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Commons Chamber

Volume 485: debated on Thursday 4 December 2008

House of Commons

Thursday 4 December 2008

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Business of the House

Mr. Speaker, you informed the House on Wednesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 8 December—Business of the House motion, followed by proceedings on a motion to establish a Speaker’s Committee on the search of offices on the parliamentary estate, followed by continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subjects for debate, as you announced, Mr. Speaker, will be employment, universities and skills, and housing.

Tuesday 9 December—General debate on European affairs.

Wednesday 10 December—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Foreign affairs and defence will be debated.

Thursday 11 December—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Health and education will be debated.

Friday 12 December—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 15 December will include:

Monday 15 December—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The economy, pensions and welfare will be debated.

Tuesday 16 December— Estimates (1st allotted day). There will be a debate on energy prices, fuel poverty and Ofgem, followed by a debate on dental services. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: Energy prices, Fuel poverty and Ofgem (11th Report from the Business and Enterprise Committee, HC 293; Government response - 7th special Report HC1069; and further Oral Evidence of 24 and 25 November); and Dental services (5th Report from the Health Committee, HC 289; and Government response—Cm 7470).]

At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.

Wednesday 17 December—Third Reading of the Banking Bill, followed by motion to consider the Value Added Tax (Change of Rate) Order 2008.

Thursday 18 December—Motion on the Christmas recess Adjournment.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:

Thursday 18 December—A debate on the annual report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on human rights.

I thank the Leader of the House for giving us next week’s business. I have some serious points to raise about the business next week, but before that there are some issues that I want to raise relating to matters outside the House.

First, I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House are concerned about the latest tragic news from Zimbabwe, so will the Leader of the House make sure that before the Christmas recess the House is informed about steps being taken to resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe and to ensure that those innocent people are given the help that they desperately need?

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced a new scheme to help home owners who have lost their jobs and are fearful of losing their homes too. Before we debate housing next week, will the Housing Minister make a statement on the details of the scheme, setting out how it will work, who it will help and which lenders are signed up to it?

With only eight sitting days left before Christmas, will the Leader of the House give us a date for the Chancellor’s oral statement to the House on Equitable Life?

I turn to the business for next week. Mr. Speaker, we welcomed your statement yesterday on the search by police of the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and seizure of equipment and material from his office, and welcome the decision to set up a Speaker’s Committee to look into the matter. I remind the Leader of the House that in his statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker said that the Committee was

“to report as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 3.]

The details were to be set out in a Government motion.

Today we have that Government motion. It bears no resemblance to the statement by Mr. Speaker and no resemblance to what the House understood would be an immediate and speedy inquiry into the police action. Far from an immediate inquiry, the motion says that the Committee will immediately adjourn and will not meet not just until after the police inquiry is finished, but until any criminal proceedings are finished. In other words, it might not meet for months. And the Committee is to reflect the balance of the House. In other words, it will be dominated by the Government. Does the Leader of the House not accept that it is in the Government’s own interests to ensure that there can be no suggestion that there is interference in the work of the Committee by the Government?

I am sure the Leader of the House, like the Prime Minister yesterday, will hide behind the need not to affect the police investigation, but does she not accept that there are different issues at stake? The police investigation is into the leak of information from the Home Office. The Speaker’s Committee will consider the seizure by police of material from the office of a Member of the House and police interference with the ability of a Member of the House to do their job. At heart lies the relationship between a Member and their constituents, who rely on the confidentiality of any information that they give us or material that they share with us.

The matter raises issues of concern across the whole House but, typically, the Government are curtailing debate to three hours, including debate on the business motion. We should have a full day’s debate on this matter. Of course, we should not lose a day’s Queen’s Speech debate on education, skills and housing, so will the Leader of the House change the business and give us a full day’s debate on the Speaker’s Committee motion, another full day’s debate on education, skills and housing and let the Queen’s Speech debate go on a day longer?

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker made it clear that in future a warrant will always be required when a search of a Member’s office or parliamentary papers is carried out. The Prime Minister refused to agree with that. Does the Leader of the House agree with that new procedure? Yesterday, the Prime Minister refused to say that he regretted that a Member’s office was searched without a warrant. Last night on television, the Leader of the House also refused to do so. Will she now tell the House that she does regret the fact that a Member’s office was searched without a warrant?

In relation to the confidentiality of constituents’ business, can the Leader of the House confirm that to access the electronic files and e-mails of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, the police would have gone into the parliamentary server and on to the shared drive, and will therefore have been able to access all hon. Members’ e-mails and files? Can the Leader of the House give an assurance that no other hon. Member’s files or e-mails were accessed by the police?

Finally, the Home Secretary is making a statement on this matter this morning. However, the Home Office reportedly passed responsibility for the leak investigation to the Cabinet Office. When will the Minister for the Cabinet Office come to the House to make a statement setting out what he knew about the matter and his involvement in it? At the heart of this issue lies the ability of Members of this House to do their job and represent their constituents. It is the job of the Leader of the House to protect the interests of this House. The motion for Monday’s business manifestly fails to do so; the Leader of the House now needs to think again.

The right hon. Lady raised the question of Zimbabwe. There is a state of emergency in that country because of the cholera epidemic, and I am sure that that issue will be very much on Members’ minds next Wednesday when we have the Queen’s Speech debate on foreign affairs.

On housing, the right hon. Lady mentioned the Government’s announcement about additional help so that people whose income is affected by the global economic circumstances affecting the economy of this country should not have to fear that, as a result, they will face repossession. She will know that what was announced yesterday is part of a number of measures. One is that if people lose their jobs, they will be able to look to social security to help them with the interest payments on their homes; that has been increased to cover mortgages of up to £200,000. It has been brought forward to January, and will be available after 13 weeks instead of 39 weeks. She will also be aware that the courts are operating on a protocol that repossession must be granted only as a matter of absolute last resort, and that the banks are agreeing that they will not start proceedings until six months after the relevant person falls into arrears; previously, the period was three months.

In respect of the arrangements announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday, they are a further Government guarantee to protect people. People will not lose their homes if their income falls because they are put on short time or lose their jobs. The arrangements are by way of a Government guarantee to banks in order that they should allow interest deferral for a period of two years. Further details are being worked up and will be made available to the House.

The right hon. Lady raised the question of Equitable Life, and a statement on that will be made before Christmas—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister said yesterday that it would be made before Christmas.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the motion that I have laid before the House to facilitate debate on Monday. It was tabled yesterday and is available to Members. The business motion is amendable and the motion is amendable. I would say that there are four principles that are important for us all to—

There are four principles that, as Leader of the House, I strongly support. The first is that Members should be able to get on with their job as Members of Parliament, the job to which they have been elected, and that the Opposition must be able to get on with their job of holding the Government to account—that is a job not just for Opposition Members, but for Government Back Benchers as well.

The second principle is that Members are not above the law, and the third principle is that we should support the operational independence of the police. It is very important for hon. Members to bear that in mind at all times—including later today and on Monday.

I add a fourth principle that I hope that the House would support: the impartiality and professionalism of civil servants and the civil service and the upholding of the civil service code. I will not respond to the right hon. Lady’s invitation to comment on the police investigation—that would, in my view, invite me to interfere with the police carrying on their job in respect of a current investigation.

The security of hon. Members’ e-mails is a security matter and therefore a matter for the House authorities.

Will the House be able to add names to the Speaker’s Committee or leave names off? Will Members be able to apply to join the Committee, because I would rather like to be a member? [Laughter.]

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement. I also thank her for the fact that we know that we will have a statement by the Home Secretary today and the debate on Monday. I appreciate that outside the House people are concerned about their homes, jobs and finances, but these matters are to do with the House and its business. I will work on them with my colleagues in the Conservative party and in other parties, and with Labour Back Benchers, to ensure that the rights and privileges that we have on behalf of our constituents are upheld. I ask these questions, or make these comments, in that context.

First, let me say to the Leader of the House that your statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker, was helpful but made it absolutely clear that somewhere among the authorities of this House and/or the police there was a fundamental failure to protect the rights and interests of our constituents. We have great respect for you, Mr. Speaker, for the Serjeant at Arms, for the Leader of the House and for the police—both for the offices and the persons—but there can be no escaping the fact that we must have accountability for the failures that meant that police came into this building without a warrant. That is unacceptable, and I hope that the Leader of the House accepts that. Although she appears, understandably, to be separate from this issue, she has the same duty as we do in making sure that the rights and liberties of all Members of Parliament are upheld, and that if Officers of the House, however eminent, do not do that, they are held to account. I cannot say otherwise, because it is really important that we do that.

Let me also say that the police, whom we respect, have a duty to be respectful of the job that we do on behalf of our constituents, and if they have made mistakes, then they, too, must be held to account, because they are not above the law either; nor are they above understanding the constitutional position that they have in relation to this place.

Secondly, I will not stand up here and support civil servants acting improperly—I share the Leader of the House’s view about that—but the Government have failed to bring a civil service Bill before Parliament, although they have had opportunities to do so since 2004, when we had a draft Bill. May we have an assurance that in this Session we will have a civil service Bill so that we can legislate to put the rights and responsibilities of civil servants on to a statutory footing, for which we have argued for a very long time?

The Leader of the House announced that the week after next we will have a debate on the prayer that my hon. Friends and I have tabled on the VAT increase. It is nonsense that the Chancellor can come to Parliament and make a pre-Budget statement that is actually a Budget and that has immediate effect the following week—on 1 December, when the tax changes were implemented—yet Parliament has no say in that decision. Last year, the Prime Minister said at the launch of his leadership campaign:

“I want to build a shared national consensus for a programme of constitutional reform that strengthens the accountability of all who hold power”.

I put it to the Leader of the House that he is not succeeding if he brings measures to Parliament whereby Parliament has no right to vote on money spent and money raised.

Unless this Parliament can take some of its powers back and manage the spending and raising of money, we are in trouble, and we are not doing our job.

Lastly, I put this point to the Leader of the House throughout the last Session, and she was sympathetic in words but not yet in action. We have a relatively short legislative programme. During the previous Session, week after week, there was no time for amendments or new clauses tabled by her colleagues or those in other parties to be debated. Will she today give an undertaking that all legislation this year will be properly debated and that there will be a new procedure, like that of many Parliaments, through which a business committee is established so that Parliament can decide its business, not the Government? We need less power with the Executive and more power with Parliament and the people, and unless she can deliver that, she and her colleagues will fail the country badly.

