behalf. In my mind there is no doubt at all that he is guilty of the crimes of which he is accused because, as I say, I have spoken to people who suffered directly at his hands.

I have visited Sierra Leone on many occasions since my first visit; in fact, I have undertaken seven visits so far, and I made four of them to listen to proceedings in the Special Court. I shall describe the Special Court to everyone, because I recognise that I am in a privileged position in being able to do so. The Special Court is a unique building in a unique setting. It is designed purely to hold the 11 men accused of committing the crimes in question, so the facilities are restricted to provision for just 11 men. There is an extensive compound, which is available to the prosecution and defence teams, who can use it to prepare and review their work. There are special facilities for witnesses who come to the court. Many of those witnesses are either direct victims, or have watched a procedure, and may be the only witnesses left to testify to an atrocity. A United Nations force is there, and there are representatives from all over the world who staff the Special Court to make sure that the international standards that have been established to support it are enforced on a daily basis.

Admittance and access to the Special Court are by invitation only, but the Special Court does not begin to compare with one of our secure prisons. I do not want hon. Members to think of it as a heavily defended facility, because it is not. It is not as well defended as one of our open prisons—well, that might be doing it a disservice, but not too much of one. There is some inspection and interrogation of visitors, but if someone was determined to get into the Special Court, they could. I think that that was one of the reasons why President Kabbah and other leaders in the west coast region wanted to move Charles Taylor out: they recognised that they could not build a facility like Fort Knox or Wakefield prison, which houses huge numbers of sex offenders. There could be no wall 30 ft high and 9 ft thick, with barbed wire. It does not look like that. The front wall is perhaps 12 ft high with a bit of barbed wire, but the building is no fortress.

Once one gets into the main court area, access to the court is fairly straightforward. There is some bag checking. In the court itself, there is a small area in which visitors can witness proceedings, but the court is very small. Visitors are separated from the accused by a glass wall, which is there to protect visitors from the view of the accused. That, of course, is done to ensure that none of the accused can let supporters who come to witness proceedings know who they regard as potential enemies in need of disposal.

The facilities in which the prisoners are kept are good by our standards, and I have visited a significant number of prisons in the UK. There is no doubling-up in the Special Court; there is a cell for everyone. A single corridor fronts each and every cell, and every cell has a door. By Sierra Leone standards, we are talking about exceptional accommodation. It is a concern to millions of people in that country that those who perpetrated the worst crimes against them have suddenly found themselves in what they would call five-star luxury—and it is five-star luxury. As I say, by our standards they are very good cells. They are large—they are about 12 ft by 7 ft—and they contain a good bed, a television, plenty of air, and lighting. The vast majority of people in Sierra Leone do not have access to electricity, but people who are accused of serious crimes there have access to light. The facilities available to people accused of crimes in the Special Court are therefore exceptionally good.

As I said earlier, I do not think that we need to worry too much about the health of the people held in the Special Court: I was told that if I fell ill while I was in Sierra Leone, there was only one place that I would be taken to, and that was the health facility in the Special Court. There is every intention of ensuring that if anything happens to any of the men accused they will get immediate medical assistance, because nobody in Sierra Leone wants those men to die any sooner than is absolutely necessary. Everybody wants to make sure that they are as well and as fit as possible, because they must be seen to stand trial for the crimes of which they are accused. I hope that I have described the nature of the Special Court and the conditions in which the men there are being held. I regard the conditions as exceptionally good, even by our standards. However, safety standards there leave a huge amount to be desired, when compared to those in our country.

I want to talk briefly about Charles Taylor. I do not intend to describe his indictment, although I have a record of it in front of me.

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but I would like to make a point before she moves on. She did herself a disservice in her earlier comments; Members of the House often need to go to the areas of the world in which they are interested and witness things there with their own eyes so that they can come back informed and talk in the House about what they have seen, as she has done so adequately. She has described in great detail the conditions in which Charles Taylor is being held by the Special Court. Does she have any views on how he ought to be held in this country? In what sort of prison, and what sort of conditions, ought he to be held?

