House of Commons
Tuesday 29 January 2008
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Canterbury City Council Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
Leeds City Council Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
London Local Authorities (Shopping Bags) Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
Northern Bank Bill
Read a Second time, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.
Nottingham City Council Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
Reading Borough Council Bill
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
St Austell Market Bill
Read a Second time, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords](By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Tuesday 5 February.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Powers of Attorney
From 1 October 2007 to 18 January 2008, the Office of the Public Guardian received 6,318 applications to register enduring powers of attorney and 2,746 applications to register the new lasting powers of attorney, which replaced enduring powers of attorney when the Mental Capacity Act 2005 came into force on 1 October.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Sir Mark Potter, the president of the family division, states that since opening for business on 1 October 2007, the Office of the Public Guardian has been all but overwhelmed by the unexpectedly high level of business, particularly in relation to enduring powers of attorney. Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the OPG has the resources it needs to carry out the tasks that Parliament set it in the 2005 Act, particularly in relation to enduring powers of attorney, which are very important for many people?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. These are people who are at their most vulnerable, so it is vital that we get the service right. It is true that the OPG received far more applications than it had initially expected and that there was a small backlog in some areas, but I have investigated thoroughly and I can assure him, and the rest of the House, that it has been rectified. For example, more than 85 per cent. of calls to the contact centre are being answered within the 60-second target. Things are moving in the right direction.
I made a written ministerial statement on 24 January, announcing the publication of the review of voting systems. Copies of the review have been placed in the Library.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. In responding to the review, Ministers have said that it is an important contribution to the debate about the strengths and weaknesses of different voting systems, and the options for electoral reform. As the review is essentially desk research, it raises the question of where that debate will take place. Is there not now a case for asking voters—engaging the public in the debate—what kinds of different electoral systems can best contribute to different forms of politics and what they want from their political system in this country?
It was precisely for that reason—to inform the kind of debate that my hon. Friend wants—that we published the review. This is an important issue, and we look forward to hearing the results of that debate.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that whatever changes may be made to the voting system—this paper is clearly an important one—it also matters how the system of voting works? Does he also agree that the changes that his Government have initiated in the past have not been an outstanding success, and that one of the things that dignified our democracy in the past was the absolute integrity and assurance of our voting system? Will he please put it back to what it was?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman on the first part of his question, because of course such matters are fundamentally important. However, I do not agree with the second part. We have always taken the integrity of the voting system seriously. The legislation that we have passed has had that absolutely at its heart, but we have a problem—as I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise—with the disengagement of significant parts of the electorate from the political system. All of us owe it to our electorate to do whatever we can to increase participation. That is what has driven our reforms, and it will continue to drive our approach, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the integrity of the system remains fundamental.
But did we not set up the Electoral Commission to consider these ideas? Since its creation, we have seen voting turnout decline, confidence in politicians fall, and the Council of Europe has criticised our postal voting. We give that outfit £27 million a year. Why?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his contribution, although I am not sure that it is fair to suggest, as he seems to do, that all those phenomena are the fault of the Electoral Commission. We are reforming the commission. We want it to improve its performance and we are confident that it will do so.
Has the Minister noted that Signor Prodi has recently pointed out that proportional representation has made it almost impossible to govern Italy?
As always, the hon. Gentleman makes an invaluable contribution to the debate.
Will my hon. Friend take evidence from Scottish councillors who are now enjoying—if that is the correct word—the single transferable vote electoral system? It means that we have more than one councillor a ward, and as a consequence, instead of one councillor being directly accountable to his or her constituents and visiting the community council, two or three have to turn up at gala day committees and such like. That has a very detrimental effect on their health.
That is another valuable contribution to the debate and I am delighted that the review of voting systems has already produced such an interesting collection of views.
Is it not the case that this so-called review of electoral systems is actually little more than a cover for the Government’s abject failure to address existing electoral issues, such as the need to counter rampant electoral malpractice, poor voter registration levels, hopeless electronic voting projects and the dire need for sensible party funding proposals?
Up until this moment, we have heard an interesting collection of views on the review of voting systems. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not feel able to address the issue at point. The answer to his question is, in short, no.
I do not know what latitude the Minister has to look into the way in which European Union elections are operated. We have a problem with parliamentary elections for Westminster, but the turnout in European elections is much lower. Can he look into that so that we could perhaps return to the old system and, instead of the discredited proportional representation list system, we could have proper European constituencies, with one MEP representing one set of people?
Of course we will look into that. The whole point of the review of voting systems is to invite contributions to the debate about something that is fundamentally important to the health of our democracy.
Parliamentary Candidates (Expenditure)
The issue of expenditure limits has, as my hon. Friend knows, recently been considered by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, by Sir Hayden Phillips’s review and during inter-party talks. The Government were committed, under the Queen’s Speech, to bring forward proposals on party finance and expenditure, and work on that is in hand.
My right hon. Friend will know that the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 removed the triggering of election expenses from electoral law. That has led to a situation in which tens of thousands of pounds are already being spent by some candidates in marginal seats as though an election had already been called. That is being done on the basis, presumably, that they hope that the candidate with the most money, rather than the best policies, will win the next election. Although the issue of triggering was not covered by the Hayden Phillips inquiry, will my right hon. Friend consider reinstating the 1983 legislation on the triggering of election expenses?
It is a moot point whether the legislation or its subsequent interpretation has made it more difficult to enforce limits locally, but it is clear that a combination perhaps of the detailed drafting of the Act and its subsequent enforcement has had a consequence that no one on either side of each House ever intended—indeed, the opposite was the case, as the then Conservative spokesman in the Lords, the late Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish put on record in Committee in the other place at the time. All of us at the time believed on very good evidence that that part of what became the 2000 Act was faithfully implementing Lord Neill’s conclusions—shared by all the parties, as he said, who gave evidence to his Committee—not just to maintain the existing controls, but in his words, to buttress them.
Does not the Lord Chancellor except that, after the events of the past few weeks, we need not only rules that work, but rules that everyone stick to? On that basis, will he now bring forward as a matter of urgency the proposals set out by Sir Hayden Phillips—not just the bits that suit any one party, but the whole package—fundamentally to reform the system of party funding before irreparable harm is done to our democratic systems?
As the hon. Gentleman in particular knows, the all-party talks were operating on a good consensual basis until earlier in the summer last year, and I am very reluctant to proceed without a consensus, because the system of party funding should not advantage or disadvantage in a partisan way one party or another. He will also know that the recommendations in the report of Sir Hayden Phillips were “welcomed”—that was the phrase used—by the then Opposition spokesperson, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), and it is a matter of concern to us that the Conservative Opposition have moved far away from what was proposed. But it is also clear that there was, and I believe there remains, a complete consensus. Anyone who reads the record going back to the recommendations of Neill, back into the 1980s, and back to the debates on the 1999 draft Bill, which became the 2000 Act, will see that everyone in every part of both Houses believed—indeed, the Conservative Opposition in the other place proposed an amendment to clarify the law to make this clear, although at the time Ministers thought that was not needed—that the 1983 controls would continue to operate and be completed by the national controls that Neill proposed.
I thank my right hon. Friend for what I took to be a clear statement of an intention to close the loophole, whether by legislation or by guidelines. If legislation is used, what is the earliest date by which he would hope to close that loophole, given the clear statement in an article in The Times earlier this month that the deputy chairman of the Conservative party is already pouring money into constituencies?
I do not know which deputy chairman my hon. Friend is talking about, but if it is the one that I have in mind, that person is on record, as he was in the other place in a speech that he made in November 2006, saying that there should be no controls whatever on expenditure by parties.
As for any proposals, as the Queen’s Speech said, we are committed to introducing proposals in respect of party finance and expenditure. The Government have yet to make the final decisions, but they will be made shortly.
Does the Lord Chancellor recall that the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs produced its unanimous report on the basis that both spending between elections and trade union funding for the Labour party needed to be addressed? It was therefore a balanced package. If he were to proceed on those lines, he could hardly be accused of being partisan for doing so.
I do indeed recall that, and the proposals in Hayden Phillips’s report cause difficulties, albeit not symmetrically, certainly for both the main parties and to some extent for the Liberal Democrat party as well, but those proposals were, and are, a package—not some kind of à la carte menu—and they need to be proceeded with on that basis. That is my profound concern. Meanwhile, as I say, I have now looked with great care at something that was not directly considered—I am not seeking to make any point—either by Hayden Phillips or, indeed, in the Select Committee report, which I have not only read, but have with me today, for the purposes of greater accuracy. It is absolutely clear, as I have remembered and is now confirmed, that Neill wanted to build on the 1983 controls and absolutely no one on either side of the House thought otherwise, so much so, as I have said, that the late John Mackay—Lord Mackay, who was the Conservative spokesman in the other place and who was well known in this House—moved amendments to address concerns about local controls being dissolved. He was reassured—as it turned out, in error, but in good faith—by Ministers that those controls would not be undermined in any way.
Does the Lord Chancellor accept that it will not be easy to impose spending caps of the type advocated, and that fraud and avoidance will be relatively easy? Given that, will he work hard to bring forward a package of proposals supported throughout the House that recognises the historical link between trade unions and the Labour party?