I take it that the hon. Gentleman was saying that we should have cross-party support for the four principles that I have set out as Leader of the House—the principles of MPs being able to get on with their job, the police being operationally independent, the impartiality of the civil service and MPs not being above the law. We should not pick or choose one or the other of those four principles for our convenience. It is incumbent on this House to support all those principles and make sure that we get the balance right. I know that the hon. Gentleman understands and reflects deeply on constitutional issues, and he will recognise that we need a cross-party, whole-House approach to the question of the four principles, not a party political divide.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the civil service code, which we support, and we also introduced the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 in order that there should be provision for civil servants who felt that it was on their conscience to disclose information in the public interest to give out information.

The hon. Gentleman talked about all legislation being properly debated. It is my concern to ensure that Bills are in as good an order as possible before they are introduced to the House, so that amendments can only be those introduced as a result of debate in the House. I share the view of the House, and support it in its concern, that policy should be established clearly in advance so that a Bill is brought to the House in as complete a form as possible. We always have to introduce amendments if they have been tabled in another place or by Back Benchers from across the House, but I agree that it is my responsibility to ensure that all legislation is properly debated.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me and most Members of this House about the importance of the independence of Members of Parliament and the way in which they should be allowed to carry on with their work? Many of our constituents will not forgive us if we get this matter out of proportion but accept that we are in the midst of a global economic meltdown, and my constituents would be very displeased if we were distracted from the main purpose of this House, which is making sure that the people of this country survive and thrive in this global economic turmoil.

I agree with the sentiments that lie behind my hon. Friend’s points. We have to have a proper focus on the four principles that I have set out today. They are important constitutional principles, and we should guard them jealously and properly. However, there are also important issues on a daily basis for our constituents throughout the country who are worried about their jobs, their businesses or their homes. The business of Government is to ensure that we act and do everything that we can against a background of a global economic crisis. We need to ensure that we give people real help now, and more than that, we must ensure that the economy in this country is in a position to move forward when the downturn ends.

Does the Leader of the House agree that our constituents should be concerned if they are subject to unlawful search and seizure? Does she agree that newspaper offices should be concerned if they are subject to unlawful search and seizure? Does she understand that if Members of Parliament cannot be protected from unlawful search and seizure, why should anyone else think that they can be either? That is the key point. When—as, eventually, it surely will—the heat goes out of this episode, during which, I am afraid, there has been disgraceful conduct, we must appreciate that the key point is that our offices and the confidential communications from our constituents should be protected from unlawful search and seizure.

I invite the right hon. and learned Lady to make a constructive response, so will she tell me what she thinks that we need to do—we do not need to wait for the Committee, which, as we have just learned, may not meet for months—to ensure that confidential correspondence from our constituents is protected from unlawful search and seizure?

I think that no one, whether hon. Members or ordinary citizens of this country, should be subjected to unlawful search and seizure. The issues that the hon. Gentleman raised will be debated next Monday. I remind hon. Members that, although we must ensure that we protect the privilege of Parliament and the rights of Members of Parliament to get on with their job without unwarranted interference from the law, we must also respect the operational independence of the police.

First, the Leader of the House is correct to base the matter on principles other than those that protect only our interests. The whole picture must be seen. Secondly, will she urge hon. Members to avoid, if possible, making blatantly prejudicial statements, which imply that there is a prima facie case of unlawful activity by the police? That is untrue and will prejudice the investigation. Thirdly, we must remember that all the parties to the dispute—the House authorities, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, Members of Parliament and the police—have the opportunity to state their case except the police. We should give them the benefit of the doubt until the investigation has been carried out rather than prejudicing the inquiry before it has begun.

I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend. It is incumbent on us all not to do anything that would prejudice the prosecution—if there is a prosecution. It is also incumbent on us all to do nothing that might prejudice the defence. We all have a responsibility. There is currently a police investigation and there are suspects. It is not for one side of the House to be the prosecution and the other to be the defence. The matter should not be party political—[Hon. Members: “Quite right.”] I am glad that I have the whole House’s support on that. It should not be party political—it is a matter for the criminal justice system. When there is a current police investigation, none of us should take sides.

Does not the Leader of the House accept that the financial crisis is totally separate from what occurred last Thursday? It is wrong to keep saying that the House should debate the financial crisis and not matters relating to the House’s integrity. Unless the House has independence and integrity, it cannot deal with the matter properly. Will she think again about providing only a three-hour debate on Monday? As far as I am concerned, we have a mission to try to restore some integrity and independence to the House. How can we do that unless a wide range of Members from all parties can participate in the debate? Will she provide a full-day’s debate? That was my interpretation of Mr. Speaker’s responsible and helpful statement yesterday.

I will seek to ensure that the House has adequate time to debate important issues such as the economy, jobs, small businesses and people’s homes and focus appropriately on what I have acknowledged to be important constitutional principles. We must have time to consider both and strike the right balance between them. As I said, the business of the House motion is amendable.

Is it in order to drag the discussion back to items that are a high priority for millions of UK citizens? I refer to those persons with disabilities. I tabled early-day motion 2191 in the previous Session and referred to it in business questions, when I asked about the ratification of the United Nations convention of the rights of persons with disabilities.

[That this House is concerned by the delay in the Government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; notes that to date 41 signatories have ratified this progressive international human rights instrument, including Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, China, Cuba, India, Kenya, New Zealand, Niger, Paraguay, Qatar, South Africa, Spain and Tunisia; believes that the UK’s delay in ratification compromises the Government’s existing achievements and objectives in tackling disability discrimination; and calls upon the Government to ratify the Convention without reservation or further delay.]

The Leader of the House gave me a helpful answer and the strong impression that ratification would be announced before the Christmas recess. Can she confirm that and say what the form of that ratification will be? Will it require primary legislation? If so, was that announced in an appendix to the Queen’s Speech yesterday, because I could not find it?

The rights and opportunities of, and support for, people with disabilities are very much part of the Government’s legislative programme, in particular the Equality Bill and the public sector duty on all public authorities to support the inclusion of people with disabilities, protect them from discrimination and ensure that they have the right levels of support. As for my hon. Friend’s question about ratification, I will ensure that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions writes to him about that.

I had hoped that after your helpful statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker, the Leader of the House would have taken the opportunity to bring the parties together on the issue. Nevertheless, the motion before us today appears to be taking the mickey. Having said that, let me return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) raised, which concerns the other constitutional issue that we should be discussing. Our primary responsibility in the House is the control of supply—the control of taxation—yet just before Prorogation, we were presented not just with a Budget, but to all intents and purposes with a radical Budget, on which we had no debate except for your agency, Mr. Speaker, and no opportunity to vote. Is the House doing its duty on behalf of the British people—a duty set out in the Bill of Rights—to ensure that there is no taxation without parliamentary consent?

We have many occasions to debate the economy and it is right that we should do so. As for the motion, it will be debatable on the proceedings on a motion to establish the Speaker’s Committee. That will be a business of the House matter that will be debated and voted on by hon. Members on Monday.

In reply to an Opposition Member, the Leader of the House said that we would have the opportunity to discuss Zimbabwe on Wednesday. I am more concerned about the plight of the citizens of that benighted country who are stranded in Britain without having had their applications for asylum granted, but whom it is not planned to return to Zimbabwe. They are starving. Could we not have an announcement before Christmas on arrangements to allow them to work?

I think that my colleagues in the Home Office are very well aware of the difficulties for people from Zimbabwe, to which there are no forcible removals, and whether they are in a position to support themselves. I know that my colleagues will have heard the points that my hon. Friend has made, but in any event I shall refer her points to them.

Since the narrowly drawn terms of reference for the committee of senior Members that the Leader of the House has set out seem to relate entirely to the future, what conceivable justification is there for providing that it should not start its work until the criminal investigation has concluded?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman, being a former barrister and a former Home Secretary, will know that it is very important that we prejudice neither the prosecution nor the defence in this case. Mr. Speaker has said that the arrangements for a search of the House in the future are already changed. It is important that we discuss and ensure that the constitutional principles, all four of which need to be upheld by the House, are the subject of reflection. The Committee will undoubtedly be part of that, but it is not wise to set up a concurrent investigation when a police investigation is under way. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman reflects on that even for a few moments, he will know that I am right.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for proving all the doubting Thomases wrong: we did bring forward in the Queen’s Speech the marine and coastal access Bill, which is long overdue. However, it was somewhat disappointing that the floods and water Bill will be published only in draft form. Will she seek early publication of that Bill, so that we can undertake pre-legislative scrutiny? The Bill is important for those of us in certain parts of the country and we need it at the earliest opportunity.

Yesterday, I wrote to the Chair of the Liaison Committee about which Bills should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. I take my hon. Friend’s point that the floods and water Bill should be subject to such scrutiny.

Why have the Government overruled the Speaker’s statement that he alone would choose the membership of his Committee?

The motion says that the Speaker will choose the members of the Committee according to the composition of the House.

May I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew), as many of my Wakefield constituents are facing their second Christmas outside their home, following the devastating floods in 2007 and the repeat floods of this summer in 2008? I know that this is a real issue for right hon. and hon. Members who represent Hull as well, so may we have a debate, perhaps in Government time, or pre-legislative scrutiny to consider what measures can be brought in to manage better the risk of flooding in our areas, particularly in Yorkshire and in the west country?

Those matters might well be debated and considered alongside the marine and coastal access Bill.

May I take the opportunity to remind Members that the motion on the Speaker’s Committee clearly says:

“That the Committee consist of seven members appointed by the Speaker”?

The Leader of the House wrote to me yesterday asking for my views on these constitutional questions—and I hope that I will not get arrested for disclosing that fact. In addition to all the other matters that have already properly been raised, does she agree that a Committee of this kind should be chaired by a member of the Opposition? Furthermore, in respect of her remarks on the criminal law, does she accept that the rules and precedents of this House already adequately deal not only with concurrence, but with the whole question of the law and custom of this House in relation to criminal matters?

I am not quite sure about the hon. Gentleman’s final point. I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a former shadow Attorney-General, has great experience and has reflected at length on these issues, but if he is suggesting that we can with impunity have a concurrent investigation by the House of something that is subject to a police investigation, I am sure that he would not want to say that.

Many of my constituents, particularly those who work for Ford, are worried about whether they will still be in their jobs after Christmas. Given that today’s figures show a significant decrease in demand, will the Leader of the House find time for an urgent debate on the future of the British car industry to ensure that we have one at the end of this recession?