Order. I am reluctant to intervene, but perhaps we are getting a little ahead of ourselves with that intervention. It is, in any case, a difficult question for the hon. Lady to answer, and I am not sure that it is quite within our brief.

With your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should just like to say that Charles Taylor will probably be remanded to a category A prison as they are the prisons that house our most violent and dangerous offenders. I would not put money on it, but the prison is likely to be Wakefield, because it is a very secure establishment.

I would like to talk about my visit to various communities affected by the civil war. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Minister finds it very difficult to talk about what Charles Taylor has done, and to review the crimes that he is alleged to have committed, and I share that view.

I visited a number of communities, and I should like to tell the House a little bit about that. I visited a lovely community in Sierra Leone called Waterloo, which is a big town and the last place held by the rebels before they were forced to capitulate. It is a major interface between the country and the city. The rebels knew that if they held it they controlled a major access point, both in and out, so the people of Waterloo had an appalling time. I now know many of the people in the town. Waterloo in my own constituency is twinned with the community: we are building up all sorts of partnerships, and it is a privilege to be able to do so.

When Charles Taylor was in power, his rebel forces were stationed in Waterloo, which had three checkpoints. At either side of those checkpoints there was a spiked cartwheel-like arrangement, and every day for seven years, a new head was placed on the spikes. The bodies were dumped on the steps of the local church. I know the priest very well indeed, and his job was to match the heads to the bodies at the end of every day. The chairman of the council is a lovely man called Alieu Mansaray. Borough councillors are the same all over the world: at the moment, Alieu is complaining about central Government policy, lack of money and so on, so everything is settling down to normality. However, when I talked to him about what Charles Taylor’s forces did in his community, he said, “Claire, there was rape and pillage.” In six years, every woman in his community was raped. It did not matter if they were six months old or 80 years old—they were all raped. Many women went on to have children by the men who raped them. Many of the children in the community were abducted, after being forced to murder or rape their own parents. I find that difficult to come to grips with, but energising at the same time—as human beings, we must be able to respond to that degree of abuse whenever it arises. I reiterate what I said earlier: I am immensely proud that we stepped in and are doing what every human being should do when confronted by such atrocities, as the people of Waterloo could not defend themselves.

On my last visit, I met an elderly woman. It is difficult to get people to talk about what happened to them in the war. It is a bit like the position for many Jews who found themselves in Auschwitz: it is over, and they want to move on. However, I was in the country when Charles Taylor was brought back to the Special Court from Nigeria. As the helicopter carrying him flew over the city, people fell to their knees and cried. They were shaking with fear, even though he was in the helicopter. Olive Williams, a lovely elderly woman, said that it was very sad for her that the war did not come to an end earlier, because she would still have had her son. As Charles Taylor’s days were coming to an end, her son was decapitated in front of her, then she was forced to breastfeed his head. She said, “It sounds awful, doesn’t it, Claire?” I said, “Yes, it does.” She said, “I wasn’t the only one, that day. There were half a dozen of us.”

I therefore understood only too well why people were shaking in the streets at the prospect of Charles Taylor’s return. I feel like that myself—I had never heard of anyone who could commit such crimes. I understand, too, why it was vital that we pulled him out of the country. It is extremely difficult for people to deal with someone like that; it is difficult for a country in so much terror of that man. I was delighted when he was sent to The Hague, which is the right place for him. My hon. Friends and other Members should know that when he was held in the Special Court while those international discussions were under way, he did not mix with anyone else. He chose isolation—he did not even mix with the men with whom he stood jointly accused. He did not spend any time talking to them at all. I saw him briefly myself, although not to talk to. I could see that he was very much afraid that they might kill him. He was very concerned about his personal safety, and he has a right to be concerned about that. I hope, however, that that was not the reason why he was moved. I hope that he was moved because there are millions of people in Sierra Leone who remain terrified of him today. The fact that he was incarcerated did not help them at all. Now that he has been moved to The Hague, his pernicious effect on Sierra Leone has been marginalised. The country is about to hold presidential elections in August so, to ensure that they are conducted well, it was vital that he was moved out of the country. His presence is not a positive one, and it might have jeopardised a fragile state. Sierra Leone is still terribly poor—it is the second poorest country in the world—so if we can remove destabilising characters from such countries, that is a good thing.

