House of Commons
Wednesday 6 February 2008
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Duchy of Lancaster
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—
In a civil service of 500,000, there are approximately 400 press officers in Whitehall Departments. The Central Office of Information white book lists 3,250 Government entries, but this includes a range of functions such as providing information to the public through publications, websites and campaigns around issues such as road safety, public health and smoking. There are no directly comparable figures for 1996-97.
Government is indeed about choices. I will tell the hon. Gentleman one thing that this Government have increased spending on, because it is something close to his heart: advertising for public information on health. In 1997-98, we spent £2 million; in the last year for which figures are available, 2006-07, we spent £43 million. That is about making choices to inform people about healthy living and how they can improve their own health. I would have thought that he would welcome that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the threats to the health of the public in the 21st century will be exactly as he describes—the lifestyles that we all, young and old, have in this country? Public information about smoking and childhood obesity are vitally important, and it would be completely irresponsible for any Government not to ensure that good messages get through to protect people’s health.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I pay tribute to the work that he did in leading the campaign on smoking in the workplace and the ban that was introduced. His work, and that of hon. Members in all parts of the House, made the difference in that campaign. He is right that we need to do more to inform the public about the dangers of second-hand smoking, for example, and that is another area that the Government have been investing in.
Is not the real problem that during the tenure of this Government the roles of public relations people, civil servants and political advisers have got incredibly muddled and mixed up? We need a new civil service Act to define very clearly what civil servants should do and what political operators should do.
I do not necessarily accept the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I bring him good news: as part of the constitutional renewal Bill, we will legislate for the principles of a civil service Act. I hope that he will welcome that Bill and engage with it. I also point out that the Prime Minister has repealed the Orders in Council relating to the civil service that some people had criticised. I hope that the hon. Gentleman also welcomes that, and I look forward to his support for our Bill.
The Minister will be pleased to acquire the talents of the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who is now part of his team. He is a true communications guru. He is a pioneering blogger and a highly influential letter writer, and he even produced for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon) the widely respected YouTube spoof of the Leader of the Opposition. Now that his Cabinet Office has the benefit of such talented communications skills—and, of course, those of the other Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope)—why does it need 35 communications officers, including one supporting each of the three Ministers?
There are eight press officers in the Cabinet Office. Once again, the hon. Gentleman, in common with his hon. Friends who have already spoken, undervalues the importance of information. The Government would be criticised if we were not providing information to people through websites and through other forms of communication. Interestingly, listed in the Government white book are people who work on Directgov, which is the site that provides information to millions of people around this country on the issues that matter to them. The hon. Gentleman should welcome what we are doing on this, not criticise it.
The Government are committed to providing opportunities for local third sector organisations and public bodies to work together to ensure the best use of public spaces and buildings. The new £30 million community assets programme will provide grants to improve local authority assets so that they can be transferred to community ownership. That is just one element of a broad programme of support for local authorities and third sector organisations to develop quality partnerships to ensure the best use of high-quality assets.
I thank the Minister for his response. In line with that answer, on 15 March, Wembley stadium will open its doors to voluntary organisations and the London borough of Brent to talk about facilities and its football development programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that that programme, along with the extended schools programme, is one of the right steps forward in making sure that our young people keep fitter, and in the development of stars for the future? As we are talking about Wembley, will the Minister also join me in congratulating the football—
I wish the England team and their new manager every success—that is one European partnership that I am sure the whole House would want to support. I congratulate Wembley and Brent council for creating their new partnership. There are many football teams throughout the leagues that create such partnerships, and they bring real benefits, such as new learning centres and the engagement of young people in their communities in imaginative ways that provide them with constructive alternatives and opportunities for learning. I shall visit Watford football club in the near future to learn about the success it is having in improving the community around its town.
I welcome this new initiative, and any help to local and voluntary groups is always welcome. However, is not the real support that the third sector wants from the Government the provision of more clarity and long-term core funding? What can the Minister tell us about the real help that local groups in all our constituencies are looking for?
I have some very good news for the hon. Gentleman. If he reads today’s edition of The Guardian, he will see an announcement about the new Grassroots Grants campaign. That grant regime will provide a flow of revenue funding, which is particularly targeted at small, local voluntary organisations, whose grant needs often get overlooked. It will be rolling out from this summer through local providers, and it will consist of not only a revenue stream, but an endowment fund to provide sustainable funding for local voluntary organisations over the years ahead.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the happy campaigners of the Gwynneth Morgan day centre, whom he visited recently, on their campaigns on pavements and post offices, which took place with the help and encouragement of his Department? Does he agree that campaigning is an important activity for voluntary organisations and charities?
We had an excellent morning in Wandsworth with the happy campaigners. The group is a Leonard Cheshire group, and it is standing up for the needs of its community. It is campaigning for better pavements in particular. We want to see such campaigning throughout the country—people with needs in their local areas having a voice. We want those who do not have a voice, who are the most marginalised, to have the opportunity to speak up and get public services to respond to their needs. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does in his constituency in standing up for groups that are often the most overlooked.
The Cabinet Office sets out the strategic direction for information assurance in Government. Individual Departments are responsible for following the strategy and protecting the data that they hold.
The Government take information assurance very seriously, and the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I have spent a lot of time in my new post understanding this new brief. The Prime Minister announced that the new Secretary of State for Wales will be increasing ministerial firepower on the matter, and any lessons that have to be learnt, will be.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new appointment. When he considers the failures that there have been in data security, he will find a common thread. It is not a policy failure, but a failure of management and training. Will he look at what the private sector does to ensure that people are properly trained and that they are aware of their obligations under privacy legislation, and will he ensure that such rules are adopted in the civil service?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. I know that he is an recognised expert in this House on information assurance. His points on training are important and one of the early indications from the O’Donnell review is that there is a role for enhanced training. If such training is required to be mandatory, it probably should be.
I welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box; no doubt that is his reward for his part in dispatching the previous Prime Minister.
Two years ago the Walport report called for the Government to improve data security, warning that leaks of personal data would damage the Government’s reputation. A year ago, Sir Edmund Burton, the Cabinet Office’s own adviser on information assurance, pointed out a systemic lack of awareness of data security throughout the Government. Just last summer, the Coleman report raised concerns—a report that it is now clear that no Minister actually bothered to read. After all those warnings, and after 25 million bank details have gone missing, benefit files were dumped on a roundabout and 3 million drivers’ records were lost in Iowa, of all places, why are we still seeing personal data disasters week after week?
Let me repeat my earlier answer: we take the matter seriously, and the information assurance strategy launched last June increased Government security. The O’Donnell review, when it reports, will again improve Government policy. Four principles underpin our approach to that review. We require enhanced transparency, increased monitoring, improved guidance and better, and possibly mandatory, training.
How many reports does the Minister need? He has had three so far. The problem is not a lack of transparency, but a great deal too much of it in respect of personal data.
Nick Coleman said in his report last year that
“adequate mechanisms are not yet in place…which puts at risk the government’s aspirations for service delivery enabled by technology.”
Is not that the clearest possible indication that the Government can never be trusted with all the personal data involved in setting up a national ID card? When will Ministers at the centre of Government show some leadership, get a grip and start to protect the public’s personal data, which are constantly being put at risk?
The O’Donnell review is already changing Departments’ activities. The right hon. Gentleman and I both aspire to a cultural change in Government. Our hard-working civil servants should deal with people’s personal information in the same way as they deal with taxpayers’ money. That is a contemporary challenge for Government. Twenty-five years ago, when the right hon. Gentleman first entered Parliament—and when his Front-Bench colleague the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) and I were probably playing “Manic Miner” on a 48-kilobyte ZX Spectrum—the information that can now be held on a DVD would have filled 400 filing cabinets. We are rising to that contemporary challenge and Departments are taking action.
Voluntary Sector (2012 Olympics)
The Olympics will bring huge benefits to the whole country and the Big Lottery Fund has introduced important safeguards to protect the amount of funding available to voluntary sector organisations. The fund has ensured that no existing lottery projects will be affected and that the original estimated £2 billion over the next five years will continue to be available for the third sector.
I am sure that the Minister knows that the Big Lottery Fund has allocated resources to many thousands of important and valuable voluntary organisations and clubs. Although I welcome the Government’s assurance that there will be no further raids on good causes, will he please confirm that the voluntary sector will get the same amount of funding from the Big Lottery Fund, or the same share of funding, as it now receives?
That was the point of my original answer. I confirm that the original estimate of £2 billion for the next five years will be available for the third sector. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned for the Big Lottery Fund to give its resources to the third sector, he might have a word with Conservative Front Benchers, who recently announced that they would cut £250 million from the amount going from the fund to the Olympics. That would take £250 million away from the voluntary sector.
One of the positive aspects of London 2012 is that more than 100,000 people will volunteer. Will the Minister consider creating a national vocational qualification for volunteering and, most of all, establishing an Olympic volunteers day that will connect not only this country but all the cities that have hosted the Olympics throughout the world since 1896?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his contribution to work on the Olympics. He and I played rugby together many years ago in the parliamentary rugby team—something that we will probably not do again in future. The volunteers to whom he refers are essential. Qualifications that volunteers can attain, as part of acknowledging the contribution that they make, are an important part of the process of accreditation that we would like to happen. This is, of course, a matter for voluntary organisations and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, but my hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, because there are genuine opportunities to be taken.
One of the strengths of the Big Lottery Fund has been the fact that it funds not only the third sector, but the statutory and private organisations that partner that sector. That is where the cuts of £425 million will fall. Will the Minister make it clear what impact he thinks those cuts will have on the ability to deliver real outputs and projects on the ground?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new responsibilities on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench. The Olympic games offer many opportunities, including business opportunities for many social enterprises in the third sector. It has been estimated that Social Enterprise London could be a contender to bid for around £500 million of business related to the Olympic games. As well as resources for the third sector being safeguarded, there are opportunities for social enterprises in the sector to be deliverers of the Olympic games and the opportunities that they provide.