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform has said that we are mindful to take whatever action the Government can take to support manufacturing industry and the important manufacturing skills base in our economy during the global downturn. I will draw the hon. Lady’s comments to his attention. There will be an opportunity to debate those issues on Monday 15 December as well as at next Thursday’s business questions.

On Monday, when the Leader of the House moves the motion in her name on the Speaker’s Committee, will she be able to explain to the House how this Committee, which will have no powers whatever, will be able to carry out the task outlined by Mr. Speaker yesterday more effectively than an existing Committee of the House, which has all the necessary powers, has no party majority and was specifically set up to look into issues of privilege?

I have tabled a motion to facilitate debate of the issue that arose in the Speaker’s statement—that there should be a Speaker’s Committee to which these matters should be referred rather than to the Standards and Privileges Committee, which the right hon. Gentleman chairs. That is a matter for the Speaker.

Will it be possible in the near future to have a debate on the requirement for Criminal Records Bureau checks for those working with children being extended to madrassahs? In my view, the current situation discriminates against Muslim children.

Obviously, if any child care services are being provided in madrassahs, they are subject to inspection and registration. If my hon. Friend is identifying the fact that such provision is being made, in effect, in madrassahs but is not coming within the inspection regime, I will invite my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to look into that and liaise with her on it. We need to ensure that all children are protected.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you obviously took great trouble to be very clear and precise about the nature of Monday’s debate. May I ask the Leader of the House why she has so totally ignored the Speaker’s advice?

I have tabled a motion for debate by the House. It is amendable, and I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that he, too, should be supporting all four principles to which I have referred. I do not want to be the only person besides you, Mr. Speaker, who is concerned about and alive to the issue of the sub judice rule. I would say that it is quite wrong to suggest that I have any other motive than to protect those four principles, one of which is the sub judice rule.

Can the Leader of the House help to clarify one point that has troubled me overnight? [Interruption.] No, it is a serious point. A certificate was signed by the Serjeant at Arms waiving the need for a warrant. Surely the only person who could have done that is the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). If somebody wanted to search the flat that I rent, my managing agent could not authorise that. Only I could, surely. Can we have some clarification of whether the only the person who can say, “Yes, you can come into my flat or my office,” and authorise that is that person himself or herself? Is that not the case?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the question of the ownership of material, and also the premises, and of consent to enter them. Those are two different things. I would say that they might well bear examination, but I would counsel him, too, that examination should take place after the current police investigation is concluded. Those issues certainly should be looked at.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you said to the House in your statement that to the Speaker’s Committee should be referred the matter of the seizure by the police of the material belonging to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and that the report should be done as soon as possible. Does the Leader of the House accept that the motion that she has placed before the House complies with the Speaker’s statement in neither respect? It does not deal with the seizure of the material and it specifically prevents an early report.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is himself a learned Queen’s Counsel and when he reads the motion he will understand exactly why I tabled it in the terms that I did. I seek to protect all four principles—important constitutional issues of great concern that arise from this matter. The motion does that.

Last week, we had the devastating coroner’s verdict from the inquest on my constituent, Dr. John Hubley, who died as a result of “a catalogue” of failures at the Eccleshill independent sector treatment centre, described by the coroner as “mickey mouse” and “a recipe for disaster”. Already, I have written to the Secretary of State for Health to ask for a full public inquiry, but as this matter has thrown up the issue of safety at independent treatment centres such as Eccleshill, will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on this to restore some confidence among my constituents, but also among the wider public, that it is appropriate to send NHS patients to that centre?

Obviously, we want to make sure that there is absolute patient safety in the national health service, the private sector and independent treatment centres, and I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

While sharing the fury felt by colleagues in all parts of the House about the House’s own issue, may I bring our attention back to the 100,000 workers in ports today, many of whom face redundancy? The woefully inadequate concession by the Government on the ridiculous, huge back-rating demand that has been put on hundreds of small businesses still leaves the directors in a position where they will be breaking the law if they continue to trade for more than another few weeks. May we have an early debate on this matter?

We will have a debate on the economy on 15 December, at the conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech, and the hon. Gentleman can, no doubt, raise those matters then.

Yesterday’s statement revealed that the police had been in possession of the computer of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) for four days, and they will therefore have been able to access the parliamentary information and e-mail system that contains files of constituency records held by all of us, including e-mails we may have exchanged with my hon. Friend, possibly on complaints against the police including named police officers. Has the Leader of the House urgently taken steps before next week’s debate to retrieve any such information so that we can restore the confidentiality and integrity of exchanges between us and our constituents, and will she not shuffle off responsibility about this on to unnamed House officials and instead start to stand up herself for the rights of this House, Back Benchers and those whom we represent?

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker addressed the question of the return of the seized material, and Members can rest assured that I will stand up for all the four principles—not just one, but all four—in respect of all parts of the House in this matter.

I am sure that, like every other assiduous constituency MP, the Leader of the House has during the course of her parliamentary career frequently given absolute assurances to constituents who impart sensitive personal information to her that what they say will be covered as if it were the secrets of the confessional. In the light of recent developments, what advice can she give to Members as to what we should say to constituents who urge us to treat what they are about to impart to us with total confidentiality?

The hon. Gentleman will know that, as was said by Members yesterday, we are not above the law; subject to the proper procedures and processes, we are subject to the criminal law.

Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that the statement on Equitable Life will be an oral statement and that, given its importance, it will be given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and can she tell the House what considerations led her to produce a motion that was inconsistent with Mr. Speaker’s statement yesterday?

The details of the statement on Equitable Life will come forth in due course and, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, before Christmas. I would expect it to be an oral statement. The hon. Gentleman adds to the complaints across the House about the motion I have tabled to facilitate a proper debate in this House; he, like other Members, can amend it if he so chooses.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked the Leader of the House whether the police had access to information pertaining not just to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), but to other Members on the House’s IT systems. The Leader of the House tried to shuffle that responsibility off on to unnamed people, but she is a member of the House of Commons Commission, and she is therefore a member of the House authorities; and she is the only one whom we can bring to the Dispatch Box to answer questions. Members will want to know that their information is secure. A breach of that would be a breach of the Data Protection Act, which in itself would be a criminal offence. The Leader of House must take this matter seriously, and be able to answer, if not now then in the debate on Monday.

Both the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), who asked that question, and I are members of the Members Estimate Committee and the House of Commons Commission, and we are available to discuss any matter with the Speaker and advise him on any matter. Mr. Speaker has already made comments in his statement about the return of the computers.

May we have a debate on sentencing? On Saturday 29 November, a judge sent somebody to prison for six weeks for theft, yet, unbelievably and directly as a result of the early release scheme, the same offender came before the same judge three days later, on Tuesday 2 December, and was again charged with theft. Is it not a scandal that somebody can be sent to prison for six weeks by a judge and be out of prison within a few days, because of the early release scheme, free to commit the same offence? Should not the criminal justice system be focusing on sorting out this kind of scandal, rather than on a Member of Parliament going about his legitimate business?

There will be a debate on justice and home affairs after the Home Secretary’s statement today.

I listened very carefully to your statement, Mr. Speaker, and I was very encouraged by the fact that we are going to have a debate on Monday. We have learned, however, that it is to be a three-hour debate, so what will happen is that the Front-Bench spokespeople and senior Back Benchers will speak, but junior Back Benchers will not have an opportunity to do so. I fully support your efforts, Mr. Speaker—unlike some Members of this House. Would the Leader of the House please explain why the debate will be a truncated one, rather than a full day’s debate?

I tabled a motion to allow for three hours’ debate. This was discussed in points of order yesterday and it has been discussed for the best part of 50 minutes today. I know that hon. Members will want to make speeches and put forward proposals, and the opportunity for debate will be on Monday.

Government Information (Unauthorised Release)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the current police investigation into the unauthorised release of government information. As has been widely recognised across the House, some very important principles are at stake in this matter: that nobody should be above the law; that the police should have the operational independence to conduct their investigations without fear or favour; that Members of this House should be able to do their work and be able to hold the Government to account; and that the impartiality of the civil service should be protected. Members of this House will, of course, understand our obligation not to prejudice an ongoing police investigation, but I shall be as helpful as I can in my statement.

On 8 October 2008, following consultations with the Home Office, the Cabinet Office requested the assistance of the Metropolitan Police Service in investigating a series of leaks. That request was made by the Cabinet Office, as it has ultimate responsibility for the security and integrity of the working of government. No Cabinet Office Minister was involved in the decision. The request followed a number of internal Home Office leak inquiries, which had not identified the source of the leaks. There was concern that an individual—or individuals—in the Home Office who had access to sensitive material was prepared to leak that information.

Faced with what appeared to be the systematic leaking of classified information over a sustained period, given the damage that that was doing to the effective conduct of Government business and because of the sensitive issues, including national security, that the Home Office deals with, I agreed with the view of Sir David Normington, my Department’s permanent secretary, that it was essential to request police assistance in identifying the source of those leaks. The sustained level of leaking that had already taken place clearly suggested that this could go on, would escalate, and that more information of greater sensitivity could potentially leak. [Interruption.]

Since the request for police assistance was made—[Interruption.]

Since the request for police assistance was made, the Home Office has co-operated fully with the police investigation. A full list of relevant leaks, including those involving highly classified material, was passed to the police for their consideration.

As acting commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson set out in his statement yesterday, after initial inquiries the Crown Prosecution Service was consulted. The police officers involved were satisfied that they had reasonable grounds to make an arrest of a junior Home Office civil servant. On 17 November, I was informed by Sir David Normington that an arrest of a Home Office civil servant was likely in the next few days. On 19 November, the Home Office civil servant was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in public office. On 27 November, the police arrested the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office.

As the statement issued by Sir David Normington on 28 November made clear, he was informed by the police at about 1.45 pm on 27 November that a search was about to be conducted of the home and offices of a member of the Opposition Front Bench. Sir David was subsequently told that an arrest had been made. This was the first time that anybody in the Home Office was informed that a Member of this House was the subject of the police investigation. I have made it clear that neither I nor any other Government Minister knew until after the arrest of the hon. Member that he—or any other hon. Member—was the subject of a police investigation or was to be arrested. I hope that those who have asserted the contrary will now withdraw their claims.