The truth is that controls of any kind can be evaded, which is a criminal offence, or avoided, which may be just within the law but is not within the spirit of the law. It is incumbent on all parties to ensure that we do not go down the same route that some taxpayers—one fully understands why—go down. It is equally important, as the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs pointed out, that account is taken of the different parties’ different circumstances. That used to be the Conservatives’ approach, but I regret to say that they have abandoned it.
It also needs to be put on record yet again that the Conservative party made major changes and tightened controls on trade unions’ political funds throughout the 1980s. Although we did not like those changes, we came to accept them in the mid-1990s. When Neill reported in 1998, he not only said that he had no proposals to change them but quoted the Conservative party’s official evidence to him:
“The question of trade union funding of parties is not a matter of direct concern to the Conservative Party. We recognise the historic ties that bind the trade union movement with the Labour Party…The Conservative Party does not believe that it is illegitimate for the trade union movement to provide support for political parties.”
Order. I must say gently to the Secretary of State that I have an Order Paper to get through.
The Ministry of Justice is considering how to take forward proposals to enable the Information Commissioner to inspect all public sector organisations without prior consent, the introduction of new funding arrangements for his office and new penalties under the Data Protection Act 1998 for the most serious breaches of data protection principles. We will be launching a consultation on those issues soon, and will take whatever action is necessary as a result of the reviews being carried out by Sir Gus O’Donnell, Kieran Poynter, Dr. Mark Walport and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but given that in the past eight years about five laptops have disappeared every month from a single Department, the Ministry of Defence, does he agree that the time is now right to consider the Liberal Democrat proposals to make reckless handling of data a criminal offence—proposals that the Government dismissed out of hand at the time?
As I said, we are looking at how to take measures forward, and considering new legislation will be part of that. We are in active discussion with the Information Commissioner about how best to do so.
The Minister will be aware that many schemes for shared services are going forward throughout Whitehall. Given that, in the case of the Department for Transport, that would mean incorporating very large amounts of data, will he bear in mind that that is not always the best way to organise one’s affairs?
The hon. Lady is right to be cautious—
Actually, I am a Friend.
Sorry—my hon. Friend. I am extremely grateful to her for reminding me of that fact. She will recognise that there are huge benefits in data sharing to citizens and everyone who uses public services, but of course we must be cautious about everybody’s right to privacy and the security of data. That is precisely why we asked Dr. Mark Walport and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, to conduct a review. They will report within the next few months.
Following on from the previous question, does the Minister agree that the greater the centralisation of data and the more personal data collected, the more valuable they are to criminals and terrorists? Is he looking to the increase that one would expect in hacking and the possibility—it has already happened with records in this country—of huge bribes being paid? Once the data are gone, the horse has bolted from the stable.
As I have just said, there are clearly important issues of principle that predate the recent and very regrettable incidents that have taken place. There is no question but that there is a serious problem with the way that data are kept in both the private and the public sector. That is not specific to the public sector, and it is to do with the changing way that records are kept electronically, which has changed dramatically in the past 10 to 15 years. Both the private and the public sector must change the way that they do business in order to keep up with that. That is precisely what we are doing and why we have had the reviews. To suggest, however, that there is no case for keeping any data at all ever is simply incredible.
I am pleased to hear what the Minister said about some of the things that the Government are thinking of doing, now that they have been proved to be so incompetent in the handling of secure data, but I wonder why the Minister is still dithering. There is a Bill in the House of Lords—the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill—into which amendments could be inserted that would deal with the matter by creating an offence of recklessly mishandling data. The Minister could do that right now, instead of holding more reviews and thinking about it. I am delighted that he said that the Information Commissioner is to have greater powers. I hope that means that the Information Commissioner will be able to undertake spot checks of Government Departments—
Order. The hon. Lady should be asking a supplementary question, not making a speech. Perhaps the Minister can reply.
Speaking personally, I am always happy to listen to the hon. Lady for as long as she wants to talk. However, may I point out to her that we are already introducing legislation to deal with the offence of knowingly and recklessly misusing data. I remind her that it was this Government who brought in the Data Protection Act 1998 and who have continued to make sure that it is updated and meeting the needs of the circumstances. I remind her that her party showed so little interest in the matter that it was not mentioned in their 2001 manifesto or in their 2005 manifesto. I am delighted that the Conservatives are now taking an interest in it and I hope she will support the measures that we are introducing to deal with those issues.
Courts Staff (Pay)
Five regional pay ranges were implemented for staff joining Her Majesty’s Courts Service with effect from 1 August 2007. Existing staff have been given the option of taking up a four-year pay deal, including the five regional pay ranges, or remaining on existing terms and conditions. We expect 95 per cent. of staff to opt for the new arrangement.
My hon. Friend will be aware that there is a great deal of disappointment among court staff at the introduction of a system of pay that is divisive and unfair—an old-fashioned and discredited form of regional pay. Let me give a couple of examples to show why the system is unfair. Staff in Sheffield are paid at a different rate from those in Leeds, and staff in both cities are paid at different rates from the pay in Liverpool and Manchester. Another example is that court staff at Mold Crown court are paid at an enhanced rate of pay simply because that is the headquarters of the regional manager.
The last point that my hon. Friend made is not an accurate reflection of the differences between Mold and Wrexham. Regional pay is a reality which Her Majesty’s Courts Service is reacting to, not creating. Ninety per cent. of staff have opted into the deal that is set out in the new arrangements. The aim is to create a single set of conditions to replace more than 50 existing schemes that Her Majesty’s Courts Service inherited when it came into being, in order to address three issues—recruitment and retention, low pay, and rewarding good performance. One in four staff, a majority in the lowest grades, will see a 20 per cent. increase in their pay over the next four years. That is a good thing, and the staff are voting with their feet and opting in.
Could the Minister tell the House why differential pay rates based on gender are, rightly, unlawful and absolutely wrong, but differential pay rates based on geography seem to be a good idea?
The Courts Service is reacting to regional pay, not creating it. Such pay is based on local labour markets and jobs available in the relevant area; there is no discrimination based on anything other than the local realities. Recruitment, retention and being able to do the job that the Courts Service is there to do are the basis of the arrangements. So far, 90 per cent. of staff have opted into them.
Will my hon. Friend have another look to see whether it is possible to withdraw the lowest regional pay range? I do not know whether she is aware that—in Wales, certainly—the majority of court workers affected are women. The wages of people in Wales are already lower than those in the rest of the UK, and that sort of proposal makes it much more difficult to close the prosperity gap.
I am always happy to look at things when Members suggest that I do so, and I will do so. However, I reiterate that 90 per cent. of staff have already opted into the arrangements. Built into those arrangements is an intention over the next four years to increase the lowest pay rates significantly over other pay rates. We will do that. The arrangements will improve pay for those on the lowest bands more than for those at higher levels.
The Minister will know that the company Serco provides staff for Crown courts and magistrates courts across the London area. Those staff bring prisoners to court and then up from the cells into the dock. Is the Minister aware that courts in London are in some chaos at the moment because Serco appears to be dreadfully understaffed, not having enough people to do the job properly? Is that because the company is not efficient enough, or are the Government simply not paying the proper rate to get a proper job done?
The arrangements are contracted. Serco has standards to meet; if the hon. Gentleman is saying that those standards are not being met, I shall be happy to look into specific instances that have been brought to his attention. However, the arrangements are made on the basis of a contract and as far as I am aware, they are working well.
Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has now been in force for three years and appears to be working well, although we keep it under continuous review. We are not proceeding with amendments to the fees regulation. However, we are consulting on whether to extend FOI coverage to a range of organisations that are in the private sector, but carry out public functions. An independent review of the 30-year rule is under way and due to report this summer.
I welcome that response, and agree with the direction of travel that the Secretary of State is taking. Does he agree that it is a nonsense that the British Potato Council is covered by the 2000 Act but private water companies, which provide an essential and monopolistic service, are not? Furthermore, the British Railways Board, which simply exists in a cosy corner somewhere, is covered, but Network Rail is not. Will he sort that out?
I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and thank him for his earlier remarks. As the boundary between the public and private sectors for the delivery of what are essentially public services has moved, so we believe that the arrangements should move as well. That is why we are consulting on the matter.
Would the Secretary of State consider amendments to the 2000 Act that would protect the public’s right to the information but guard against repeated, petty and often exorbitant requests that are made frequently and do nothing to add to freedom of information?
There is already a large array of safeguards in the Act and within the practice of the Information Commissioner. If the hon. Gentleman has specific examples of concern to him, I am ready to follow them up, including with the commissioner.
The Prison Service discussed the merger internally, with staff associations and trade unions, and consulted a number of agencies, including Worcestershire county council, over the change of name to HMP Redditch. Following representations, I have agreed to an extended consultation on the name of the site; the deadline for submissions is 1 March.
I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. As he will be aware, the three prisons that are to be called HMP Redditch reside in the Bromsgrove local authority area and the Bromsgrove parliamentary constituency. Could he be clearer about whether he consulted his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, in his sister Department, on the decision to call the prison HMP Redditch, which has been controversial in the neighbouring seat?