But can the Minister ensure that young people and voluntary organisations in places that are affected by the Olympics, such as Slough, with the rowing at Dorney, will be able to make the most of the ambitions and the opportunities for sport and outdoor play that the games will bring to this country?
My hon. Friend has a great track record on all these issues. I can assure her that the Olympic games will provide young people in particular with opportunities not only as volunteers—many of the 70,000 or 100,000 volunteers will be young people, which will provide them with new opportunities—but through the many voluntary and third sector organisations that will play their part in their local communities, thereby benefiting from the wave of excitement and interest that we have generated not just in this country, but across the world, as we host the most successful Olympic games ever.
The Minister has given assurances that no more lottery money will be siphoned off between now and the Olympics to fund the building of infrastructure projects, but does that guarantee extend to the legacy? There is concern in some quarters that the legacy will be funded by future raids on the lottery fund.
I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman those assurances. I remind him that we have managed successfully to safeguard that level of resourcing for third sector organisations from the Big Lottery Fund not just over the five years, but beyond the Olympic games. Again, however, I suggest that he talk to those on his own Front Bench, who would inflict £250 million of cuts on the voluntary sector with their proposals on funding the Olympics.
I welcome the benefits of the Olympics, but will my hon. Friend conduct a review of all the voluntary groups that have suffered from the diversion of funds to the Olympics? I understand that the Welsh Jazz Society, which is run by volunteers, is losing funding as a result of cuts to the Arts Council of Wales from the lottery. Can he look into that, please?
I am not familiar with the specific project and funding that my hon. Friend describes, but I re-emphasise that we are protecting third sector organisations’ funding from the Big Lottery Fund. Indeed, the director general of the Big Lottery Fund said:
“I am pleased that we will be able to protect existing programmes and the money earmarked for the Third Sector.”
The Arts Councils and my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have announced additional funding through the mainstream programmes, from which I am sure organisations such as the one that my hon. Friend described may wish to benefit.
Many young people in the third sector throughout the United Kingdom are looking forward to participating in the Olympics. The Minister has given assurances across a range of issues in respect of grant assistance, but will he repeat those assurances for the regions, so that people in Northern Ireland will not be penalised for participating in and supporting the Olympic games?
I am absolutely certain that the people of Northern Ireland will not be penalised; indeed, I hope to see athletes from Northern Ireland playing their part in the Olympic teams. Northern Ireland will benefit hugely from the Olympics, and that will involve not just the young people participating, but sport as a whole rising in popularity and participation, and bringing benefits to both the individuals concerned and the wider community.
Is it not the case that Adam Blake’s report on the economic impact of the Olympics in the English regions and Wales and Scotland showed that, outside London, that impact will be wholly negative? What is my hon. Friend going to do to compensate for that?
I do not recognise that claim, as I believe that there will be genuine social and economic benefits throughout the UK. Indeed, we now have new regional Ministers covering each of the nine English regions. I know that each of those Ministers will make it one of their priorities to ensure that the Olympics bring real social and economic benefits to every region throughout England and, indeed, throughout the UK.
The question on the Order Paper asks what assessment the Minister has made of the effect of the funding of the Olympics on voluntary organisations. I have listened to the Minister very carefully, but is he seriously trying to suggest that the redirection of money siphoned off for the Olympics will not impact on other good causes and on the voluntary sector? If he is, that does not match up with the experience of our constituents.
One of the benefits of discussions in the Chamber is the ability to provide reassurances; in this case, I reassure the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that we have secured £2 billion over the next five years—and beyond into the legacy of the Olympics—so that voluntary sector organisations will receive the resources that they need to carry on the great work that they do in many disadvantaged areas of the country. I repeat my plea: the hon. Gentleman should talk to his Front Benchers, as it is his party’s proposals that would cut £250 million—
Third sector organisations play an essential role in campaigning for change in laws and attitudes. Whether it is large charities that have campaigned around issues from disability to child protection or small charities that wish to speak out on local issues, their work plays an important role in speaking up for those who would otherwise not have their voice properly heard.
Given that suicide among young people aged 14 to 25 accounts for 20 per cent. of all deaths in that age range—it is second only to accidental death—and that 19,000 young people attempt suicide each year, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is most important that organisations such as the Samaritans continue their campaigning work to bring that issue to public attention and provide the strategies to help and support young people to avoid suicide, and to inform the Government about how serious this issue is for young people?
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the Samaritans for their work in my own local area and across the country, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency. She is absolutely right that the particular insights that the Samaritans gain into the problems of the people who come to them put them in a unique position to campaign on the issues that really matter for such people. We should welcome their work and enable it to continue.
Community Assets Programme
The £30 million community assets programme aims to empower communities by providing grants to improve public assets so that they can be transferred to community ownership. The need for the programme was established following extensive consultation with the third sector on its priorities.
My constituency in Milton Keynes has a pressing need for more youth facilities. Will the Minister explain whether it would be possible for young people in the community to be actively involved in the groups putting forward bids for these community assets?
I can give my hon. Friend the good news that young people or youth organisations will be able to bid for these resources if they wish to run some sort of youth provision of their own in the community. I have further good news for her: the Bill on unclaimed assets that is currently going through Parliament will release a huge amount of resources so that in every community across the country, young people will have new facilities, new centres and new opportunities to create social enterprises that will meet their own needs and the wider needs of the local community.
For 2008, the Duchy of Lancaster benevolent fund has budgeted to distribute £375,000 to good causes, up from £345,000 last year, of which £290,000 will be allocated to the County Palatine and the balance to other geographical areas where the duchy has links.
One of the more delightful responsibilities that the Chancellor of the Duchy of the Lancaster has is for that fund. It does a lot of good work, particularly for smaller organisations and charities, and for MPs who represent the County Palatine. Can he ensure that it receives more publicity, so that more organisations are able to benefit from the funds available?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and for advance notice of it. I have talked to the chief executive of the duchy and we will work on ensuring that there is widespread publicity about the money available. Small organisations can bid for that money, and it is important that all those who can benefit know about it.
The Prime Minister was asked—
My right hon. Friend must be well aware of the concern in this House and beyond regarding the stories that are circulating about bugging and surveillance. Can he assure me that the inquiry that he has announced will be thorough, will examine all the issues of concern, and will report back promptly to the House? At the end of the day, our constituents must be assured that they can talk to us in confidence.
The inquiry will be detailed; it is under a very distinguished chairman, Sir Christopher Rose; it will report back quickly; and the Justice Secretary will make a statement to the House of Commons. It is right to put in context what has happened over the past few days, and to say that we all benefit from the work of the police and security services and the surveillance necessary to defend our security, preserve our freedom and in some cases save lives. In addition to the inquiry being held, however, protections are in place under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, including authorisation by a senior officer, the right to appeal, oversight by an independent tribunal and the annual reports on the number of intercepts and surveillance operations taking place. The Justice Secretary has said that he was not aware of any information regarding covert recording or anything like that until last weekend. Where there are questions, however, it is right to investigate. In the meantime, it is right for us not to add to the game of speculation, nor to presume the results of the inquiry.
I have set up quite a number of reviews and it is right to do so. We are in the process of making the changes that are necessary for the future of this country. We will report today on one of the reviews, the Chilcot review, and I hope that there will be agreement that that was the right thing to do.
The Prime Minister has established 52 reviews—one every four days. It is no wonder that he does not have time to open his post. They include reviews of behaviour partnerships, physics and even sunbeds—I presume that that is to keep the former Welsh Secretary busy now that he is not in the Government. The former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), says about the reviews that the
“are widespread, debilitating and give ammunition to Labour’s opponents.”
He specifically mentions hospitals, schools and local government. Who is the source of this dithering, or does the Prime Minister need a bit more time to find out?
I would just repeat the words of the former Chancellor: too many soundbites, not enough substance. When it comes to the reviews, we are reviewing the policy of super-casinos—that is what the public want us to do; we are reviewing the policy on cannabis—that is what the public want us to do; we are reviewing the policy on affordable housing to build eco-towns—that is what the public want us to do. I do not think that the Opposition understand that the world is changing around us. We need to review the right things to do. We are doing that. As a result, we are the party that has created 3 million jobs, the party with low inflation and low interest rates, and the party that is investing in education and health.
When will the Prime Minister understand that it is not reviews but decisions that people want? Let us look at the list of policies that the former Home Secretary says are incomplete. These are the policies that the Prime Minister’s former Cabinet colleague says he is dithering about: local government, trust schools, foundation hospitals, housing, disability—[Hon. Members: “Reading!”] I have to read, because there is such a long list of things that the Prime Minister is dithering about. He talks about soundbites, but he cannot even think of his own: he has to borrow them from the former Chancellor.
Let us take just one example—A-levels. The Prime Minister’s Schools Secretary says that there will be an open-minded review, and that he cannot guarantee their future. Will the Prime Minister contradict his Schools Secretary, and tell us that A-levels are here to stay?
Let us look at what we are doing on education. The right hon. Gentleman says that it is wrong for us to have a review. We are proposing education to the age of 18; he is against it. We want education for all; he wants education for some.
We are proposing diplomas. We have said we will make a decision in 2012, and that A-levels will continue to exist. That decision will be made in 2012, and it is the right decision for the country: to build on diplomas with A-levels. The right hon. Gentleman is opposing it.
We are proposing that the number of apprenticeships be doubled. The Conservatives are not supporting that policy of the Government. We are proposing additional expenditure on education and school buildings. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing to transfer the money to another programme.
We are the party that is investing in the future. We are the party for the long term. The right hon. Gentleman’s is the party of the short-term gibe.
I think the Prime Minister had been practising that soundbite all week, and do you know what? It is still rubbish.
Never mind the smokescreen. It is a simple question. I want A-levels to stay. I think they are a great qualification. What does the Prime Minister want?
A-levels are staying. We made the decision that until 2012 diplomas would go side by side with A-levels, and then we would make a decision about the future. That is right for the country.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman again: does he support education to the age of 18, as we do? Yes or no? We are for education for all. The right hon. Gentleman is for education only for some.