Let me be clear that even if I had been informed, I believe it would have been wholly inappropriate for me to seek to intervene in the operational decisions being taken by the police. I will not do that and I should not do that. On 1 December, I spoke to the acting commissioner to reassure myself that the investigation was being pursued diligently, sensitively and in a proportionate manner—[Hon. Members: “Sensitively?”] Sir Paul informed me—[Interruption.]

Sir Paul informed me of his intention to set up a review of the handling of the case to date, which I welcomed. The following day he announced that Chief Constable Ian Johnston would conduct that review. In that telephone call with Sir Paul I expressed my support for the operational independence of the police from political intervention—as I have done previously, as I have done since, and as I will continue to do.

Nobody in the House should doubt the sensitivity of the investigation or the importance of the issues involved. I welcome your statement yesterday, Mr. Speaker, and your decision to set up a Committee of seven Members of this House. Your statement also set out the circumstances in which the police asked for and gained consent to search the parliamentary office of the hon. Member for Ashford. I spoke to Sir Paul Stephenson yesterday evening to seek his clarification of those events. Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick has subsequently written to me to set out his understanding of the obligations the Met were under and his account of the steps they took. I am placing a copy of that letter in the Library. Sir Paul also assured me that Ian Johnston’s review will cover those issues.

I wholeheartedly support the right of every hon. Member to do their job, to hold the Government to account, and to make available information that is in the public interest, but the systematic leaking of government information raises issues that strike at the heart of our system of governance. Such activity is not about merely creating political embarrassment, for me or for any other Minister. Such activity threatens the respected role of the civil service in supporting our democracy in a politically impartial, honest and professional manner, and it drives a coach and horses through the civil service code, which states that civil servants should act

“in a way which deserves and retains the confidence of Ministers, while at the same time ensuring that you will be able to establish the same relationship with those whom you may be required to serve in some future government.”

All of us, on both sides of the House, have a right to expect that our vital role should be protected, and we have a responsibility, too, to respect the law and uphold the proper workings of the civil service. I would be surprised—and indeed dismayed—if any hon. Member thought that that was not the case.

I commend my statement to the House.

I thank the Home Secretary for previous sight of her statement. The issues at stake are indeed very serious. They involve basic ministerial oversight over counter-terrorism police operations against a Member of this House which were heavy-handed and incompetent at best, and at worst an unwarranted assault on our democracy—[Interruption.] Let us be equally clear what is not at stake. We can all agree that MPs are not above the law, and that the police have no place in politics. Nor does this have anything to do with national security. There is not the slightest evidence of that, and Her Majesty’s Opposition—[Interruption.]

There is not the slightest evidence of that and Her Majesty’s Opposition take the integrity of official secrets as seriously as the Government, despite attempts by Government spokesmen to smear and spin to the contrary.

The Home Secretary has regularly briefed me and my predecessor on matters of national security. Can she name one occasion when she has raised any concern that her confidence has not been kept? Can she now confirm that no known leaks from her Department relating to national security involve my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green)?

This episode has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with political embarrassment. Nor is it about confidentiality in the workplace, matters for which employment law provides a perfectly adequate remedy. If there have been 20 leaks or more, as the Government are briefing, the problem extends well beyond any facts relevant to my hon. Friend. It heralds a systematic breakdown in trust between officials and Ministers, arising from the Home Secretary’s willingness to conceal failings in her own Department on matters of manifest public interest.

The Home Office initiated the leak inquiry and knew that Opposition Members had commented on four disclosures reported in the media. Is it the case that for eight days after the arrest of Mr. Galley, the police were investigating my hon. Friend, but the Home Secretary had not the faintest idea about it? If she was cut out of the loop, was the Minister for the Cabinet Office or any other Minister or official there informed by the police that a Member of Parliament was the target of their investigation? If the Cabinet Office was kept updated, why was not the Home Secretary? Why was the Cabinet Office not kept updated if it had initiated the investigation? Were counter-terrorism police operating without any Home Office ministerial notification, oversight or accountability from start to finish?

The Home Secretary has stated—[Interruption.]

The Home Secretary has stated that she was unaware at any point before the arrest that any Member of this House was part of the police investigation. Can she clarify some details? What was the exact remit of the investigation requested by the Cabinet Office of the police? Was it strictly confined to a request to investigate the commission of a criminal offence, and will she now put a copy of the written referrals from the Cabinet Office to the police in the Library so that we can study them? When did she or her officials receive updates on the police investigation? Who provided them and what did they cover? Did she at no point ask who the subjects of the investigation were, because it is clear that in the early stages of the investigation she was kept informed? Did she ask any questions at all?

Does the Home Secretary still cling to her utterly flawed defence that there is nothing she could have said or done in advance of the arrest even if she had been aware? She undermined that implausible excuse on Tuesday by seeking assurances from the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner that the investigation was being pursued diligently, sensitively and proportionately. If she can ask those basic questions after the arrest of my hon. Friend, why did she not ask questions before? She could have asked whether police had asked to interview my hon. Friend on a voluntary basis. She could have asked whether the deployment of more than 20 counter-terrorism officers to arrest a Member, search his offices, search Parliament and seize documents, phones and computers was proportionate and necessary. She could have asked whether the Director of Public Prosecutions had been consulted.

Did the police try to obtain a warrant to search the House of Commons office from a magistrate before they came to see the Serjeant at Arms, and if so, were they refused? Were the police acting in compliance with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its codes? I have to say that the letter from Mr. Quick on the subject is a masterpiece of obfuscation. Does the Home Secretary agree with him, or with you, Mr. Speaker, in your statement, that no proper statement of rights to refuse entry was given to the Serjeant at Arms beforehand? I am afraid that I have to say that Mr. Quick’s letter and your statement, Mr. Speaker, are incompatible.

Of course Home Secretaries make statements about police operations. The right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) did so immediately after the 7/7 attacks, as did the Home Secretary herself after the Glasgow and Haymarket attacks. Based on her own practice, does she now accept that this can be done without prejudicing an investigation, and should be done in serious cases to maintain public confidence?

Finally, seeing what is now emerging, does the Home Secretary regret her wilful ignorance in this whole affair and the decision to wash her hands of the basic responsibilities that come with her office? Who is in charge of the police, if she is not?

May I first draw the hon. and learned Gentleman’s attention to the public statement of Sir Paul Stephenson on the subject of whether counter-terrorism police officers—as he described them—were involved in the operation? As Sir Paul Stephenson makes clear, following the reorganisation in New Scotland Yard of the previous special branch and the previous counter-terror branch they are now working together under the heading of the counter-terrorism command. As he pointed out, it is not accurate to claim that they were counter-terror police officers; nor, as he has made quite clear, was this a counter-terror investigation.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asserted several times that “there is not the slightest evidence”. He does not know what evidence the police have. I do not know what evidence the police have—but I do know that it is wholly appropriate that the police should use their professional judgment to follow the evidence during the course of a police investigation without fear or favour. That comes to the heart of what appears to be a misunderstanding by the hon. and learned Gentleman and other Opposition Members about the difference between the operational independence of the police during an investigation and appropriate and important methods of accountability that, whether through the criminal justice system, the procedures set up by the House or the review that Sir Ian Johnston is carrying out, will appropriately report but will not interfere with the operational independence of the police. I made it completely clear in my statement that even if I had been informed about the investigation of a Member of this House I would have considered it wrong to intervene in that investigation. I am interested that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not seem to take the same view.

On the point about the subjects of the investigation and when I was informed, it seems sensible and obvious to me that I would have been informed about an investigation taking place within the Home Office and the potential arrest of a Home Office official, and I was. I was not informed about the investigation and potential arrest of a Member, and I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman—although he has not taken this opportunity—will remove his continued assertion that I am not telling the truth.

On the point about whether any other Minister asked for or received specific assurances, I believe that I have made it clear that no other Minister did.

Finally, I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have more ably demonstrated that he believes that all the principles that I outlined are important if he had expressed any concern whatsoever about the nature of leaking from Departments. The Home Office deals with some of the most sensitive issues across Government. I believe that for a potential future Home Secretary to be so unconcerned—cavalier—about the leaking of information from the Home Office is a serious issue for the security of that information, for the impartiality of the civil service and for the good governance of this country.

I am concerned at the new principle that the Home Secretary appears to be setting out that the leaking of information from the Government is in all circumstances something to be deplored. The reality is that the House’s formal procedures for holding the Executive to account are so weak that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has described them from the Government Benches as like “heckling the steamroller”. In the circumstances where this Parliament is a constitutional poodle by comparison with other Parliaments in the western democratic world, it is essential that other means of having checks and balances are there.

The leaking of information has a long and honourable precedent. Let me, for example, cite the official in the Secret Intelligence Service, called Desmond Morton, who briefed the then Back Bencher, Sir Winston Churchill, about the gathering threat of German rearmament. That was an essential part of the pressure put on the appeasement Governments of the day to take account of the threat to national security. So even matters of national security may, it seems to me, be justified as leaks to hold the Government to account.

In this case, will the Home Secretary confirm that she was merely concerned about a potential breach of national security and that there were no actual breaches of national security? The elision in her answer was very clear to any Opposition Member, and she needs to clarify her position. She is also unclear in her statement whether Sir David Normington told her, after she was informed by the police, that there would be a search of the premises of an hon. Member and whether she was then concerned. If not, why not? Again, in her answer, she elides between the arrest and the search. Surely, if the police were informing her most senior official—I assume that her most senior official informed her—that, in fact, a search was impending, that should have been enough to ring alarm bells with the Home Secretary.

Does the Home Secretary agree at the very least that the police action in this matter should cause us, as a House, as a Parliament and as a legislature, to reopen the issue of taking away responsibility for the security of the House from the Serjeant at Arms, since a clear principle is at stake? Does she now agree that the muddle in which she has landed herself in this case should be clarified, not least with a parliamentary privileges Bill—as recommended by a cross-party Committee nearly 10 years ago—a civil service Bill to ensure that our civil service is as impartial as it should be, and is always protected from undue political pressure, and a Bill to restore protection for whistleblowers who act in the public interest? We need to bring back the protections for whistleblowers that the Government and their predecessor abolished.