As I said, the consultations took place with people who work in the prison, the local council—Worcestershire county council—and a number of other agencies. Following representations from Redditch borough council, Bromsgrove borough council, the hon. Lady and the Secretary of State for the Home Department, my right hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), I have decided to allow for a further period of consultation on the name of the proposed cluster of prisons. I think that that is fair, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome it, examine it in detail and give us her response before 1 March.
Reading today’s written statement from the Secretary of State, it seems that it is not just these three prisons that are being merged. Whatever the merits of the Redditch decision, will the Minister specify three steps that he has taken since 1 January that will expeditiously improve public safety, cut reoffending, reduce prison overcrowding and deal with the public perception that the only thing that we hear from within the Ministry of Justice is the scraping of deckchairs around the decks of the Titanic?
The hon. and learned Gentleman does himself a disservice. He knows that we are putting the greatest resources into new prison places in the history of Government, that we will put in place 16,000 extra prison places between now and 2011-12, and that we are securing a greater reduction in reoffending than ever there was under the Conservative Government. On the question of HMP Redditch, or whatever we finally agree to call it following the consultation, I would say to him that the clustering will save £650,000 in the next financial year and £860,000 in the financial year after that. As regards efficiencies, we are acting on them while he is simply talking about them.
Private Sector Prisons
Since 9 May 2007, I have received a number of submissions in relation to the performance of prisons run by private sector organisations. I am also provided with regular updates on the performance of private prisons through the independent monitoring board reports and the National Offender Management Service quarterly reports.
Private prisons have been an utter disaster, with abject assessments on the key requirements of security, maintaining order and reducing reoffending. No wonder 90 per cent. of them languish in the lowest poor performance quartile of the 132 jails in England and Wales: see early-day motion 752. Why is this track record of private contractors allowed to continue, with the love affair with the profit motive producing environments that the chief inspector of prisons, no less, describes as
“unsafe and unstable for both prisoners and staff”?
I know that my hon. Friend has some reservations, dare I say it, with regard to the private prison sector, but I would say to him that direct comparisons between public and private sector establishments on the scorecard are not appropriate and that private prisons are providing a valuable function in the custodial estate. He will know that we are looking at a new assessment framework to see how we can drive up standards in both the public sector and the private sector. I hope that he will share the Government’s aspiration to ensure that we undertake proper assessment and tackle underperformance where it exists.
What is the quality of the provision made in private prisons for education, training, skills and rehabilitation so that more people come out of prison able to enter a proper responsible life outside prison? It is important that those facilities be provided. What is the level and quality of that provision in our private prisons?
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in this matter, which is important because the quality of education, training and employment can affect the prospects for limiting reoffending when people leave prison. I recently visited Parc prison, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), and other private prisons, where significantly good work is going on to match employers with offenders, to look at investment in training, to ensure that people are prepared for life outside prison, and to help to reduce reoffending. There will always be variations in the level of provision and variations between some private prisons and some public prisons. The job of Government is to drive up quality throughout the public and private sectors to achieve the end that the hon. Gentleman shares with us.
Northumbria Probation Service
Northumbria’s probation budget will increase by more than 2 per cent. in 2008-09. The regional offender manager and probation staff are examining the service levels based on that increase.
Is the Minister aware that the probation service has said that it expects a 5.31 per cent. deficit by March 2011? That could impact on the service offered to offenders, and lead to the loss of 24 posts. It could mean that 24 trainee probation officers are not put in post, which would be a waste of £800,000 of public money. There are also threats to employees’ terms and conditions. Is that what the Minister meant when he met me last year to say that things were going to get better?
I say to my hon. Friend—I hope that he will accept this—that this year Northumbria’s budget will increase from more than £25.484 million to more than £25.995 million, which is an increase of more than 2 per cent. Northumbria has been able to recruit 24 trainee probation officers. The national staffing levels in the probation service have risen by more than 49 per cent. from more than 13,000 to more than 20,000 in the past 10 years of Labour Government. The number of staff in post in Northumbria stands at 644, and the regional offender manager and the probation service will try to live within the 2 per cent. increase for next year. I met my hon. Friend in Northumbria during the summer, and I am happy to meet him again to discuss the issues should he so wish.
The Government are developing proposals on disqualification criteria as part of their comprehensive package on Lords reform. A cross-party group is currently considering that and other matters, and its views will be reflected in a White Paper on Lords reform to be published in due course.
I hear what my friend says, but is it not an absolute disgrace and a scandal that people such as Lord Laidlaw, a Conservative peer and donor who is a tax exile in Monaco, are serving in this Parliament? For all I know, there may well be others. Is this not a matter of urgency? I appreciate what my friend said about the forthcoming White Paper on Lords reform, but the issue has to be tackled. People outside this place would be incredulous that people who do not pay our taxes are making our laws.
I may not speak with the same passion as my hon. Friend on this subject, but I can tell him that the Government believe that Members of the House of Lords should pay tax in the United Kingdom. As I told him when he introduced his private Member’s Bill on Friday, we are prepared to endorse the principles behind it. If amendments are tabled in Committee to deal with this matter, we will be more than prepared to consider them.
The Government’s response to the Corston report makes a commitment to consider the future of the women’s custodial estate. A project has been set up to examine Baroness Corston’s recommendation that the women’s estate should be replaced with smaller, geographically dispersed custodial units. I hope that that project will report to Ministers in April.
Can the Minister give some indication of the time scale? The Corston review was published about nine months ago, and can be contrasted with the Carter review, which recommended the expansion of male prisons. It seems as if all the available money is being targeted at the men, while women are being left in conditions that are totally unsuitable, given that 70 per cent. of female prisoners have mental health conditions.
I do not accept that—and the figures that I have suggest that 80 per cent. of female prisoners, rather than 70 per cent., have diagnosable mental ill health. The hon. Lady is not right to suggest that the approaches are separate. There is no doubt that the work that we are doing through the project to which I referred, which will establish more detail about how the reconfiguration of the women’s estate would work, as well as how smaller units would work and the extent to which they would be appropriate, will inform our estate strategy. Lord Carter referred in his report to the need to ensure that investment under that programme is made in such a way that it can assist in ensuring that women are not disadvantaged in the custodial system. The hon. Lady has made it clear that the needs of women are often different, and I agree with her. That is why I am the ministerial champion whose role is to ensure that we implement in a sensible way the 40 of the 43 recommendations in Baroness Corston’s report that we have accepted. These approaches can go hand in hand.
We are extending the network of sexual assault referral centres, which are piloting the use of independent sexual advisers to provide advocacy and support for victims, and providing funding for voluntary organisations to support victims of sexual violence. We have also introduced specialist police officers and prosecutors who can provide support to victims and help to make sure that rape is properly prosecuted.
During the past 10 years, the number of reported rapes has more than doubled, but the number of prosecutions has remained obstinately low at under 6 per cent. One of the main reasons for that is the failure of many women to pursue prosecutions. Will the Minister outline a little further what is being done to encourage and support women to do that?
I think that the figure that my hon. Friend mentioned refers to the conviction rate, rather than the prosecution rate. He is correct, however, that attrition—complainants withdrawing their complaints—is one of the main reasons why those conviction rates are still unacceptably low. The cross-government action plan on sexual violence and abuse focuses on increasing the level of support that the criminal justice system gives to victims to enable them to take their complaints forward, to ensure that we get more convictions. The sexual referral centres deal with that process. There were only five of them in 2001, and there should be at least 36 by the end of this financial year. The independent sexual violence advisers, who currently work in 38 areas, can give support and advocacy to ensure that complainants proceed through what is often a difficult process to make sure that there are convictions. For the convictions that do occur, the average length of sentences has increased. In 1984 the average length was just under two years, but by 2005 it had increased to just under seven years. It is worth ensuring that we send a signal, locally and nationally, that sexual assault and violence will not be tolerated in our society.
I have today issued a written ministerial statement on a new structure for the Ministry of Justice. The key changes will take place in the National Offender Management Service—NOMS—where Her Majesty’s Prison Service and the probation system will be brought together under a streamlined headquarters and regional structure to improve the focus on front-line delivery in prisons and probation, and to improve efficiency.
Last year, almost 61,000 prisoners were held in police cells throughout the country at a cost of almost £460 a night. Lord Carter’s review recommends the extension of Operation Safeguard to help to relieve prison overcrowding. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the £28 million black hole will not be extended, that public money will not continue to be wasted, and that police officers will be able to police rather than becoming part-time prison officers?
On the latter point, that practice is paid for out of overtime, which is one of the reasons for the high cost, so there is no evidence that it is detracting from the availability of officers on the ground. The hon. Gentleman will know that crime has decreased consistently in his constituency. In the Metropolitan police area alone, an additional 3,500 officers have begun work during the past 10 years. As for police cells, we are working hard to ensure that there is sufficient supply to cope with demand so that we do not have to use them. Although I understand the concern, the last people entitled to complain about the situation are members of the Conservative party, which consistently used police cells to a much greater extent than we have ever done, or are likely to do. Under the Conservatives, this practice peaked with 3,500 cells being used in one particular month.