Everyone wants more children to stay at school until they are 18. Everyone wants better vocational education. But the Prime Minister has a very simple question to answer. He just said that A-levels were safe until 2013, but we want a guarantee beyond that. We want to know that A-levels will stay for good. The Schools Secretary cannot guarantee their future, the head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority says that they will be out of the door, so let us try it one more time. Will the Prime Minister confirm that A-levels will stay for the long term?
Yes, and it is right to test the new system and to make the decision in 2012. But I have to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. We are for education until the age of 18. We want to give every child the right, free of charge, to stay in education until the age of 18. Is the right hon. Gentleman for that policy, or is he against it?
Anyone listening to this will recognise that this Prime Minister cannot answer a question, and cannot make a decision. He cannot make a decision: I think he is incapable of it. Parents, teachers and children listening to this who want A-levels to continue just want a straight answer. Will they not look at the Prime Minister and say “This is a hopeless, dithering Prime Minister”?
I have given the answer: A-levels and diplomas will go side by side. What the right hon. Gentleman has failed to tell us is whether he supports education until the age of 18. We have said that we will give every child and young person the right to education until the age of 18. It is the biggest change in the educational system for 60 years, and the right hon. Gentleman is unable to tell us whether or not he supports it. This is the Leader of the Opposition who wants to look both ways on an important policy. I tell him this: we are investing in the long term, and he refuses to do so.
Will my right hon. Friend ask his Cabinet colleagues responsible for energy and for defence to work closely together to deal with concerns raised recently about the interaction between wind farms and defence radar systems? Will he ask them to ensure that any concerns expressed about a particular application for a wind farm are proportionate to our defence needs, but do not prevent the urgent need to make progress in installing wind farms around the United Kingdom?
I was discussing this very matter with colleagues on Monday. It is important to recognise that offshore wind will be a very important part of the development of renewable energy for the future. We will have to invest in it in the future, but we will also have to deal with the military and security problems that will arise as a result. We are currently discussing these matters in order to reach a sensible conclusion.
This week’s bugging controversy should not come as a surprise to the Prime Minister. After all, it is this Government who have turned the British public into the most spied upon on the planet: 1,000 surveillance requests every day; 1 million innocent people on the Government’s DNA database; and 5,000 schools now fingerprinting our children at school. Is that what the Prime Minister meant when he spoke so stirringly a few months ago about the great British tradition of liberty?
I take it that the right hon. Gentleman and the Liberal authorities support CCTV. I take it that they support the intercept action that is taken when it is necessary for national security. I take it that he accepts that only 1,500 intercepts have been commissioned by Ministers as a result of urgent security needs. Does he accept these things or not?
The Prime Minister seems to see no limits. He is creating a surveillance state. Why has he consistently refused requests for more power to be given to the Information Commissioner? Why does he not do what is already done in Scotland and remove the DNA of innocent people from the database? Why will he not act immediately to stop the scandalous fingerprinting of our children at school?
People in this country are reassured by the presence of CCTV; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not proposing to remove it. That is one very important part of the investigatory and surveillance powers that we give the police to carry out their work. I would hope that the right hon. Gentleman would look at the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and see the protections that have been put in place where there is surveillance and where there are intercepts. They include authorisation by a senior officer, the right to appeal to an independent tribunal, and a commissioner for surveillance who looks at matters and reports annually. We are taking the steps to protect the liberties of the citizens; I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.
I will of course look into the matter. There is a need for affordable housing in every part of the country, and we will wish to do the best that we can to meet the target of 3 million new houses by 2020, a very substantial number of them affordable for first-time buyers. I will look into the issue about public sector and private sector land, and I will write to my hon. Friend.
What was called the constitutional concept was abandoned, and no country except Ireland is proposing to hold a referendum on the European treaty. The question the Conservatives must answer for themselves is whether, after the ratification of the treaty, they are going to propose a referendum which could mean a fundamental renegotiation of our membership of the European Union. The questions now go to the Conservative party.
My hon. Friend campaigns for the future of Dover with vigour and determination. I agree that urgent decisions on transport are having to be made throughout the country. The A2 is an important regional route. I gather that there has been an application for support from the growth fund, and I suggest that he asks for a meeting with the Department for Transport to discuss these issues.
Does the Prime Minister agree it is a real tragedy that following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 a rain of rockets has fallen on towns such as Sderot? Now, there has been this most recent suicide bombing. Does he agree that if Israel were given a greater degree of security, the lives of Palestinians would be transformed out of all recognition?
I agree entirely with what the right hon. Gentleman says. It is important that we move forward by guaranteeing the security of Israel and then responding to the urgent needs of the Palestinian people. The talks that are taking place, which started at Annapolis and are continuing in talks between Prime Minister Olmert and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, are important if we are to get the breakthroughs that are necessary. I want to see more action dealing with the poverty that now exists in the two areas of the Palestinian Authority, but I also want to be able to safeguard the security of Israel. I shall be talking soon to Prime Minister Olmert about those very issues, and I hope to be able to attend the Palestinians’ investment conference to support them in their activities in the next few months.
That is why we are looking to see how we can progress the agency workers directive and why we created a vulnerable workers forum to examine the problems faced by people in some of the lowest paid jobs in the country. I must also remind my hon. Friend that the biggest single measure that we have taken to protect vulnerable workers—the creation of a minimum wage—was opposed by the Conservative party.
I am a Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland who believes that his home and office phones were bugged for years. What assurance can the Prime Minister give this House that if tapping occurred in the past, it will not continue in the future?
A report is made every year by the chief surveillance commissioner—the commissioner responsible for intercepts. He provides the information that is available for people to look at. I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to talk about these issues.
The relationship between a British Prime Minister and the President of the United States is one of the most important. Every Prime Minister and every President will be very keen to preserve and extend that relationship. As my hon. Friend says, there are genuine issues that we have to discuss together, not least, as he mentions, climate change, and security issues around the world. I shall be meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice later today to discuss our co-operation on a range of foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan.
As compensation for breaking his promise on the referendum, the Prime Minister made a new promise to this House. He said that it would be able to consider the treaty incorporating the substance of the constitution line-by-line in a Committee of the whole House, yet not a single clause relating to immigration, asylum and border controls has been, or will be, considered in a Committee of the whole House, be that through line-by-line examination, amendments or a vote. What are his promises worth?
We are considering the European Union (Amendment) Bill day by day in the House of Commons in great detail. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was a member of the Cabinet that denied the British people a referendum on the Maastricht treaty.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the sale of counterfeit cigarettes across south Yorkshire and across the country generally has been described as a ticking health time bomb? A recent committee of Barnsley metropolitan borough council reported the warning that many of those cigarettes contain heavy metals that could screw a person’s health. In addition to the activity of the Customs and the police, will he consider a national campaign to raise awareness against this danger and avert a health crisis?
I shall look at the issue that my hon. Friend raises, because counterfeit products that are sold to children are a danger indeed. I remind him that legislation is before Parliament to strengthen sanctions against shops that repeatedly sell cigarettes to children, and on 1 October 2007 the age for the sale of tobacco products was raised from 16 to 18. We will take what action is necessary to protect young people from that evil.
Within the last hour it has been confirmed that troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade in my constituency are to be deployed to Afghanistan. Last week, I was in Helmand province and I can report that the spirits of our brave men and women are exceptionally high. However, will the Prime Minister take action to ensure that our European allies do more to provide troops on the ground and helicopters and all other logistical support?
I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman has visited our troops in Afghanistan. They are doing a superb job, morale is extremely high and they are making a huge difference, not only through the actions they take but in training Afghan troops for the future. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that an announcement has been made by the Secretary of State for Defence about 16 Airborne going to Afghanistan. The hon. Gentleman is also right in that what we are seeking, especially at the NATO summit in a few weeks’ time, is a determination on the part of all our allies to ensure that the burden sharing in Afghanistan is fair. We have 15 per cent. of the troops in Afghanistan, and other countries, including Spain and France, have made announcements that they will add to their troops. We need proper burden sharing, not only in personnel but in helicopters and other equipment.
Local developers in my constituency have put forward proposals to build on virtually the entire green belt in the area. I do not expect the Prime Minister to comment on individual proposals, but does he agree with me that Labour stands for sustained, planned development of affordable housing with good public transport available, not for rewarding speculative greed?
When we came to power, brownfield was 56 per cent. of new development. We set a target of 60 per cent. and it is now at 75 per cent. as a result of the decisions that we have taken. I shall look at the point that my hon. Friend raises about his constituency, but I can tell him that there is a proposal for an eco-town next to it, and I hope that that will gain some support.
The statement that I made in December was widely welcomed. I said that our troop numbers would be around 7,800, and we would maintain them at around that number for the foreseeable future. I repeat that we are providing 15 per cent. of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. There are 41 countries making contributions and it is right that there is greater burden sharing. That is also the view of our armed forces, and I will strive to achieve that in both personnel and equipment.
My hon. Friend raises a very important point. We know that every young person will need skills in the future to obtain the best jobs available, and that is why those who do not choose the academic route should have the option of apprenticeships or preparation for apprenticeships. That is why we are increasing the number of apprenticeships, which were dying out when we came to power in 1997, to 250,000, and will double that number in the future. I had hoped that there would be all-party support for that, but unfortunately the Conservatives cannot support the long-term investment that we are making in education.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who refers to excellent work by the police in her area. The reason that is possible is that we now have the highest number of police in our history and we have community support officers. We are building neighbourhood policing for the future. I assure my hon. Friend that we are determined to ensure that people in our country not only see that the streets are safe at night but feel that they are safe.
In answer to the two previous questions, the Prime Minister escaped from his involvement in Afghanistan by talking about jointery with other nations. When I was there last week, in Lashkar Gah and Camp Bastion, I was horrified by the shortage of helicopter availability, which means that our troops are late getting into the line and coming home from it. Will the Prime Minister reiterate what his predecessor said—namely, that whatever our generals need on the front line, he will supply it?
