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Commons Chamber

Volume 478: debated on Wednesday 25 June 2008

House of Commons

Wednesday 25 June 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

private business

London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Paul Quinn

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are in regular contact with the Irish Government on a range of policing issues, including the investigation into the murder of Paul Quinn. As recently as last week, the Irish Minister of Justice assured me that the Garda, in leading the investigation, continues to work very closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland in order to bring those responsible to justice.

In the discussions, have the publicly stated views of the investigating Garda Siochana—namely, that this case is not, and never has been, a fall-out between criminals but rather that there is clear paramilitary involvement in the planning, execution and forensic clean-up of the murder site—been discussed?

What I can confirm to the House is that the Independent Monitoring Commission determined in its most recent report that this act was carried out by local people and arose from a local dispute. However, the detailed investigations, which are being carried out by the Garda in the Republic and the PSNI in Northern Ireland, can continue. I reassure my hon. Friend that the investigation is live and active. I am sure that he will take some comfort from that.

The security situation in Northern Ireland and the border areas has improved immeasurably in recent years, but there are a small number of murders for which no one has been brought to justice, Paul Quinn’s being one and Robert McCartney’s being another. Both those murders happened in areas either where Sinn Fein has political influence or where members of Sinn Fein were in the vicinity at the time. What pressure is the Minister bringing to bear on Sinn Fein as a political movement to bring those responsible to justice?

Last year, as the hon. Gentleman knows, Sinn Fein made the historic decision to give its full support to policing and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Indeed, that underpinned and brought about the confidence that enabled the restoration of the institutions of devolution to happen. Sinn Fein representatives speak out whenever there is an unexplained murder. Indeed, as recently as yesterday, Sinn Fein leaders made clear their view that anybody who knows about criminal acts should come to the police and give them the information that they have.

Real IRA/Continuity IRA

The Secretary of State will know that when he is routinely asked such questions, he replies via the IMC report. Will he tell the House whether he receives different intelligence on the activities of those dissident republicans from that which is published in the report?

First, we rely so heavily on the work of the IMC because it produces a considered report, based on evidence compiled from a number of sources. Most hon. Members would agree that it has been extremely accurate and authoritative over the years since it was set up. I receive, obviously, additional security information. The individual who most closely advises me on that is the Chief Constable, with whom I remain in touch, often on a daily basis.

The Secretary of State will be aware that dissident republicans are deemed to be responsible for the murder of Emmett Shiels this week in my constituency—a young man robbed of his life, a baby soon to be born without a father. Does the Secretary of State share my hope that the profound response of the community in Derry offers some comfort to Emmett Shiels’s family? Indeed, it even seems to be having some effect on those who were involved in the murder. Does the Secretary of State share the determination that there should be a united political response to ensure that there is no doubt, difference or difficulty in relation to the politics of policing that can ever be exploited by republican dissidents?

May I join the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that I speak for all Members—in sending our deepest sympathies to the family of Emmett Shiels? What happened yesterday was an horrific crime that should not have happened. It has left a family devastated and it does not surprise me to hear that last night more than 1,000 people took part in a vigil to remember the life of Emmett Shiels. I am encouraged to hear this morning that the police have already made two arrests and I understand that more may follow.

On the last part of the question, I believe that it does matter that we complete the process of devolution sooner rather than later for one very important reason: regrettably, there are still some dissident individuals out there who hang on to some obscure hope, with no support in the community, that they can shake that community’s confidence in the future of Northern Ireland. The best thing we can all do is to work together to bring about stability and peace as soon as possible.

On behalf of my party, I join the rest of the House in expressing sincere sympathies to the family of Emmett Shiels, who was so brutally murdered in Londonderry earlier this week. That is a tragedy that should never have happened. The Secretary of State will be aware of ongoing threats against people in Northern Ireland from dissident republicans, including one against one of my constituents who left the security forces more than 10 years ago. Will the Minister assure the House not only that every available resource will be channelled into ridding Northern Ireland of such groups, but that when those people are convicted, they will be given a punishment that will fit the crime?

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. I can add little to what he said, other than that I fully endorse the fact that the full weight of the law should be used against those who wish to commit crime in any part of the United Kingdom. I am encouraged to see that all those people who have entered into government in the Assembly and the Executive fully share those views.

My right hon. Friend will be well aware that the impartiality of policing has been a long-running issue in Northern Ireland. Will he tell me what impact he thinks the devolution of both policing and the criminal justice system will have on dissident groups in Northern Ireland?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention. There is no doubt in my mind that we have reached a point where it is extremely important that the political parties reach agreement on a time scale for the devolution of policing and justice in order to complete the devolution arrangements that were begun last year. It is very much our view that that must be agreed between the parties and that what we can do is to ensure that the arrangements are in place for that to happen as soon as possible.

Last week’s visit of the President of the United States to Northern Ireland, which was welcomed by everybody in Northern Ireland, brought on the back of it more investment and more commitment to the people of Northern Ireland. The President’s message was very clear: it will be easier for him to pressure American companies to continue to make that investment, particularly in a time of international downturn, if devolution is completed sooner rather than later. He was explicit in his remarks about that.

On behalf of the official Opposition, I condemn the murder of 22-year-old Emmett Shiels and send our profound sympathies to his family after this totally unacceptable and unnecessary murder. On the wider issues, it is very worrying, as we may be seeing a trend towards murder and attempted murder by dissident republicans. Only recently, we saw attempts to blow up and murder police officers. Indeed, the chief inspector responsible at the scene of the crime on that occasion said that the police could not

“go blindly rushing into an area until we were satisfied that it was safe to do so”.

Everyone would sympathise totally with the police, with masked men lying in wait in the area. That is an unacceptable situation in the Province, which is, of course, part of the United Kingdom. We have to move away from that violence.

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. The Chief Constable has been very clear about the position. Regrettably, there is a heightened level of dissident activity in Northern Ireland, probably higher than at any time in the last five years, although that should not be confused with the work being done by the police and the security forces to ensure that we continue to infiltrate these organisations and bring their members to justice whenever we can. We are confident that they are not building support in the community or recruiting in the community, because they find no support in the community, but that does not mean that they are not dangerous. As the Chief Constable has said, as they sense time running out as the parties reach agreement on issues that once divided them, they may unfortunately carry out more and more desperate acts. That is why the extraordinary bravery of the police in Northern Ireland should remain uppermost in our minds.

I join the House in sending sympathy to the family of Emmett Shiels, the victim of this horrific murder.

In its recent reports, the Independent Monitoring Commission has stressed that transition cannot continue indefinitely and that paramilitary organisations cannot continue to expect the comfort of the decommissioning legislation. How close do the Government think we are to achieving normalisation, and what further steps are required before we can achieve it?

The hon. Gentleman has asked an important question, to which I have given careful consideration. In a speech that I delivered in Belfast in May, I made it clear that it was important for all who, for example, continue to retain weapons to recognise that, sooner rather than later, we will inevitably bring institutions such as the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning to a conclusion, because they cannot be part of a normal society. They have helped to bring Northern Ireland to normalisation, but they cannot be there indefinitely.

It is vital for everyone to hear that. I welcome the progress that is being made, particularly by some of the loyalist dissident organisations, but they have to hear the message. What they do is criminal, and what they continue to do will be treated as criminal. The decommissioning process that allows them to hand in their weapons will come to an end sooner rather than later, and I urge them to continue to make progress and decommission those weapons now.

Alcohol-related Crime (Young People)

3. What steps he is taking to reduce the incidence of alcohol-related crime among young people in Northern Ireland. (212545)

We are working closely with the devolved Administration in Northern Ireland to tackle the issues associated with alcohol misuse by young people, including alcohol-related crime. A young people and alcohol action plan will be published later in the year.

My hon. Friend will be well aware that alcohol-related crime is a problem not just in Northern Ireland but in the United Kingdom as a whole, but the fact remains that there has been a 26 per cent. rise in drink-fuelled crime in Northern Ireland. He told us about measures that he has taken, but does he agree that it is time for us to do more? What will he do not only to reduce the increase in crime of this sort, but to reverse the present trend?

My hon. Friend has identified an important issue, to which we are responding. The young people and alcohol action plan is being led by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, but with full co-operation from the Northern Ireland Office and, indeed, other Departments in Northern Ireland. It is important for us to have an effective action plan. In the meantime, the Police Service of Northern Ireland is enforcing the law relating to alcohol, not least by cracking down on consumption of alcohol during parades. Last Friday evening during the Tour of the North parade, 500 bottles and cans, including bottles and cans of alcohol, were confiscated by the police.

I welcome what the Minister said about the Tour of the North, in which I took part with great pleasure. I noted the police’s active role in confiscating alcohol and so on.

The chief medical officer for Northern Ireland has revealed the shocking statistics that the average age of those having their first alcoholic drink in Northern Ireland is 11, the greatest increase in drinking occurs between the ages of 11 and 13, and 2 per cent. of all young people in Northern Ireland admit to binge drinking. Can the Minister be more specific? Will he introduce laws to ensure that a two strikes and out rule applies to those who sell alcohol to youngsters, and will he consider introducing dispersal zones in Northern Ireland like those in the rest of the United Kingdom to tackle directly the problem that we are experiencing in the Province?

There is widespread concern across Northern Ireland following Dr. McBride’s report of earlier this week on the prevalence of alcohol use among under-age children. In principle, we are supportive of dispersal zones; I will issue in the near future a consultation on community safety issues generally, and we will consult on that specific proposal. On the hon. Gentleman’s other suggestions, let me assure him that as the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety leads this work on the action plan, we will consider what enforcement powers and legislation are necessary to underpin the strategy.

Alcohol-related crime and serious crime in Northern Ireland will be truly tackled only if the local neighbourhood policing teams have the full confidence of their local community. To that end, will the Minister update us on what progress is being made on the devolution of policing to Northern Ireland?

The development and roll-out of neighbourhood policing is an important issue in Northern Ireland, as it is elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is a high priority for the Police Service of Northern Ireland this year, and the evidence in Northern Ireland is the same as it is everywhere else, which is that where we have good, strong, local neighbourhood policing working in partnership with local people and local organisations, we get very effective results.

Defence Expenditure

4. What recent discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland First Minister on expenditure on defence in Northern Ireland. (212546)

Operation Banner ended in July 2007. Expenditure on defence in Northern Ireland is, of course, a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.

I thank the Secretary of State for that unhelpful answer. Will he confirm that all the proceeds from the sale of redundant military establishments in the Province will go to the Ministry of Defence to help our forces overseas at a time when they are stretched beyond capabilities?

My answer may not have been helpful, but it was actually an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. I shall, however, try to help him with his second question as well. It might be helpful if I assist him in understanding the background to the sale of sites in Northern Ireland. Five sites were gifted and transferred to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2002 to use to generate investment and create other opportunities. The 2003 joint declaration makes reference to further sites that

“might be made available to the Executive”.

There are currently nine disused sites that could fall into that category. As the sites are owned by the MOD, the proceeds raised by the sale of those assets will, of course, fall to the MOD, and it is for the Secretary of State for Defence to decide how those proceeds should be used.

Would it not be odd if there were not discussions between Ministers at Westminster and Ministers in the devolved Assembly about the disposal of assets, and, for that matter, about any other policies on which the two Administrations have a common interest? I find it odd that this should be raised as an issue at all.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments, because he has considerable experience of both Northern Ireland and defence matters. Let me say the following in an advisory capacity to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) and his friends. Military sites in Northern Ireland are extremely important historically and they offer an important source of future revenue for the Ministry of Defence. I confirm to the hon. Gentleman that in discussions about those sites my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will look extremely carefully at how the proceeds are used. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said, it is important to recognise that it is sensible for there to be discussions between those on the ground in Northern Ireland and those in the MOD.

I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has confirmed that a deal was done in respect of handing over military sites to the Northern Ireland Executive. It was done in April 2003, and it was welcomed by the Conservative party, who supported that declaration, and by the Liberal Democrats, who also supported it. The sites the Secretary of State mentions were handed to the Northern Ireland Executive in 2002 and the 2003 agreement stated that additional sites should be handed over, so when are the Government going to do that?

As I have reminded the House, the sites that were gifted were the five sites in 2002. In 2003, the wording specifically said that further sites might be made available. The right hon. Gentleman will of course know that we have been looking over the last year at some of the sites for which there are plans in Northern Ireland, but there is disappointment that there continues to be disagreement about, for example, the Maze site, which was gifted in 2002. Regrettably, it continues to be the subject of controversy. If the national stadium project were to be lost from the Maze, it would almost certainly mean that Northern Ireland would lose its opportunity to be one of the focuses for the Olympics in 2012.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Maze is not a military site? Has he visited Omagh and discussed with the local people their interesting and imaginative scheme for an educational campus on the Lisanelly barracks site? Does he agree that it might be possible to bring that to fruition by realising the asset value of the current school sites in Omagh?

I welcome that question not least because the hon. Gentleman has been in correspondence with me about the use of that site since October. As a result of his intervention, I visited the site some months ago. It is an exciting site because it has cross-community support and all parties in Northern Ireland would like to see the site developed. I share the enthusiasm for the development of the project and I look forward to reading the business case, which will, I understand, be presented to the Executive very shortly.

The Secretary of State has obviously been doing his homework on this subject, so can he inform the House on the progress of the sale of Shackleton barracks, and the current asking price?

We will continue to look at that, but all sales of military sites are matters for the Ministry of Defence.

Budget Allocations

6. Whether additional financial allocations have been made to the Northern Ireland budget since the original determination of the funding allocation for 2008-09. (212548)

Additional allocations were agreed at the end of 2007 to fund actuarial variations to police pensions, annual Barnett upratings on 12 March, an increase in the ceiling of assets sales to be retained by the Executive on 8 May, and most recently £6 million for the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund.

I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. I am somewhat whimsically disappointed that the rumours that went round the House two weeks ago did not produce millions upon millions extra for us, but be that as it may. Services in Northern Ireland are suffering a shortage of cash funding. We have an educational changeover that has not been costed in any way, and no provision appears to have been made for it. Extended school hours have been withdrawn and, in health, a comprehensive spending review is withdrawing front-line services. Will the Secretary of State engage with the Treasury, the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and the new Northern Ireland Executive to try to assuage some of the real suffering that is ahead for the people of Northern Ireland?

I recognise the work that is being done in education in Northern Ireland, but I remind the House that that is now a devolved matter. The finances for education are a matter for the Executive and the Assembly, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that last year in the comprehensive spending review the then Chancellor, now my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, made a generous and significant settlement to Northern Ireland. It is a matter for the Executive how the money is spent.

There has been widespread speculation about the detail of the talks and the agreement leading up to the establishment of the new Executive. What was the deal, and does it have any budget implications?

As always, the hon. Gentleman gets excited about his questions, but I am going to have to disappoint him. There was no deal and therefore there are no financial implications.