I have explained in some detail to the Select Committee, and, indeed, in a further letter to the Chair of the Committee, that the £1.2 billion related to the current comprehensive spending review period—I had thought that that was obvious to anybody—with some additional funding to cover the purchase of the land for the so-called titan prisons. No Government have ever been able to give precise estimates of expenditure for the following spending period. That is why the total cost, including some element for capital receipts—although that is open to a wide margin of error—is estimated to be £2.3 billion.
As my hon. Friend will realise, that is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. I know that extensive consultation is taking place on it. Let me make it clear that the changes in the structure that I have announced today will apply to the operation of the probation service and the Prison Service in Wales, too, for which I am also responsible. We propose that there should be a single regional manager for both prisons and probation in Wales.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, closure was considered under a proposal made in 2002. A final decision was made by my then hon. Friend Christopher Leslie, who was a Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and announced at the beginning of 2006. I am not aware of any plans for closure now. If there are any, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman is made fully aware of them quickly.
The Justice Secretary says that today’s reorganisation of his Department will provide a sharper focus on reducing reoffending. Yet he also plans to bar voluntary groups from working with prisoners on Friday evenings. Is locking prisoners in overcrowded cells from Friday afternoons to Monday mornings what the Government mean by end-to-end offender management?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will decide to welcome the changes, which build on those that have been in train for the past 10 years. They have brought prisons and probation closer together and ensured that we have a much more effective Prison Service. The issue is whether we are ensuring, through the Prison Service and the probation service, that as well as suffering proper punishment, more offenders are trained so that they do not reoffend when they leave prison. The record on that is clear. The changes to the week are the result of financial constraints, but the question for Conservative Members is whether they would increase spending on prisons, as well as the rest of public spending. [Hon. Members: “You’re in government.”] We are in government, but they claim to be an alternative Government, and they need to put up or be quiet on the matter.
The right hon. Gentleman has just confirmed that he is locking up prisoners over weekends to cut spending. How can he justify wasting more than £1 billion of taxpayers’ money on the National Offender Management Service—an organisation that he has, after only three years of its existence, effectively scrapped in all but name?
The hon. Gentleman had good notice of my statement, but he obviously has not read it. The claim that we are scrapping NOMS is the opposite of the truth. I know that he was hoping for that, and I am sorry to disappoint him. The money invested in NOMS has worked well to ensure that reoffending is decreasing. There is a much greater focus on education, leading to a dramatic increase in training prisoners, and drug rehabilitation funding has increased tenfold. For the first time since the war, a Government have presided over not an increase in crime but a major reduction in crime throughout the country.
I certainly am not a member of the royal family—indeed, under the current law I doubt whether I would ever be allowed to be one. And I am going to disappoint my hon. Friend further, by saying that there is a long-standing convention that allows the president of the family division to decide whether the wills of the royal family should be open for inspection. My hon. Friend may wish to take that up with the president of the family division, because unfortunately, we have no plans to change the law in that respect.
There is no inconsistency at all between what I said and what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. The point that I was making to the Parole Board, which I shall repeat now, is that judicial decision makers, whether they be magistrates or judges, have an extraordinarily difficult job to do in predicting the future behaviour of offenders, on the best evidence available and in the context of a general presumption, from which I hope the Opposition do not resile, that people are innocent until they are found guilty. The Opposition may sometimes forget that, but it is rather fundamental to the operation of our law. What I am doing is looking in a measured way at whether we should take further steps to strengthen the law in that respect, particularly in the light of the Weddell case, and I am happy to take representations from all parts of the House on that.
As ever, the hon. Gentleman, who comes from the same great county as I do, asks an important question. The issue is an interesting one, and I shall revert to him and the House on the matter.
Will the Secretary of State give the House an assurance that financial constraints will not mean a cut in education in prisons? Education plays a key role in ensuring that former prisoners do not reoffend.
I shall certainly try to give my hon. Friend that assurance, because education is crucial in both developing the skill levels of individuals in prison and preparing them for life outside prison. She will know that there are many good education schemes in prisons in London, which are designed to link prisoners with employers outside and to try to ensure that they have proper employment opportunities at the end, because employment is key to reducing reoffending.
All-party talks are currently taking place, which I am pleased to say are proceeding pretty well, and a White Paper reflecting them will be published, I very much hope, before the summer.
The Lord Chancellor may recall that when he was Leader of the House, I raised with him the issue of suicide websites and was grateful for the sympathetic response that he gave. I raised the issue following the suicide of a teenage constituent, where there was evidence that he had been influenced in taking his own life by so-called suicide websites, which actively encourage people to commit suicide. Following the terrible news about a dozen young people in Wales who had taken their own lives, where there may have been a link through the internet, it is encouraging to know that the Government are looking to take action. Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what is proposed, and when we might expect such websites to be banned?
I applaud the hon. Gentleman for raising this terrible issue. Our hearts go out to the families of the children who have committed suicide in these circumstances. We are grateful to have his support, and we are actively looking at what we can do to control those websites. There are inherent difficulties, because many of them are based overseas, but we want to take action as quickly as we can. I have just been passed a note to say that the Law Commission, which has also been looking into the issue, has made recommendations that the Government are considering.
In the light of the Prison Governors Association’s report, which excoriates the performance of private firms involved in the management of prisons, will the Minister encourage the involvement of in-house teams to run the three titan super-prisons planned for the years to come?
My hon. Friend will know that we are examining in detail how to progress the concept and principles of titan prisons. He will also know that we are expecting shortly to produce a consultation paper outlining a number of issues, including location, management and the potential competition for the sites, either in the public or in the private sector. I hope to be able to make announcements, with my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, on these matters shortly.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement. The business for Thursday 31 January will now be:
Motion to approve the Fourth Report of the Committee of Standards and Privileges, Session 2007-08, on the conduct of Mr. Derek Conway (HC 280), followed by a topical debate on the Holocaust memorial day, followed by the remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for making this short statement about the altered business on Thursday. I note that we did not have a topical debate last week, when we had a debate on Members’ pay. This week, this extra debate has been inserted, and it is not time-limited, as I understand it. Will the right hon. Lady set out her policy on when topical debates will and will not take place?
The right hon. Lady will be aware that topical debates take place in Government time. I made the decision last week to give the House as much time as possible to discuss the important questions raised by the Senior Salaries Review Body report on Members’ pay and allowances. I made the decision on that day. We made the decision on the business for this Thursday last week. The decision that the topic for the debate would be the Holocaust memorial day was made first thing on Monday. Thereafter, we received the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and that will be the first order of business on Thursday. It will come before the topical debate, and we hope that the House will have ample opportunity to debate the Committee’s report. When that debate ends, we will move on to the topical debate and then to the National Insurance Contributions Bill. We hope that the House will have the opportunity to do justice to all those issues.
We welcome the statement, and we think that the Leader of the House is right to have the Committee on Standards and Privileges business on Thursday, when it can be debated without appearing to conflict with the matters that we have already determined should have priority today and tomorrow. I should, however, like to follow the question raised by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) by requesting that, in future, the assumption should be that there will be a topical debate unless there is agreement across the House that that should be changed.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that topical debates take place in Government time, and that we will decide how to allocate that time. As he knows, the topical debate procedure is still in its early stages, and we shall review it in due course to see how it is working. This Thursday, the topical debate will take place after the House has had an opportunity to discuss the report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
On a point of clarification, will the Leader of the House explain whether the moment of interruption will be later than normal on Thursday because of the extra business that the Government and the House feel it is appropriate to deal with on that day? It is important that the amount of time available for debate in this House should not be limited. The national insurance contributions legislation is important, so will the moment of interruption be later to take account of the time spent on the earlier business?
The hon. Gentleman will know that there will be four items of business, and the moment of interruption will be at the normal time. Obviously, depending on how the debates proceed during Thursday, and through discussions with the usual channels, we will try to ensure that the right time is available for each of the debates. We have done what people expect to be done in these circumstances: if a report about a Member is issued, the House must have an opportunity to debate and take any appropriate decision about it as early as possible. We did not want to scrap either the topical debate or consideration of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, which had already been tabled as the business for the day. We hope that we will have the opportunity fully to debate all those issues; otherwise, we shall just have to keep an eye on things as they proceed. There should be enough time to debate all those matters.
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a statutory right to an employment retention assessment to determine entitlement to a period of rehabilitation leave for newly disabled people and people whose existing impairments change; and for connected purposes.
This is the third time in the last few years that I have raised this subject in a ten-minute Bill and I can say that there has been firm consensus across the House that support should be provided to ensure that someone who develops an impairment or becomes disabled can remain in work. The Government have acknowledged that if they are to meet their target for an 80 per cent. employment rate and the requirements of public service agreement 8, they cannot ignore this issue. 2008 sees the latest strand with the Department for Work and Pensions employability campaign.
Yesterday, four days into the job, the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions outlined reform of the welfare system to move more people from benefits into employment. Today, three attempts into my campaign—and, I hesitate to say, having seen off two Secretaries of State—I find myself once again making the point that we need to focus on retention in order to prevent people from falling into the welfare system in the first place.