We are in constant discussion about what is right for the future. Not only do we have 7,800 troops in Afghanistan, but we are putting new helicopters on the ground over the next few months and we are making available additional equipment. Under urgent operational requirements, we provided £6 billion over the past few years for new equipment, so whatever equipment has been needed, we have been prepared to provide it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We should celebrate the fact that 90 years have passed after the beginning of the suffragette movement. She is also right to say that we are all proud that as a result of our victory in 1997 and subsequently, there are more women in the House of Commons than ever before, and we want to see more after the next general election. I agree with her that there should be a permanent memorial to the campaign that was mounted for the right to vote. Perhaps a monument on Parliament square would be a good indication of the support of the whole country.
Unfortunately, the Conservative party is not only against eco-towns but against building homes altogether. There have been 60 applications for eco-towns, so it does not sound as though they are unpopular—it sounds as though they are popular. Once again, the Conservative party is on the wrong side of the argument.
The Prime Minister will be aware that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has issued a public warning about the significant threat from the Real IRA and its need to take profile precautions. I know he will agree that all democratic parties should join in condemning the Real IRA, which is stuck in the Provo thing of the past, but does he also agree that, beyond that proper condemnation, the best thing that all the democratic parties can do to unite in defying and denying the throw-back agenda of the Real IRA is to secure the devolution of justice and policing sooner rather than later?
This is our objective: I condemn absolutely any organisation that preaches the cause of violence in Northern Ireland. We have come such a long way over the past few years thanks to the co-operation of all the parties and the people of Northern Ireland. We are determined to build on that with economic prosperity for Northern Ireland in future years and that is what we will do, working with the people of Northern Ireland.
We all know that Japan invests in Britain and that it sees Britain as its road into the rest of the European market. We all know that 60 per cent. of our trade is with the rest of the EU. Those people who want to detach us from the rest of Europe are making a huge mistake, not just politically and environmentally but economically. This Government have created 3 million jobs and are determined to create even more.
The Government are today publishing the results of work on the use of communications intercepts as evidence. Those results are contained in the report of the committee of Privy Councillors drawn from the three major parties that was chaired by the right hon. Sir John Chilcot. I am grateful to Sir John, Lord Hurd, Lord Archer, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for that report. It is thorough, measured, detailed, and unanimous, and it properly reflects both the seriousness and the complexity of the questions that their committee was asked to address.
Let me again pay tribute to our security agencies for all that they do, quietly and effectively, in the defence of our country. I have met and listened to those who lead our agencies, as well as many who serve in them. I praise the expertise, professionalism and courage that they show, often in the most testing and dangerous of circumstances but always in the best interests of our country. I acknowledge, as I believe that all here acknowledge, that what they do defends our freedom, protects our security and saves lives.
The use of intercept in evidence characterises a central dilemma that we face as a free society: preserving our liberties and the rule of law while at the same time keeping our nation safe and secure. In July, in the first statement that I made on security to the House, I said that I favoured the principle of using intercept material as evidence in criminal cases if, but only if, a way could be found to do so while protecting the higher interests of national security. I therefore invited the cross-party Chilcot committee to advise on
“whether a regime to allow the use of intercepted material in court can be devised that facilitates bringing cases to trial while meeting the overall imperative to safeguard national security.”
Today, I am publishing a version of the Chilcot committee’s report. The committee itself has prepared this version, which omits—in the interests of national security—certain sensitive facts and arguments. Its main conclusions and recommendations, however, are exactly those of the full report.
Briefly, the report examines in detail both the potential benefits of accepting intercept as evidence and the risks that might arise from such acceptance. However, it concludes that it should be possible to find a way to use some intercept material as evidence, provided—and only provided—that certain key conditions can be met. Those conditions relate to the most vital imperative of all: safeguarding our national security. The Government accept that recommendation, and take the accompanying conditions very seriously.
Intercepts are strictly controlled under the 2000 legislation. Interception is allowed only if it is necessary to obtain information that could not be acquired in another way, and any interception must be proportionate to what it seeks to achieve. The relevant decisions of Ministers are overseen by a senior judge and by the interception of communications commissioner, who reports at least annually. In addition, an investigatory powers tribunal exists to consider complaints from the public, and it has powers to order appropriate remedies.
The most recent figures for numbers of interception warrants are in the interception commissioner’s annual report, which was published on 28 January. A total of 1,435 intercept warrants were issued in the last nine months of 2006 and that compares with 2,407 in the previous 15 months.
The Chilcot report notes that there are already limited circumstances in civil and terrorist proceedings where intercept can be used in evidence. Each of those instances includes appropriate protections, such as closed proceedings, to ensure that the use of intercept does not put our national security at risk. For any new regime, the Chilcot report sets down conditions. It starts from the proposition that
“any material risk to the strategic capability of the UK’s intelligence agencies would be unacceptable”,
“Any disclosure of interception capabilities could have a profound impact on national security”.
That is right. The report also says that any resulting reduction in inter-agency co-operation
“could have a profound impact on law enforcement agencies’ ability to combat serious crime and terrorism”,
and the Government also agree with that assessment.
The report sets out nine conditions in detail. They relate to complex and important issues, and include: giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions; ensuring that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material; protecting the current close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies, which is crucial; and ensuring that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes of material beyond a standard of detail that they deem necessary.
The committee that reported to us acknowledges that further extensive work is needed to see whether and how those and other conditions—intended to protect sensitive techniques, safeguard resources, and ensure that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligence—can be met. That is a unanimous recommendation that the Government accept, so we will proceed to develop a detailed implementation plan under which material might be made available for use in criminal cases in England and Wales, strictly subject to all the Chilcot conditions being met. The report is clear that if the conditions could not be met, intercept as evidence should not be introduced, and the Government accept that.
Similarly, the committee recommends that in the event of a regime being introduced that later fails to meet the Chilcot conditions or otherwise threatens our security, that regime should be removed pending the introduction of another, under which the conditions can once again be met. The Government also accept that recommendation. The report also states that the committee has seen no evidence to suggest that the need for measures such as control orders would be reduced by the introduction of intercept as evidence.
Designing a regime to meet the Chilcot conditions will require, as the committee notes, a substantial programme of work, covering legal, operational and technical issues. The work must involve and engage the intelligence agencies, Government Departments, the legal system, and those responsible for communications. The Chilcot team have made it clear to me that the necessary work should be led by an implementation team within Government, which should move ahead comprehensively and quickly. However, the Chilcot team also told me that they would not expect the work to be concluded in time to inform the Counter-Terrorism Bill currently before Parliament.
The Government strongly believe that it is in the national interest to draw on a wide range of expert external advice. The cross-party nature of the Chilcot report has been of great value. I am therefore grateful for Opposition parties’ agreement that Sir John Chilcot, Lord Archer, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and another member to be nominated should advise on Privy Councillor terms during the next stage of the work.
The Chilcot report also notes that communications technology is changing rapidly; there is a switch towards internet protocol communications, with the clear implications that that brings for our security. Accordingly, we have launched the interception modernisation programme to update our capability to ensure that, under those new circumstances, our national interests will continue to be protected. The new regime for intercept as evidence must be designed to work safely and effectively for that new capability, too.
As the Chilcot report states, the challenges ahead are complex and must not, and will not, be underestimated. The Government acknowledge and endorse the valuable work of the committee, and are grateful for the committee’s support in our continuing efforts to meet the double challenge that we face as a nation. The challenge is at all times and without fail to protect our nation’s security while advancing the rule of law. This we will always seek to do. I commend the statement to the House.
May I first thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and join him in paying tribute to our security services? Nothing matters more than our national security and keeping us safe from terror. Our aim should be to catch, convict and imprison more terrorists. Last year, I pressed Tony Blair to make intercept evidence available in court. When he was not prepared to take that up straight away, I suggested that a cross-party committee of Privy Councillors look at how intercept might be used in court. I am glad that that work is now complete. I join the Prime Minister in thanking all of those who took part. They have done their job, and now he must do his. Will he confirm that the implementation group that he intends to set up will not be a talking shop for further delay, but a vehicle for making the recommendations happen? Will he give us a commitment to Government legislation as soon as possible?
Does the Prime Minister agree that up till now there have been four issues that have held back the use of intercept evidence in court: first, a clear recommendation from an independent body that that is the right and necessary thing to do to protect our country; secondly, a lack of a clear understanding of the benefits that it could bring in criminal and terrorist trials; thirdly, a satisfactory method of protecting vital intelligence-gathering techniques; and fourthly, a legal framework to ensure that the effective use of intercept in court can happen while maintaining a fair trial? Does the Prime Minister agree that the report effectively gives good answers to all four questions? Let me take them in turn.
First, the report is admirably clear when it says:
“We therefore agree with the principle that intercept as evidence should be introduced.”
Does the Prime Minister agree that, as this is the first Government-commissioned report by a group of people who are independent from the Government, that is an incredibly powerful recommendation? Secondly, on the real benefits of using intercept in court, does the Prime Minister agree that the report does not just cite experience from abroad, but quotes the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service? Is not the CPS clear that the use of intercept will significantly influence the course of trials and—it finds—lead to more guilty pleas and fewer abortive trials?
The third issue is the importance of protecting intelligence sources and methods. Does the Prime Minister agree that the report is extremely helpful in that respect, too? In particular, does he agree with the report when it states that
“Australia does appear to us to be a compelling example of how intercept as evidence can be used in a Common Law jurisdiction”?
Is it not extremely helpful that the report states:
“The Australian example, in particular, provides a number of interesting ideas for how the UK could attempt to derive benefit from intercept as evidence, whilst not unacceptably increasing the risk of disclosure to intelligence agencies and their sensitive capabilities and techniques”?