I fully endorse the sentiment that, where possible, people should be tried in their own country for crimes that they have committed. Occasionally, however—not very often, thank God—individuals such as Charles Taylor appear, and every such case must be treated on its merits. The fact that he was moved to The Hague was a very good thing, in my opinion. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) raised the issue of trials that take a very long time, and people in Sierra Leone ask why it has taken so long to bring those men to book. There is a simple answer. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) said that obligations under international law were not fully understood or even supported, and that difficulty is reflected in Charles Taylor’s failure to appear in The Hague or acknowledge the court’s legitimacy.

David Crane spent a number of years ensuring that all the proceedings entered into in Sierra Leone would stand the most rigorous test by any other court established to interrogate those operations. That took quite a bit of time, even before people collected evidence for the indictments. That group of men committed crimes the length and breadth of Sierra Leone. Some 80 per cent. of the population is illiterate, so collecting evidence from witnesses was difficult. It was difficult, too, to persuade them that it was safe to appear in court, so that procedure took an inordinate length of time. There was an obligation, too, to collect evidence when there were no witnesses left who were prepared to come to court but there was clear evidence that a significant atrocity had been committed. It was essential to link that atrocity to the individual perpetrators who stood accused of those crimes in the court. That explains the four years.

In addition, it has been implied that prosecution actions have been tardy, but each of those individuals has a right to an adequate defence. As the prosecution has built and disclosed its cases, the defence team have been successful in seeking adjournments while they prepare further defence for the people they represent. It would not have done justice to the individuals, to the crimes they have committed or to the people against whom those crimes have been committed if the proceedings had been expedited. More than 50,000 people were involved in the rebel army, but only 11 will stand trial, and they bear the greatest responsibility. I hope that that explains to the hon. Member for Cotswold why the cases have taken so long.

Because of the hon. Lady’s legal experience, the information she is providing is extremely useful. However, what if Judge Antonio Cassese is correct that the indictment and all the evidence have already been gathered in the Charles Taylor case? The trial started on 4 June this year. If the judge is correct that the actual trial will take more than two years, does the hon. Lady not think that that is too long?

I might have been inclined to agree had I not attended some of the proceedings, which are tortuous in the extreme. There is a huge amount of legal argument before those involved settle to the substantive matters. Days can go by with the defence and the prosecution supporting or opposing a particular position before there is a chance to hear any contributions from any of the witnesses, or from the accused themselves. There are also other issues that take time to address, such as ensuring witness protection and witness arrangements. Two years is the longest period for any of the cases. Some have involved matters such as international law protocols. The proceedings in Sierra Leone have been conducted much more quickly than those of the other international courts, such as that for Rwanda. I suspect that that is a benefit of there having been a low international profile. If there had been more international interest, the proceedings might have taken considerably longer. The absence of such interest has allowed the proceedings to move forward swiftly.

It is immensely important for Sierra Leone that justice is done, and that it is seen to be done. Allocating this period of time will indicate to many people that the job has been done well, that if Charles Taylor is convicted he is well and truly convicted, and there is no chance of his returning to court on appeal because correct procedure has not been followed. Everybody wants that. I suspect that Charles Taylor wants to make sure that he has a fair trial, and everybody else does as well.

I am proud of what our country has done in intervening to bring this horrific war to an end and in stepping in with the money for the Special Court. David Crane went on bended knee all over the world searching for money and he could not get the money to establish that court, but we stepped in. I am also proud that we supported the application for Charles Taylor to be moved to The Hague, and that we are prepared to incarcerate him. I hope that we do so for life. I hope that there is never a question of him possibly being let out or being given asylum. Life is the only fitting sentence for a man who has committed the sorts of crimes that he has.