I thought that the Ulster White was a rare pig, now sadly extinct. I did not realise that it had been reincarnated in flying form. We know that there were tense and difficult negotiations in Downing street with the Prime Minister. There was clearly an agreement, because the Executive was reformed, which was good news. The Secretary of State has already mentioned the figure of £6 million, which was announced by the president of Sinn Fein rather than the Secretary of State. Devolution of criminal justice and policing has been mentioned, as have water rates, the sale of military sites and education. Why will not the Secretary of State tell us what the deal was?

The short answer is that there was no deal. The hon. Gentleman mentions the £6 million for the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund. This may have escaped him, but I do not think that Sinn Fein took its places to vote on the matter of 42 days last week. The hon. Gentleman should be very careful, because he is impugning the reputation of a number of Members from Northern Ireland who are highly principled on the matter of counter-terrorism. I suggest that before he gives lectures to Members of the DUP, he should pay attention to one of the most principled parties in the House when it comes to the business of building a robust framework of counter-terrorism legislation.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before I list my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in sending our profound condolences to the families and friends of the two servicemen killed in Afghanistan yesterday. They will remain always in our thoughts and we owe them a deep debt of gratitude for their sacrifice.

This morning, I had meetings and discussions with ministerial colleagues, including, as the House will want to know, on the subject of bringing forward next week immediate legislation to enable the courts to grant anonymity to witnesses in cases such as those involving organised crime and witness intimidation. I hope and believe that we can do that with all-party support. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings with Ministers later today.

I echo my right hon. Friend’s words on our gratitude to all the servicemen who have lost their lives defending the values that we all cherish.

What action will the Prime Minister take to encourage the African nations to help resolve the current crisis in Zimbabwe?

Following the United Nations Security Council resolution, promoted by the United Kingdom, that the conditions are not there for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe, we will stand alongside African leaders who do not accept the legitimacy of the election and who do not accept the legitimacy of the regime and the criminal cabal surrounding President Mugabe. I understand that the Southern African Development Community will meet today and the African Union will meet on Sunday. It is our hope that the UN and the AU can work together for a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe and we are ready to commit substantial resources to Zimbabwe once democracy returns.

I can also confirm that we are preparing intensified sanctions, both financial sanctions and travel sanctions against named members of the Mugabe regime. I can also announce that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is working with the England and Wales Cricket Board. We want to ensure that Zimbabwe do not tour England next year and we will call for other countries to join us in banning Zimbabwe from the Twenty20 international tournament.

May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the two soldiers from the Parachute Regiment who were killed in Afghanistan yesterday? Our troops are doing an incredibly difficult job in tough circumstances and they have our full support.

Let me ask some further questions, if I may, about Zimbabwe. I believe, as I believe the Prime Minister does, that there is a real opportunity for Britain to take the initiative. There is universal anger at the stolen election, universal support for the leader of the opposition’s pulling out of the race, condemnation from the UN Security Council and, for a change, strong words from Zimbabwe’s neighbours.

May I ask the Prime Minister about three specific actions? First, at the forthcoming G8, which President Mbeki will attend, will the Prime Minister push for a declaration that all states present will cease to prop up the regime and will refuse to recognise its legitimacy?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the UN passed a strong presidential statement on Monday. South Africa was very much part of that statement, which made it clear that the elections could not take place in the present circumstances and called for an end to violence. I will, of course, raise the matter in every international forum. I raised it in the European Union at the Council last Thursday and Friday, and there was a strong statement from the EU. I have talked to other members of the G8, including President Bush, about the situation.

I believe that the hope that exists for a peaceful outcome to the problems that we face lies in the fact that, as the right hon. Gentleman has indicated, the leaders of so many African Governments—of Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Angola, Senegal and Kenya—as well as the African National Congress have made it absolutely clear that they cannot support the current regime. They want the full civil and political rights of the Zimbabwean people restored.

I want us to work with the African Union and the UN, and I believe that it would be best if a joint delegation went to Zimbabwe. What we want to achieve is a peaceful transition, the promise of support for a new regime, and an end to the violence that has caused so many deaths.

We support very much what the Prime Minister has said. We too welcome the UN statement, and I also welcome what he said about sporting sanctions in answer to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Mahmood). Will he clarify one point arising from our discussions on Monday? He said that he would no longer recognise the legitimacy of the Mugabe regime, but may I ask him a bit more about what that means? The Foreign Secretary said on Monday that it is not possible to ban Mugabe from attending summits

“until he is no longer the president of Zimbabwe.”—[Official Report, 23 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 46.]

So when the Prime Minister says that he does not recognise the regime’s legitimacy, what does he actually mean? What will the practical consequences be?

As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, we are bound by international laws on the question of the regime, but we do not recognise the legitimacy of the Zimbabwean Government. We do not believe that Mugabe has honoured the results of the previous election, or that the current elections can be free and fair. We want to see a peaceful transition as soon as possible.

If we look back at the elections that did take place, it was clear that Mugabe lost them and that Tsvangirai was ahead. It is also clear that the Parliament in Zimbabwe has a majority against Mugabe. That is why what African leaders have said in the last few days is so important. For the first time, many of them have condemned both Mugabe’s regime and his behaviour. We want to work for a peaceful transition. I believe that the statements made by the UN Secretary-General calling for an end to violence and offering his help to that end, as well as the strong statements from President Kikwete of Tanzania, are the best symbol of the way forward—that is, the UN and the African Union working together for a change of regime.

The Prime Minister mentioned tighter EU sanctions. Will he confirm that, when they are drawn up, our Government will specifically propose a full visa ban for Mugabe, his officials, their families and associates? Will the sanctions also propose financial measures, which must include a full assets freeze on institutions complicit in the regime as well as a ban on their transactions? Does he agree that this matter is not just for Governments, and that businesses and individuals that have any dealings with Zimbabwe must examine their responsibilities and ensure that they do not make investments that prop up the regime?

The right hon. Gentleman may also know that 160 individuals are under bans and sanctions as a result of decisions already taken. We are looking at extending the bans, as he suggested, to the families of the people involved. The bans will include financial sanctions, but also travel sanctions. We know the names of the individuals surrounding Mugabe, and we therefore know the names of the criminal cabal trying to keep him in power. We will name those individuals, and that will be part of the next stage of the sanctions.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that businesses should also look at their involvement in Zimbabwe. We have taken a decision that we will force through sanctions against the individuals who are part of the regime. We do not want to do further damage to the Zimbabwean people, but businesses that are helping the regime should of course reconsider their position.

I believe that the whole world has woken up to the evils that have been going on in Zimbabwe, and that the whole international community, with a few exceptions, is now united in calling for action. What we want is an end to the violence, and a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe. That is why the efforts of the AU and the UN are so important. We will support them in their efforts and offer the Zimbabwean people help with reconstruction once democracy is restored.

On yesterday’s “Today” programme, it was argued that speculators are responsible for the doubling of the oil price. The US Congress has been examining the situation, and is working very hard to limit the damage being done by speculators—who, by the way, control more than 71 per cent. of the futures market. However, the speculators are likely to move to London where, Congress argues, the rules are more lax. What are the Government doing to protect the poor people who are having to pay the high prices at the petrol pumps?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a huge issue, because oil prices have trebled over the past two years, and they have risen very substantially in the past few months. I was in Jeddah and met all the oil producers to talk about these matters.

The first thing that we know is that the American Congress is looking at this matter. The Financial Services Authority is looking for any evidence of market manipulation and the Treasury is looking at what financial speculation may have taken place in the marketplace. If there is any evidence of that, we will act. We will also work with the rest of the European Union, which is examining the issue.

I have to tell my hon. Friend that there is another issue here: demand for oil in the world exceeds the supply of oil, and it will for years to come. That is why we are making bold decisions for which I would hope have all-party support—first of all, to have energy independence through having nuclear power in this country. While we have made the decision, the Opposition have ducked it.

I would like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of the two soldiers who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan yesterday.

Before the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister, I think that some people thought he was a man of principle. Over the past 12 months, time and again, we have seen him abandon what he knows to be right for what he thinks is expedient. This afternoon, he has the chance to do the right thing when veterans from the Gurkhas march on No. 10 to hand in their medals in protest at the way in which they have been treated by this Government. I have asked him four times to receive those medals, and every time he has refused. Will he now have the grace to receive them today, or will he turn them away yet again?

I do thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising the question of the Gurkhas, because it allows me to explain what has actually been done. We respect the fact that Gurkhas have fought for the United Kingdom for two centuries. They have served in conflicts throughout the world. We greatly value their contribution, both past and present, and we know that they are operating in Iraq and continue to serve with great distinction in Afghanistan.

The Government have improved the way in which we are treating the Gurkhas. Serving Gurkhas, and some who are recently retired, for the first time have membership of the armed forces pension scheme. They have a genuinely improved deal, and 2,232 retired Gurkhas who were serving on 1 July 1997 or later have also been offered those arrangements.

There are other things that we are doing, including equality of take-home pay with the British Army, the creation of national insurance records, changing the immigration rules to help retired Gurkhas, married accompanied service after three years in the brigade and the opportunity to transfer to one of the two armed forces pension schemes. All those things we have done. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say that we have been inactive; we are trying to honour our obligations to people who have served the country well.

Once again, we have a long list from the Prime Minister that misses the important issue. On Friday, it is Veterans day, a day when we celebrate the courage of those who risk their lives for our country. The Prime Minister says that he values courage above all else, so why will he not do the thing that would really help some of the most courageous veterans of all? Veterans of the Gurkhas who have to rely on charity and who face deportation because his Government will not grant them British citizenship are protesting outside right now. When will he act to correct that gross injustice and give those brave veterans the recognition and citizenship that they deserve?

I have just told the right hon. Gentleman that the immigration rules were changed in 2004 to include post-1997 retired Gurkhas. The opportunity is now there to transfer to the wider Army after five years; there are increased opportunities for Gurkhas after leaving the Army; there are opportunities to obtain settlement and naturalisation—that is citizenship—while serving in the wider Army; and we have given the pensions that I have just identified. He cannot say that we have done nothing to help the Gurkhas. We have shown how we value the Gurkhas in this country.

Q2. Child poverty was a matter of national shame when the Conservative Government were in power. My right hon. Friend deserves enormous credit for the 600,000 children whose families have been taken out of poverty, but now that we face difficult economic times, will he give a recommitment to the eradication of child poverty by 2020? Frankly, if this Government and this Prime Minister will not give that commitment, no other party in this House will make the same offer. (213428)

We are the only party that has made, and is making, this commitment, and I ask other parties to join us in making the commitment even now. When we came to power, 3.5 million children were in poverty. Absolute poverty in this country has fallen so that the figure is 1.7 million, and we have a long way to go. Relative poverty has fallen by 600,000. Even in difficult economic circumstances, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the pre-Budget report and the Budget that 300,000 more children will be taken out of poverty. We have doubled child benefit. The child tax credit was £27 for the poorest child when we came to power; it is now more than £70. We have done what the previous Conservative Government failed to do: we are tackling child poverty.

Britain is facing a wave of potential strikes that are threatened by, among others, housing benefit staff, social workers, teaching assistants and refuse collectors. With that in mind, will the Prime Minister rule out categorically any further changes that would weaken in any way the trade union laws introduced by past Conservative Governments?

We have no plans to change employment laws further. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be better if he would support us when we are trying to negotiate three-year pay deals with the public sector. We have negotiated them for teachers, nurses, health service workers and civil servants, and they are now in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Inland Revenue. Two million people are covered by public sector pay deals. The shadow Chancellor said on “Newsnight” last week:

“I’m not against opening negotiated pay deals.”

A few hours later, he had to clarify the statement, saying:

“I am against reopening public sector pay deals”.

Perhaps the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) can tell us the position of the Conservative party on supporting stability in the economy.

The whole House will have heard the Prime Minister say that he has no plans to change trade union laws. This is the same man who, as Chancellor, said that he had no plans to introduce taxes, and then introduced extra taxes. If he genuinely has no plans to introduce new trade union laws, will he explain why he is going ahead with the Warwick Two process, in which the trade unions and Ministers will sit down and discuss policies, including the laws governing industrial action?

Of course we are going to discuss policies with every section of the community—surely that is what politics is about. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman was quite anxious to talk to the TUC as well.

I come back to this point: is the Conservative party supporting our three-year public sector pay deals? They are unique. They are a barrier against inflation and they give us stability for the future. They are a signal to the rest of the public sector and to the private sector. However, the Conservatives are silent on that, just as they were on the 22 million people benefiting from a low tax rate with the personal allowances coming down. They should tell us whether they support economic stability, low inflation and low interest rates, which is what this will help to achieve.

Do you know what? If the Prime Minister wants to ask us questions and he has had a year in office, why not call an election? He said that he needed more time to set out his vision. I think that we have had a year; why not bring on the election?

Is the Prime Minister really telling us that his Ministers are going to sit down with the people who provide 92 per cent. of the governing party’s income and that there will be no mention of trade union laws? Is it not the case that trade union leaders look at this Prime Minister and see just weakness? Tony Blair—remember him?—said:

“I have not created New Labour to see a Labour government give away power to the unions”.

He also said that

“you can’t go back to the situation where 90 per cent. of the funding is provided by trade unions”.

Is not that exactly what has happened? We have a bankrupt Labour party. It is in hock to the unions and a wave of strikes is threatened. As the Prime Minister lurches to the left, should not we all conclude that new Labour is dead and buried?

The same old Tory party—it cannot even talk to the trade unions. In the past year, we have made the big decisions about the future of the country. Nuclear power: we decided; the Conservatives ducked it. Airport expansion: we are deciding; they have ducked it. Three million houses: we are deciding; they have ducked it. Today, on planning, we are deciding, and once again they are ducking it.

The right hon. Gentleman’s year started with the indecision over grammar schools and has ended with him losing his shadow Home Secretary. For him, politics is just show business; it is devoid of substance and is opposition for opposition’s sake. You can get by without substance some of the time, but you cannot get by without substance all of the time.

Q3. This Saturday, more than 100 representatives of voluntary organisations and other organisations in my constituency will get together with the police, the city council, the fire service and other statutory agencies to examine how we can best work together to combat crime. All hon. Members know that one of the things that often inhibits people from reporting crimes or standing up to antisocial behaviour is the fear of reprisal or intimidation. My right hon. Friend said a few moments ago that there were plans in relation to witness anonymity. Will he say a little more about that, and about how we can best reassure people that we will back them when they stand up for their local community? (213429)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The policies that we are proposing will mean punishment and prevention of crime. It is quite wrong to deprive witnesses of their anonymity when it is needed, especially when we are dealing with organised crime, witness intimidation and gang and gun-related crime. That is why the Secretary of State for Justice will announce tomorrow that we will bring forward legislation to clarify the situation arising from the court’s judgment. We want to make sure that there is a right for the courts to offer anonymity, as the police and so many other people have asked for in the last few days. I hope that my hon. Friend will tell his seminar on Saturday that we will continue with our policies to ensure that the public are properly protected against crime. I also hope that the Conservatives will reconsider their former shadow Home Secretary’s opposition to DNA and CCTV, and to what we are doing to make this country safe from terrorism.