Fourthly, there is the question of legal model to get the recommendations right. The issue is how we both protect intelligence sources and maintain a fair trial. Does the Prime Minister agree with the report specifically that a reinforced system of public interest immunity could enable the evidence to be used in a way that protects the intelligence services, but guarantees a fair trial?
Finally, let me ask about plans for implementation. The report will mean nothing unless it is implemented. I know that the Prime Minister is establishing a cross-party advisory group. Will he guarantee that he will accept our nomination of a Privy Councillor for that group? Does he understand that there will be a nagging suspicion that setting up another committee to look at the implementation of the recommendations will lead to delay? Does he accept that there will never be unanimity in Whitehall on the matter? Another committee will deliberate, reflect and no doubt have different views. That is what committees do. That is what happens in Whitehall. Does he agree that, at the end of the day, it is a political decision and has to be made by a politician—and that means him?
It is clear what needs to be done: intercept in court so that we catch, convict and imprison more terrorists. Does the Prime Minister agree that we must not put off endlessly what needs to be done?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s general support for what we are doing, and I am grateful for the degree of all-party consensus that has developed. The actions that we are taking with the implementation group are a vehicle not for delay but for getting on with implementation. I agree that we want to achieve legislation as soon as possible.
If the right hon. Gentleman accepts the report’s conclusion, he must also accept that the Chilcot team—including representatives from his party—acknowledge that a considerable amount of work remains to be done. They do not conclude that all the questions have been answered and that all that is lacking is political will. They conclude that what we need to do is look in detail at the legal and technical implications that arise from their wish to see the right balance struck between liberty and security.
The report does not say that Australia is the model for how we should move forward. It uses Australia as an example of where it has been possible to have intercept as evidence, but it does not propose that we accept the model that is used in Australia, which is quite different from the public interest immunity proposal that the right hon. Gentleman accepts has been put forward by the committee.
We have always accepted in principle the case for doing this. We have always hoped that clear benefits would be available. The Metropolitan police survey of terrorist cases shows that the rate of prosecution could rise from 88 to 92 per cent. However, the committee also shows that considerable hurdles need to be crossed. It wants the intercepting agencies to have the ability to retain control over whether the material is used in prosecutions. It wants to ensure that disclosure of material cannot be required against the wishes of the agency originating the material, and that agencies cannot be required to transcribe or make notes on material beyond the standard of detail that they deem necessary.
All those issues will have to be looked at in considering the demands of courts and court cases. I believe that a considerable amount of work still needs to be done. I am glad that we have an all-party agreement to move forward. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman understands that there are technical and legal issues to be resolved. The purpose of the advisory group is to continue with the all-party co-operation, and I look forward to the nominations to be put forward by his party.
I, too, thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement and the report. I pay tribute to Sir John and all his colleagues for having produced what is self-evidently a very thorough and rigorous report on a sensitive and delicate issue. I warmly welcome the fact that they have opened the door to allowing intercept evidence to become admissible in court, even though that door is only ajar and further work needs to be done to make the recommendation a reality. We have long argued that intercept evidence should be admissible in court, in keeping with so many other jurisdictions around the world. That is part of our wider belief that we can and should do more to strengthen our judicial system so that there are more prosecutions in anti-terror cases.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s emphasis on a cross-party approach on this issue; I regret that there is not that emphasis on other important issues in the anti-terrorism debate—notably, the extension of the period of detention without charge. Given that we have made so much progress on this issue and on issues such as post-charge questioning, I urge him to revisit the need for a further extension—to up to 42 days—of the period during which the police can detain people without charge.
May I ask the Prime Minister three specific questions about the mechanics of what happens after the production of the Chilcot report? First, I acknowledge and understand that it is unlikely if not impossible for any further implementation recommendations to be produced during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism Bill through the House. However, will he be more specific and commit that the work will at least be complete during this Parliament? Without a timetable, legitimate fears will be provoked that there will just be delay on delay in the crucial implementing phase of the process.
Secondly, will the Prime Minister clarify exactly what the relationship will be between the implementation group and the advisory group? It is, of course, a good thing that the advisory group will have a cross-party composition, but if it is to have a somewhat passive, observatory role, it will not fulfil the function that many people want it to fulfil: to hold the implementation group’s feet to the fire to ensure that the Chilcot report recommendations are followed up in detail in the months ahead.
Finally, although I realise that it would be inappropriate to name the individual civil servants in the implementation group, will the Prime Minister at least enumerate which Departments and agencies will be part of it, so that once it reaches conclusions there will be an endorsement, on behalf of all the Government and all the Government agencies, of the group’s implementing recommendations?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his general welcome for our proposals. At the end he raised issues about the nature of the implementation group; perhaps we can arrange talks on Privy Council terms about how that will move forward. I agree that in principle it is right to do this, and I have always thought that there is a very strong case for doing so if we can find the means. The problem is that although we can draw parallels with other jurisdictions, ours is distinctive—not just because of the adversarial system and the European convention on human rights, but because of the special capabilities that we have in Britain and our co-operation with overseas services.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that, as the committee has told us, the position on control orders has not changed. I would like to think that we could have the same degree of consensus on the proposal about questioning and the 42 days. I still believe that the proposal put forward by Liberty which he and the Conservative party supported is a basis for moving forward. In the legislation that we put forward, we have made proposals in line with that. I hope we can have discussions on that in the future.
On the distinction between the implementation team and the advisory group, let me make it clear that an implementation group was recommended by the Chilcot committee. It did not feel that it could continue with the technical and legal work on its own, and it suggested that we set up an implementation committee. The advisory committee will be there, as its name suggests, to advise as we go through the work.
I warmly welcome the Prime Minister’s statement and the speed with which he has accepted Sir John Chilcot’s recommendations. As he knows, this is entirely in keeping with the Home Affairs Committee’s decision of 11 December to recommend that intercept evidence be used. In view of the current climate, is he satisfied that the robustness exists for the accountability and supervision of the whole area of surveillance? Once he receives the Rose report, if he is not satisfied will he—at the risk of exciting the Leader of the Opposition—initiate a review of this area, to ensure that it is robust and that there is proper accountability and supervision?
The remit of the Rose review was set out by the Justice Secretary on Monday. It will report very quickly—in two weeks’ time, when the Justice Secretary will come and make a statement. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s support for what we are doing on the major issue of the use of intercepts in evidence.
Obviously the House will applaud the decision to move forward. It will be important, however, to ensure that the trials are fair and that the interests of the defendants are taken into account. That being so, please could the implementation group contain people with current experience of representing defendants in criminal cases, or at least take urgent and clear advice from such persons? The interests of the defendants must be taken into account.
There seems to be some support for that on the Opposition Front Bench. We will look at all these issues. It is important that we look at it from the point of view of how a trial will look in the future. I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at the section in the report on public interest immunity certificates. He might find that the way that is being suggested by the committee is to his satisfaction.
No one in this House underestimates for one moment the terrorist danger to our country and our people. If, arising from the Prime Minister’s welcome statement today, there is near all-party agreement on many measures, not least on combating the acute danger of terrorism, will the Government give serious consideration to the question of detention without charge? No evidence whatever has been produced to justify going beyond 28 days, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has said that he is quite satisfied with 28 days. Why create this division when there is no necessity to do so?
My hon. Friend brings the issue back to 42 days, but I have to say that the Home Affairs Committee, of which he is a member, has said that as a precautionary principle it might be necessary to move beyond 28 days. The issue is not whether, in principle, it is necessary at some stage to move beyond 28 days. The real question is whether we can find agreement on how we do it. I hope that we can find that way forward.
Will the Prime Minister note that the group received unlimited co-operation from the agencies and other bodies, and from many individuals, and unstinting support from our very small staff? May I take it as a clear political commitment that the Prime Minister intends to bring in a regime that ensures that guilty people are locked up on the basis of good evidence, and that he intends to do so while ensuring that all the safeguards for vital national security intelligence, as well as the intelligence needed for the pursuit of crime, are in place?
That is exactly what we want to do, but the conditions or tests that have been set down by the Chilcot committee—of which the right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished member; I thank him for his work—are of a legal and technical nature and have to be worked through. I think that he would agree that his committee recommended that, if we could not find satisfactory answers to these conditions, we should not recommend moving ahead. It is our hope that we can find satisfactory answers, but it is important that the tests are met and that the conditions that have been set down are satisfactorily delivered. That is the next stage of the work of the implementation group, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join the advisory committee to work with it.
Will my right hon. Friend acknowledge that intercept evidence, such as that connected with the recent Crevice trial, has been used to prevent some appalling terrorist atrocities in this country? Will he ask those responsible for taking this work forward to take into account the fact that, if such evidence is to be used in court, it could inhibit important operations?
My right hon. Friend takes a great interest in these matters, and has a great deal of experience of them. I thank him for his observation. Intercept evidence can be hugely important. As I said in my statement, it is already used in certain instances. The important test now is to ensure that, if we are to use it, the conditions set down by the Chilcot committee are met. When my right hon. Friend looks at those conditions, he will see that they are strenuous, but, for the safety and security of the security services, it is important that we meet them.
Plaid Cymru welcomes the use of intercept evidence in court, not least because it might reduce the pressure for pre-charge detention. The report defers to the experience of many other countries. Will the Prime Minister highlight what particular lessons the Government learned from the experience of those other countries in this regard?
A great deal has been learned from the attempts that have been made in other countries to use intercept evidence in court. However, I must draw to the hon. Gentleman’s attention the observation of the committee—and my reading of the report—that Britain has a very distinctive system. We have an adversarial system, we are subject to the ECHR—which is not true of Australia or America—and we have a high level of co-operation with other intelligence agencies around the world. We also have the kind of high degree of co-operation between the police and the security services that sometimes does not exist in other services. The solutions to the challenges that we face in Britain will be unique, which is why a different model from that of other countries is being proposed for examination by the Chilcot committee. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman looks at the committee’s work and the tests that it has set, he will see that we are providing a British solution to the problem.