When I go to Sierra Leone people often ask me of Charles Taylor, “Where’s he going, and what’s it like?” I am able to describe Wakefield prison to them in detail. I am able to talk about the height and width of the walls, about the cell where he will be kept, and the visiting rights. They are enormously reassured that he will be put somewhere where he will be safely housed and where, crucially, they will be safe from him. I am immensely proud that we will have achieved that and have given those people what they deserve: justice and freedom from a terrible man.

It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), whose testimony was powerful. She spoke movingly, knowledgeably and with great sincerity.

The Liberal Democrats support the proposed change to the International Criminal Court Act 2001, and the commitment to human rights that it demonstrates. Without well-publicised enforcement of human rights laws and without an obvious determination to see that those who are alleged to have broken them are brought to justice, those laws will not deter future war criminals and human rights offenders. It is right that Britain should lead the way by sending a clear signal to the rest of the world that those alleged to have violated human rights will be tried and, if necessary, punished. By agreeing to imprison Charles Taylor, should he be convicted, we are doing just that.

Often, apparent support for human rights laws by major international players is not backed by their actions, and violations by so-called friends abroad are ignored because of the possible financial and political ramifications of calling them to account. I hope that this move by the Government illustrates a new willingness to engage wherever there are human rights abuses. I add my party’s congratulations to those of Members who have spoken of the sterling and remarkable work of our troops in helping to end this conflict and bring peace and democracy to a region so devastated by the effects of a war that shocked the rest of the world.

I am privileged to represent a borough that has the largest African community in the country, including many from Sierra Leone. May I associate those whom I know of them—whatever their politics in respect of Sierra Leone—with that commendation of the actions of the Government, our troops and this Bill? If everyone in the UK who comes from Sierra Leone sees justice being done with our support, that will not only be great for the future of Sierra Leone, but will greatly help the future relationships between this country, the west and Europe and Sierra Leone.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He makes his point in his usual excellent way.

None of us will forget the reports that have emerged of the mass murders, rapes, mutilations and amputations, and the involvement of child soldiers. By agreeing to imprison Charles Taylor, should he be found guilty, we are rightly finishing the job that we have started. I wish to make a few specific points about the Bill, and I have some questions for the Minister, but I want to make it clear that I have no criticism of the principle behind the Bill, which we fully support.

I am concerned about the impact of the decision to move the trial of Charles Taylor out of Sierra Leone to The Hague. There is still considerable disquiet among the people of Sierra Leone and members of the international community about the decision. That the victims of the war in Sierra Leone feel that they have ownership of the court is important to the process of recovery from the conflict. A Human Rights Watch paper published in June last year stated that

“there is a real risk that his trial will feel distant and less meaningful to the people most affected by the crimes.”

I understand from the speech of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Triesman on Second Reading in the Lords that an outreach programme is in place. I invite the Minister to expand a little today on what that programme involves. What actions does he understand are being taken to make this trial accessible to the people of Sierra Leone themselves? We need to ensure that the court is seen as legitimate and effective by the people of Sierra Leone, in order to allow the country to recover from the aftermath of this most dreadful war.

There is another issue on which I seek some clarification. Who precisely will make the decisions relating to an early release or a revision of the sentence, once the Special Court for Sierra Leone ceases to exist? On Second Reading in the Lords, Lord Triesman said that these decisions would be made by a designated successor body from within the international court system, but that the situation would be clarified later. Perhaps this is the right time for the Minister to confirm that that will be the case, and to expand on how he envisages the body will work, and who the likely members of it will be.

There is also concern about any possible claim that Charles Taylor might make after completing his sentence in a UK prison. In a statement, Lord Triesman said that the expectation is that Taylor would leave the UK on release or face removal, on the grounds that the refugee convention contains provisions to refuse asylum to those involved in genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. However, on 15 April, The Sunday Telegraph published sections from a leaked ministerial memorandum stating that Taylor might choose to remain in Britain after his release, claiming asylum, and that this

“might represent a danger to the public or a drain on public resources”.