The hon. Gentleman started off with an impassioned defence of leaking. I have argued—and I think that I have made it clear in my statement today—that I believe that the role of Members of this Parliament in using information that they gain access to, certainly in some of the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, has happened, should happen and will continue to happen. That is an important element in the accountability of Government in this country. But it is also absolutely right that, if civil servants believe that the activity of their Government Department is unethical or improper, they should have a route through which they are able to take that issue up. That is why the Home Office has a clearly communicated whistleblower policy through which civil servants are able to raise issues of concern, including externally with the Civil Service Commissioner, and why this Government have put in place the Act covering the disclosure of public information referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, to give further protection to individuals in those circumstances.

In this case, however, we were concerned about a potential systematic series of leaks. The original leak inquiries—which took place when it was not clear who was responsible, or whether it was one person or more than one—did involve, in the reference from the Cabinet Office, issues that related to national security, as of course does the work of the Home Office. For the hon. Gentleman to phrase his question as to whether we were “merely” concerned about a possible leak of national security, represents an underestimation of the significance of our role in safeguarding the information that we deal with.

In relation to the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions about action between search and arrest, I was not informed about the search of the hon. Member’s office until after both the search and the arrest had taken place.

I thank the Home Secretary for her very full statement. Of course I accept that she was not informed of this circumstance until after it had occurred. The first telephone call appears to have been made to the Mayor of London, and the second to Sir David Normington. The Home Secretary was then informed. This is the second occasion on which she and the Mayor have taken a different view on the issue of policing in London and, in my view, this does not bode well for the imminent appointment of the next Metropolitan Police Commissioner. In respect of the two inquiries that have been set up so far—the Johnston inquiry and the inquiry that Mr. Speaker is setting up—and any other inquiries that Select Committees might want to set up, will my right hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that she, other Ministers and civil servants will be prepared to come and give evidence to those inquiries, and that there will be full co-operation so that all the facts of this matter can be brought before the House?

I can certainly give my right hon. Friend an assurance that I will be perfectly willing, as I have been today, to give the fullest possible information—in a way, of course, that does not prejudice any investigation. I—and, I am sure, other Ministers—will be willing to give the fullest possible information. With respect to my right hon. Friend’s concerns about the appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, may I put on record—I believe that the Mayor shares this view—that we understand that this is an appointment of vital importance both for London and for the national interest, and that we will work closely to make sure that we get the best candidate for that extremely important job.

The Home Secretary has confirmed that she was the only Minister who authorised the involvement of what is usually called the special branch in the investigation of incidents of which she was the only victim and from which she had already suffered only political embarrassment. Can she tell the House whether she challenged or discussed that recommendation, and in particular what legal advice she sought about the matter being moved into the sphere of a criminal investigation? At what stage were the Law Officers asked for their opinion? At what stage was the Director of Public Prosecutions asked for his opinion? Did she obtain the advice of even Home Office lawyers?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong. I did not authorise the investigation into the leaks and I did not say that I had. Completely appropriately, the Cabinet Office, which has responsibility—and, I suspect, probably did in his day as well—for the integrity of Government information, asked the police for assistance in the investigation, following a series of leak inquiries which had been inconclusive. I think that that was wholly appropriate. As I said in my statement, I agreed with the view of Sir David Normington that it was appropriate that the matter be referred to the Cabinet Office and that that then involved the police in the investigation. When there has been a process of internal leak inquiries and the use of external inquirers, and there is the serious issue of the systematic leaking of matters that could be extremely sensitive, it seems to me appropriate for Government to ask the police to help with those investigations. The only basis on which the police will carry out those investigations is if they suspect that a criminal investigation may be necessary.

On the basis of the statement by the Home Secretary, I have no doubt at all about her integrity and truthfulness in this matter. It ill behoves Opposition Members to imply that there is a lack of either. I also accept the integrity and impartiality of the vast majority of civil servants who day in, day out serve Governments of all persuasions, despite their own personal opinions. That should be placed on the record. However, I would be wrong if I did not express some unease about two aspects of the matter. One is the fact that having been told—quite properly, in my view—that there was contact on this subject between one politician connected with the Metropolitan Police Service, the Mayor of London, and the person at the centre of the investigation, that must be looked at. Secondly, I am surprised, to say the least, that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was not informed that her opposite number, effectively, was about to be arrested. If I had been told after the event that that had been done, I cannot think that I would have remained as placid as she has in the circumstances. Notwithstanding the fact that she has said that even if she had been informed, she would not have acted differently, I do not think that we should take that as a ruling that someone in her position should never be informed. For my part, I would have wanted to be informed, and to express a view on the matter. I hope that she will look at those processes without prejudice.

It is, of course, completely appropriate that the process of both the investigation and the information that was passed on should be part of questions and consideration after the police investigation. With respect to my right hon. Friend’s first point, I believe the Metropolitan Police Authority and certain Members have already questioned what the Mayor knew, whom he chose to share that information with and whom he chose to communicate it to. It seems wholly appropriate for them to do that. On the second point, about whether and when I should have been informed, it is a matter for the Metropolitan police as to the point at which I was informed. I have made clear the questions that I asked after being informed. On the subject of placidity—I think that sometimes it behoves Home Secretaries to deal calmly with issues that are of significance, such as the present matter.

The Home Secretary may be interested to know that, following the Government’s example of using the criminal law to persecute Opposition politicians for being too effective, the States of Jersey have initiated a criminal investigation into Senator Stuart Syvret, which should cause grave concern because of the situation in Jersey. Has the Home Secretary had any advice as to which elements of leaked information were covered by the Freedom of Information Act and the fact that the civil servant would have had a duty to reveal that information? Does she find it a little odd that one faces a criminal investigation for revealing certain information that one has a duty to reveal?

Although the hon. Gentleman’s point was very broad, covering a range of cases, I listened with interest. He made some important points, which I am sure people will want to return to, not least as part of the accounts that are being done here.

I entirely accept the integrity of my right hon. Friend. I do not question that in any way, and it is quite likely that the political points that the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) was trying to make were matters with which I would hardly agree. Does my right hon. Friend accept that no one has suggested for one moment that MPs are above the law? Of course we are not above the law, but is there not a distinction between that and our role as Members of Parliament carrying out our parliamentary duties and being able to do so without fear or favour? If that is undermined, parliamentary democracy is undermined.

I agree with my hon. Friend that both the principle of the important and significant role of Members of Parliament and the principle that nobody is above the rule of law need to be upheld in the present situation.

Did the Home Secretary at any time give any indication to officials that she did not want to be kept informed of the progress of the investigation?

A little while ago I had a hand in getting the Prime Minister to reaffirm the Wilson doctrine, and he extended it to modern electronic surveillance. On the face of it, it would appear that the Wilson doctrine has been abrogated by the police in this case. Clearly, the e-mails of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) were looked at. I venture to suggest that he was listened in to, and that there has been access to all our e-mails. Can the Home Secretary tell us whether the Wilson doctrine has been abrogated? Will she place in the Library the reply that she sends to the letter that I sent her two days ago on that specific point?

I am sorry my hon. Friend has not received the reply to the letter, which I sent him yesterday and in which I made it clear that the Wilson doctrine as outlined by the Prime Minister has not been abrogated.

On two of the occasions when I have talked to the commissioner or other senior police officers about operational matters, one shortly after the death of Stephen Lawrence and the other after the police had put an anti-terrorist team to search the home of Sergeant Gurpal Virdi, one of their own members, I did not find any objection from the police, and I did not think I was doing anything wrong, so I hope the Home Secretary will not be too delicate about discussing issues. It is a perfectly proper thing to do. Will she have a chance to read column 52 of yesterday’s Hansard, which shows the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change making a number of allegations and assertions about the civil servant involved, and tell the House whether she thinks that was proper, and whether it was prepared by someone on the Government Front Bench? Lastly, can she confirm that malfeasance in public office is not always a criminal offence?

I have not read the passage to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The point about misconduct in public office is that it is potentially a criminal offence—[Interruption.] Well, that depends whether it has happened. As a common law offence, it is also a legitimate part of the criminal process of this country.

When my right hon. Friend was considering these issues, did she take into account such precedents as the prosecution and imprisonment by the Conservative Government of a woman civil servant for handing over details of Michael Heseltine’s diary to The Guardian, and the prosecution of Clive Ponting, when the Conservatives wanted to imprison him but he was acquitted on a public interest defence—which they immediately abolished, so that nobody else could have a public interest defence? In considering these issues, will my right hon. Friend take into account the synthetic indignation of the Conservatives, who seek one law for a Tory Government’s iron heel and another law for a Labour Government?

My right hon. Friend is right, of course. When we talk about disclosure of information from Government, we are in areas of the utmost controversy that go to the heart of the nature of our democratic system and to the heart of the nature of the role of the civil service in this country.

Although I did not consider those precedents in detail, I certainly thought about them and also about previous, extremely sensitive investigations into senior political figures. In some of those cases, I do not remember hearing the sort of outrage that we are hearing around this issue.

If the issue was really a serious matter of national security, why were the arrests not carried out under the Official Secrets Act?

The right hon. Gentleman is right that there have been circumstances under which issues of national security have resulted in the use of the Official Secrets Act. There have also been occasions on which the offence of misconduct in public office has been appropriate. Of course, there have not yet been any charges in this area and that is, of course, the responsibility of the police in terms of the evidence that they have. I made the point earlier to the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that neither he nor I—nor the right hon. Gentleman—have seen the evidence to make the appropriate decisions on the investigation, and, with the involvement of the Crown Prosecution Service, on the nature of any charges, which may or may not emerge.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and her permanent secretary have behaved absolutely appropriately on this occasion. May I bring her back to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was raised by an Opposition Member? Does she agree that that Act—which was introduced by this Government, of course—has fundamentally changed the situation? It makes available to the House, the public and the media an immense amount of information that would never have been made available under any previous Government, whether Conservative or Labour. Furthermore, under that Act we have an independent Information Commissioner whose job it is to hold the balance between the public interest in disclosure and the public interest in good government, including confidential advice to Ministers. In those circumstances, is it not—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Lady has given me an opportunity to remind the House that there should be only one supplementary to the Home Secretary.

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the willingness of the Government to put in place, quite rightly and legitimately, the appropriate ways for members of the public and Members of the House—and civil servants, when necessary—to make information publicly available. I am thinking of the Freedom of Information Act, the whistleblowing processes that I outlined and the legislation that we have put in place to support whistleblowers. Given that record, my right hon. Friend is right that as a Government we have proved ourselves to be more open than any previous Government—and, incidentally, more open than any proposals put forward by Opposition Members.