Q4. On behalf of the Democratic Unionist party, may I also send our sympathies to the family and friends of the two very brave servicemen who have lost their lives? Did the Prime Minister see reports this week suggesting that the Government were going to legalise the IRA? Will he confirm that the Government’s intention is not to make the IRA legal but to make it completely redundant by removing its army council? (213430)

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying, and I think that she is referring to the report that was done by Lord Carlile. We have no plans to do that at all. We believe that the provisional army council should be brought to an end as soon as possible, and we will work with all parties in Northern Ireland to maintain the stability of the settlement. I praise her party and the other parties that have been involved in making the settlement work.

May I thank my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for setting up a border police service that will protect our borders? Will he add to that an important segment? Some of our troops who have been seriously injured and might therefore no longer be suitable for front-line service want to continue to wear a uniform. They ought to be added to the border police force to protect our borders from terrorism, drug-running and illegal immigration.

We have already set up the Border and Immigration Agency, which is 25,000 strong. My hon. Friend is referring to a proposal from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which the Government are happy to consider. The Home Secretary said that at the beginning of this week. The policing Green Paper to be published shortly will look at a number of proposals for policing at the border, including that from ACPO. It will also include other proposals that may not involve structural change. I believe that we must have the strongest possible protection at our borders, and we will provide that. Again, I hope that the Conservative party will reconsider its opposition to identity cards for people coming into this country, because that is one way in which we can protect against illegal immigration.

Q5. Both our parties voted to support the extension of education to the age of 18. In East Devon, that will mean having to find approximately 450 extra places by 2015. The only obvious site available for those students in Exmouth is the recently vacated Owen building on the Rolle college campus site. While the Minister for the South West is broadly supportive of the idea that the building should continue to be used for education, the Minister for Higher Education is of the belief that it should be sold to the highest bidder. In the interests of joined-up government, and if the Prime Minister is genuinely in listening mode, will he meet a cross-party delegation from East Devon to try to break this logjam? (213431)

I will certainly look at the proposals that the hon. Gentleman is putting forward. In his local authority area, there are two new schools; 19 schools have been rebuilt; 390 additional classrooms have been provided; and funding per pupil has risen substantially. There are also 600 more teachers and 1,800 more teaching assistants. That is a Labour Government working, and it would not have happened if we had accepted the Conservative party’s advice not to spend more on education.

When the Labour Mayor introduced free bus travel for children and young Londoners, it was warmly welcomed, especially by low-income families. Although it makes sense to require young people to carry identification to tackle bad behaviour, does my right hon. Friend know that, due to delays in processing identity cards, increasing numbers of young people are being turned away from buses, and low-income families are being fined for being on buses without identification? Will he use his good offices with the Mayor of London to ensure that that mess is sorted out and that a good policy does not turn sour because of bad administration?

I want every child to benefit from the three-year bus pass set up by the previous Mayor, for which the whole of London is grateful. I have been denied the chance to raise the matter with the Mayor since he vacated his seat in this House, but the Transport Secretary will be in touch with him very soon.

Q6. As a Scottish MP, the Prime Minister will have noticed the strong success of the recently reopened railway between Stirling and Alloa, where passenger numbers are currently three times greater than the projected figure for 2011, and the reopened line to Ebbw Vale in Wales is similarly a success story. If reopening lines in Scotland and Wales makes such good economic sense, why has the Department for Transport ruled out, despite the strong social and environmental case, reopening lines in England, such as the line from Lewes to Uckfield? (213432)

Last year, we said that we want to double the capacity of the existing network, which includes the whole of the United Kingdom. We have invited Network Rail to examine options for supporting further growth, which might include new lines and electrification. The hon. Gentleman will find that Network Rail and the Government are looking at those issues. I also hope that he acknowledges that we have committed £10 billion to increasing capacity over the next five years, which will result in the single biggest increase in capacity for a generation, 1,300 new carriages and funding for major projects in all parts of the country. We are honouring our commitment to the railways of this country, which is why more people are using the railways than at any time since the 1940s.

Next week, the nation will celebrate the 60th birthday of a much-loved national institution. May I, as an eminent sexagenarian, ask my young friend the Prime Minister what action he is taking to ensure that we have not only a better national health service, but the best national health service?

We are very proud of our national health service, and we want to make it better in the years to come. That is why we want more access to GP services; that is why have agreed a new contract with GPs; that is why we have been building more hospitals; that is why we are determined to deal with the problems of cleanliness in hospitals; that is why we are employing more doctors and nurses; and that is why we are investing £15 billion over the next 10 years in cures for cancer and other diseases, so Britain can and will remain a world leader. We introduced the national health service in 1948, and I hope that the parties that did not support us then will support us in the future.

Q7. The Prime Minister’s script included references to ducking, so perhaps he would like to support the “Birdman” competition off Worthing pier in the first weekend in July. If the Prime Minister cannot do that, will he consider meeting the operators of seaside arcades, who will not benefit from today’s decision to give help to bingo halls? Many of those gentle gaming machine operators are suffering greatly, while the Government appear to have increased serious gambling by deliberate decision. (213433)

The hon. Gentleman may know that I met a delegation of Members of Parliament from seaside towns last week—I am happy to meet representatives from seaside towns. We are determined to bring greater economic prosperity to the seaside towns and resorts of our country, of which we are very proud.

On the specific question, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the Minister for Sport is announcing today that the Government intend to consult on whether bingo halls should be permitted to offer additional gaming machines. We will also bring forward to this year the review of stakes and prizes on lower categories of gaming machines. We are determined to do everything that we can to maintain a healthy industry and to make our seaside resorts even more successful in the years to come.

Twenty-four hours ago, a young constituent of mine who suffers from cystic fibrosis had a life-saving double lung transplant. In a year celebrating the 60th anniversary of the NHS, I can think of no better tribute to the NHS or the donor family than saving a life. When will my right hon. Friend be able to come back to the House to report on the work being done by the organ donation taskforce that is looking forward towards an opt-out system?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Any life saved as a result of the willingness of a family, or of someone who is himself losing his life, is something that we should both welcome and celebrate in respect of what has been achieved for a young life. As my hon. Friend knows, cystic fibrosis is one of the most difficult diseases and work is now being done on a cure for it.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: we have proposals to change the system for organ donors. I believe that there is a general welcome in the country for taking further action. At the moment, only about 25 per cent. of the country are carrying donor cards, but according to surveys 90 per cent. believe that they would be prepared to make their organs available. We want to find a way to a better system. There are legal implications in all the proposals. We will come back to the House soon, but all of us will want to do more to save lives in this country.

Q8. How would the Prime Minister characterise his first year in office—“Casino Royale” or “Temple of Doom”? (213434)

I have learned in the first year that every day difficult decisions have to be made—education to 18, the lowest waiting lists in history, neighbourhood policing, more people in work than ever before. I am proud of our achievements.


With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the final report by Kieran Poynter, chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, into the loss of child benefit records at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs last year. I should also tell the House that the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which conducted its own investigation of the loss, is publishing its report today. The IPCC found no evidence of misconduct or criminality by any member of staff at HMRC. The Cabinet Secretary has also published today his wider cross-Government work to improve data handling. Both the Poynter and IPCC reports are available in the Vote Office and will be placed in the Library of the House. I am grateful to Kieran Poynter and his team and to the IPCC for their extensive work. Both have provided a very full and detailed account of what happened.

Improving information security is a challenge that every organisation is facing. In recent years, we have seen problems in both the public and private sectors as organisations struggle to keep pace with the development of technology in data storage and transfer. The public are entitled to expect Government Departments to ensure that their personal details are kept safe and it is therefore essential that we do everything we can to minimise the chances of this sort of loss happening again.

I deliberately gave Mr Poynter wide-ranging terms of reference, not just because of the seriousness of this loss but because, as I said in my statement on 20 November, I was concerned about previous losses of data by HMRC. In my statements to the House on 20 November and 17 December last year, I set out the circumstances surrounding the events that led to the loss of the child benefit data and the immediate action taken. My priorities then were to locate the missing discs and to ensure that adequate safeguards were in place to monitor the bank and building society accounts of those who could have been affected.

Despite extensive searches by Revenue and Customs and the police, the discs have not been found, but I can tell the House that I am advised that there is no evidence of any fraudulent activity as a result of the loss. Revenue and Customs took a series of immediate steps at that time, including a complete ban on the transfer of bulk data without adequate security protection, measures to prevent the downloading of data without the necessary safeguards and the immediate disabling of the ability to download data from all desktop and laptop computers within the organisation.

Kieran Poynter’s report is in two parts. The first part deals with the circumstances giving rise to the loss, and the second part deals with his wider findings and recommendations. He examined in detail the circumstances surrounding the earlier transfer of data in March 2007, to which I referred in my statements in the House. He found that in March, because the Revenue and Customs staff then involved were unaware of the relevant guidance, which in itself lacked clarity, they did not escalate the request to the appropriate level of seniority before releasing data to the National Audit Office. As a result, no senior Revenue and Customs official was asked to permit the NAO to take the data off-site to conduct its analysis, and no such official knew that this was envisaged.

Mr. Poynter has concluded that these events in March last year created a precedent that allowed a similar transfer to take place in October without the appropriate level of authorisation or adequate consideration of the security risks of releasing such a large amount of personal information. He says that senior managers were unaware that the data had been moved from Revenue and Customs premises in March and October until the loss of data was subsequently reported to them. He concludes that the data loss incident arose following a sequence of communications failures between junior HMRC officials and between them and the National Audit Office. However, he finds that the loss was entirely avoidable and that the fact that it could have happened points to serious institutional deficiencies at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. First, information security was not the management priority that it should have been. Secondly, management structures and governance were unnecessarily complex and did not establish clear lines of accountability. Moreover, he points to a lack of clarity in communications and the failure to involve senior HMRC staff as being contributing factors in both cases. Mr. Poynter makes it clear in his report that both those failings have now been addressed. He acknowledges the progress that the department has made since last November.

Revenue and Customs is a complex organisation, operating from some 900 sites and sending out more than 300 million items of mail a year. Against this background, Mr. Poynter sets out the action that has been taken to make information security a priority. That includes the appointment of a chief risk officer; new, clearer security guidance; and a wide-ranging programme of training to raise awareness of security issues among staff. He also sets out the action that has been taken to simplify management structures and governance. He acknowledges the new organisational structure as a positive step forward.

Mr. Poynter’s team has worked closely with Revenue and Customs, particularly the teams that process large volumes of personal data or provide corporate services such as IT. By providing detailed recommendations to the organisation as its work progressed, rather than leaving them to the final report, the review team has been able to support Revenue and Customs and help it to make good progress in implementing its recommendations. However, Mr. Poynter states that

“a great deal of work will be required to bring HMRC up to and to sustain the world class standard for information security to which it now properly aspires.”

In all, he makes 45 recommendations, all of which have been accepted. Revenue and Customs has made good progress on 39 of the recommendations, including 13 that have been fully implemented, and work is continuing on the remaining recommendations.

Mr. Poynter also makes a number of recommendations on the way in which Revenue and Customs operates and the fragmentation and complexity of its IT systems. The organisation is already addressing these issues and will spend £155 million on improving data security over the next three years. The 45 recommendations, when fully implemented, will reduce the risk of a serious breach in the future and ensure that HMRC achieves the highest standards of information security.

Kieran Poynter states that the decision to merge the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise was the right one, but he says that the management structure subsequently adopted was not suitable—exactly the same failing as was identified in the capability review carried out by an independent panel overseen by the Cabinet Secretary and published last December. In acknowledging the significant changes that the organisation has undergone, Mr. Poynter judges that

“these changes individually and collectively represent good decisions which have created the platform from which to build a high quality, efficient administration.”

In order to build from that platform, the management need to continue to address the issues highlighted by Mr. Poynter in his wider review and the capability review. In particular, Revenue and Customs’ security procedures must be improved to ensure that information security is a management priority and, importantly, management must raise staff morale. Mr. Poynter acknowledges the new organisational structure put in place earlier this year as a crucial step and makes recommendations to develop it further. He concludes that his findings represent an opportunity to modernise work practices and systems, which will make the organisation more efficient, as well as rebuild its reputation for data security.

I am grateful to Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman who has overseen these improvements and has led the organisation through a difficult time. Yesterday, Mike Clasper, who has considerable business experience, was appointed as chairman of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and he and Dave Hartnett have made it clear that the implementation of the Poynter recommendations and, crucially, the importance of information security will be priorities. The Information Commissioner, who has been kept informed since the outset, has indicated that this review has investigated all the facts and issues with which he needs to be concerned, and he fully supports all of Kieran Poynter’s recommendations. The Information Commissioner proposes to serve the appropriate enforcement notice on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs under the Data Protection Act 1998.

It is quite clear that the loss was entirely avoidable, and again, I apologise unreservedly to everyone who has been affected. HMRC employs tens of thousands of people who work hard and who are dedicated to providing an excellent service to the public. The staff are entitled to expect clarity about how they discharge their duties. The public are entitled to expect that their privacy is respected and that the security of highly personal information is the highest priority. It is essential that we now implement these recommendations, and I commend this statement to the House.

Let us remember that the first duty of any Government is to protect the security of its citizens, and that this Government breached that duty when they lost the names and addresses of every child in the country and the bank account details of 10 million parents. We thank Kieran Poynter and the Independent Police Complaints Commission for their work—they certainly do not pull any punches. They offer a truly devastating account of incompetence and systemic failure at the heart of this Government, which is a guide on how not to govern this country.

So the first question we ask today is: who is responsible? Last November, the Chancellor stood at the Dispatch Box and said that the fault lay with what he called “a junior official” who acted

“contrary to all HMRC standing procedures”.—[Official Report, 20 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 1101.]

The Prime Minister repeated the charge, and his spokesman said that

“this was about an individual breach in procedures, not about failure in the procedures as such”.

How can those statements, one of which was to the House of Commons, possibly be reconciled with today’s reports? Page 7 of the Poynter report says that the review team

“has not encountered any evidence of…knowing disregard for policy or procedure in any of the circumstances leading to this loss.”

As the Chancellor has just conceded, the IPCC says that there is

“no evidence whatsoever of misconduct by any member of HMRC”.

Both reports clearly say that the data loss was symptomatic of a wider problem and list a catalogue of systemic failures. Has not the ignoble attempt by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to pile the blame for their administrative failures on a single junior official at HMRC been comprehensively blown out of the water today?