The widespread support I have always received for these Bills is testament to the fact that the matter is not confined to the margins of society. Every quarter, about 600,000 people become sick or develop an impairment as defined in the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 and within one year 13 per cent.—78,000 people—have left work. Out of those, about 25,000 people permanently leave employment each year due to illness or disability, never to return. That works out at more than a quarter of a million people since the Government came to power in 1997. That more than cancels out the creditable achievement of the Department for Work and Pensions in helping 200,000 disabled people into work over the last decade. As a result of this and other barriers, a disabled person is nearly five times more likely to be out of work and claiming benefits than a non-disabled person, and crucially, we know that once out of work, they are far less likely to return to employment.
Behind those statistics lie people’s lives—lives that often become suddenly unrecognisable as they have to come to terms simultaneously with a permanent life-changing impairment while facing the prospect of losing their employment, their source of income and in some cases even their home.
Last week, I listened to a speech from an inspirational man, Roger Lewis, and I think that his story says more about this Bill than my contribution ever could. Just under four years ago, his sight deteriorated to a point where he felt unable to work either effectively or safely without support through workplace adjustments or special equipment. Roger’s employer, a local government social services department, suggested that he go to the doctor and be signed off sick. Following his refusal to do so on the grounds that he was not unwell, he was sent home on full pay and told not to return.
Roger did not hear from his employers again until 12 months later, when they began a redeployment process to find him another position. Their only assistance was to provide him with a magnifying glass. A year later Roger, an employee for 20 years, had been given his notice and was left waiting by the phone, 10 minutes from redundancy. The call to prevent it came from his union only after the threat of a hearing at an employment tribunal forced his employers finally to change their approach. Subsequently, he was given three months away from work at one of the specialist colleges of the Royal National Institute of Blind People to train in using specialised computer software for visually impaired people. Only now has he been given the necessary support and equipment to enable him to do a job that he has always been capable of doing.
That process, which would have—and has—broken many others, was described by Roger as
“4 years of distress, depression, chaos and pressure, to demonstrate that despite being blind, I was still capable of doing my job.”
His is by no means an isolated experience. The questions that must be asked are: why does this have to happen, and why do we let it happen?
Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, an employer may be required to make reasonable adjustments to meet the needs of a disabled employee to ensure equality in his or her treatment with that of a non-disabled employee. That may involve providing a period of leave for treatment and rehabilitation, and to enable the employee to learn new skills in order to return to work. The non-binding code of practice illustrates the way in which the law is intended to operate when that provision kicks in. It envisages two employees, both of whom are out of work for six months. One, who is absent owing to a broken leg, returns to work once it heals, but the other, absent owing to a long-term disability, is dismissed. In that scenario, the employer would have breached his or her duty to the disabled employee.
The Government’s approach to the high unemployment rate among disabled people has been to increase awareness of the current law among employers. We welcome the employability campaign, but it misses a number of fundamental issues relating to the support that is needed to keep someone in work. Although the Disability Discrimination Act provisions are born from the principle and the arguments for employment retention, they remain inadequate when it comes to delivering it in practice.
As there is no prescribed system of assessment to determine entitlement to interventions, including a period of rehabilitation leave, there is considerable uncertainty for both employers and employees, accentuated by the number and the broad nature of the conditions attached to such interventions. As a consequence, employment retention policies are rarely granted. They are more often the grounds for legal dispute at a tribunal that takes place too late, when someone has already lost his job, or subjects that person to a tortuous process in order for him to keep it. Furthermore, the lack of a system of assessment means that the Disability Discrimination Act places the onus on the two parties to resolve the situation.
The importance of employment retention for a disabled person, for whom it is considerably more difficult to find work, is such that it is a free-standing justification per se. The Social Market Foundation estimates that improving the employability of disabled people would be worth £13 billion to the economy, and analysis by Lloyds TSB has shown that the financial benefit of retaining a typical manager who becomes disabled, weighed against the costs of making him redundant and hiring a new member of staff, amounts to £9,000.
It is important to note that the current law does not actually secure equality of treatment for all disabled employees, because discrimination will occur only on the basis of an individual company’s policy. Two people treated in exactly the same way by different employers will have entirely different entitlements.
The Bill’s main pillar is to introduce an assessment to determine whether disabled persons can be supported in the workplace, for example through “access to work”, or whether in more serious cases they need a period of leave, as Roger Lewis did for three months. That would secure far greater structure and certainty for both employers and employees. The Bill would also provide a much-needed vehicle to remedy the problems with the current provisions’ link to discrimination, which I have raised.
I started by saying that there was broad consensus in the House on the need to ensure support for people who become disabled while in employment, and already 133 Members from nine parties have attached their names to a motion in support of my Bill. While Members’ support is gratefully received, what is more pressing—and will, I hope, cause every Government member to get behind the Bill—is the fact that 25,000 people this year alone will, like Roger Lewis, be in need of these changes.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by John Robertson, Jim Sheridan, Mr. David Blunkett, Miss Anne Begg, John Bercow, Paul Rowen, Mr. Mike Weir, Julie Morgan, Dr. Alasdair McDonnell, Dr. Richard Taylor, Ann McKechin and Mrs. Sharon Hodgson.
John Robertson accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for a statutory right to an employment retention assessment to determine entitlement to a period of rehabilitation leave for newly disabled people and people whose existing impairments change; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 March, and to be printed [Bill 60].
Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No.2)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],
That the Order of 28th January be amended as follows: in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 1, in the third column—
(a) for ‘4½ hours’ substitute ‘3½ hours’, and
(b) for ‘1½ hours’ substitute ‘2½ hours’. —[Mr. Khan.]
Question agreed to.
Lisbon Treaty (No.1)
(1st Allotted Day)
[Relevant documents: The Third Report from the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2006-07, on Justice and Home Affairs Issues at European Union Level, HC 76, and the Government’s response, First Special Report of Session 2006-07, HC 1021.]
I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the following matters: fighting cross-border crime; justice; policing; human trafficking; and asylum and migration policy.
The UK’s co-operation with our European Union partners across a range of justice and home affairs issues stems, rightly, from the Maastricht treaty. From tackling organised crime to taking action against terrorism, and from providing greater protection of children to ensuring the security of our borders, this co-operation has been, and continues to be, driven by the real challenges we face today. Criminals organise and operate internationally, and we need to work closely with our European and international partners to tackle their activities. In particular, we need to ensure that the EU focuses on these issues, and truly and demonstrably adds value where that makes sense for Britain.
The Lisbon treaty provides the next step in the evolution of justice and home affairs co-operation. It allows us to work more effectively to improve public security and protection, to protect British citizens in their daily lives and to provide mechanisms to help our citizens and businesses living and working abroad. The issues that matter to our people—tackling crime, countering terrorism and securing our borders—are not merely issues of domestic concern. They are, rightly, at the heart of our work in the EU as well.
I have listened carefully to the Home Secretary’s opening words about the importance for the EU of moving this forward. If this is such a positive move, why have the Government had to negotiate so many opt-outs and opt-ins?
I am coming precisely to the point about the success of the Government’s negotiations in ensuring that, through the treaty provisions, we are able, in a much-enlarged EU, both to make progress on some of the issues that are of concern to us and to safeguard our national interests by delivering the opt-in. It was a negotiating triumph. Perhaps more important than the details of the negotiations or ongoing institutional wrangles is the way in which our active involvement in the EU is bringing results.
Why did the Home Secretary not just say that Great Britain wishes to keep in place the original architecture—outside the EU treaty and European Court of Justice jurisdiction—and to co-operate with other member states where appropriate, so that we preserve our veto and future Parliaments can change their mind if they wish? The problem with her system is that future Parliaments will be bound by any decision she makes.
I made it absolutely clear that I felt—I shall outline this when I make some progress in my speech—that having the benefits of taking EU co-operation forward through the new treaty arrangements alongside the protection of UK interests negotiated through our opt-ins on a range of justice and home affairs areas was the right balance to deliver the sorts of results that we wanted.
I was going to discuss those sorts of results, but I see that I shall now take further interventions. I suspect that they will not be about how we cut crime, counter terrorism and protect our borders, and that they may well be about something else.
This certainly will be germane to the subject matter that we are discussing. I would like the Home Secretary to answer a simple question. A wide range of matters are contained in these provisions. Is she aware that in the other countries, particularly France and Germany, the judges are appointed by political decision-making processes in their own constitutional arrangements? In respect of the application of those provisions, such a process differs significantly from the way in which this country conducts its justice and home affairs.
That is precisely why we were right to negotiate the opt-in on each justice and home affairs measure. I am not clear what point the hon. Gentleman is making.
I said that I would move on, so I shall do so. Our active involvement in the EU is bringing results. The European arrest warrant procedure has been one of the most high-profile justice and home affairs measures in recent years. It has allowed us to secure the return of those who seek to evade justice by crossing borders and in some cases it has helped to cut years off extradition times. That is a prime example—
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.