Does the Home Secretary not accept that there is a vast difference between threatening to sack someone for breach of confidentiality and setting the criminal law attack dogs on them? Is she saying that because the Home Office deals with some matters of national security, any leak from the Home Office is now a criminal matter—even though we know that in this case no real matters of national security were at stake?

Once again, I have to say that a Member is claiming a greater knowledge of the evidence than he can possibly have. When there has been systematic leaking and internal leak inquiries have not been able to discover its source, at a certain point I believe it appropriate to ask the police for their assistance in that investigation.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement and how she has conducted herself so calmly throughout this affair. Why should Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition have thought it necessary to take legal advice on this matter? Does she share with me the view that perhaps, in their wish to see great transparency and openness, they should publish the brief that they gave to counsel and the legal advice that they obtained?

Surely the Home Secretary will be aware that leading members of the Labour Governments since 1997 were expert and very successful in using leaked material during the last Conservative Government. In respect of a point made by the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), a former Home Secretary, is she not aware that she should have been informed by the police in a case involving a Member of this House? It is an exceptional situation. How many of the 20 leaks that she has mentioned involved national security?

On the first point, about the use of information, I should say that today I have made absolutely clear my view that it always has been the case—and will remain so in future—that hon. Members and others who receive information should be able to use it in the public interest and that hon. Members should be able to carry out their role as Members of the House. However, I do not accept that that implies that there is no responsibility on the Government to investigate when leaks become systematic, happen in Departments that deal with some of the most sensitive issues, including national security, across Government, and risk undermining the principles of the impartiality of the civil service code.

On the point about being informed, I think that I was clear in my response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid) that I was not, and that was a decision for the Metropolitan police.

Perhaps I am a bit old-fashioned, but I have been made to feel nauseous on so many occasions since this event broke. The statements made by people have often demonstrated their self-importance rather than tried to solve the problem. To be constructive, may I ask the Home Secretary whether the advice to Back Benchers of any political party should be that one telephone call from a civil servant on an issue of national security should be reported immediately to the security people, and one telephone call on an issue not of national security should lead to a fatherly or motherly talk to the individual—“Look sonny, don’t do this. Go and get another job if you don’t like it”?

My hon. Friend offers me the opportunity to give advice. Hon. Members are very aware of their responsibilities, with respect both to their own roles and to the impartiality of the civil service. That is how Members of this House should and do act.

Following the intervention from the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid)—the Home Secretary’s distinguished predecessor who sits behind her and said that he would have liked to have been tipped off that his opposite number was about to be arrested—what lessons has the Home Secretary learned from this incident about the future? Does she think that in future it might be wise for the Home Secretary to be informed if an Opposition spokesman was about to be arrested for doing his job?

What I have learned is that if we believe in the principle of the operational independence of policing, we should put that into practice, however difficult and tricky the circumstances.

I want to comment on exactly that theme. Had my right hon. Friend been informed and attempted to interfere with that operational freedom, she would have faced legitimate demands for her resignation. Opposition Members—former Home Secretaries—have said that they would have interfered with police operational independence. My right hon. Friend has done exactly the right thing and will be supported by people throughout the country on that basis.

I thank my hon. Friend for that. I think that it would have been wholly inappropriate for any Home Secretary to intervene in a police investigation in the way that some have tried to imply they would have done.

The shadow Home Secretary asked the Home Secretary a number of questions that she failed to respond to. Let me try a couple of them again. First, did the police apply to a magistrate for a search warrant to enter the House of Commons? If not, why not? If they did, were they turned down? Secondly, is she personally satisfied that this operation was carried out under the terms of—

On the first point—the only point—I have made it clear that I asked some of those questions yesterday evening. Bob Quick, the Assistant Commissioner, responded to me today, and I have placed that letter in the Library. [Hon. Members: “Answer!”]

Order. I usually let a statement run for an hour, but if there are such levels of shouting I will cease the statement now. That is the danger that right hon. and hon. Members run. Shouting like that is not something that I will tolerate.

I share the fairly widespread concern about the allegations of, or suspicion of, criminal activity by an hon. Member and about the tendency of the police in recent years to take a more dramatic role in political controversy than we would wish. However, we are not considering one aspect, which is non-criminal. Does the Home Secretary agree that if any hon. Member seeks systematically to encourage a breach of the civil service code, regardless of whether it is criminal, it is a reason for shame?

My hon. Friend is right. It is important for all political parties and for anybody who believes that they may, at some point, form the Government of this country, that we uphold the political impartiality of the civil service as set down in the civil service code. That is one of the four important principles that are brought into sharp relief in this situation.

Where does the literally unwarranted—apparently—intrusion into the parliamentary office of a Member of this House leave the whole concept of parliamentary privilege and the Bill of Rights, which is surely a fundamental part of our constitution? Will the Home Secretary issue guidance to the police that when a Member of this House is to be arrested in relation to his political activities as such, the advice of the Law Officers should be requested in order to see whether it constitutes a breach of parliamentary privilege?

Mr. Speaker made very clear yesterday the situation with regard to parliamentary privilege. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 lays down the requirements for search and for arrest.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position that she has been invited to adopt is that civil servants should be allowed to treat her Department as an Aladdin’s cave of secrets that they should be free to leak, and that civil servants’ judgment alone will determine what is in the public domain and what is not? Did the level at which these leaks came from her Department suggest to her that the person who leaked may have had access to information relating to national security? Can we be sure that all the leaks—

There were concerns at a point at which it was unclear as to how many people were involved in leaking, but it was clear that there had been systematic leaking. That was, of course, the reason for asking the police to investigate. Some of the other issues that my hon. Friend raises should be left to be the subject of a police investigation. However, he is absolutely right in his suggestion that everybody in this House should be in a position of upholding the civil service code.

Returning to the letter from Mr. Quick to the Home Secretary yesterday, relating to the lack of writ that was provided when the search took place of the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), there is a clear difference of opinion, or a major difference of fact, between what the Speaker said yesterday and what Mr. Quick said. Who does the Home Secretary believe? I know who I believe, and it ain’t Mr. Quick.

Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am not so quick to jump to judgment. That is why I believe that Ian Johnston’s review, set up by Sir Paul Stephenson, and the ability of this House to consider the issue through Mr. Speaker’s Committee, are both important.

I am sure that the whole House agrees that it is absolutely right that civil servants should hold political views, that they should join political parties, and that they should take part in legitimate political activity in their own time. However, in light of the fact that they need to behave in a professional manner at all times and to uphold the civil service code, and in light of what my right hon. Friend has called the “systematic leaking” of information, are there grounds for an inquiry to see whether there are any leaking Tory moles placed in other Government Departments?

Prior to 1989, the Government could have used the Official Secrets Act in this case. The Home Secretary is sitting next to one of the world experts on the Official Secrets Act, who will be able to remind her that in 1989, almost exactly 20 years ago to this day, the then Conservative Government amended the Official Secrets Act to restrict the application of the criminal law to a very narrow band of Government information. It may surprise the Home Secretary to know that the whole Labour party, including the current and former Prime Minister, voted against that legislation on the grounds that it did not go far enough in liberalising the situation and still applied the criminal law to far too much information. As a result, the Government have had to dredge up an old common law offence to put the frighteners on officials, MPs and, presumably, journalists. If they want to criminalise information like this, why do they not amend the legislation by repealing the 1989 Act?

The idea that the Government have dredged up the several circumstances in recent years when the offence of misconduct in public office has been used against public servants is just wrong. The decision on what offence is charged is, of course, for the police, alongside the Crown Prosecution Service. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees it would be wholly inappropriate in this situation for Ministers to offer an opinion about what any potential charges should be.

With regard to the cash for honours investigation, the Leader of the Opposition said that it was right that these matters should be investigated and that the police and the CPS should make decisions about how to proceed. If that principle was right in that case, surely it should apply in this case, and should not be influenced by the contrived outrage of the Conservatives.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you told us two things in your statement: first, that there was not a warrant; and secondly, that the police failed to tell the Serjeant at Arms that she was entitled to refuse access. That was a breach of code B52 of the statutory codes. Furthermore, on any view, the Serjeant at Arms had no authority to allow access to the hon. Member’s possessions. Consequently, the police were acting unlawfully in all three respects—no warrant, no statement that the Serjeant at Arms was entitled to refuse access, and, in any event, having access to material to which they were not entitled. When did the right hon. Lady first know that the police were guilty of such illegality?

I think, frankly, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is confusing his role as a Member of this House with his presumably desired role as a member of the judiciary. [Interruption.]

The police must be free to follow the evidence. However, our constituents sometimes complain to us that when they have been the subject of an investigation, the question arises as to whether the police’s methods were proportionate to the seriousness of the criminality that is suspected. Sometimes we get the answer to that years or months later as the result of a trial; sometimes we get it as the result of an investigation by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At this early stage of this case, the only question to which I want to know the answer is whether the police had legal advice about the seriousness of the criminality that they suspected in order to make that judgment about proportionality before they made the decision to act. Does the Home Secretary know whether the police had legal advice?

Sir Paul Stephenson has stated publicly the point at which the police consulted the CPS. Secondly, on the issue of proportionality, as I said, I welcome the fact that Sir Paul Stephenson is asking Ian Johnston to review the appropriateness and proportionality of the investigation.

Can the Home Secretary explain what was unique about this case that led them to want the police to be involved, when the police were not invited to investigate the systematic leaking of price-sensitive information about banks and bank capital, or to look into the extraordinary leaking of practically the whole pre-Budget statement, which was really a Budget? Surely that was systematic leaking on a grand scale. What was different about it?

There have been other situations where the police have been asked by the Cabinet Office to help with investigations.

The Home Secretary has been clear and unambiguous today. Will she go further on the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about the Wilson doctrine? Can she reassure all hon. Members that our home numbers, work mobiles and the phones that we use in this House are covered by the Wilson doctrine, as well as our e-mail accounts?

As I have suggested, the Wilson doctrine applies, and it applies as outlined by the Prime Minister.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I invite the Home Secretary to correct a factual inaccuracy in her statement. She said that I was arrested “on suspicion of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office and aiding and abetting, counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office.” I have a copy of my arrest warrant here, and the phrase “counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office” does not occur. I was not arrested for counselling or procuring misconduct in a public office. She will understand the seriousness of her mistake, and I invite her to withdraw those words immediately.