May I thank the Prime Minister for making this statement himself? He will be well aware of the reasons why some right hon. and hon. Members are opposed to the use of intercept evidence in court. I applaud his decision to give the go-ahead to the programme of extensive and comprehensive work to which he referred, and to which the report refers. May I invite him to ask the Leader of the House to facilitate a debate on the Chilcot report in the House of Commons in due course?
It will be a matter for the House as to whether there is a debate on these issues. The Chilcot report asks for more work to be done, and I hope that it can be done quickly and with a degree of comprehensiveness so that people can be satisfied that we have dealt with the issues that the report raises. I am sure that there will be an occasion that we, as a Government, will find to make it possible for a debate to take place.
The Prime Minister will recognise that when the prosecuting authorities in criminal courts wish to avoid the disclosure of an observation site, for example, they can make an application under the public interest immunity procedure. If that application is unsuccessful, they always have the option of not proceeding with the prosecution. As that system already exists and works well, could not any adaptation of it necessary for the use of intercept evidence be done sooner rather than later, given that the Government have—rightly, in my view—decided that this proposal is a good idea?
If that were the only issue, it might be possible to move more quickly. When the hon. Gentleman reads the Chilcot report, he will find that there are nine tests, rather than just one. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will agree with that. The report raises issues such as the protection of sensitive techniques used by the intelligence services; the safeguarding of resources—which will be an important issue—as well as ensuring that intercept can still be used effectively for intelligence; and the protection of the present close co-operation between intelligence and law enforcement agencies. All those issues must be dealt with, and I would be failing in my duty to the House if I did not say that the Chilcot report leaves us with very big hurdles to overcome. I believe that they can be overcome, but the technical and legal work that is necessary to do that will have to be comprehensive.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement. The Joint Committee on Human Rights first recommended the use of intercept evidence almost two years ago and has repeated that recommendation in a series of reports since then. Its use would bring us into line with international practice. Will my right hon. Friend consider releasing the public interest immunity plus work that has been done so far, as we have asked, which would inform the debates on this matter? Will he consider whether it is possible to include in the Counter-Terrorism Bill enabling powers to proceed with this issue should it be possible to do so at an earlier stage?
That was not the recommendation of the Chilcot report. When I met the membership of the committee, we had a detailed discussion about some of those issues. If we said that enabling legislation could be introduced before we had reached a solution to some of the problems that had been raised, we would raise false expectations that we had such solutions. Those solutions still have to be found, and the legal and technical work still must be done. Obviously, whatever information can be made available to the Committees of the House of Commons will be made available. When my hon. Friend looks at the report in detail, he will find that the Chilcot committee is not recommending that we rush ahead without having done the legal and technical work but that we do that work before we make a final decision.
The Prime Minister will be aware of the increased security threat posed by the dissident IRA groups in Northern Ireland and the sophisticated criminal gangs now operated by former paramilitaries. The police in Northern Ireland have said that the use of intercept evidence would be very useful to them in stamping out the crimes associated with such activity. Given that the security services are now carrying the main responsibility for intelligence gathering in Northern Ireland and that policing and justice are not devolved, can the Prime Minister explain why, if intercept material is to be used, its use will apply only in criminal cases in England and Wales and will not be extended to Northern Ireland?
This is a recommendation of the committee, in the first instance, in relation to public interest immunity certificates. That is why, for example, the use of such material could not be applied immediately to Scotland, but I will consider the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
The Prime Minister is aware that the Home Affairs Committee, in our all-party report on counter-terrorism, concluded that intercept evidence should be used in terrorism trials. However, we also concluded that on its own it was no substitute for other measures—in other words, it was no silver bullet—and that those other measures could include an extension of pre-charge detention for a temporary period and only in exceptional circumstances where the security services were overwhelmed by multiple plots.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The committee investigated that issue and concluded that the use of intercept evidence does not alter the necessity for control orders. Nor does it preclude a debate about an extension of detention beyond 28 days. I am grateful for the work of the Home Affairs Committee, which has reported on these matters on two occasions, and made the case for precautionary action in view of what it believes may happen in future. The issue is whether we can find an agreement that not only recognises in principle that it is right to move forward, but leads to a practical scheme to which everyone can agree.
I welcome today’s statement. Can the Prime Minister confirm that the official Opposition will have the opportunity to nominate a Privy Councillor to the working party? What would happen if the prosecuting authority were determined to use intercept evidence but the intercept agency had different views. Who would have the final say?
In my statement I did read out that one of the conditions outlined in the Chilcot report included, “Giving the intercepting agencies the ability to retain control over whether their material is used in prosecutions”, so it is clear that the committee acknowledges that the key which unlocks the possibility of using intercept evidence is held in the first instance by the security agencies. I think that, on reflection and on reading the report, the hon. Gentleman will probably agree that that is the right conclusion. It is one of the tests that have to be met. Of course we welcome the nomination of a Privy Councillor to the committee, and we will agree on that.
I welcome the report and the Government’s response but may I express some concern at the response of the Leader of the Opposition, who seems to be following the shadow Home Secretary in arguing that this is all simple, straightforward and easy, whereas the Chilcot report suggests the contrary? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the very desirable objective of catching and convicting terrorists is balanced against the equally desirable and necessary objective of preventing terrorist outrages in the first place, whether at home or abroad?
I have said that we will do nothing to put the security of our country at risk or, as I have said directly to them, to put in jeopardy the work of our security agencies. In common with my right hon. Friend, I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition when he says that it is only a matter of political will. The committee makes it absolutely clear that there are considerable legal and technical challenges that must be overcome. That is why we will work in detail on an implementation regime. I believe that we can move forward, but we must not underestimate the real issues that have been raised by the Chilcot committee, which must be dealt with.
Does the Prime Minister accept that the committee indicated in paragraphs 49, 59 and 210 of its report that there was potential for a limited or modest increase in the number of prosecutions, although he did not make reference to those recommendations in his statement, and that if that is the case, then taken together with post-charge questioning and the use of the threshold test by the prosecutors, that must decrease the justification for an increase in pre-charge detention?
I do not accept that. In some cases, the use of intercept evidence will make it necessary for the police to have a longer period assembling evidence. As for his point about my not mentioning to the House any studies that have been done, I did mention the Metropolitan police study, which said that the chance of successful prosecutions in terrorist cases was increased from 88 per cent. to 92 per cent. That is a limited rise in the number of prosecutions, but we must take it into account. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to confuse the debate about the use of intercept evidence in a court with the problems that the police have in assembling evidence given the complexity and sophistication of terrorist groups in the first place.
I welcome this review, which I seem to recall the Leader of the Opposition railing against a few short minutes ago. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that this further work will include consideration of the complexity of the technology, data sharing and safeguarding issues, which are currently extremely confused, not only in terms of security but of the public services? Does not that complexity add to the argument for greater pre-charge detention time to enable the intercept evidence to be more closely and forensically analysed to secure evidence and thus the security of the UK?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a great interest in this matter. It is important to recognise—it is sometimes misunderstood in debate in the House of Commons—that in principle all parties have said that there is a case for going beyond 28 days’ detention; it is just the vehicle by which we go beyond that which is an issue. The Liberal and Conservative parties thought that they could support the proposals put forward by Liberty, which meant that there were circumstances in which we could go beyond 28 days. The issue then, having accepted in principle that it may be necessary to go beyond that limit, is the nature of the mechanism by which that can be agreed. At the moment, the Conservative and Liberal parties cannot agree with the proposal that we have put forward, but I have to tell them that in principle they have already said that they agree that it may be necessary to go beyond the 28-day period.
I welcome the consensus that has been reached on intercept evidence. I absolutely understand the safeguards that need to be put in place and the comments that the Prime Minister made to my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright). The fact remains that in the 1980s I was a practitioner of intercept in Northern Ireland; this issue has been around for a very long time. May I urge the Prime Minister, please, to make as much speed as possible with this, because the interception and prosecution of terrorists and the deterrence of terrorist crime is so important, as he knows?
Let us remember that for all these 20 years intercept has been used; it is just that it has mostly not been used in courts of law. The question now is whether we can establish a scheme that will work. We have already agreed that the British system is unique and that the scheme cannot simply be one taken off the shelf from other countries. I believe that all the parties now agree that certain tests have to be met. We are going to proceed speedily and comprehensively to answer those questions. I hope, like the hon. Gentleman, that we will be able to come up with a conclusion that is satisfactory to all parties in the House.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, I have lived in Shettleston for almost 40 years. That area has improved greatly in recent years and the vast majority of local residents are decent law-abiding citizens. Was it therefore in order for the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) to appear yesterday at Celtic Park, in my constituency, without even having the decency to let me know he would be there? He then launched a damaging and vitriolic attack on the people of Glasgow in general and on Shettleston in particular, when everyone knows that it was 18 years of Tory Government that caused most of the city’s problems, especially unemployment. Is there any way in which the right hon. Gentleman can be made to apologise to the people of Glasgow and my constituents?
That is not a point of order. This is a difficulty that I am being drawn into regularly. There is a courtesy that applies to right hon. and hon. Members, by which they should notify the local Member of Parliament when they come into their constituency. That should be done at all times. That courtesy should be adhered to.
Race Relations (Election Candidates)
I beg to move
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to exclude from the operation of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 certain matters relating to the selection of candidates by political parties.
The United Kingdom is a diverse nation. A snapshot of what it means to be British today would surely provide us with a mosaic reflecting the many cultures, ethnicities and religions that make up our population. Post-war and post-colonial migration flows have enriched our country with more than just numbers of people. Every town, city and region has benefited from Leicester to London, from Wembley to Wigan and from Sunderland to Southall. It is not only the composition of our population that has changed, but the composition of our national identity—our Britishness.
The change in our national identity must be reflected in the way we think of ourselves as a country, represent ourselves to others and, most importantly, in the composition of our Parliament. It is that change that must be reflected, and I intend to address it in my Bill. I am delighted to see the Leader of the House of Commons, who is also the Minister for Women and Equality, on the Front Bench because she has championed the cause of equality throughout her long political life.