The second question I have for the Chancellor is: who allowed one of the largest Departments in Government to develop a culture, in which, to quote from the reports—I could give many more quotes, but I shall give these— morale is “low”, communication is poor, staff are denied

“adequate support, training or guidance”,

there is

“no visible management of data security at any level”,

the management structure adopted is not suitable, there are serious questions of governance and accountability and the whole department displays a “muddle through ethos”?

Who is actually responsible for this? This is not some obscure Government agency on the fringes of Whitehall; it is one of the largest Departments of Government that holds the personal data and intimate financial details of every single citizen in the country. The Chancellor himself admits that the Department he runs has serious institutional deficiencies. So can he tell us—do not worry, no one’s listening—who he thinks is responsible? Could it possibly be the person, who for 10 years—longer than anyone else in modern history—ran this Department? Could it be the person who is now the Prime Minister, who created this new Department and did not put in place adequate management structures, as identified in the report? Will the Chancellor firmly place the blame on the Minister responsible—the man who is now the Prime Minister?

Thirdly and finally, how can we have any confidence that there will be no repeat of this breach of security? The Chancellor talks about the 39 recommendations that are being implemented in his Department, and he says that he accepts them all. Could he tell us about the six that are not currently being implemented, but were recommended in the report, and which he says will be implemented, so we can hold him to account? Does he remember the Prime Minister promising at the time of the data loss seven months ago that every Department and agency would follow proper procedure from then on in protecting personal data? Will he confirm that, since the Prime Minister made that promise, 12 major breaches of security have occurred across Whitehall, 3 million driving licence details were lost in December, 168,000 confidential NHS records on children were lost at Christmas, a laptop containing the names and passport numbers of 600,000 military recruits was stolen from the boot of a car in January, secret papers on terrorism were left on a train not once, but twice—all capped this month by the revelation that a Cabinet Minister had broken Cabinet rules and left her laptop, which contained sensitive files and should never have been taken out of Whitehall, in a constituency office?

If we add it all up, we find that the Government have lost 37 million items of personal data in the past year alone. With such a record, how can they even consider proceeding with plans for a compulsory ID card for every citizen of the country? Will the Chancellor at least live up to his previous view on ID cards and confirm that they have been abandoned today?

After a year in office—it is the Chancellor’s anniversary, too—briefed against by Downing street, tipped for the sack by his colleagues, the Chancellor’s only achievement is to be regarded as more incompetent than the man planning to sack him. Last autumn, he blamed a junior official for his fate. Today, the review that he establishes blames the culture of the Department that he runs and that the Prime Minister created. Does not that give us a damning insight into the Government’s culture? They are cavalier with their citizens’ privacy, casual with the public’s security and wholly incompetent in handling even the basic functions of the state.

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) probably has not had time to read the report from cover to cover, but if he looks at the back, he will realise that it sets out the 45 recommendations and shows those that have been implemented, those that are under way and those that need further consideration.

On the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the junior official, it was he who tried to suggest that it was all the fault of one individual in an article—I believe in The Sunday Telegraph—after I made my main statement in November. I set out the facts as I had been told them. I stand by what I said at that time, as I made clear subsequently, and nothing in the report contradicts those facts. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman cares to read the report, he will see that it makes it clear that the discussions about whether to release the information in March and again in November took place among junior staff and the matter was not elevated to the senior civil service as it should have been.

The report also states—here the hon. Gentleman has a better point—that the management should have ensured that the staff knew the rules. The Poynter report makes it clear that, as I said in November, there were rules in place to prevent such disclosure, but the staff were not properly made aware of them. The failure was that the management did not have clear lines of accountability—the complex system of management installed after the merger was not suitable, as Poynter states. The review finds substantial failings on the part of the senior management in not ensuring that their junior staff understood the procedures. In particular, it finds that, first, when the request came in to transfer so much information, it should have been cleared by a member of the senior civil service, and secondly that it was possible to have transferred the data far more securely because secure methods were available. Thirdly, the amount of information could have been reduced to the minimum required by the National Audit Office; in other words, not all the details needed to be transferred.

The hon. Gentleman is right—I agree with him and the report’s conclusions—that there were serious failings in HMRC’s operation. I asked Kieran Poynter to examine what was going on because I was worried that the incident was not the only one that I had to tackle. In my then short time as Chancellor, I had already come across two other serious incidents. I asked Kieran Poynter to investigate because it was clear to me that other matters needed to be examined, as the report reveals today.

The hon. Gentleman then asked what measures had been taken. I have set out, as has the Poynter report, a number of the measures that have been taken, but he is quite right about another matter. Across government—indeed not just in the public sector, but in the private sector—people have failed to come to terms with the implications of the fact that vast amounts of information are now stored electronically and can be transferred at the touch of a button. The security systems and precautionary measures that should be in place were not in place in that case; indeed, there are many other organisations where I suspect they are not in place either. People must understand that we live in a changed world. We need to change the way in which we operate, both in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and elsewhere. I am determined to ensure that that happens.

I welcome the Poynter statement, which confirms the earlier, tentative conclusions of the Select Committee on Treasury that what happened was entirely avoidable and that communication between junior HMRC staff and senior managers was non-existent. Can the Chancellor assure us that HMRC is not a dysfunctional Department, as was suggested in some earlier Committee hearings? Indeed, that is an issue that we will take up with the new chief executive, Mike Clasper, whose appointment I welcome. Can the Chancellor also put the public’s mind at rest by confirming that information security will now be a priority not only for HMRC, but across all Departments?

On that point, no one who is responsible for running any organisation—Revenue and Customs or any other organisation that holds highly sensitive information—should be in any doubt that individual security must be their No. 1 priority. I am glad that my right hon. Friend welcomes the appointment of Mike Clasper, who has considerable business experience. He is determined to ensure under his chairmanship the security of people’s personal information. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) was quite right: every one of us deals with HMRC at some stage of our lives, if not throughout our lives. It is essential that people understand that the information that they handle is highly personal and highly sensitive, and must be treated with the care that that entails.

I want to ensure, as I know Mike Clasper and Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman of HMRC, do, that the culture changes and, crucially, that the changes that they have made in management, so that it is now clear who is accountable for each line of business, mean that we can reduce the risks that were endemic in the management culture that was put in place after the merger of the two institutions, but which was patently not suitable for the tasks that it had to face.

To date, the semantics of incompetence have been reasonably clear. We have had “systemic failure”, which is the responsibility of Ministers, and “procedural failure”, which is the failure of individual officials. We now have something new called “cultural failure”, which is an all-pervasive management mess for which everybody is to blame, but no individual is responsible. Can the Chancellor therefore go back to the question that the Conservative spokesman fairly asked him at the outset: which individuals now carry responsibility, beyond Mr. Gray, who left voluntarily with a golden goodbye?

Is not the Conservative spokesman right that the responsibility indeed lies with the current Prime Minister, albeit for one specific decision that he made? That was the decision to remove 24,000 staff at the Inland Revenue, the consequence of which is that it is now hopelessly ill equipped to handle the growing complexity of the tax system and tax credits. There has been a breakdown in face-to-face relationships, particularly with small businesses, and the institution is hopelessly understaffed to cope with the complexities of tax avoidance and evasion, which are happening on a large scale in the City and among the rich of this country.

Specifically on data security, what lessons have been learned, when we discover from the Information Commissioner that there have been no fewer than 100 breaches of data security since last November? Is there not a growing diversity of data breach, involving not merely CDs, but memory sticks, laptops and paper files, and a growing variety of places where these things are lost, including on trains, in backs of cars and in bars? As has already been said, the issue is the integrity not simply of the ID system, but of any centralised Government database of the kind that has been accumulated, for example, under the NHS scheme.

What lessons have been learned about basic management efficiencies last November, when the Select Committee on Public Accounts published a report only a month ago saying that the Inland Revenue had lost £2.8 billion of revenue as a result of false reporting by taxpayers, which it is unwilling or unable to follow up? What lessons have been learned about the Inland Revenue’s IT system, when only a few weeks ago the Economic Secretary to the Treasury had to report a programme failure, such that 100,000 poor people were not receiving their payments under the trust scheme?

My final point is this. There are very few private sector companies that are as managerially inefficient as HMRC, but there are some. One of them is BAA, a private monopoly whose reputation for consumer service is legendary in the worst possible way. Is there not an irony in the fact that the failed chief executive of that appalling company is now being appointed as the chairman of HMRC?

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of sensible points, but the last one was not particularly sensible. Mike Clasper actually left BAA when it was taken over by Ferrovial in 2006, and some of the difficulties that have arisen happened rather more recently than that.

The hon. Gentleman raised a number of points, but I should like to deal first with his one about cost. Rather like the shadow Chancellor, the hon. Gentleman will not have had a chance to read the report, but he might want to look at chapter IX, in which Mr. Poynter says:

“It should be noted…that my team did not find any evidence of cost efficiency in the form of headcount reduction adding to information security risk.”

Mr. Poynter then makes the point that there are a number of people who are surplus to what will be required, but still on the payroll, and they could help with the work. The hon. Gentleman’s first point is therefore rather contradicted by what Kieran Poynter found. The hon. Gentleman would have had a better point if he had raised questions about staff morale, which is clearly a problem. However, Kieran Poynter draws attention to the fact that Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman, has gone to considerable trouble over the past six months to meet staff up and down the country. I believe that management are now focused on the need to ensure that they take staff with them.

The hon. Gentleman then raised a number of other matters. He is right that the Information Commissioner has had reported to him a number—about 150, not 100—of cases since November, but they have been in both the public and private sectors. That brings me back to the first point that I made in my statement, as well as to the general point that Mr. Poynter made, which is that there is a generalised problem, in that people have not woken up to the fact that procedures that might have been appropriate when everything was stored on paper files are inappropriate and not robust enough for when information is stored electronically. To put it bluntly, if someone had asked for the records of 25 million child benefit recipients 20 years ago, they could not have had them transferred. We can now do that at the touch of a button. That is why the culture needs to change.

Similarly, in relation to people taking laptops home, which is commonplace in the public and private sectors—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has issued a written statement today on the problems that the Ministry of Defence experienced last autumn—we need to ensure that people realise the nature of what they are carrying. If they are carrying sensitive material, they have to ask themselves whether it is necessary to do so. If it is, they must ensure adequate safeguards and encryption, to ensure that if something goes wrong, no one can access that information. All those things are highlighted in the Poynter report, including areas where HMRC could be more efficient, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. He drew attention to the fact that changing the IT systems would not only make the system more secure, but help provide the public with a better service.

Will my right hon. Friend expand a little on what he said about training? There is a cultural problem in many large organisations in both the public and private sectors, whereby people’s understanding of the nature, scale and importance of data today has become weak, as he said. As I understand it, all 90,000 HMRC employees are to undergo a training programme. Will that be a rolling programme, and will the fact that members of staff have undertaken that training be transparent among them, so that there can be an incentive inside the organisation? If he can demonstrate best practice, will he ensure that it is shared across Departments, so that we can extend the work arising from Poynter’s recommendations to all Departments in this vital area?

My hon. Friend identifies a key point, to which Kieran Poynter attaches importance. Poynter makes the point that in his own organisation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, it is necessary for employees to go through training not just initially, but regularly, so that they are kept up to date. That is mandatory—it is part of the requirements—and the same culture and approach need to be applied in Revenue and Customs. Although in this case a great deal of discussion took place at junior level and guidance and procedures were in place, the problem was that management should have ensured that the staff concerned actually knew that they should do some things and not do other things. Ultimately, the management are responsible for that.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked who runs Revenue and Customs. A board is established to run it; it is detached from Ministers, for the very good reason that Ministers should not be involved in people’s tax affairs. The importance of the issue is recognised by Dave Hartnett, who has done an excellent job over the rather difficult period of the last six months, and Mike Clasper, who will be bringing in a lot of expertise from outside. They will make a big difference. My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) is absolutely right about the importance of training, awareness of the rules and awareness of what people are actually handling, which I have mentioned time and again. It is not just a CD, because a small CD may contain the intimate details of a large section of the population. People need to remember that.

On 17 December, the Chancellor of the Exchequer told me, as recorded in Hansard at columns 619 and 620, that I was wrong in saying that a senior executive officer had refused the request of the National Audit Office to strip out personal details. Later that afternoon, in the Public Accounts Committee, Dave Hartnett, the acting chairman, confirmed that it was a senior executive officer—a senior officer in those terms—who had made that decision. Today, the Poynter report is published, and chapter IV.20 reads:

“Later on 12 March… EmployeeF forwarded EmployeeD’s email of 11.59am to… an Executive Officer in the IMS… Unit…copied to EmployeeC (a Senior Executive Officer in IMS), and EmployeeK (a Higher Executive officer in IMS).”

In other words, I was right to say on 17 December that this was copied to a senior executive officer. Will the Chancellor put the record straight?

No, the hon. Gentleman is not right. Perhaps I could refer him to part 1, chapter IV.5. Since he set so much store on what is said, I had better read it out to the whole House. As a prelude to explaining what happened in March and October, Poynter states:

“The staff grades of those aware of provision of the discs containing the CBCS data to the NAO include ‘Senior Officer’, ‘Manager’, ‘Higher Executive Officer’, and others which to the uninformed reader may suggest a high level of seniority within HMRC. These are administrative grades and none of those aware of the situation were members of the Senior Civil Service within HMRC.”

As I have said throughout the process, I have set out the facts as I was told them. There is nothing in this report to contradict that at all. For obvious reasons, the hon. Gentleman has close relations with the National Audit Office, but he should also look at the exchanges that took place between the NAO and HMRC. The Poynter report refers to them in the next couple of paragraphs, where it says that a senior director of the NAO wrote to HMRC apologising for the fact that the procedures were not operated as they should have been. I have been at pains not to apportion blame to people where it is not justified. All I am saying to the hon. Gentleman is that there are lessons here to be learned for everyone. As to his first point, I said what I said, I stand by it and the paragraph I have cited rather bears it out.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this statement and I welcome my right hon. Friend’s undertaking to act quickly and comprehensively. I also welcome the IPCC report, which will be of particular interest to the Select Committee on Justice. Does he accept that media comment often swings between two extremes, as does public sentiment? When there is a loss of data, it goes to the “Keep nothing and abandon identity cards” instinctive reaction, but when other events, such as the Soham murders, take place, it swings to the other extreme of “Keep everything and share everything”. Will my right hon. Friend reject both extremes? Does he agree that it is necessary to engender a culture of appropriate sharing of data and professional data management, and to engender such an environment from permanent secretary down to the newest recruit in every Department? Will he put across to permanent secretaries the message that what they need to engender is professionalism, not panic?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is a fact of life that many organisations hold substantial information on all of us, whether in the Government or the private sector. If we go into a supermarket with a supermarket card, that information is being held, and I understand that it can sometimes give a pretty comprehensive account of people’s lifestyles. We have to ensure that in the public or private sector, but particularly in government, where we have clear responsibility, everyone understands the importance of the information that they hold. They must realise that if the public impart information to the state either voluntarily or because they have to, they expect the highest possible standards in how it is looked after. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: everyone needs to understand that, from the top to the bottom of every organisation.