In 2006, the previous Prime Minister gave a very clear undertaking to the House of Commons. He said that he would ensure that the justice system
“is radically overhauled so that those”
“who are convicted of a serious criminal offence are deported automatically.”—[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 961.]
Since then, the Chindamo case has taken place. Will the Lisbon treaty provide the British Government with the wherewithal to deport foreign criminals automatically, or will we still be subject to the provisions of the rights of the foreign criminal under European Community treaties, as set out in the UK Borders Act 2007?
Generally, as we have announced recently, we have exceeded our target set last year to deport foreign national prisoners. We legislated in the UK Borders Act 2007 along the lines set out by the former Prime Minister on that occasion. The new provisions of the treaty and our active engagement in justice and home affairs activities enables us to raise issues within the EU, where they exist, and to make progress. I am confident that we will be able to do so.
I think I have answered the question put by the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), so I shall give way to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
The Home Secretary touched on the European arrest warrant. That is a good example, because by virtue of what is happening, she will have to make a decision in the next four and a half years as to whether the European arrest warrant will be subject to the new regime by opting in, whereby the ECJ will have ultimate jurisdiction, along with the Commission’s enforcement powers, in respect of it. That is very different from the current arrangement, which is an international treaty obligation that the United Kingdom could decide not to follow if it infringed the human rights of those affected. We will be surrendering the final say about that entirely to a supranational body.
No. As the hon. Gentleman identified, on the whole body of police, criminal and judicial measures that are transferred, it is our decision—six months before that five-year period finishes—as to whether we want to continue in those measures, if they have not been renegotiated or repealed during that time. We will make that decision on the basis of whether continuing in those measures, with ECJ jurisdiction, is in the national interest. We have negotiated the ability to make that decision and we have negotiated that transitional period.
May I take the Home Secretary back to the substance of this debate, rather than the froth of the Eurosceptics that seems to happen every single day that we discuss this issue? This morning, Sir Stephen Lander, the chairman of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, and he stated clearly how important European co-operation was in the fight against drugs and terrorism and in detecting serious crime. What further steps can we take to aid such co-operation between all the EU partners?
My right hon. Friend is right, and in the body of my speech I will come on to precisely that point. I agree with him that that is the fundamental issue about which people are concerned, and not what he rightly describes as the froth. In the spirit of debate, I am taking interventions, although they have not been especially to do with the issues that my right hon. Friend has mentioned, which are likely to be of concern to people outside the Chamber.
Can the Home Secretary confirm that in the Lisbon treaty the UK has negotiated opt-ins and opt-outs on areas in justice and home affairs that previously required the full participation of the UK in EU law? Those areas were given away by the Conservatives under the Maastricht treaty, and under the Lisbon treaty they will revert to UK control.
The hon. Gentleman has managed to rise above the froth and make an important point.
Why is the Home Secretary deliberately confusing the need for international co-operation in the war against terrorism and crime with the separate issue of whether we should hand over powers irrevocably to another law-making body? She has already seen the result of that in the promise by the Prime Minister to repatriate foreign nationals at the end of their sentence, which turned out to be incompatible with laws to which she had signed up in the European Union. If this House has already lost its powers to meet prime ministerial promises, why is she considering further laws to hand over more powers irrevocably to another jurisdiction?
I began to explain the opportunities that the treaty will give us to work more effectively in an EU of 27 to deliver further protection on a range of issues. I had mentioned the European arrest warrant, and I was about to give the example of the case of Hussain Osman, one of those suspected of the attempted bombings of 21 July 2005. He fled to Italy, but we were able to secure his rapid return, 56 days after the EAW was issued. He has since been convicted of conspiracy to murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Without the European arrest warrant, we would still have to face the fact that some member states refused to extradite their own nationals. Without it, extraditing criminals and terrorists from other member states would still be a lengthy, complex and expensive process.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way again, in the spirit of Committee debates, but she is aware that the European arrest warrant is not without its difficulties. There are examples of United Kingdom citizens who have been arrested and sent to other European countries on allegations of relatively trivial offences who have languished in custody. There was a case in Spain recently of two young men who were accused of uttering a forged note in the Canary Islands. Such people can languish in prison for long periods. That ought to be of concern to the Home Secretary in defending the rights of British citizens. Does she not understand that, while acknowledging the merits of the European arrest warrant, once such things are subject to the European Court of Justice and the Commission, she and the Government will lose all control over standing up for United Kingdom interests in these areas? Once in place, such things are irrevocable, and all that the opt-ins do is delay that moment by a maximum of four and a half years. What will the Home Secretary do at the end of that period in respect of the European arrest warrant?
I have already outlined what the position will be in four and a half years. I do not take the hon. Gentleman’s charge that there are considerable problems with the European arrest warrant—I have identified considerable benefits of having negotiated it—but I am completely clear that, if we need to improve those procedures further, the way to do so in an EU of 27 members is through active engagement in justice and home affairs discussions and negotiations in the way that the treaty facilitates. Some of the views of Opposition Members would actively work against that by removing us from that sort of active involvement in making decisions that would benefit British people and improve protection across the whole EU.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that, if we are to face the much greater problems that we now have with international terrorism, we cannot but do that in any way other than to work very closely and continuously with our neighbours—that needs a provision that goes beyond where we are now—and that co-operation in a general sense is not satisfactory when we face such a very present and important threat?
I think that the right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Intergovernmental co-operation can only take us so far, and the commitment to the sort of institutional arrangements in the treaty will help us to address some of those problems.
Is it not absolutely inconceivable that we can combat the acute terrorist danger that European countries— certainly ours and our close allies as well—face without the closest co-operation on the international scene? It is absolutely amazing, unless it is pure xenophobia, that the Opposition do not recognise that.
My hon. Friend makes the case extremely strongly. We have now heard that from my hon. Friends and from right hon. Gentlemen in the Opposition. To move on with the substance—
Will the Home Secretary give way?
No. I want to make some progress.
An example is the asylum arrangements agreed under the Dublin regulation, which is underpinned by the Eurodac fingerprint database and part of the common European asylum system agreed by member states to prevent asylum shopping. These arrangements allow the Border and Immigration Agency to check the fingerprints of asylum seekers against records in other European countries and to return those who have already lodged a claim in another member state or who have entered the UK illegally. Since 2003, the UK has returned more than 6,000 asylum seekers to other member states under that system—arrangements saving us about £8 million a year.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely important point about the impact of co-operation and opting in, for instance, to the asylum qualifications directive under earlier arrangements. Does she agree that, contrary to the argument that we have heard being put by Opposition Members, it is precisely our ability to opt in to arrangements that are legally binding on every member state that gives us the forceful action that is needed in the European Union to deal with problems such as illegal immigration?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the increased strength over and above simply an intergovernmental process of co-operation that comes from the treaty provisions on justice and home affairs. Coupled with strong domestic enforcement action on immigration and crime, action at EU level can clearly work in Britain’s interest.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
No, I shall make a bit of progress first.
On the fight against drugs, we have joined other EU partners in establishing the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre—Narcotics in order better to tackle bulk smuggling of cocaine across the Atlantic. By sharing intelligence with our partners and backing it up operationally, we increase opportunities for intercepting drugs and help to cut the supply of drugs before they reach our streets. We also benefit from international work against the vile crime of human trafficking.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
In a moment.
During our last presidency of the EU, we introduced the EU action plan against trafficking. Along with our action to ratify the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking by the end of this year, the action plan will strengthen our hand in the fight against that horrific modern-day form of slavery and make life harder for traffickers in the UK and throughout the EU.
The Home Secretary is being generous in giving way. May I take her back to the opt-in and its value? Will she take the House through the procedures that will follow under the protocol if the United Kingdom should choose not to opt in to existing measures after four years and six months, or to anything that comes about as a result of amendments in the meantime? What procedure will be followed, and what penalties will the United Kingdom face if it chooses not to opt in?
The process is spelled out reasonably clearly, but I do not intend to go through it in detail now. It is straightforward and safeguards the UK’s ability to opt in. I take exception to the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that there are penalties for not opting in. That is not the case.
Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell us what description she would choose to apply to an article that states
“the United Kingdom shall bear the direct financial consequences, if any, necessarily and unavoidably incurred as a result of the cessation of its participation in those acts.”
That is compensation, is it not?
The hon. Gentleman is referring to circumstances in which the UK decides not to opt in to a measure that amends or builds on another. He is quoting selectively, of course—
It is in the treaty.
Just let me finish. The hon. Gentleman quotes selectively, because the first stage of that process would be a situation in which the UK’s decision not to opt in to a measure rendered the underlying measure inoperable. That is an extremely high hurdle. The provision refers to unavoidable, directly incurred financial consequences of the underlying measure being rendered inoperable, not to a penalty or a fine. For example, if the UK decided not to opt in to a database that then became inoperable, it is not unreasonable that the cost of withdrawing from that database might have to be met. That is not a fine or a penalty; it is a direct financial consequence, and it would be incurred only in circumstances where the underlying measure was completely inoperable; that is a very high hurdle.