There are currently 15 ethnic minority Members of this House: 13 Labour Members and two Conservatives. As the House knows, the 2001 census reported a 50 per cent. increase in our ethnic population over the last 10 years. The lack of such representation in Parliament is therefore truly disappointing. If Parliament were to reflect adequately the population of ethnic minority citizens, there would be 58 ethnic minority Members of this House. At the current rate at which ethnic minority Members are taking up seats in Parliament, it would take 75 years to achieve a proportion that would reflect the ethnic minority population of our country.
Since 1987, when I was elected along with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), Mr. Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant, progress has been painfully slow. There were two more ethnic minority Members in 1992, three more in 1997, two more in 2001, four in 2005, and five in by-elections over the last 21 years. It is not that there is a lack of talent, numbers or desire to come to this place, but it is clear that ethnic minorities still face proportionately more hurdles than others in getting elected to this House. This Bill seeks to address the problems of imbalance in representation through the democratic decisions of our political parties, but there is no miracle cure.
The race issue does not have to be divisive; race can be used in a positive way to electrify the political process. Striving for the Democratic nomination in the United States, we have a candidate who embodies the multi-ethnic, multicultural and international character of its society: Barack Obama. Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, and having spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, Senator Obama is a poster boy for the integration and amalgamation that has taken place globally—the mixing of cultures and consequent reforming of identities.
The American system is, of course, different from ours. An individual in that country can seek and win their party’s nomination at a local, state, and national level through their force of personality and their ability to secure funding. The party structure cannot stop them. In Britain, that is not possible; we have a strong party system. However, so far that system has delivered just 23 ethnic minority Members of this House in the history of British politics. Those dismal facts speak for themselves. We need to change our attitudes and the law so that a new vision can be made a reality.
I would invite Members to look at what a change in the law did for the representation of women in Parliament. A few years ago, Parliament legalised all-women shortlists in elections. The result was that for the first time in history, there were more women in the new intake than men—65 per cent. were women. All women-shortlists were described at the time as a “hammer to break the glass ceiling”. That ceiling now needs to be broken for ethnic minorities. The changes in 2002 highlighted how shortlists allow us to take a step ahead on the road to a more equally representative Parliament. Since the election of Nancy Astor as the first female Member of Parliament, 290 women have taken up seats. That is, as I am sure the House will know, not even half of a single parliamentary intake.
The Bill proposes to allow for the creation of shortlists on the grounds of ethnicity in the selection of parliamentary candidates. It will be a voluntary, optional means of addressing the imbalance we see today, and it will not oblige or compel parties in any way. Positive action is achieved by exempting the selection of candidates from the provisions of the Race Relations Act 1976. Clause 1 will insert a new clause in the 1976 Act, exempting registered political parties from the main provisions of that Act, provided, of course, that that process is adopted for the purpose of reducing inequalities for the different ethnic groups from which individuals are elected. Clause 2 allows for the exact same provisions to be made in Northern Ireland, aside from one difference, namely that it allows for this process to apply to the Northern Ireland Assembly and to district councils, as well as to elections for the Westminster and European Parliaments. Clause 3 is a sunset clause, which provides that the Act will expire in 15 years’ time, unless extended by an order of the Secretary of State.
Some may argue that a problem exists regarding which boundaries and terms can be used to define an “ethnic minority”. I can assure the House that ethnic minorities know exactly who they are, and so do the political parties; they will be well able to identify them. The creation of ethnic minority shortlists will undoubtedly see more ethnic minorities taking up seats in Parliament, which will mean a Parliament that mirrors the society it represents, a Parliament that citizens can identify with and a Parliament that better reflects their needs. It will encourage many more to engage in civic society and afford them a greater sense of belonging.
In the 21st century politics of our country no one must be left out. The Bill will allow parties to be more creative in the way that they choose parliamentary candidates, while remaining an optional, not compulsory, measure. The Conservative party already has a fast-track system, called the A-list, which, only two weeks’ ago, produced a black woman as a successor to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). Organisations such as the 1990 Trust and individuals such as Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote have long campaigned for more equal representation, and on the need to address this deficit in our democracy. The Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) has also informed me that he supports the Bill.
This Bill is merely the beginning. I do not pretend that it is a long-term solution but it is the one thing we can do today that will bring about a speedy change. We must target both ends of this problem. The ball is now firmly in the court of the Prime Minister, the right hon. Members for Witney (Mr. Cameron), for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), the hon. Members for Moray (Angus Robertson) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), and their respective political parties. With the selection of parliamentary candidates for the next election well under way, the Bill is a wake-up call for the political parties. We have waited long enough. It is time for more action and less talk. Let us begin the process of change, and let us start now.
I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I must oppose the Bill. I am a member of a fine organisation called the Campaign against Political Correctness. In my maiden speech, I made it clear that, in my time in Parliament, one of my aims was to try to speak out as often as possible against the scourge of political correctness, which is taking over too much of our country.
The right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) knows that I like and respect him in equal measure—[Hon. Members: “But?”] There are no “buts”. I hope that he will reflect on the irony of the fact that he, as a campaigner for many years on racial equality, has stood up in Parliament today and asked the House to exclude matters from the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997. He goes against something for which he has campaigned for many years.
We must imagine our reaction if a Member of Parliament tried to introduce a Bill to provide for exempting the selection of candidates from the Race Relations Act so that we could have white-only short lists. The right hon. Gentleman would rightly be up in arms about any such proposal. I do not see any legal or moral difference between a white-only short list and an ethnic minority-only short list. The Bill constitutes good, old-fashioned positive discrimination, which is just that: discrimination.
The right hon. Gentleman may argue that people from an ethnic minority have, in the past, faced discrimination in the selection processes of all political parties. I do not know much about selecting candidates for the Labour party.
I apologise to the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson).
I am sorry if the right hon. Member for Leicester, East claims that people from ethnic minorities face discrimination from Labour party selection committees. That is a sad reflection on today’s Labour party.
If people from ethnic minorities have faced discrimination in the past, that is unacceptable, but my solution would be to remove the discrimination. Surely the answer cannot be to discriminate against other people in favour of those from ethnic minorities.
I believe in equality. Surely true equality should mean selecting people on merit, irrespective of their racial background. Selection meetings should be colour blind and people should not think, “Shall I pick this person simply because of their colour?” I believe in equality of opportunity, but I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s desire for equality of outcome.
The right hon. Gentleman talked of a Parliament “that mirrors the society it represents.” I hope that he understands what that means. Part of our society is made up of dangerous criminals. Is he arguing that a proportion of Members of Parliament should be dangerous criminals? The Bill constitutes a slippery slope.
The measure would make race relations in this country worse. It would build up needless resentment that otherwise would not exist. All hon. Members should get here under the same process. The right hon. Gentleman would do well to speak to the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Davies), who is, as usual, in his place. That once safe Labour stronghold was obliterated in one election simply because the Labour party insisted on picking a female candidate rather than drawing up a short list that would mean selecting the best person for the job. Consequently, the Labour party lost the seat. The Bill may be counter-productive rather than helping to achieve the right hon. Gentleman’s objective.
I hope that the Government will not follow the route of political correctness and try to gerrymander selection processes to provide a specific outcome. I strongly believe in the principle of selection on merit, on a colour-blind basis. Once we start picking people on the colour of their skin, we have a big problem in our society.
Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
I have waited a long time for this, Mr. Speaker.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Keith Vaz, Ms Diane Abbott, Mr. Marsha Singh, Ms Dawn Butler, Jeremy Corbyn, Harry Cohen and Mr. Virendra Sharma.
Race Relations (Election Candidates)
Keith Vaz accordingly presented a Bill to exclude from the operation of the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 certain matters relating to the selection of candidates by political parties: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read the Second time on Friday 13 June, and to be printed [Bill 66].
Business of the House (Lisbon Treaty) (No. 3)
Motion made and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],
That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows: in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 4, in the third column:
(a) for ‘4½ hours’ substitute ‘3 hours’, and
(b) for ‘1½ hours’ substitute ‘3 hours’.—[Alison Seabeck.]
Question agreed to.
Treaty of Lisbon (No. 4)
(4th Allotted Day)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have bothered you on a couple of occasions with points of order about instruction, and you have ruled on that. I raised a similar issue yesterday with the Deputy Speaker, who told me that, if I raised a point of order on instruction, which is in motion 41, before Committee, it was too late in the day. I am now trying a little earlier. Can you advise my colleagues and me about what we need to do to make the instruction more selectable, if it has a defect, and whether we can use any other procedure to have it selected?
The motion on instruction has not been selected. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament for a considerable time and he knows that my selection—or non-selection—is not for discussion on the Floor of the House. We have a Table Office and some of the best Clerks in the world with regard to parliamentary democracy. I reckon that the hon. Gentleman knows that by now. He would do best to go there for advice. The Speaker has a lot on his plate these days.
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning the single market.
I believe that the founding purpose of the European Union was to try to secure a lasting peace throughout our continent by establishing, first, a common market in the key industrial sectors that could drive economic growth, create jobs and raise living standards, and that could also bring European nations closer together and, in the process, replace decades of strife and war with a new era of prosperity and progress. I am glad to say that that has remained the driving force of the European Union.
The Secretary of State just used the term “common market”, but does he accept that that is not the position today? It was, but it is not now, and those of us who believe in an association of nation states think that that was the most serious mistake made.
If hon. Gentleman will let me make my speech, I shall try to make the point in my own way. I am talking about the historical development of what started as a market and the way in which it has evolved into a wider economic and political relationship that has profoundly benefited the United Kingdom and the continent. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will make his own contribution later. I do not want to deprive him of the opportunity of doing so, because we are all looking forward to hearing his remarks again—and again and again, probably.
The fundamental purpose that I have set out has remained the European Union’s driving force. Beginning as the European Coal and Steel Community, it has since expanded to take in more goods and more countries, and succeeded in achieving peace and clear economic and social benefits for business, consumers and citizens across Europe. I would hope that hon. Members from all parts of the House celebrate those achievements.