I realise that under current immigration law, it is of course open to the Home Secretary to order the deportation of any non-British citizen whose removal from the United Kingdom is deemed conducive to the public good, but can the Minister confirm today that if this situation arose, the Home Secretary would indeed be mindful not to grant asylum in those circumstances?

There have also been some criticisms of the way in which the court itself is being administered. On Second Reading in the Lords, my noble Friend Lord Avebury alluded to the report on the Special Court for Sierra Leone by Judge Antonio Cassese, to which the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) has also referred. Of course, Judge Cassese was appointed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as an independent expert, with a mandate to review the efficiency of the Special Court. One issue that I want to press the Minister on today is the funding of the court itself. As I understand it, Judge Cassese is still concerned about the court’s insecure financial situation because of its reliance on voluntary contributions. In his report, he states that the United Nations has already had to bail the SCSL out three times already, costing a total of nearly $50 million.

This is not a question of the UN having to bail out the court—it is a UN court. Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments such as the United States have funded this court. The hon. Gentleman cannot come to this Chamber as a Front-Bench spokesman, having basically got his facts right, and simply recite a load of criticisms from people such as Lord Avebury. He really ought to do his prep better. It is the UN that should be funding the court, not us. We should not have to go cap in hand around the nations of the world getting penny numbers.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. If he restrains himself for just a moment longer, he will discover that I was about to come on to the contribution that the British Government have made. I regret the fact that he seeks to create division in the House today, where I thought, to judge by the opening comments, there would be no significant division. [Interruption.] I stand by everything that I have said, and I will answer the hon. Gentleman, who is making comments from a sedentary position.

This lack of stable funding has made it difficult to provide a long-term plan, especially for ensuring that there are enough staff with the expertise needed to run the court effectively. The situation still needs to be addressed, despite protestations from the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). I accept that this Government have recently pledged £2 million to the court, but can the Minister please give us an up-to-date account of the future funding situation?

I rise to support the sentiment expressed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). The reality is that this should be a UN-sponsored court, but the facts on the ground show that every prosecutor involved has to go cap in hand to countries such as ours, so that we can step in where the UN has failed to do so. The UN does deliver, eventually, but only part of what it promised and far too late. One cannot conduct the proceedings of a court on that basis. It is this country—and the US—that has provided the consistent funding needed to keep these trials going while the UN dithers. The role is the UN’s, not ours, and we should take the argument to the UN and not bring it home here.

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. There is no fundamental disagreement between us. I have not said anything, implicitly or directly, to suggest that anybody other than the UN is responsible for the funding. Indeed, I have gone out of my way to acknowledge the contribution that the UK Government have made, but in the context of this debate, I am entitled to ask the Minister representing the Government for a current assessment of the future funding of this court. Frankly, I would be amazed if that were not a matter of some concern to Members in all parts of the House.

Judge Cassese’s report also contained several recommendations on how to improve the smooth running of the court, one of which is the strengthening of judicial leadership. Following the problems, which have been alluded to, involving surveillance cameras being placed in consultation rooms when the defendant met his lawyers, in accordance with International Criminal Court rules, Judge Cassese says that there needs to be clear leadership from the judges directly involved on which rules apply—those of the International Criminal Court, or those of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

The report also raises the issue of communication between staff in The Hague and Freetown, and between the Special Court and the ICC. These links do indeed need to be strengthened if the court is to run effectively. Judge Cassese also said that the defence office needs to be reformed and properly funded to provide administrative, logistical and legal support for the defence team. That is particularly important, because the trial needs not only to be fair but to be seen to be fair if the court is to be a success. I should be interested to hear from the Minister today the opinion that the Government now have about Judge Cassese’s recommendations. The Minister might also tell the House which of those recommendations are likely to be implemented, and ho