I would certainly be prepared to take that up with the Metropolitan police—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]

Order. Hon. Members should allow the Home Secretary to answer in the way that she wants to answer. It is not for me to tell the Home Secretary—or any other hon. Member—how she should answer. Home Secretary, have you anything to add?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In answer to one of the questions that was asked, namely whether an application had been made to a magistrates court for a warrant to come on to these premises, the Home Secretary replied that we should be referred to the letter of Mr. Quick, which she had placed in the Library. But the letter from Mr. Quick does not go into that in any way at all. Is it not a contempt of this House to be treated in this fashion?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that the House has power, if necessary and on matters of national security, to go into private session, as it did during the war, for example, to be briefed by the Prime Minister? Secondly, given that we have heard a ruling from the European Court this morning which says that the retention of DNA samples is not legal, can you ask the Home Secretary before she begins her contribution to the following debate when she will announce the Government’s response to that? That matter appears to be relevant to the case of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green).

The second point is not a point of order. The hon. Gentleman can seek that information from the Home Secretary at any time through the various facilities we have. On his other point, the House can sit in private if it deems it necessary.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If it turns out, on investigation, that the Home Secretary used incorrect words in her statement, would it be in order for the official record of the House to be so corrected?

Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) concerning our e-mails and the House of Commons server, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that the House of Commons server is covered by the Wilson doctrine, and that it cannot be accessed by the police or any other authorities to access our e-mails in order to investigate circumstances that we lawfully as Back Benchers and Members of this House have taken up on behalf of our constituents and others?

As the Chairman of the House of Commons Commission, I have a serious responsibility to look after the computer system that we all use, including myself. I will look into this matter, rather than give an off-the-cuff answer from the Chair.

Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), Mr. Speaker. Given the unreliability of the information upon which the Home Secretary has relied today, how on earth can this House possibly give any credence to anything that the Home Secretary has said today in respect of the Metropolitan police? [Interruption.]

Order. So far there has been some excitement in the Chamber, but we have kept our comments temperate, and we should continue to do so.

On a temperate point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Home Secretary given you any notice that she intends to place in the Library of the House a list of the actual—not potential—leaks that led to the calling in of the police, so that Members will be able to see whether any of them involved national security, something that she has refused to tell us today?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In line with your suggestion of temperate language, have you considered the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) about the intemperate language used by the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change when he, in effect, accused my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) of procuring a spy, giving information on political opponents and stealing confidential information?

That is not point of order. There are times when I tell Ministers that they should be temperate in their language, but I make no comment on the point that has been raised.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to the Speaker’s Committee on the search of offices on the parliamentary estate, could you clarify the situation and perhaps give the Leader of the House an opportunity to retract her suggestion about who is able to choose the members of that Committee? Yesterday, in your statement, you said clearly that you would be setting up

“a Committee of seven senior and experienced Members, nominated by me”.—[Official Report, 3 December 2008; Vol. 485, c. 3.]

In business questions earlier, the Leader of the House said also that she believed that you would be nominating that Committee, but the motion for Monday says that the seven Members appointed by the Speaker will be

“reflecting the composition of the House”.

In other words, you and you alone will not be able to choose the Members. Our understanding is that the membership would be selected by you and you alone.

I have expressed my wish, and I stand by my statement. The right hon. Lady may recall that one hon. Member did ask about the terms of the motion, and I made it perfectly clear that the rules of this House say that it is for the Government to put down the motion. All I can say to this House is that there is also a facility to put down amendments. I cannot go any further than that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the point of order made by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who asked the Home Secretary whether she would give a list of documents that have been leaked from the Department, I know from experience that by definition the only person who knows what has been leaked from that Department is the recipient of the leaked documents. Would you therefore urge anyone who has received anything that concerns national security to bring it before the whole House?

I think that it is time to move on.

Bills Presented

Business Rate Supplements Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Hazel Blears, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Geoff Hoon, John Healey, Mr. Pat McFadden and Mr. Sadiq Khan, presented a Bill to confer power on the Greater London Authority and certain local authorities to impose a levy on non-domestic ratepayers to raise money for expenditure on projects expected to promote economic development, and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 8 December, and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).

Saving Gateway Accounts Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary James Purnell, Mr. Secretary Woodward, Secretary Paul Murphy, Yvette Cooper, Secretary Jim Murphy, Mr. Stephen Timms, Angela Eagle and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to make provision about Saving Gateway accounts; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 8 December, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).

Banking Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Jack Straw, Secretary Jacqui Smith, Mr. Secretary Hutton, Yvette Cooper, Stephen Timms, Angela Eagle and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to make provision about banking.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order (14 October)); to be read the Third time on Monday 8 December, and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).

Political Parties and Elections Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Hazel Blears, Edward Miliband and Michael Wills, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the Electoral Commission; and to make provision about political donations and expenditure and about elections and electoral registration.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order (20 October)); to be considered on Monday 8 December, and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).

Corporation Tax Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary James Purnell, Yvette Cooper, Mr. Stephen Timms, Mr. Gareth Thomas, Angela Eagle and Ian Pearson, presented a Bill to restate, with minor changes, certain enactments relating to corporation tax; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 8 December, and to be printed (Bill 1) with explanatory notes (Bill 1-EN).

Debate on the Address

[2nd day]

Debate resumed (Order, 3 December)

Question again proposed,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament

Home Affairs and Justice

It is a great privilege to open the debate on the Gracious Speech.

Yesterday, the Gracious Speech made clear our commitment to supporting families and businesses through difficult economic times. Today’s debate builds on that commitment to economic security with plans to strengthen security in our neighbourhoods and on our borders, and the ties that bind our communities.

With families working harder and more demands being placed on public resources, fair rules are essential to ensure that everyone is playing their part. Fair rules make for strong communities. That means supporting those who play by the rules, standing shoulder to shoulder with communities and giving them a fair say in setting the rules, and ensuring that those who do not play by the rules are punished in a way that reinforces public confidence.

The measures that we are introducing in the Session build on the solid foundations that we have laid since 1997. Crime is down by nearly 40 per cent., with burglary and car crime more than halved. The likelihood of being a victim of crime is lower now than at any time in more than 25 years.

The Government have taken tough and determined action to nip antisocial behaviour in the bud and turn the tables on the small minority of persistent offenders who try to make life a misery for the law-abiding majority in our communities.

I am listening carefully to the Home Secretary. May we consider violent crime? The briefing document that was supplied to Ministers—I believe that it is one of the other leaks in this place—acknowledged that violent crime was increasing, whereas the Government previously claimed that it was decreasing. Will she clarify the position?

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows from the British crime survey and the recorded crime figures that violent crime has decreased in the past year. That demonstrates the tremendous job that the police and their partners do across the country. We have delivered neighbourhood policing in every neighbourhood throughout England and Wales. By the end of the year, we will deliver a policing pledge in every force—a new deal between the police and the public, setting out for the first time the standards of service that people can expect their force to meet.

Alongside the pledge, there will be greater accountability to local communities through crime mapping and regular information updates, and through monthly opportunities for people to help set local priorities for local action.

I am listening to the Home Secretary with interest. Switzerland has made an interesting departure from convention by voting to provide hard drug users with their drug on prescription. Is she willing to hold a dialogue with organisations that believe, through analysing the motivations for the Swiss vote, that that could be a method of significantly reducing crime in this country? Will she consider running similar pilot schemes in the United Kingdom to break the link between crime and drug addiction?

We have already made considerable progress on breaking the link between crime and drug addiction by doubling the number of people in treatment. There has been a 22 per cent. reduction in acquisitive crime. We set out in the next 10-year drug strategy, which we published earlier this year, how we want treatment to develop. I believe that some prescribing pilots are already under way and we will want to evaluate and examine them carefully.

As well as the greater accountability to local people that I described, we will also introduce greater accountability to local elected representatives through the councillor call for action, which will be in place from next April. We will provide a strengthened and reformed role for police authorities through inspection and improved training and skills for their members.

Community crime fighters will be in each neighbourhood, helping local people get their say and giving our clear backing to people who want to get involved in tackling crime and antisocial behaviour.

If the police look for things on any site, they have to explain to the owner that they either need a warrant or that the owner must be satisfied with a written explanation, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or other legislation. Are they the only two routes or is there a third?

I think that I made it clear that the legal basis for such searches is outlined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Given that we spent an hour and a quarter on the matter through the statement, it is disappointing that Conservative Members do not want to consider issues about crime, justice and immigration that seriously concern our constituents.

May I take the Home Secretary back to the statistics with which she started? She knows that there has been an increase of about 22 per cent. in violent crime between 3 am and 6 am. That puts huge strain on our police forces. What will she do about it? Is it time to review the Licensing Act 2003?

The review of the Licensing Act that the Government carried out showed that the incidence of violent crime remained unchanged on the whole. Alcohol-related violent crime has decreased, but I will deal later with the action that we should and will take on binge drinking.

In earlier debates, the Home Secretary said that she is keen for the police to build on their good community work by being responsive at all times to people who ask them for assistance. Will she report back on whether she has been able to take action to ensure that that happens? Not hearing back from the police causes a genuine problem with public confidence. Has she or her colleagues in other Departments considered whether, in supplementing the police in communities, more money and support could be provided for detached youth workers to assist with the problems that she experiences in her constituency, as I do in mine, so that those who are on young people’s side work with them, rather than those who are sometimes perceived to be against them?

The hon. Gentleman makes two important points. I wholeheartedly agree that local people need and deserve to know the response that they can expect from the police. It needs to be a good response. That, with the agreement of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is set out in the pledge that chief constables have committed to delivering everywhere by the end of the year. It is important to find methods of ensuring that local people are clear about what they can expect because that will help build confidence.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about detached youth workers. That is why support for such youth work is an important part of the £100 million overall investment that went into the youth crime action plan. We are now in the process of distributing the money so that it can be spent and such services can be developed.

It is fairly fruitless to bandy statistics about, as we have tried to impress upon the Home Secretary, although I entirely endorse what she says about neighbourhood policing. The scheme in my constituency, which works with the local authority, has been something of a success. She referred earlier to accountability. Given her passion for accountability, and no doubt for giving more power to a much more galvanised local electorate, what does she believe is the way forward for directly elected police commissioners, for example? Is this going to be part and parcel of the Bill that she is bringing forward, and what are her general thoughts on this matter?

No I do not think that, and I have made it clear that I think that there should be an abolition of the police authority and a single directly elected police commissioner. That is what I have made clear previously and I still hold to that position.