The European Union is now the world’s biggest single market, generating total gross domestic product of more than €12 trillion and comprising almost 500 million people. Since 1992, the single market has created more than 2.75 million extra jobs, led to a more than sixfold rise in foreign direct investment and increased trade by 30 per cent. By 2006, the single market had boosted GDP by an average of £360 for every person in the European Union. Eliminating border bureaucracy, for example, has slashed delivery times, reduced costs and opened hundreds of new export markets to British businesses both large and small.
Nearly 60 per cent. of our total trade in the UK is now with other EU member states and around 3 million British jobs are linked to the export of UK goods and, increasingly, services to the European Union. British citizens—all our constituents—benefit from both a greater choice of higher quality goods and services at lower prices and stronger protections to guarantee their consumer rights throughout the European Union. Every year, EU investment helps to create and protect UK jobs and generates trade. Those who recognise the best interests of the British people have long realised that expanding the single market can be made possible only within a clear legal framework that establishes a new set of rules.
I agree with the Secretary of State about the importance of competition and the market, but why is the treaty a step forward, given that it removes the phrase “free and undistorted competition” from the legal framework, which is what the European Court of Justice will use when making decisions in important cases?
No, it does not do any of those things—
No, there is no weakening of the competitive framework of European Union law at all, and if that is the hon. Gentleman’s point, he needs to go back and do his homework.
We needed rules that would tackle restrictive practices, vested interests and hidden barriers to trade between member states. Qualified majority voting was the essential prerequisite in establishing that new legal framework. Without it, Europe would not have made the same economic progress that it has in the past 20 years.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Baroness Thatcher fought for qualified majority voting precisely because she knew that none of those matters could be carried through unless we all moved together? Is it not also true that qualified majority voting gives greater power to individual nations than the veto, because everyone else knows that they could be steamrollered if they do not join a common enterprise together?
This is a strange debate, but I agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman has just said. My regret is that his views are not more widely held on the Opposition Benches, because if they were the United Kingdom would have a better prospect of securing more of the deals in the European Union to which he has referred. It is important that we learn the lessons of history. He was involved in a lot of the debates and discussions at that time. I pay tribute to him and to the work that Lady Thatcher did to pave the way towards progress in the European Union.
Since the Single European Act, which introduced qualified majority voting to the single market in 1987 and to which the right hon. Gentleman rightly referred, the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice treaties have extended qualified majority voting into new areas, helping, not hindering, the process of economic reform in Europe. Those treaties have all adapted and strengthened both EU institutions and the policies that support enlargement and extend the single market. It is now again clear that we cannot rely on structures designed for the EU 15 to help us fully reap the economic and political benefits that we believe an enlarged Europe of 27 member states offers. That is why we must ratify the Lisbon treaty.
As our competitors continue to invest in their people, ideas and innovation, so should we. As there is still work to be done in opening up European markets to effective competition, we should concentrate on doing just that ourselves. It is for those reasons that I absolutely reject the view of those on the Opposition Front Bench that our response should be another period of introspection and constitutional navel gazing. That is the last thing that we should be doing, but it is exactly what their policy towards the treaty of Lisbon would inevitably involve. That approach would not create jobs, growth or prosperity, just years of fog and an inability to drive Europe forward. There is no benefit there for UK businesses, workers or citizens, just more time and taxpayers’ money spent on debates that are already long past their sell-by date.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the essential components of a strong and effective single market is strong EU institutions that can regulate and monitor it, and that anyone who argues in favour of a single market without strong EU institutions is full of hot air?
I do agree with that. Although this issue is not the direct subject of our debate on the single market, the Lisbon treaty also significantly improves the functioning of the European Union institutions, with a new and stronger role for national Parliaments in particular, which many right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House have accepted as important. The Lisbon treaty helps us in all those regards.
I am not going to put a figure on that, for obvious reasons. [Hon. Members: “Very obvious reasons.”] Look, either we have a serious debate or we behave like this crowd of people on the Opposition Benches.
We are talking about the single market today, so perhaps I can help the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison). It is probably true that the majority of the laws established to drive forward the single market have originated from the European Union. The hon. Gentleman was a Minister in the previous Conservative Government; indeed, I believe that he might have had something to do with these issues. Personally, I find the argument that because laws originate from Europe there is something intrinsically wrong with them an astonishing one. Those laws have helped British businesses. The fact that they originated in the European Union is therefore irrelevant.
To take the Secretary of State back to the substance of this debate, which is on the single market, is not the Lisbon agenda an illustration of how Europe has changed? For the first time, we have a set of benchmarks against which the success of individual nations’ economic policies can be properly assessed. That did not happen before Lisbon. Every five years we go back and review those decisions, to ensure that nations are up to speed.
That is a strong and obviously correct point, which is why we particularly welcome the response to the Commission with respect to the single market review. Following what is happening and ensuring that people are delivering what they have said they will deliver is an important part of making progress.
I am not going to give way to the hon. Gentleman now—perhaps I will do so later—because this is a shorter debate and I am anxious to ensure that as many hon. Members contribute as possible.
I think that, in essence, we need to press on with the agenda of economic reform, using the provisions of the treaty, once ratified, so to do, but we cannot do that if our focus is always on reopening debates about the treaty. What possible economic or political interest to our country could be served by a future Government taking the view that the provisions of the treaty did not bind the United Kingdom or that the UK could not sign up to further improvements to the single market in future because the proposals were being taken forward under the provisions of the Lisbon treaty? Such an approach would paralyse any future progress for an indefinite period on future reforms to the single market. It would negate any influence that we might have in the Council and elsewhere. Sadly, it is the policy of the Conservatives, should they ever manage to win an election, to follow precisely such a course of action.
We have set out our position on the euro on many occasions, and the position has not changed in relation to the economic tests and a referendum on the European Union. The hon. Gentleman graciously said that I am making a cogent argument, but I do not quite understand the point that he is trying to make.
My right hon. Friend has indeed made a cogent argument on the power of the single market and our progress within it, which I very strongly endorse. Would he add to that the need to redouble our efforts at further reform of agricultural markets—an area where I am afraid that protectionism, quotas and other mechanisms proliferate?
I certainly believe that we need to press ahead with reforms in that area. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have repeatedly made it clear that we want further progress. I hope that other changes in the Lisbon treaty, particularly around co-decision making for the European Parliament, will act as further stimulus for such reforms. It is incumbent on us all, particularly in the context of the world trade round talks, to try to make further progress.
I believe very strongly that Europe has the ambition, commitment and the talent to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive global economy. It is absolutely time to deliver, and a ratified Lisbon treaty will help make it easier to do so.
My right hon. Friend rightly refers to an increasingly competitive global economy. Will he confirm that article 118, which is on page 87 of the consolidated texts, refers to intellectual property rights, that this country has a fine tradition of design and innovation and that the protection of intellectual property rights both within the European Union and worldwide is particularly important for jobs in this country?
I agree absolutely. The single market has been an evolutionary concept. We have made significant progress, but there are still obstacles in the way of creating a truly single market in many areas, and intellectual property is one of them. I believe that the Lisbon treaty provisions will help take that debate forward. We have important safeguards on language issues—I shall come on to them in a few moments—and requirements for multiple language translations of patents, but there is no doubt that this is one important area where progress needs to be made. We will not make that progress without qualified majority voting. I am afraid that it is as simple as that. Given the range of experienced Ministers on the Opposition Benches, I hope that they would understand that rather fundamental point.
Does the Secretary of State agree with Commissioner Verheugen’s estimate in October 2006 that the cost to business of EU legislation and regulation was £405 billion a year—more than some other estimates of the value of the single market? If he does not agree with the commissioner’s estimate, what is his estimate of the burden to European business of excessive over-regulation, which is used as an excuse for the single market?
I am making a point about the virtue of qualified majority voting, whereas the right hon. Gentleman is talking about the regulatory burden on business—a genuinely important issue. I believe that there are some cases of over-regulation in some sectors in the EU, but the right hon. Gentleman will know that we have been taking the lead in the debate in Europe about a totally different approach towards regulation, which emphasises the costs and the burdens on business in Europe. Impact assessments have now become standard practice in the EU, people have to justify a proposal for regulation and the benefits have to outweigh the costs that inevitably arise once it has been decided to regulate.
There is, however, no way of achieving many of the goals we want—I would hope that we all share them, particularly in respect of the single market—without regulation, necessarily bringing some costs and regulatory burdens for employers. There is no way of pretending otherwise, but the European Union and the Commission have targets to reduce the burden of regulation, which is a welcome first step. I think that significant progress remains to be made, but in a sense the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is not germane to my point about the benefits of qualified majority voting. That is my main argument today, yet the amendment to the motion and the amendments that we will debate later this afternoon would make it harder for us to make progress on single market issues in the EU.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) referred to article 118 and provisions on intellectual property rights, but I understand that Conservative Members want to ensure that we cannot proceed along the lines of qualified majority voting in those areas. I suspect that there will be a division of opinion among Conservative Back Benchers on that matter. It is striking to reflect on the extraordinary divergence between the rhetoric we hear in support of the single market and the content of the amendments, which would make it very difficult for us to make the further progress that we need.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the European constitutional convention, the UK Government sought an exemption for intellectual property rights?
That is true—[Interruption.] No, it does not lead to a collapse of my argument. The important point about the treaty is that it contains essential protections that will help us to deal with restrictive practices, particularly the insistence on language requirements. The treaty contains important provisions that will advance the arguments that I am making about extending and deepening the single market.
If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will allow me to make some progress, we can return to this issue later.
We know that back in the days of Maastricht, the Opposition could not unite. The consequences of the Tory policy of fundamental renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty would, I believe, risk our entire membership of the European Union itself. Many Opposition Members in their places today openly advocate British withdrawal from the EU. That would marginalise us during one of the most important periods of reform to the single market.