Clearly, centralisation of data processing and storage means that any loss, howsoever caused, is potentially catastrophic. Should not anyone concerned about data security react with dismay at HMRC’s current proposals further to centralise the service with the closure of local offices?

I am not aware of anything in the Poynter report to suggest that centralising offices would have any bearing whatever on the problem that arose here.

Poynter recommends the appointment of a chief risk officer. How many risk officers are there in HMRC and are there not data protection officers in every civil service department? If so, were they not asleep in their job? As the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) asked, who is actually carrying the can? Has anyone been reprimanded, let alone disciplined?

On the last point, my hon. Friend will know that the then chairman of HMRC resigned last November. On chief risk officers, the point is that someone very senior in the organisation needs to be responsible for making sure that risks are addressed. As to the exact number of people responsible, I shall write to my hon. Friend because I do not want to give him a wrong figure. He is basically making the same point as everyone else: in every organisation, people need to be acutely aware of the sensitivity of the information handled and to ensure that it is handled properly and that the safeguards are as strong as they possibly can be.

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer think that the culture of HMRC offices is improved by threats to close them? Does he accept that plans to close the excellent tax office in Kendal, for example, are demoralising staff and will reduce the ability of HMRC to bring in revenue? Will he commit to call off the planned closures, which would only exacerbate the problems identified in the report?

I perfectly well understand that when there is any proposal to reorganise or close offices, it is not a happy time for the staff concerned and the management need to do their best to try to address that. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, however—I appreciate that he may not want to impart this to his own constituents—that every organisation must from time to time look at how it is organised and see whether it can be more efficient and provide a better service. We can always argue about whether a specific proposal achieves that, but to argue that there should never be any change is not a credible position. As I said to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams), who represents a different party, there is absolutely nothing in the report to suggest that anything in the current reorganisations has had anything whatever to do with the difficulties mentioned in it.

May I say to the Chancellor that he should speak for himself rather than delegates? Will he tell us how many people have been chairmen or acting chairmen of HMRC during its existence? I put it to him that, despite all the problems highlighted by my hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the civil service who are well trained and well led, and who carry out their job with great dedication. For all the attention that we are rightly giving today to the problems illustrated by the report, their work should be honoured, and many of us think that senior executive officers and higher executive officers are rather senior positions.

As Poynter says, an uninformed reader might reach that conclusion. He therefore explains the difference between junior and senior civil servants. I do not want to embark on a lecture on grades, because it would probably not be appropriate, but I will say—this relates to the hon. Gentleman’s more general point, and also to a point that I made in my statement—that more than 80,000 people work for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, providing an excellent service and aspiring to do the very best that they can. Those people are entitled to ensure that their employers, their management, give them the guidance and training that they need in order to do their jobs properly.

I do not think that anyone would want to be in the position in which some officials found themselves. Poynter has discovered serious failings, which are being addressed. Constant vigilance is needed to ensure that this sort of thing does not happen again. There are always risks, but those risks need to be managed.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s first point, of course it is my duty to report to the House. I am ultimately responsible for this matter, and I have always accepted that.

My right hon. Friend will want the House to know that other Departments have already taken action. On the day when I visited my local Crown Prosecution Service office, laptops were being taken in and out while they were fitted with encryption software. There as elsewhere—as many Members have pointed out—the question is how to focus the minds of those handling data on the need to treat it with sensitivity. Does my right hon. Friend think that the time has come to impose, across Government, a severe penalty for misuse of or inappropriate access to data, similar to the penalty contained in the Identity Cards Act 2006 to protect the national identity register?

As I said in my statement, Sir Gus O’Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, published his conclusions today following an examination of practice across Government, with new rules and procedures, but disciplinary procedures already exist. A recent case in which material was left on a train by an official in the Treasury has been dealt with through the Department’s normal procedures.

That returns me to a point that I made earlier. Twenty years ago, people did not have laptops to take home. It must be understood that a comparatively small laptop can contain confidential information affecting thousands if not millions of individuals. People must change their whole approach: they must ask “Do I need to take this thing home”—or wherever—“and if I do, what safeguards exist?” If we can change the culture so that security is first and foremost in people’s minds, that will go a long way towards dealing with some of the problems that we face,

The extraordinary thing about the Chancellor’s statement is that not once did he mention the role of Ministers, although the Cabinet Office rules are clear: Ministers are ultimately responsible for the production and enforcement of those rules. How can we have any confidence in the reforms that the Chancellor proposes if he seeks to blame the management culture, but also seeks to avoid any steps that would tackle the culture of mismanagement and carelessness among Ministers?

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was present for most of the statement, but if he was, he will know that I made clear who was ultimately responsible for these matters, and also made clear the need to ensure that management are in place who can run the organisation efficiently and effectively, with security at the very front of their minds. The Poynter recommendations will allow us to do that, and I want to ensure that it happens.

The Chancellor has acknowledged the dangers surrounding the ability to hold large numbers of electronic records in one place, but does not data security also relate to paper records? Head count reductions do not merely generate efficiency, but result in the holding of large numbers of records centrally. For example, records on small businesses that are currently held in my local tax office in Redruth are all to be moved to Peterborough, and all opening and sorting of mail will also be centralised. Will that not result in more paper records flying around in the post, not fewer, and should not HMRC be considering the issue as part of its wider data protection considerations?

Not necessarily. I agree with the hon. Lady that if records are taken from her constituency to any other location they need to be carried securely, but I disagree with the argument underlying the point made by her and by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron). It cannot possibly be argued that structures can never change. I know it can be uncomfortable when local offices close—we have all had that experience from time to time—but the way in which HMRC is currently organised, with several hundred sites, needs to be examined.

The crucial point is that, whether information is transmitted physically in files or electronically, we must ensure that security is at the forefront of our minds.

According to section 4.2 of the Manual of Protective Security,

“Each department and agency is responsible, under its Minister, for maintaining its own appropriate levels of protective security.”

If the Department had been observing the manual’s requirements, it would have produced—following a risk assessment and a risk management process—a formal document that would have been submitted by the departmental security officer to the heads of the Department for review and sign-off. Can the Chancellor tell us which of his Ministers examined and signed off such a document? If none of his Ministers did, does he not recognise and take responsibility for the fact that his Department’s Ministers abdicated their leadership at the very time when HMRC needed it?

No, I do not accept that. What I do accept is that, as Poynter has found, the systems in place were inadequate. They were complex and there were no clear lines of accountability, and that needs to be addressed. It is important for all Poynter’s recommendations to be adopted and accepted.

My constituents were appalled at the loss of their personal information by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and disappointed that no Treasury Minister had accepted personal responsibility by resigning. Given that many other Departments hold extensive personal information on millions of individuals, can the Chancellor give my constituents a clear indication of what practical steps he will take, together with the Cabinet Office, to ensure that such catastrophic data loss does not happen again in future?

If the hon. Gentleman has an opportunity to read Kieran Poynter’s report and recommendations, he will see what has been done, what is being done at the moment and what is proposed for the future. He should also read the Cabinet Secretary’s review of security across Government and its recommendations. I think that that will help to answer some of his questions.

The Chancellor rather dismissed the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy) and for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) about the management culture that has led to the closure of many local offices. However, he acknowledged in all his responses that the present culture needs to change. Does he not also acknowledge that part of the cultural failure is due to the modern fad of Powerpoint-wielding management consultants who imply that remote and centralised management always knows best? That is a part of the culture that does need to be questioned, because it will otherwise result in a break in the connection with the real world, a loss of established staff and future systems failures.

I am not a great one for Powerpoint presentations myself, and I hope that the House will never change its rules to allow anyone to conduct one here, but, to be fair, I do not think that Powerpoint presentations or the lack of them had any bearing on this incident.

I understand perfectly well the points made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues about the closure of local offices. Such decisions can be hard, and there is bound to be controversy from time to time. What I do not accept is the underlying premise, and the impression sometimes given by Liberal Democrats—unwittingly, I am sure—that it is somehow possible to make an organisation better and more efficient without any change taking place at any time. I do not think that that can possibly be a sustainable argument.

What must be recognised is that, as Kieran Poynter has observed, there were failings in this instance. We need to address them, and in particular to do all that we can to raise the morale of staff. They understand that change is necessary, but they want to be supported through that change, and that is what the new management are determined to do.

Pitt Report

Sir Michael Pitt has today published his final report on last summer’s flooding. I thank Sir Michael and his team for the professional way in which they have gone about their work of identifying the lessons to be learned. I also welcome the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report, to which Government are responding today.

This month marks the first anniversary of the start of the floods. The lives of many people and businesses were turned upside down and the costs—human and financial—were considerable. Our thoughts will, above all, be with the families of those who lost loved ones, as well as with communities still trying to recover. I am sure the House will wish to thank all those who have worked so hard to help those affected over the past 12 months, and I would like to pay tribute to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey), the floods recovery Minister.

As Sir Michael says:

“Last summer’s flooding was exceptional”.

While we recognise both the huge emergency effort at the time and the investment over many years in flood defences—without which the effects would have been much worse—I said to the House last year that we would learn the lessons.

Sir Michael’s report sets out more than 90 recommendations including: establishing the right legislative framework to tackle flooding; clarifying who is responsible for what; ensuring that the public have all the information and guidance they need; working with essential services to assess risk and protect critical infrastructure; and having a clear recovery plan right from the start of any major emergency. I welcome Sir Michael’s report and the direction it sets. We will prepare a detailed response, with a prioritised action plan, in the autumn. We have already taken a number of steps that respond to Sir Michael’s findings, and I wish to report them to the House.

The Government have made available up to £88 million, with a further £31 million to come, to help local authorities assist those in greatest need, as well as repair infrastructure and help schools and businesses to get going again. A lot has been achieved: most of those affected are now back in their homes, and we will continue to work with local authorities and the insurance industry to help the rest to return to them as soon as possible.

Flood warnings save lives. Since last June, more than 73,000 additional people have registered with the Environment Agency flood warning system, and the EA will now automatically register properties to receive flood warnings where telephone numbers are publicly available. The EA has also improved its advice to the public and run flood awareness campaigns, and is working with the Met Office to improve the quality of flood warnings. The EA has spent £5 million on repairing defences damaged last summer. Current improvement schemes include a £5.9 million project refurbishing the Hull barrier and remedial works to culverts in Gloucester.

As I informed the House last week, I have decided that the EA will now take on a new strategic overview role in England for managing flood risk from whatever source, and that local authorities will take responsibility for surface water management, including surface water management plans, under the EA’s overview. We will now sort out the detailed arrangements for that, drawing on responses to the “Future Water” consultation and the results of the 15 pilot projects on urban drainage, which we are publishing today.

On critical infrastructure, electricity and water providers are responsible for ensuring continuity of supply. The electricity industry has identified just over 1,000 grid and primary sites that are in flood zones, and is working with the EA to see which of them might need additional protection. Every water company is reviewing how its critical assets may be at risk from flooding in order to prioritise investment plans. This information will be used as the basis of a planned nationwide programme to improve the resilience of critical infrastructure, which the Government will produce later this year. Most local resilience forums have now been briefed on critical infrastructure in their area, and the remainder will be by the end of August.

On reservoir safety, we will now go ahead to prepare flood maps for reservoirs coming under the Reservoirs Act 1975, and to ensure that where these are not already available, they are provided to local emergency planners before the end of 2009. They will decide the best way to ensure that communities are informed. We will also modernise reservoir safety legislation.

The Government will produce an outline for the national flood emergency framework by the end of July, with a draft for consultation by the end of the year. This will be part of a major programme to improve preparedness for severe flooding. We will bring forward a draft floods and water Bill in the next session. That will enable us to respond to many of Sir Michael’s recommendations

The Government are increasing investment in flood-risk management from £650 million this year to £800 million in 2010-11. The EA’s defences protected 100,000 properties from flooding last year, and this new investment will protect a further 145,000 homes across the country. We are also developing with the EA a long-term investment strategy for flood defence.

We have set aside £34.5 million for priorities identified in Sir Michael’s report. We will need to consider the detailed recommendations and their funding with local authorities and other partners before making a final allocation, but in order to make progress I am announcing today that at least £5 million will be made available to develop surface water management plans in the highest priority areas, and at least £1 million to improve reservoir safety, specifically for inundation mapping. I have also set aside an initial £250,000 to plan a major national floods exercise to test the new structures and arrangements being put in place, to ensure that we are better prepared in future.

We must recognise that we can never eliminate the risk of flooding, particularly as climate change takes hold, but all of us—Government, water and electricity providers, local communities and individuals—must take flood risk seriously and be as prepared as we can be to deal with it. Sir Michael’s report will help us all to do that. I know that he will be taking a close interest in its implementation, and I will invite him to attend Cabinet Committee discussions on progress. I will report further to the House in the autumn with a detailed action plan.

May I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, and congratulate Sir Michael Pitt and his team on producing a very thorough and comprehensive report? One year on from the disastrous floods of last June, the thoughts of the whole House will be with those who tragically lost members of their families, and with those whose homes and businesses were wrecked and whose lives were indeed turned upside down.

Anyone who has met the victims of flooding knows only too well that, as well as the physical damage to property and the disruption to daily life, there is often a lasting, less visible but none the less real, emotional impact to cope with. It is essential that everything possible is done to protect communities against the risk of flooding, and to ensure that when flooding occurs, the response is swift and efficient. I pay tribute again to the work of the emergency services last year, who in often hazardous circumstances did an extraordinary job with great determination. Those circumstances were often made even more difficult by other factors; we know from the chief fire officer that he felt that there was “institutional chaos”, which affected the emergency services’ work. We must learn the lessons from that.

Although Sir Michael’s interim report published last December recognised that the weather events last year were exceptional, it found that the United Kingdom’s response was ill prepared. At that time, he made 15 urgent recommendations, and the Government rightly said they would act on them. However, in a progress report published in April, Sir Michael was critical, saying that insufficient action had been taken on key infrastructure and raising public awareness. He said:

“The public remain little better prepared than they were before last summer’s floods.”

What confidence can we have in the Government’s promise to act on today’s recommendations when previous urgent recommendations have been largely ignored?

Sir Michael’s interim report said that the floods were a “wake-up call”, but after a bit of progress has been made on some of the recommendations somebody seems to have hit the snooze button. It is one year on from the floods, but three years since the Government first announced plans to give the Environment Agency a strategic overview of all types of flooding. Last week, the Government re-announced plans to extend the role of the EA as part of the proposed floods and water Bill, but there is no intention to do anything but consult on possible legislation, and then not until 2009. Is that the rapid implementation that is needed, or is it dithering?

Last summer, the Prime Minister said, “We will do all we can to help people living in temporary accommodation after the floods.” What does he say now to the 11,000 people who are still out of their homes?