If the threshold at which the penalty system operates is so high, why could the Government not secure the same sort of exemptions as the Danish Government, which allowed them to maintain the status quo for as long as they wanted and which were latched into the system? When I read the treaty, I inferred that because of the United Kingdom’s key involvement in European decision making on justice and on crime and its suppression, it would be difficult to implement many of the measures and might well cause problems if we did not participate. I am afraid that I do not share the optimistic view that only in rare cases will we have to bear the financial costs.
The hon. Gentleman might not share my optimism, but he is wrong about the basis of the negotiation and the basis of the direct financial consequences to which he referred.
I shall make a little progress on substantive issues. At the same time as negotiating on the issues that I described, I have been discussing with my counterparts such matters as how the EU can ensure the protection of our children. The JHA Council agreed some years ago that all member states should have in place basic criminal offences to ensure the prosecution of those seeking to exploit or abuse children. That, incidentally, is a good example of where the strength of an EU agreement far outweighs anything that could be delivered simply through intergovernmental co-operation.
The JHA Council also agreed measures to improve the way in which we receive information on convictions against those who have committed such offences within the EU. The UK is taking that work forward through a joint project with several other countries on the electronic exchange of criminal records information.
In tackling child abuse, the UK and other member states have been able to count on the work of Eurojust and Europol, including the successful co-ordination of an operation involving 28 countries to crack an online child sexual abuse case. Ongoing investigation and co-operation of member states through Europol led to significant arrests, including 46 in the UK, the identification of 2,500 “customers” worldwide, and the seizure of thousands of computers, videos and photographs.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. On data sharing, is she satisfied that the necessary protections exist among our partner countries, so that data that we send them will be protected and data that come to us will also be protected? That is extremely sensitive and important information about individual people.
I know that that is an issue that my right hon. Friend’s Select Committee, the Home Affairs Committee, raised in its consideration of the matter. Further to the response that we gave at that time, progress is being made on the data protection framework directive within the EU, which will provide some of the reassurances that my right hon. Friend and the Committee were looking for.
What assurances has the Home Secretary given to our European partners that their data will be better protected than she has managed with respect to the protection of our data?
The right hon. Gentleman was too helpful last time. I should have quit while I was ahead.
Looking to the future, there is more that can be done at EU level to strengthen the efforts that I have identified, particularly in relation to child protection. At the informal JHA Council last week, the UK presented a paper which argued for further co-operation to introduce mechanisms to monitor sex offenders across Europe, and to tackle the obscene and harmful child abuse content that can be found on the internet.
Can the Home Secretary give the House an assurance that the UK will exercise its opt-in to co-operate with other European member states in this area? Surely it is much better to get stronger protection for our children through the approach that she is outlining than through an intergovernmental approach.
What I was outlining to the hon. Gentleman was not whether we would take a decision on a measure that was being proposed to us, but that the UK was in a position to lead that work across Europe. What we need to ask ourselves is how we can ensure that other countries across Europe that may not have child protection provisions as well developed as ours will also be subject to the provisions that we put in place. Only by developing the sort of work that the treaty sets out and the certainty that that provides can we be confident that when we reach agreement on such serious issues, that agreement will exist across the whole of the EU.
I am extremely grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way; it may just help to tease out one of the key issues. I have no objection to the United Kingdom getting involved, as was debated a moment ago, in that particular area. However, does she not see a distinction between getting involved under the existing provision—a mere international treaty obligation—and getting involved under the opt-in provisions that, once the treaty is in force, place the obligations and their enforceability into the hands of the European Court of Justice and the Commission?
I would just like a view from the Home Secretary on whether she sees any difference between the two mechanisms. The issue may well be where the real difference between us lies; I suggest to her that there is an enormous difference between the two concepts in respect of the maintenance of national rights and sovereignty over those issues.
ECJ jurisdiction already applies to the existing provisions on migration and asylum, for which we are already able to operate our opt-in. Some of the examples that I have already given have answered the hon. Gentleman’s charge. In fact, as I have identified, the way in which we will take forward the treaty, with the safeguards that we have put in it, is likely to enable us to make progress across the whole EU.
What slightly troubles me is that at the moment we envisage circumstances in which, for example, other countries are forced to do things in respect of child protection that we think right and proper; we think that that would be a good thing. However, can the Home Secretary not envisage circumstances in which we would be forced by qualified majority voting to do things that we would not think appropriate if we had decided on our own what should amount to a criminal offence and what should not? What could we do about that?
The nature of the opt-in that we have negotiated means that we could decide not to opt in to such provisions. That is the strength of our negotiating position—our final position—on justice and home affairs.
I will make a little more progress. The sharing of information that I was talking about is not only relevant for child protection; JHA co-operation has given us access to crucial data-sharing arrangements to tackle terrorism and serious crime—for example, introducing a mechanism that will allow the police to access fingerprint, DNA and vehicle registration information held by other member states so that we can prevent, detect and investigate serious crimes in the UK.
Today I have set out the benefits to the UK that come from better co-operation across the EU: speeding up extradition, strengthening our borders and improving asylum arrangements; smarter ways of working to stop drug smugglers; joint action against human trafficking; new protections for children; and new ways to share information vital to our efforts to tackle terrorism and serious crime.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I will allow the voice of the Better Off Out group to speak.
The Home Secretary is very generous. Will she explain why it would be in the UK’s interests, for instance, to give the EU powers to set minimum and maximum prison sentences? How can that be in our interests?
Previously, the very fact that certain criminal offences can be recognised throughout the EU has been important. Let us take the issue of recognising the definition and the nature of terrorism: when that agreement was reached, only seven of the 15 countries had a definition of terrorism. It is obviously a good thing for us and our security across the EU to be able to ensure that there is a common definition of terrorism.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to shift the focus slightly—although perhaps not now—and deal also with civil justice, which comes under the justice rubric of today’s debate? Civil justice offers protections, through co-operation, for families with abducted children, consumers—with the proposals for a European small claims court—and, above all, for business, which sometimes has great difficulty in taking effective legal proceedings against parties in other member states because of the lack of co-operation between the judicial authorities. Surely there are other benefits in the civil justice system which we should not overlook.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will get to that point, but he has made it eloquently.
I might not get to it.
On human trafficking, how will this new treaty improve the current situation in dealing with co-operation not only between European Union countries but countries outside the EU?
Article 69B of the Lisbon treaty defines trafficking in human beings and sexual exploitation of women and children as a
“particularly serious crime with a cross-border dimension”.
As such, measures can be adopted to establish minimum rules on criminal offences and sanctions. Those measures would of course be subject to the UK opt-in and the emergency brake, but in my view they would help us to ensure that the seriousness with which we address human trafficking in this country is shared across the whole of the EU. This is a good example, I am afraid, of a crime that would not be as well addressed were the hon. Gentleman’s view that we would be better off out of Europe to be the case. There is no way that we can tackle cross-border crime such as human trafficking by reverting to our borders and believing that we can address it most effectively in the domestic environment.
Human trafficking is a European problem and a world problem, not an EU problem, and we should co-operate with all the countries involved. The Home Secretary failed to give one single concrete reason why the new treaty would improve the situation and reduce human trafficking, other than quoting some words from the treaty. If we are talking about words, can she tell me what concrete reduction in human trafficking this treaty will bring?
Earlier—perhaps the hon. Gentleman missed it—I referred to the fact that we were able to negotiate, under the UK’s presidency, an EU action plan on trafficking that enables us to put in place not just good practice but shared standards on how we could safeguard victims and be clear about offences; of course, implementing it is important as well. If the hon. Gentleman reads Hansard, he will see that I gave a specific and detailed answer to his previous question.
To deliver on these issues of concern and to give our citizens the right levels of protection, we clearly need to engage actively in tackling crime and immigration at the EU level. The alternative promulgated by some Conservative Members—to disengage from Europe, to focus on the domestic, and to depend on ad hoc intergovernmental arrangements—is not only unrealistic but an ineffective and inadequate response to the challenges that we face.
To return to the point about trafficking brought up by my neighbour, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), several women and children in my own constituency, just up the road, have come in with every sign of having been trafficked from countries well outside the EU but with EU passports. Part of the traffickers’ supply train runs through Europe, and without the powers in this legislation it will not be possible to chase them up and deal with them properly.
My hon. Friend makes an important point about the route through which women are often trafficked, and she is absolutely right.
In negotiating the justice and home affairs chapter, the Government made clear their absolute determination to protect our common law system and police and judicial processes. We were clear that EU co-operation in this area should not affect fundamental aspects of our criminal justice system. We have achieved that outcome. The extended opt-in arrangements that we have secured mean that we have a complete choice as to whether to participate in any JHA measure. We have also ensured that the jurisdiction of the ECJ cannot be imposed on the UK in this area—it will apply only to the extent that we have chosen to participate in a JHA measure. As each proposal for new EU legislation on JHA comes forward, we will have the right to decide whether we participate in it. In many cases, given the importance of the issues in question, some of which we have touched on today, it will clearly be in the UK’s interests to do so, but in others we have secured the right not to participate and not to have the resulting legislation apply to the UK. I have already explained the position with respect to the existing body of EU law on police and criminal judicial co-operation and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The deal is significantly better than that under the defunct constitutional treaty and represents a huge negotiating success.