The Government also promised that local authorities affected by the floods would be compensated for the cost of clearing up. We have spoken to local authorities and they have told us that they are collectively some £50 million out of pocket, because the money that they were promised has not been delivered. Does the Secretary of State expect the council tax payer to pick up the bill?

We welcome the report’s recommendation that there should be a presumption against building in high flood risk areas, but what are the Government doing to ensure that that is implemented? The report is correct to recommend that there should be an end to the automatic right of water and sewerage companies to connect new properties to the drainage system regardless of capacity, but where is the Government’s policy to deal with that and ensure that it happens?

On critical infrastructure, the report says that

“the approach taken by the Government to mitigating the risks from flooding and other natural hazards has been uncoordinated and reactive.”

It calls for the urgent publication of a national framework to reduce risks to our infrastructure. That was one of the “urgent recommendations” made last December. Is not vital infrastructure as vulnerable today as it was a year ago? When can we expect a national framework to be implemented?

The Secretary of State says that flood warnings save lives, and another of last year’s urgent recommendations was to introduce an opt-out telephone warning system. In April, Sir Michael warned that “insufficient progress” had been made on this. Today he says that the issue is “not yet resolved”. When will it be resolved?

Sir Michael says of his 92 recommendations that

“strong national leadership will be needed to make them a reality.”

I suspect that what he really means by that is that more dithering simply will not do. Is not that the single most important lesson to be learned? What people are asking is when we will get strong national leadership from this Government. I fear that they know the answer.

The hon. Gentleman thanked me for advance sight of a copy of my statement, but it is clear from what we have just heard that he did not do the House the courtesy of reading it or listening to it when I delivered it a moment ago. I do not share his assessment of the performance of the emergency services, and it is no good saying that he pays tribute to what they did. The reason that the emergency services were able to deal with the emergency in the way that they did was precisely the planning that had been put in place.

Nor do I share the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of progress on the urgent recommendations that Sir Michael Pitt made in his interim report. On the question of infrastructure, the hon. Gentleman has just heard about the progress that has been made. There are 43 local resilience forums in England, with 38 to be briefed—because the six forums in London will be briefed as one—and 29 of which have been briefed, so there are nine to be done by the end of August. Those nine have not been done because they have said that they want to wait for a revised list of essential infrastructure to be published. Once that happens, they will be briefed.

There are 4,716 households out of their homes, 58 per cent. of which are in Hull and the East Riding, and 8 per cent. in Tewkesbury. We will continue to work hard to get those people back into their homes, but we should pay tribute to the enormous effort that has resulted in most of the people affected going home. Some 48,000 homes were affected by the flooding and great progress has been made in the past year: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not prepared to acknowledge that.

The money that my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government has promised local authorities has been delivered—up to £88 million—and, as I said, there is more to come in the £31 million that will be allocated by the end of next month.

The question of connection to sewerage is something that we will look at in the proposed Bill. I gave the hon. Gentleman the answer to his question about the national framework in my statement and I hope that he will welcome the fact that the outline will be published by the end of July and the first draft by the end of this year.

On the opt-out, the hon. Gentleman clearly did not listen to a word I said, because I told the House that the Environment Agency will now automatically register people whose numbers are publicly available and is in the final stages of sorting out the problem of ex-directory numbers. Of course, people have the right to opt out of a warning in those circumstances, but I am sure that all hon. Members would advise them not to do so.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, but I wish to make two points. First, we should not believe that the privatised utilities will take the action that is necessary. After the 2005 floods in my constituency, of which I was a victim, they should have learned the lessons, but they did not. If they had done so, the problems last summer would have been lessened.

My second point is the need for more money for more flood defences. The Government have been very generous, and the Secretary of State has said today that more money will be spent, but there will never be enough taxpayers’ money, and money will have to come from other sources, whether it is the businesses or the individual households that will benefit from those defences or the insurance companies. I hope that future legislation will ensure that if the Government keep their side of the bargain and put in extra resources, other resources will also be brought in.

The responsibility that falls on the utility providers to ensure continuity of supply is clear. My hon. Friend can rest assured that the steps that we are taking will ensure improved protection for that infrastructure. Part of the process of the assessment is to identify where a piece of infrastructure is critical and where a way round it can be found, such as pumping water by a different route if a water treatment works is submerged, as happened with Mythe in the flooding last year.

My hon. Friend makes a good point about increased investment, and I am glad that he recognises that money that the Government are putting in. However, when it comes to the privatisation of schemes, we may find local communities, businesses and local authorities being prepared to put some money in. The question that we will have to address together is how we can draw on such contributions while also ensuring that we have a fair system, so that it is not only areas that can afford it that get flood defence schemes. The truth is that we all have a shared responsibility.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and Sir Michael Pitt and his team for their report. I understand that Sir Michael made special efforts to ensure that the report was so straightforward that even MPs would read it. He has achieved that and deserves credit for doing so. I also salute the work that has been done at local level through the emergency services over the past 12 months, and we should record our appreciation.

It is true, as the report says, that the 2007 floods were exceptional. Sir Michael describes them as the “most expensive” in the world in 2007, so they were an extraordinary occasion. However, as the Secretary of State said, they will become more common. In that context, is it not outrageous that in one of the world’s richest countries there are still 4,700 households out of their homes? Is the Secretary of State convinced that every stop was pulled out to get those people back in their homes, given the trauma of being out of their homes for a year or more? Given the urgency of the situation, why is the Secretary of State talking about draft legislation in the next Session, which would involve actual legislation in 2010 or beyond? Why are we not legislating rapidly? We would all be willing to comment on drafts now, so that we can get on with it. Where is the urgency in this very urgent situation?

In terms of the funding, I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement of £250,000 to plan for a national flood emergency exercise. Can he confirm that one will go ahead, because I would warmly salute that. Householders have some responsibility and a national exercise would educate all of us. Can he confirm that it will go ahead and when?

On the issue of money, the Secretary of State talked about the budget going up in 2010. That is a long way away, so is he convinced that the Department’s budget for flooding is adequate now, given that we are likely to face the same risks over the coming 18 months.

My final concern, as always, is about DEFRA’s weakness, and that of other Departments, on the issue of flooding. The critical issue in this case is housing. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Government’s target of 3 million new households by 2026 stands? Is he aware that that would mean more building on the floodplains? In my constituency, in Yate in Chipping Sodbury, the local council has earmarked housing development in flood risk areas because the Government are imposing absurd targets. Will he and the Minister for Housing bang some heads together and get rid of those absurd central targets so that local people can plan sensibly and not be forced to build on floodplains. Sir Michael says that that should be the absolute exception, and he is absolutely right.

I echo the hon. Gentleman’s praise for the clarity of Sir Michael’s report and the practical way in which he went about his task. Today, Sir Michael has presented us and the nation with a guide to why we need to do better in the future, and how we can do so. Today’s discussion is part of the process of making more people aware of the steps that they need to take—an awareness that will grow as a result of the coverage that I hope his report will receive today.

Why are 4,716 households still out of their homes? Principally, the answer is that their homes are still drying out. If anyone has any ideas about how that can be done more quickly, I am sure that insurance companies and those householders will be keen to hear them. Some people might be out of their homes because they have insurance problems—we think that about one in eight of those households did not have any insurance at all—and one lesson that we need to learn is that people cannot afford not to take out insurance.

Why have I set out such a timetable for the legislation? First, we believe in pre-legislative scrutiny. Secondly, Sir Michael’s report has been published only today and we need to think through the consequences of his detailed recommendations, which we have just seen, so that we can update the legislation, some of which goes back to the 1930s. We will have a floods exercise, but it will not be immediate, for the simple reason that we have had quite a lot of flood exercises in the past year: they have been real floods. The purpose of the exercise will be to test the national flood emergency framework, when it is in place, to see whether we have dealt with all the issues that have been identified. The budget is rising from £650 million this year up to £700 million and then £800 million. The Environment Agency will say that it needs time to plan, to gear up and to prepare the new flood schemes. We will, of course, need to do more about such schemes in future.

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about housing, but as Sir Michael says in his report, the planning guidance is very clear. The responsibility is on the local authorities and we have made clear what their responsibilities are—[Interruption.] It is. In the end, the local councils that give permission for building or refuse it will bear the responsibility. However, the Environment Agency has been given a statutory right to be consulted because, after all, it is the expert on flood risk.

May I repeat the appreciation of Sir Michael Pitt and of my right hon. Friend’s response? I also appreciate the commitment to early legislation. May I reassure my right hon. Friend that in Sheffield, at least, there was no institutional chaos and gold command worked extremely well? May I put two questions to him? First, in the midst of the damage and hurt caused, can we not take heart that in civil society the fact that individuals and communities came together to help and support each other was a signal that our country can go forward with pride in terms of what people are prepared to do for and with each other? Secondly, will my right hon. Friend talk to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health about the need to monitor and support those with emotional and physical needs that arise from the floods, which could have a long-term detrimental effect, particularly on the frail and very old?

May I echo what my right hon. Friend had to say about the effectiveness of the emergency response in Sheffield and his comment about the extent to which neighbour has helped neighbour in these terrible and trying times? Out of this terrible adversity has come community spirit—a spirit that has had key responsibility for the progress that has been made.

On my right hon. Friend’s second point, I am happy to give him the assurance he sought. I know that that requirement was discussed at the last floods recovery meeting and I will follow it up. It is important that we provide support, and continue to do so, to individuals who have been severely affected by what happened to them, their families and their homes.

I congratulate Sir Michael Pitt on a meticulous report. He assured the Select Committee that he would fully cost his recommendations. The Secretary of State has referred to £34.5 million being put to one side by his Department for the implementation of Pitt. Will he tell us what the full cost will be of its implementation? Secondly, in terms of the skills that will be required in hydrology and flood engineering, what steps will be taken to ensure that not only the Environment Agency but local authorities, with their new responsibilities, will be equipped with the right skills to implement Pitt in full?

Sir Michael Pitt has not costed all the recommendations in his report—we will need to do that in preparing the detailed action plan that I have promised to present to the House—but he said that most of his recommendations do not involve more money but are about doing things differently.

On the second, important point raised by the right hon. Gentleman, the Environment Agency, as he might be aware, is already working with the university of the West of England on a scheme to produce the required staff. Some 56 engineers and other staff have graduated, and 52 of them are working for the Environment Agency while others have gone to local authorities. Another 80 are going through the programme. I pay tribute to the way in which the Environment Agency has responded to the need to find more trained people, and I am sure that local authorities will wish to work with the agency and others to ensure that they have the required skills to undertake the responsibilities that they will now be given.

I attended a consultation meeting on Monday of the upper Severn catchment flooding management plan—that just slips off the tongue. One issue that came out of the meeting was how that plan sat with what the Environment Agency has in place for the individual river catchment plans, let alone with the water framework directive. Will those plans be pulled together by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs? The Select Committee has views on that. Will those plans be pulled together with the Pitt report? It is important that we have joined-up thinking and action.

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. One clear lesson from what we have all experienced is that we need to look at how all the bits of the river system fit together so that we can understand where the water will flow if there is flooding. The same issue arises in relation to surface water flooding. The purpose of giving the Environment Agency that overview is precisely so that all the bits can be joined up. As it plans its work on further flood defences, it can then take account of what it has identified to ensure that those defences are put in the right place. This is work in progress, and the purpose of the report and of learning the lessons from it is that we can do a better job in the future.

May I say that people in my constituency will be rather disappointed with a lot of what the Pitt report says on housing? All Sir Michael does is refer back to planning policy statement 25, which was published in December 2006, seven months before the flooding that we are discussing today. Will he also understand that people in Tewkesbury will look on with incredulity at the fact that while we are having this debate the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is considering the draft regional spatial strategy, which proposes building thousands of houses in the area that flooded and close to the power station that almost went down because of that flooding, which would have caused an evacuation of the county? We are rather disappointed with the weakness of that section of the report.

We are all thinking of the households—385 at the last count—in his constituency that have been unable to return home. In relation to PPS 25, my understanding as far as Tewkesbury is concerned is that the local authority has applied for growth status. The question is whether, in making decisions about planning applications, we can adequately protect the houses even if they are on a floodplain. After all, this House stands on a floodplain, as do 2 million homes in the country. In London, we are protected by the Thames barrier. Planning authorities have to take into consideration—as the guidance in PPS 25 makes crystal clear—whether adequate protection can be provided when they make decisions about whether to grant planning permission.

Given my right hon. Friend’s comments about fairness, he will be aware of the feeling in rural areas that they are disadvantaged when it comes to resource allocation for flood defences. For example, the Environment Agency is putting a multi-million pound flood defence scheme in place in the Nottingham conurbation, but for villages affected downstream, such as Lowdham and other villages in the Trent valley, the resources are more modest. The Select Committee report suggests that there should be discrete funding for rural areas. Will the Secretary of State look closely at that recommendation?

I am aware of the argument that my hon. Friend puts forward. The difficulty with allocating a specific sum is that that must be balanced with the Environment Agency’s overall prioritisation system for deciding between schemes using the additional money that it has been given. Ultimately, the agency will have to consider a combination of factors, including the number of properties that will be protected and a scheme’s economic impact. I am not persuaded that a specific sum for rural areas is the right way forward, but my hon. Friend raises an important point about how protection can be provided under the schemes that meet the criteria and how we can support local communities in doing other things. That is relevant to the question to which I responded a moment ago.

The Secretary of State will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) and I have continually raised the problems affecting the Somerset coast and the Somerset levels. Between us, we represent the major part of both areas. After the flooding in the seat represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) and elsewhere, the Environment Agency’s funding for capital projects in our constituencies was either slowed or stopped. Will the right hon. Gentleman please ensure, following this report, that capital projects for both coastal and inland areas liable to flooding are reinstated? Unless they are, I am afraid that 1,000 years of history shows that it is only a matter of time before we have another flood. The protections that we have now will not be adequate.

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that I will look into the specific point that he raises, but he will accept that flood defence spending has doubled in the past 10 years. The Environment Agency now has more funding than it had before, and the increase that it is going to get will enable it to carry out more schemes. In the end, it will always have to prioritise between schemes, but I will look into the point and respond to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

My right hon. Friend mentioned reservoir safety, but is he aware that the main reservoir serving Northampton has been infected with cryptosporidium? As of this morning, a quarter of a million people have been left unable to drink their tap water, so will he endorse the advice from the health authorities that to protect their health, people should make sure that they do not drink untreated tap water? Will he also call on shops and supermarkets to make sure that they keep adequate supplies of bottled drinking water, and that they keep the prices down? Finally, will he ensure that his Department learns all the lessons from what has happened? We will not know for up to two weeks exactly what has happened and what needs to be done, but will he ensure that adequate steps are taken to make sure that the reservoir is made completely secure, so that people can rely on having safe drinking water?

I am aware of the problem that has been identified at the Pitsford reservoir, which serves large parts of Northampton, and of the advice that has been given to local residents that they should boil tap water before drinking it. I shall of course look into the circumstances of what has happened there but, if a problem arises with drinking tap water even when it has been boiled, the water companies have a responsibility to provide bottled water, as happened during last summer’s floods in Gloucester and elsewhere. The companies must provide at least 10 litres of bottled water per person per day, but one of the recommendations in Sir Michael’s report is that we should see whether that figure is adequate.

First, I must declare an interest, in that my constituency home is next to a river and is therefore a flood risk. The Secretary of State has talked about the importance of insurance, but when I purchased the house in 2005, I at least had the benefit of knowing that there is an understanding in the insurance industry that companies will continue to underwrite their existing flood risk policies. I wanted to transfer the previous owner’s insurance policy to me, which meant that I had to go to a higher level of the company involved. Insurance is essential for everyone who owns a home in a flood-risk area, as a mortgage cannot be secured without that protection for the home’s capital value.

I have not had a chance to read the report, so what does Sir Michael say about insurance? More importantly, what is the Secretary of State’s view? I enormously welcome the approach adopted by the insurance companies, but it is very important that the understanding to which I referred earlier remains in place. If it does not, millions of people risk incurring an enormous loss in the capital value of their principal asset.

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. We are still in discussions with the Association of British Insurers. He will be aware of the statement of principles that has ensured the provision of insurance cover to large parts of the country. Fundamentally, the deal is that the insurance industry will continue to provide that cover, in return for increasing Government investment in flood defence. I announced last summer that that investment will reach £800 million by 2010-11, and that is slightly more than the amount for which the ABI called immediately before last year’s floods. We hope to put discussions about any changes to the statement of principles to bed before very long, and we should also acknowledge the incredibly hard work that the insurance companies have done over the past year. They dealt with four years’ worth of claims in about two months.

I welcome the statement and the Pitt report. We need even more funding for inland and coastal flood controls, as those are one of the major elements of adapting to climate change, which is already well under way. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that enough time will be set aside in the Public Bill Committee considering the Climate Change Bill for a thorough discussion of the part of the Bill that deals with adaptation? Will he reconsider and give adaptation equal prominence in the Committee, and make sure that it is not merely relegated to a Sub-Committee?

How members of the Committee divide up their time is a matter for them, but there is no doubt that the consideration of the Bill in another place left it stronger in the way that it deals with adaptation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the tenacity with which he has pushed this issue.

I was going to ask about the problem of skyrocketing insurance charges, and I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with that later. However, he deserves a third chance to answer the questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) and the hon. Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson). Will he explain precisely how a local council can challenge housing that it believes will exacerbate flooding, when the rigid numbers at national level will not change? They are handed down through regional spatial strategies on a very specific basis that has the developers laughing all the way to the inquiries.

I can only say, for the third time, that the planning guidance is crystal clear, and that the responsibility rests on the local authorities—

Local authorities must have regard to the expert advice from the Environment Agency when they consider whether the homes that are built can be adequately protected from flooding.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the Pitt report. I thank my right hon. Friend for the extra funding being given to the Environment Agency’s flood defences. It means that work on the £9.7 million defence of Ings Beck in the Wakefield area will start early next year—although that is too late for the residents of Rufford street, who were flooded last year.

I return to the point about the provision of information. The report contains some excellent recommendations on how local authorities can work with communities on prevention, but what about the aftermath of flooding? Two people telephoned my office after the Government handed out compensation in the wake of last year’s floods. In the first call, a woman said that a neighbour had told her that she could not get compensation because she was not insured. That was completely wrong. In the other call, a man of Pakistani origin said that he had not realised that such compensation was available. When the Government are giving out resources, is it not incumbent on councils to make sure that everyone who has been flooded gets the information that they need afterwards?

First, I am glad to hear about the progress on the flood defence scheme to which my hon. Friend referred. Secondly, I agree completely about the importance of making sure that there is adequate and timely information. One of the many recommendations in Sir Michael’s report has to do with how that can happen more effectively in future. One of the most important things that the Government did in the wake of the flooding was to give local authorities a sum of money through the flood recovery grant and then leave it entirely up to them to decide how that money should be used to respond to the needs of their communities and residents. That was exactly the right approach: we did not hem it in with restrictions but said, “There’s the money—you go and decide how to use it.” That is a really good example of how the Government ought to help local government and communities when things are tough.

Is the Secretary of State aware that if last summer’s very heavy rains had fallen slightly further south, the disaster area would have been the Somerset levels? I share the representation of that area with my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Liddell-Grainger). One contributory factor would have been the unresolved tension in the Environment Agency between its drainage responsibilities and its environmental duties. In Somerset, that tension means that the agency does not dredge, clear and maintain the inland rivers properly, even though they are essential for drainage. Will the new strategic authority resolve that difficulty in favour of giving priority to land drainage? In that context, will he ensure that the agency works better with the existing local drainage boards, which is where much of the practical expertise lies?

The right hon. Gentleman is making really important points, particularly his last one. Part of what I have said today is indeed about getting together all those who have responsibility, as Sir Michael says, to sort out who is going to do what.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s question about drainage and clearing, the truth is not always as simple and clear-cut as some may argue. If we speed up the flow of water in one place, we may just make it arrive faster somewhere else and add to the problem downstream. That brings me back to the point that I made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Paddy Tipping). We have to consider the totality of the impact and ensure that we are doing the right thing to minimise the risk of flooding. It is very important that the Environment Agency works with local communities to explain the process by which it reaches decisions on that, so that at least there is understanding on all sides of what we are trying to achieve by working together.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments today and his promise that legislation will be introduced to bring into force many of the report’s recommendations. However, I must say that I find it unacceptable that a year on, people are still living in temporary accommodation. That is not just caused by the need to allow houses to dry out. In many cases it is to do with loss adjusters and insurance firms. What can be done to speed up that process, and what will be done to ensure that drains, ditches and dykes are kept clear, to minimise the impact of floods, particularly in rural areas?

I share my hon. Friend’s concern about the families who are still out of their homes. As she rightly identifies, the bulk of the problems are to do with insurance. It is notable that of the 4,716 households affected, I think only 173 were families in local authority or registered social landlord accommodation. That tells a story about where the difficulties lie. It is also worth remembering that 18 months after the terrible floods in Carlisle, one in 10 households were still out of their home. We need to acknowledge that it takes time for homes to be ready.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, as I said to the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) a moment ago, it is important that we get the balance right and that everyone who has responsibility works together.

I have two questions about urgent matters. First, given that hundreds of my constituents and more than 2,000 people in Hull and the east riding are still not back in their homes, will the Secretary of State visit Hull and the east riding? Today, the Hull Daily Mail and the East Riding Mail launched their “Back Home” campaign, and his visit would be appreciated locally.

Secondly, I wish to ask about flood rescue. Pitt suggests in his recommendation 39 that

“The Government should urgently put in place a fully funded national capability for flood rescue, with Fire and Rescue Authorities playing a leading role, underpinned, as necessary, by a statutory duty.”

Can the Secretary of State assure the House that if this has not already happened—my perception is that it has not—he will ensure urgently that fire and rescue services hold the proper safety equipment in case such a disaster happens again?

I would be happy to accept the hon. Gentleman’s invitation. We will just need to sort out a date. On his second point, he will be aware that some fire and rescue services already have flood rescue capability and have trained their personnel, even in the absence of a statutory duty, and others do not. As I saw for myself during the floods last summer, an effective system of mutual aid is in place so that resources, boats and trained staff can be provided where they are needed. We will consider carefully Sir Michael’s recommendations on the matter, and our response will be included in the plan that I have promised the House.

Many of the communities in my area that were flooded last year will welcome the Secretary of State’s commitments today. Does he agree that if only the agencies would take care of their own responsibilities, we could obviate some of the risk even now? In that regard, will he remind local authorities that they ought regularly to clean gully grates to allow the land drains to drain away? Many areas in my constituency were flooded simply because the grates were silted up. More particularly, will my right hon. Friend get to the bottom of why Hague Hall beck, in South Elmsall in my constituency, is still not being cleared of rubbish and is badly silted up—or at least ensure that someone else gets to the bottom of it? That would bring great security and reduce the anxiety of people like Mrs. McCusker, who lives there.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for the Environment has already talked to the Environment Agency about Hague Hall beck, but since my hon. Friend has mentioned it, I shall follow that up. I understand that one of the pilot surface water drainage projects is in my hon. Friend’s area, and we have been funding it precisely so that we can understand better what needs to be done to ensure that local authorities fulfil the new responsibilities that I shall be giving them. In the end, it is about bringing together all those who are responsible for how water drains away, so that there is clarity about who is looking after what, and if one organisation is clearing in one place, the next organisation in the line is clearing in another.

May I take the Secretary of State back to the comments about long-term investment in flood defence? In my constituency in Chesterfield, three rivers flooded last summer—the Rother, the Hipper and the Whitting. The Rother and the Hipper flooded about 500 houses. Plans for flood defences for those two rivers have gone ahead very quickly in the past year, but the Environment Agency has told public meetings in Chesterfield that even when the extra money for flood defences comes along in three years’ time, Chesterfield will be competing with places such as Sheffield and Hull. Can the Secretary of State say how long my constituents should wait—three years, six years, nine years?

I am sorry that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the answer that I am sure he would like to hear. I am glad to hear that two of those schemes are going ahead. As I indicated in answer to an earlier question, there is more money, but in the end the Environment Agency has to prioritise from among a lot of competing schemes across the country. It is right that it should decide which schemes will go ahead. My job is to give it the money to help it to do that.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to give local authorities responsibility for surface water management plans. When localised flooding hit my constituents in Beighton last year, they were affected not only by surface water but by culverts overflowing and back-flowing, by a river overflowing and by a manhole cover blowing off a sewer and sending sewage into their homes. There has been some progress since, through the various agencies working together, but there are still some issues of disagreement about what to do. I wonder whether local authorities should be given a slightly wider remit to pull together all the various utilities and organisations, to ensure that we get a comprehensive approach to trying to prevent such events in future.

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. That is exactly what is required, and it is what the proposals that we will put in place will do, so that local authorities can undertake that task.

The Secretary of State rightly praised the joint working of local emergency services in their response to the floods last year. Does he share my concern that that joint working could be undermined in future by the regionalisation of some emergency response services such as fire control centres?

No, I do not accept the concern that the hon. Lady expresses. In the end, those decisions have to be taken on the basis of what will be most effective in enabling the emergency services to do their job. All I can say from my personal experience last summer is that the way in which the emergency services worked together, giving mutual aid and sending pumps across the country, shows that there is an effective system in place. I am quite confident that no changes will be made that would affect or impair the emergency services’ ability to continue to do an outstanding job of helping people when there is trouble.

I have 13 reservoirs in my constituency, so I very much welcome the investment in reservoir safety and the forthcoming legislation. Although it is of course necessary to invest in hard flood defences, does my right hon. Friend not agree with Natural England that it is also necessary to invest in the capacity of our upland catchment areas to manage water effectively in the first place, to reduce the incidence of water surging downstream and damaging cities such as Sheffield?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. If upland peat bogs stay wet and do not get drained, they are better able to absorb water, and it does not flow as quickly downstream and flood many hon. Members’ constituencies. This is a good example of thinking in the round about what we do with water and how we make space for it, and Sir Michael’s report will help us to do that.

Vehicle Safety (Loads)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a mandatory code of practice on safety of vehicle loads; and for connected purposes.

On 1 November 2006, Valerie Taylor, a 63-year-old retired lecturer from my constituency, tragically lost her life in a road traffic accident that could have been entirely avoided. While she was driving from Rossendale to Liverpool to take her partner to hospital, an articulated lorry carrying nearly 40 tonnes of scrap metal overturned on a public highway at the Rocket Island roundabout and landed on Valerie’s car. The first police officer on the scene, Sergeant Frank Rennison, described the scene as “utter carnage”. Valerie Taylor died instantly as a result of the vehicle crushing her car.

One of the main reasons the lorry overturned, killing Valerie, was the irresponsible way in which scrap metal had been loaded on to the vehicle. There is a code of practice on the safety of loads on vehicles, but it is not mandatory so it is often ignored. If legislation regarding the loading, carrying and transport of scrap metal was tighter, the irresponsible loading of lorries might stop, and tragic accidents such as that which took the life of Valerie Taylor could be prevented.

The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), who is now on the Government Front Bench, said in a recent written answer:

“While the Code is not a legal document and there are no plans to make it mandatory, it can be used as an example of good practice to support a prosecution for non compliance with regulations.”—[Official Report, 26 February 2008; Vol. 472, c. 1351W.]

If tragic accidents such as that which claimed the life of Valerie Taylor are to be avoided in the future, surely it is essential that we have a mandatory code of practice on the safety of loads on vehicles. The Bill would put such a code in place to regulate and change the way in which scrap metal and other items are loaded on to wagons and carried on our public highways.

The order in which materials are loaded on to heavy goods vehicles is particularly important for the safety of the loads. I understand that Department for Transport guidelines state that scrap metal cars and comparably large objects should be loaded at the bottom of the container, with smaller bales on top of them. Those guidelines are often ignored. For instance, in the accident that took the life of Valerie Taylor, the load of the heavy goods vehicle that overturned was top-heavy. The lorry was carrying a total load of almost 40 tonnes. As part of that load, nearly 13 tonnes of scrap cars were loaded on top of 8.4 tonnes of compacted scrap metal bales.

When European Metal Recycling Ltd, the company that owned the scrap metal, gave evidence in the court hearing following the accident, it admitted that three lorries had overturned in three months. It claimed that it had now changed its policy on the loading of scrap metal, but we still see lorries on our motorways today with crushed cars at the top of their loads. It is claimed that the cars are used as a cover to stop metal from flying off, but that must render the loads top-heavy and unstable. The facts speak for themselves.

The Bill would make it mandatory to load heavier materials at the bottom of a container and lighter materials at the top. It would render the top-heavy loading of heavy goods vehicles illegal, which should prevent such tragic accidents. Almost all of us drive, and the thought that there are no mandatory regulations covering such things should concern us all. The legislative steps proposed in the Bill are necessary to create a much safer environment for all road users. Sadly, we cannot bring Valerie Taylor back to life. However, it would be a fitting tribute to her memory if we were to take this important step to try to ensure that similar tragedies do not, and cannot, occur in the future.

I pay tribute to my late hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich who, as Chair of the Transport Committee, took a keen interest in this issue and took the trouble to discuss it with my constituents. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman), in whose constituency the accident occurred, who is now Chair of that Select Committee. My neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope), has also been very supportive.

Valerie Taylor’s niece Pamela Woods and Valerie’s friend Pat Hoare have been relentless in their efforts to highlight this problem, so much so that they have persuaded the traffic commissioner in the north-west to conduct an investigation in her role that gives her statutory responsibility for the regulation of commercial goods and passenger vehicles. We await the outcome of her investigation with interest. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Janet Anderson, Norman Baker, Mr. John Heppell, Mr. Greg Pope, Jim Dowd, Kali Mountford, Andrew Miller, Mr. George Howarth, Ian Stewart and Mrs. Louise Ellman.