On the specific issue of whether this is a negotiating success, may I refer the Home Secretary back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), from which she was very keen to move on? Is not the fact of the matter that the Government have negotiated a situation that allows the UK to withdraw from some of the arrangements, but only at a price? That price will be determined by a qualified majority vote on the recommendation of the Commission—a decision in which the UK will not be involved.
No. In fact, I replied to the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) at some length, and I outlined the circumstances in which there would be any direct financial outcomes. First, in order for such a matter even to be under consideration, the UK’s decision not to opt in to an amending or building measure would have to render inoperable the measure to which it was an amendment. That is a pretty high threshold. Secondly, the only costs for which the UK could possibly be liable would be direct financial consequences that were unavoidable because of the impact of that decision. As I have now said that twice, I do not intend to go over it again.
Will the Home Secretary tell us how she would have felt if the previous outgoing Conservative Government had passed a series of laws that Labour did not like and had locked them all in by means of an opt-in so that they could not be repealed without the consent of most of the other member states? Is that a democratic way of proceeding?
I would have hoped that any Government had negotiated hard in Britain’s interest. I would have hoped to see negotiating success such as that which we have seen in this case, although I am not sure that that Conservative Government would have achieved it. I also would have expected lengthy and detailed scrutiny of the proposals, along the same lines as that which we are carrying out and that will take place over the coming days. That is what the Government are delivering.
Will the Minister give way?
I will—those on the Opposition Front Bench are making free despite their ability to make speeches later.
I am deeply grateful to the Home Secretary for allowing me to intervene. There is not a great deal of time for us to make speeches because the debate is limited to three and a half hours. Will she estimate the financial consequences to which the UK might be exposed through the limited financial repercussions that she mentioned a moment ago? She seems to be saying that that will not happen, but presumably she has some idea of how many billions or millions—or just hundreds—that that exposure might involve.
As I have spent some time explaining, the chances that any direct financial consequences would arise are very slim, given the high threshold that would have to be reached before any consideration of the matter could take place.
Based on the foundation that I have spelled out, we can continue to work with our European partners to our mutual benefit. That does not always require changes to the UK, which is what Conservative Members often focus on. For example, I have already talked about our success in agreeing a common set of terrorist offences in 2002.
We benefited from the work at EU level to strengthen external borders. Even though we do not participate in the Schengen border arrangements that apply in most member states and have explicitly reserved our right to maintain our frontier controls, we have benefited from those efforts. Most transit routes to the UK for illegal migration and people trafficking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) mentioned, lie through the territory of EU member states. By working with bodies such as the border agency Frontex, we can help to reduce the flow of migrants in transit to the UK.
As well as protecting our citizens, JHA co-operation can provide the means to help them live, work, buy, sell, study and do business in another European country with the same levels of protection and assurance as they have in their own. Instruments that make it easier to undertake cross-border litigation are necessary because such cases can be substantially more expensive than purely domestic litigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) was right to point out that a European small claims court procedure will apply within a year which could, for example, help holidaymakers to obtain redress if they have bought faulty goods in another country. In addition, businesses will have a range of options for obtaining judgments against those in other member states who owe them money.
We have always been adamant that EU co-operation must be in Britain’s national interest. It must not—and it will not—adversely affect fundamental aspects of our justice system, nor undermine our ability to safeguard national security. Equally, we have seen the clear benefits that co-operation can bring to public protection, the management of our borders and the delivery of justice. Our opt-in on justice and home affairs will allow us to continue to participate in measures where that makes sense for Britain, while safeguarding our national interests at the same time.
We face a clear choice. Agreeing the Lisbon treaty allows us to put institutional negotiations behind us, and to get on with the job of work that our citizens expect us to do. We can choose to work in Britain’s interests and deliver greater protections in the fight against crime and for our national borders—or, as we have seen this afternoon from Opposition Members, we can devote ourselves to ongoing institutional wrangling that in actual fact works only in the interests of those whose ultimate goal would be to withdraw Britain from the EU entirely.
Our citizens are safer and our country is more secure as a result of our active involvement in the EU, and I commend this motion to the House.
I beg to move amendment (a), to leave out from “House” to end, and to add instead thereof:
“disapproves of the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning fighting cross-border crime, justice, policing, human trafficking and asylum and migration policy because the Treaty weakens the UK’s ability to determine its own policy in these important fields, would bring to an end the intergovernmental nature of EU co-operation over policing and criminal justice, abolishes the safeguard of the national veto in almost all remaining areas in justice and home affairs matters and creates the possibility that the UK could be fined for refusing to participate in certain legislation in these areas; and notes that the European Scrutiny Committee, in its Third Report of Session 2007-08, HC 16-iii, paragraph 75, is “concerned that the interpretation of the red line to “protect UK civil and criminal justice” as only requiring control of the decision to opt in or not does not recognise the loss of protection that will occur every time jurisdiction is transferred from UK courts to jurisdiction by the European Court of Justice and the Commission.”.’.
I was truly sorry to hear the manner in which the Home Secretary approached the debate. We have rather important topics to discuss, but her facility for avoiding some of the basic facts that the House needs to consider is breathtaking, and it is coupled with the completely inadequate amount of time that has been made available for us properly to scrutinise the Bill.
The Home Secretary told us that the treaty was a negotiating triumph. I can think of many ways to describe the treaty but, by referring back to what the Government said about some of the clauses that they have now accepted, I shall try to show that it is a little difficult to see it as a triumph when it contains so much that the Government so vociferously objected to previously. The Home Secretary has a facility—it might be a good thing in a politician—for glossing over some of the unpleasant fundamental facts about the treaty, its nature and the future of the EU.
A moment ago, the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) described me as a Eurosceptic. That is a little difficult: I am half French, and not normally sceptical about half of myself. I must tell the Home Secretary that I am beginning to think that I shall have to apply for a French passport to escape her identity card provisions. That might be my only recourse.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment. I can tell the Home Secretary that I believe fully in co-operation between European states and that I have no difficulty at all with the concept of intergovernmental co-operation. However, the first question that the right hon. Lady should have asked is, “What is the treaty actually about for those member states that intend to participate in it fully?”
There can be only one answer to that question. The treaty sets up the architecture to deliver common norms of criminal justice and policing through the harmonisation of criminal justice laws and the recognition of judicial and extrajudicial decisions. That is as fundamental a change in the EU’s nature as there has been since its foundation. Our European partners have taken a decision—and they are fully entitled to do so if they wish—that must inevitably lead over a prolonged period, through the operation of qualified majority voting, and the work of the Commission and the European Court of Justice, towards harmonisation. In 30 or 40 years’ time, there will be common systems of justice controlled from outside nation states in order to ensure conformity. That is the model they have chosen to adopt, and they make no secret of it. The Home Secretary looks glum; I am sorry that she cannot accept the reality. That is what they have chosen to do, and the UK Government have said repeatedly that they want it to happen—certainly in terms of our own involvement.
My hon. Friend makes the important point that the Government did not want these provisions. I have a list of the 40 amendments tabled by the Government representative at the Convention on the Future of Europe, the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain), of which only two succeeded: one of them deleted “safety” and inserted “security”. If that is a negotiating triumph, does my hon. Friend wonder what a failure might have been like?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The fact is that the Government lost out in the negotiating process and did not achieve their aims. Perhaps they were in a difficult position. Somewhere in the Departments, somebody is advising the Home Secretary, correctly, that the developments in criminal justice that the European Union wish to pursue do not sit easily with notions of national independence, which in this country are underpinned by the rule of law and our common law principles. There is no escaping that; it is part of our national tradition. The same applies to Scotland, which also has a common law and Roman-Dutch law tradition mix. Such a system does not fit neatly with a Napoleonic model, which much of the parts of the treaty that deal with judicial and criminal matters are all about.
Following the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), whether one is Euro-positive or Eurosceptic, the intellectually disingenuous part of the Government’s position is that they broadly welcome the Lisbon treaty, but whenever they are challenged about something nasty in it, they say, “Don’t worry, there is a red line.” Intellectually, one cannot have it both ways. We heard very little from the Home Secretary about the so-called red lines. Does my hon. Friend have any confidence that the red lines—if they are necessary, as the Government say they are—will hold?
I have serious doubts about the red lines, and I shall come back to them in a moment, but my hon. Friend makes another important point. The Home Secretary spent most of her time saying that the red lines would provide protection, but the rest of her speech dealt with how international co-operation facilitated by the EU had benefited this country. I have no reason to disagree with that in some cases, although I might in relation to some examples. What she was not prepared to debate was the text of the treaty. It is the treaty that we are signing. We might have opt-ins, but it is the treaty to which we wish to become a party, and it envisages a major and profound change, taking the European Union from being an economic grouping with common interests in social policy areas to one with a single justice system. That must be where we are going.
In relation to Denmark, and the Home Secretary’s claim that there was some sort of negotiating triumph, the Danish position has been preserved in the words of one of the protocols. Judicial co-operation will continue to apply to Denmark, unchanged in its present form, even if subsequently amended or replaced under the reform treaty. We did not, therefore, even do as well as Denmark.