Vehicle Safety (Loads)

Janet Anderson accordingly presented a Bill to establish a mandatory code of practice on safety of vehicle loads; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 126].

Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That the Order of 2nd June 2008 (Planning Bill (Programme) (No. 2)) be varied as follows—

1. In the Table in paragraph 4 of the Order, for the entry relating to the second day of the proceedings on consideration there shall be substituted—

Second day


Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to functions of the Infrastructure Planning Commission or the Secretary of State in relation to applications for orders granting development consent.

5.00 p.m.

New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Chapter 2 of Part 9, New Clauses, and amendments to Clauses, relating to Part 11, and remaining proceedings on consideration.

7.00 p.m.

2. In paragraph 5 of the Order, for ‘the moment of interruption’ substitute ‘8.00 p.m.’.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

I congratulate the whole team from the Department for Communities and Local Government on being in the Chamber, which shows how important the programme motion is. What they have done to those of us who wish to discuss in detail the Bill and its many important amendments is a scandal and abuse of process.

My hon. Friends will remember that we were against the previous programme motion, but I was not going to object when a simple timing change was proposed to reflect the movement of our second day on Report to a Wednesday. However, at 9 o’clock this morning—perhaps it was entirely my fault that I did not pick this up late last night—I received an indication that there was to be a change to both the timings and, more important, the order of discussion.

I was tempted to argue a couple of weeks ago that there was little common sense in the order of consideration originally proposed by Ministers because the Bill starts by dealing with the infrastructure planning commission. I welcome the fact that we are starting today by dealing with the commission. When I noticed that we were theoretically to have from 12.40 pm to 5 pm to discuss that controversial matter, I was delighted. Then, however, we discovered that there would be two statements today. Although those affected last year by the summer flooding and the loss of child benefit records have my full and total sympathy, I cannot believe that both statements needed to be made on a day when we are discussing one of the most undemocratic Bills to come before the House of Commons. Bringing forward statements when a Government are under pressure is a well-known technique for burying bad news. Some of that pressure might have reduced, but I am glad that there are still some Members of great principle. We hope that that principle will be debated fully in the short time left to us.

To give time to our discussion of the IPC, all other issues have been squashed into less than two hours. During that time, we will debate the community infrastructure levy, which dramatically changes the way in which developments are funded and conducted; the transfer from the semi-democratic regional assemblies to the totally undemocratic regional development agencies; and local member review bodies. We will consider issues affecting Wales and Scotland. We will also be debating the wide variety of issues raised by other hon. Members in Committee, and I am sure that they will also wish to express their outrage at this change in the programme motion. Obviously, I do not wish to take up too much time.

May I add my concerns to those of my hon. Friend? As I said on Second Reading, this is a skeletal Bill, and one with osteoporosis. There are so many questions, yet so few answers. I have tried to find the answers throughout the Committee stage, but without success.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are questions that we have been trying to pursue in Committee and on the first day of Report. We hoped that we would at least have a reasonable amount of time today to skim over some of the issues that remain unresolved. It is a sad reflection that the Government have to rely on the House of Lords to do the job that the Commons should be doing. Perhaps this is one last mew of protest about the abuse of the timetabling system, which calls into question whether the programming of Bills is the most effective way for the House of Commons to carry out the job of scrutiny that we are sent here to do by our electors. The programme motion has changed fundamentally, and the process has now been abused by time being taken up by two statements that could have been made on any other day. Serious issues will therefore have to be crammed into a very short space of time.

Does my hon. Friend not think that this timetable amounts almost to an abuse of the House’s time? When it suits the Government to do so, they can produce a timetable that is protected against Government statements, over which the House has no control. This timetable does not protect the House in any way against Government statements, which can take up an inordinate amount of time and leave very little time for debate.

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He has most eloquently made the point that I am hoping to convey. Having brought in this form of timetabling, the Government are now abusing it and cannot control it. It is an indication of how they have lost control of the business programme that the next Queen’s Speech will be a month later than usual. This Bill is just one indication of why they cannot get their business through the House. It is an appalling, undemocratic Bill and, to get it through, they are abusing the processes of the House.

I do not want another interruption to my peroration—the right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I was coming to an end. I will invite my hon. Friends to vote against the programme motion.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) and I disagreed on some aspects of the Bill in Committee and on Report, but I agree with her that, having already discussed the problems relating to the programming of the Bill, we now find ourselves in the unusual position of having the timetable messed around with again. The maximum opportunity seems to have been taken to wrong-foot hon. Members who have been following the Bill closely and who might wish to know at what point today the various issues will be dealt with.

Time has been set aside to discuss important, controversial issues relating to the first group of amendments and the infrastructure planning commission, and I echo what the hon. Lady has said about the importance of having enough time for hon. Members on both sides of the House fully to air those issues. I suspect that, as in our previous discussions, there will not be unanimity on either side of the House. It is ridiculous that we will then have just a couple of hours in which to debate five further groups of amendments. That does not do justice to the range of topics that we are being asked to consider, particularly those that appear under the heading of “Existing planning regimes”. A diverse set of issues has been raised, and I know that hon. Members—particularly Back-Bench Members—want to raise some very valuable points. However, it will be difficult for the House to give those issues the time that they clearly deserve. I therefore share the hon. Lady’s concerns about how the programme motion has been pushed forward today.

I am a relatively new Member of the House, but I understand from older hands that things were not always done in this way, and that there used to be a great deal more time in which to consider matters such as these. I am used to the concept of programme motions, but, even in the three years that I have been here, I do not think that I have seen an example such as this, in which two quite restricting stabs have been made at ensuring that we do not have enough time to consider all the issues at hand. I very much regret the fact that this programme motion has been put before us today.

Having spent several days discussing these important issues in Committee, I am also disappointed that we have come to this point. I say that more in sorrow than in anger. I do not normally take part in debates about programming, because they can sometimes end up producing a load of synthetic anger. I remember the 1992 Parliament, when Labour Members were on this side of the House. Some of them were close to tears whenever anything was timetabled, on the rare occasions when that happened. I heard many impassioned, emotional speeches about the abuse of Parliament at that time. However, it is now routine for Parliament to be abused in that way, and that calls into question the way in which we make laws.

I was encouraged to hear Ministers saying, “We will take this away for consideration”, because I thought that it might indicate some movement on important matters. But no, it was to buy off some rebels, as the Government saw them. Whatever the amendments are, we will not have time to go through them in detail today, but let us hope that we can at least touch on them. I have no doubt that they are fundamentally important.

This is one of the most important Bills in this Session. Planning impinges on all of us. Everyone gets exercised about planning in their locality, but the Bill will apparently take the local voice out of the system and ensure that an unelected, unaccountable quango will make the decisions instead—albeit, following the latest review, with a Minister riding alongside on his horse.

I am desperately unhappy about the Bill. Some of us who have been here for a while have seen changes to planning law, and I accept that changes are necessary because planning law evolves. If it did not evolve, we would be failing the people out there. However, to impose this kind of regime after such a truncated debate, and to expect us to sit by and allow the law to go through with such scant scrutiny, is an absolute disgrace. I shall certainly join the official Opposition and others in opposing the programme motion.

I am pleased to be able to follow someone whom I would like to call my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). He and I have served on many Committees over many years, and his words are always wise and should be respected. I hope that the Government will have listened carefully to what he has said, because he spent many hours serving loyally on the Bill’s Committee, as did my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. However, the Bill that they were discussing in Committee is not the Bill that we are discussing today. It is a completely new Bill. I have no quarrel with the democratic process; if enough people in the House are against a particular proposal, the Government should table amendments. However, if the Opposition had come forward with the amendments that the Government have tabled today, they would have been accused of tabling wrecking amendments, so much would they have amended the Bill’s original structure.

We have only two and three quarter hours in which to discuss more than 110 amendments to the first part of the Bill, which will result in the complete alteration of the functions and structure of the infrastructure planning commission. That is a major part of the Bill. The whole principle behind the Bill revolves around how the new commission will operate. The Committee had many sittings in which to discuss this subject, and to give us only two and three quarter hours seems to me to be an abuse of the House’s time.

We shall then come to the rest of the Bill, which is huge, and has many important implications. Not many people have commented on that. The local review boards will be covered, as will the way in which appeals on minor planning applications will be treated. There will be no external appeal in future; the process will be covered by the local review boards. At the very least, we need time to discuss that matter. However, there are 104 amendments relating to the second part of our discussions today, and they will be discussed in less than two hours by the time that the preceding vote has taken place, which is a real abuse of the House’s time.

When it suits the Government, they produce a timetable that protects the time from Government statements, but they have not done that today. They did it for the 42-day detention debate, and this is just as important a matter taken in the round, but they have not protected the time. If they were really generous, they would protect the time for this debate, but they have not done that, which will restrict the time we have available.

The Government are treating the House in a cavalier manner. If they were to allow the House proper time for discussion, they might end up with better legislation on the statute book. As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy has said—I should call him my hon. Friend—it is wrong to leave the detailed scrutiny of a complicated Bill such as this solely to the other place. No doubt when amendments come back from the other place, we will have even less time to consider them.

I hope that the Government will think carefully about this matter, which smacks of their not knowing what they are doing. They are rushing around talking to all sorts of people, but they have no central idea on how to amend the planning system. Nobody argues that the planning system does not need amending—of course it does. Taking seven years to get the planning application for terminal 5 through was too long, and that situation hampers the economic development of this country, but I say in all sincerity to the Government that this is not the way to do it.

I rise with the aim of puncturing the cant that we have been listening to since the start of the debate. I admit that I was never reduced to tears on the Opposition Benches because of timetabling. I longed for timetabling in those miserable years when we found it so difficult to win elections.

I want to make two points. First, the official Opposition want to have it both ways. We have been told that the Bill is being railroaded through the House of Commons, yet at the same time the official Opposition maintain that the Government have lost their legislative programme. It may be possible to make one of those points, but it is rather difficult to make both of them.

Secondly, I reject the old-fashioned, mid-19th-century view of how the House of Commons should behave. I was pleased to hear that one of the charges against the Government is that they have been busy buying off opposition on the Government Benches. I suggest that that is the House of Commons working effectively, and the more effective we make the House of Commons, the better.

It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I disagree with his first point but agree with his second. It is good to see the House of Commons working democratically when a Bill is delayed and revisions are made; it is bad when time is restricted for debate—in my view, it is because the Whips are concerned and want the least amount of time to show divisions in the governing party.

Does the hon. Gentleman think that if we had 50 hours, the Commons would make a different decision?

I do not have such powers. If we had 50 hours of debate, the Bill would be better, because all the points would be scrutinised.

My hon. Friend is exaggerating to make his point. Fifty hours of debate would, of course, be ridiculous, but if we merely had the time taken by the two statements this afternoon, it would make a huge difference.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I was about to make that point. Why do the Government not have protected time for controversial issues and debates? Hon. Members have mentioned the limited time for discussion, but this situation also puts pressure on statements. When people want to get on to the next business, it is difficult to get every hon. Member in on an important statement. The more the Government timetable and reduce the amount of debate, the lower the Labour party goes in the polls.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone). I oppose the programme motion for one simple reason—this evening, incredibly important issues will either not be debated or be debated very briefly because of insufficient time, which was caused by the two statements this afternoon.

I want to raise some important issues in the discussion on the group of amendments relating to the community infrastructure levy. For example, Thames Valley police authority has approached me to press the Government on how the community infrastructure levy will increase police funding in the Thames valley area. At the moment, the Bill does not tell us how the police and emergency services will be funded in the future, when there will be great pressure on budgets due to growth in Reading and the Thames valley. The programme motion appears to have been designed to restrict or even stop debate on crucial local issues.

The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) made many of the same points this afternoon that she made three weeks ago, when we debated the programme motion for the first day on Report, as did the hon. Members for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). They complained about the time for debate, but their complaints have eaten into the time available for that debate.

Those hon. Members also complained about the delay on Report, but at the same time they want Ministers to deal with hon. Members’ concerns. From the outset—the White Paper onwards—we have done just that. We have listened hard at every stage to the case made by hon. Members from all parties on the Bill. We have also discussed in detail concerns expressed by local government, industry and environmental lobby groups. Where there is a strong case for change, we have been prepared to strengthen the Bill accordingly, which is what we are doing again today.

We scheduled the second day on Report for today rather than for two weeks ago because I wanted the important issues that we are debating this afternoon to be dealt with in this House, not in the other place, and to be decided by MPs, not peers. My reasons for framing and moving the programme motion are straightforward. I want to make sure that the House has the most time on the matters that concern hon. Members most, which is why the time available for the important first group of amendments runs until 5 o’clock, which has become even more important given the two important statements this afternoon.

The Minister’s argument does not ring true. If he really wanted to protect the time for the first debate, he would have set a number of hours, not a time. Why did he not set a protected number of hours?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will look at the programme motion. We have moved back the end of tonight’s proceedings by a full hour to take account of the fact that we had two statements this afternoon. That is an unusual step for the Government to take, but we took it because the time available for debate in this House this afternoon is important.

A number of amendments have been tabled for this afternoon’s debate, but as I told the House when we debated the programme motion on the first day on Report, we are dealing with complex legislation that has been closely scrutinised at every stage—there were four evidence sittings and 14 scrutiny sittings in Public Bill Committee. As I told the House on 2 June, we are not making major changes to the scope or nature of the Bill through the amendments this afternoon. We are refining the Bill, often in light of the points made to us in Committee.

I compliment the Minister on how the Public Bill Committee was conducted; he genuinely engaged in discussion. However, given the time constraints today, I bet that the Government could not possibly explain their own amendments—let alone anything else.

We have had these arguments about time constraints at each stage of the Bill. Sad to say, it is what we always hear from the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman was on the Committee, and he will remember that the Committee sittings finished early. He was here on the first day of Report, and he will remember that those proceedings also finished early. At each stage we have given not only thorough scrutiny to the provisions of this important Bill, but enough time for that to be done.

No, I will finish on this point. If we get on with debating the content of the Bill rather than the procedures for doing so, we will be able this afternoon to give the proper scrutiny that the House needs to give to these important provisions. That is what my motion is designed to do, and I commend it to the House.

Question put:—

Orders of the Day

Planning Bill

As amended in the Public Bill Committee, further considered.

New Clause 11

Intervention: defence and national security

‘Section 103 applies by virtue of this section if—

(a) an application is made for an order granting development consent,

(b) the Commission has accepted the application and has received a certificate under section 55(2) in relation to the application, and

(c) the Secretary of State is satisfied that intervention by the Secretary of State would be in the interests of defence or national security.’.—[Hazel Blears.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker
(Sir Michael Lord)