The Home Secretary mentioned accountability and more local involvement. Is she satisfied with the current arrangements for appointing commissioners to the Metropolitan police and, in particular, with the upcoming appointment?

Yes, I am satisfied with the current arrangements for the appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

All the measures that I have outlined are designed to build public confidence in the fight against crime and are matched by concrete achievements in freeing up the police to ensure that they can focus on the issues that matter to people. We are removing all but one target set from Whitehall, in order to deliver improved levels of public confidence, scrapping the stop and account form and streamlining the process of crime recording for police forces. We are providing the police with the tools that they need to do their job, with 10,000 handheld devices in the past year and 20,000 more to come over the next 18 months.

I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement today, which is very much in line with recommendations that we in the Select Committee on Home Affairs made in our report “Policing in the 21st Century”. However, we recommended that every police officer should have a handheld computer. It is not sufficient for some forces to have the facility and for others not to. Also, the devices should be compatible, so that Lincolnshire can talk to Leicestershire without using a different system, which is one of the problems that our police forces have encountered.

My right hon. Friend’s Committee produced a good and important report. If he looks at the speed with which we have funded and developed the ability of police forces throughout the country to have handheld devices, he will see that I share his ambition to roll out this important system quickly. He also makes an important point about compatibility. I will talk later about ensuring better collaboration among police forces. The National Policing Improvement Agency is currently leading work to ensure greater compatibility not just between handheld devices, but among all the information systems across police forces, which I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend is important.

Just as police forces must look to their neighbourhoods, so they must also look to each other to collaborate where needed to tackle crime at all levels and to ensure the best use of resources. We will legislate to strengthen the provisions for collaboration, whether in the back office or on the front line of operations. We will also give the police, other law enforcement agencies and prosecutors additional powers to improve the recovery of criminal assets, because criminals should not be able to squirrel away their ill-gotten gains. I make no apology for doing all that I can to ensure that they get the message loud and clear that they should not profit from their criminal activities.

On the subject of collaboration, I am sure that the Home Secretary will agree that there is no place in a civilised society for the vile practice of human trafficking. I very much appreciate what is being done in our country to stamp out that evil practice, but what co-operation is she receiving from her counterparts in the countries from which those sad individuals come?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I will say something about human trafficking later, but his point about international co-operation is crucial. For example, we are currently working with other countries in the European Union, as part of the EU’s action programme on countering trafficking, precisely to address some of the issues that he has raised.

It is central to delivering confidence that justice is done and that it is seen to be done. I want people to know that we are 100 per cent. behind them when they stand up to gangs, drug pushers or other criminals. The provisions in the coroners and justice Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor will have more to say about later, reinforce that point. There will be a further opportunity to debate the new scheme for protecting the identity of vulnerable witnesses at trial. We will also extend those provisions to the earlier, pre-trial stages of an investigation, so that we can protect witnesses in gang-related murder cases.

The policing and crime Bill will also establish the fair rules that prevent low-level crime and disorder from taking root in our communities. It will introduce measures to tackle binge drinking and set the framework for a new mandatory code for responsible alcohol sales. Most people, even in the House, know how to enjoy alcohol responsibly. Alcohol-related violent crime has fallen, but there is a minority of people who run out of control and ruin things for others. We will give the police the powers that they need to tackle the crime and disorder that stems from excessive drinking. We will take tougher action against retailers and bars that sell alcohol to children and ensure that the industry plays its part in ending irresponsible promotions such as “all you can drink” offers.

I thank the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. What she has announced is excellent news, given the recommendations that we in the Home Affairs Committee made in our report. However, the supermarkets are still selling alcohol too cheaply. Will her measures include a floor price below which supermarkets will not sell alcohol? If we address one sector—the pubs and clubs—but do not deal with the supermarkets, which are selling alcohol as a loss leader, we will not solve the problem of alcohol-related crime.

No—some hope.

My right hon. Friend’s Committee made some important points and pressed us on precisely those alcohol-related issues. It is of course the case that responsible promotions will—for example, through their impact on all licensees, in both the on trade and the off trade—impact on price. However, having asked the university of Sheffield to conduct research into minimum pricing—which my right hon. Friend drew attention to—we now have some very useful evidence. Given the current economic climate, it is important that we do more work and think carefully about how and whether that work would make an impact on the harm that we would want it to impact upon, but in a way that did not disproportionately affect others. However, the issue is certainly a live one, as my right hon. Friend pointed out.

May I turn to 24-hour licensing? The Home Secretary knows that our party believes that the decision to introduce it was a mistake. There were some reports in the press that there might be changes to the conditions and greater local discretion. Can she tell the House about that and whether the Government intend to move in our direction?

The element that I am outlining with respect to a mandatory code would enable specific conditions to relate to all licensed establishments, as well as providing for probably a larger number of provisions, which could be applied locally to more than one establishment, which, incidentally, would cut some of the bureaucracy involved in the Licensing Act 2003.

The Home Secretary is being extremely generous in giving way. On responsible drinking, she will be aware that traditional pubs take their duties seriously, but unfortunately 36 are shutting every week. Fortunately, VAT is decreasing, but duties are increasing to compensate and when VAT increases again, duties will remain where they are. How does that help traditional pubs to continue with responsible drinking? Also, on the supermarkets, when the Government came into power, the cost of a pint of beer in a pub was twice what it was in a supermarket. Today, a pint in a pub costs seven times what it costs in a supermarket. The Government surely need to look into that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice is advising me on the price of beer, on which I have to confess I am not an expert. I am not going enter into future decisions about tax levels, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to.

Strong and safe communities need local people to be given a fair say in the rules that we all live by. My hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods), for Stourbridge (Lynda Waltho) and for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter) have argued that case very strongly with respect to lap-dancing clubs. We will tighten the controls on lap-dancing clubs, giving local people a greater say in whether those clubs should be allowed to operate in their neighbourhood.

I am grateful for the Home Secretary’s intention to assert more control over lap-dancing clubs, the expansion of which into residential areas is of great concern to many communities, including mine. [Interruption.] I would like to speak without being heckled by the Opposition Front-Bench team. When will my right hon. Friend provide more details of what the legislation will say? In particular, is she going to use the definition of “sex encounter establishments” and what will happen to existing licences and those that may be granted during the transitional phases before the policing and crime Bill becomes law?

I reiterate the point that my hon. Friend has been assiduous in campaigning on behalf of his constituents on this issue. We intend to spell out in the policing and crime Bill how we will define these clubs and how we will provide local people with the opportunity to have their say. The Bill will impact, in response to my hon. Friend’s final question, on new establishments and it will provide for what I hope will be reasonably regular reviews of the licensing of existing clubs.

The policing and crime Bill will set out new protections for vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, by tackling demand for prostitution and strengthening existing arrangements to deal with sex offenders. Although we do not always agree on the detail, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) for her campaigning on this issue. I want to make sure that people think twice before they pay for sex, especially if it is with a victim of trafficking or someone forced into prostitution against their will and for another’s gain. This month, with particular respect to trafficking, the UK will formally ratify the Council of Europe’s convention on human trafficking—a spur for every state around the world to renew their efforts to tackle the evil trade in human misery.

We know the importance of having a strong border to stop traffickers, to disrupt smuggling and to clamp down on illegal immigration. Our borders are already among the most secure in the world and the numbers charged with protecting them are at an all-time high, but we are determined to make the border even stronger as we take forward the biggest overhaul of the immigration system in a generation. We are already issuing biometric visas as a matter of course to anyone applying to travel here. We are reintroducing border controls and exit checks and will soon be able to count non-European economic area nationals in and out of the UK.

The Home Secretary may be surprised to know that this is intended to be a helpful intervention for her. There have been some stories in the press and on the radio this morning that the Government intend to insist on checks within country, requiring people to carry these ID cards in country so that the police can check them. Will she please scotch those rumours right now?

My first reaction was that when I need the right hon. Gentleman’s help, I know that I am in really big trouble! However, he has been helpful and I am extremely happy to scotch the rumours, as he puts it, because the intention is to enable identity checks only at the border. I am sure that we will have future opportunities to make that even clearer than we have up to this point.

These are important matters and Liberal Democrats have always argued that we need a proper and clear immigration policy and proper controls. However, I do not understand why we need further legislation on matters that it seems to me could easily have been in the previous Bill, if not in the one before that. I still fail to see any common border force, which we have argued for, integrating the police, immigration and customs into one force at all our airports and seaports. Why are we not moving towards that rather than playing around and tinkering once again—for the third year in a row, I believe?

I am just coming on to explain what is in the Bill and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that it is very far from tinkering; it is, in fact, a means of bringing about and making stick the largest reform in immigration—both at the border and in country—for many years. The border, immigration and citizenship Bill will give UK Border Agency officers the integrated immigration and customs powers that they need to deliver even greater protections at our borders. It is right that we have tough systems in place to ensure that people who come here have a right to do so and it is right to have tough but fair rules in place to make sure that only those with the skills we need can come here to work or study.

Last week, tiers 2 and 5 of the points-based system were introduced, allowing us to control immigration by raising and lowering the bar depending on the needs of the economy and the country as a whole. Last week, too, we issued the first ID cards for foreign nationals—opposed by Opposition Members—to protect against identity fraud and illegal working, as well as to make it easier for people to prove that they are who they say they are.

The Bill also sets out plans for major changes to what we expect of migrants before they can earn British citizenship. British citizenship, is a privilege. There will no longer be an automatic right to stay here after five years. From now on, newcomers will have to speak English, work hard and play by the rules if they want to stay and build a new life in Britain. As the Bill introduces those new responsibilities, we will also create a new duty for the UK Border Agency to take into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in its operations.

I really welcome the duty to safeguard the welfare of children, but will it have any impact on the detention of children?

The duty clearly relates to the detention of children. We are already working to ensure that the detention of children takes place only in extremely specific circumstances, usually when the detention of the child alongside the family for a few days prior to deportation is probably the most important way to keep the family together. Sometimes the detention is just overnight, simply to identify whether someone is a child in cases where there is some uncertainty about it. I agree with my hon. Friend that more work needs to be done and we will undertake it to ensure that children’s interests are served, while also ensuring the interests of the country and maintaining the integrity of our immigration system.

The measures we are bringing forward, together with our commitment to strong enforcement of the law, including the doubling of the UK Border Agency’s enforcement budget over three years, will deliver an immigration system that is fair but firm.

I have heard all sorts of stories over the last 12 months about people who are effectively buying certificates to demonstrate their knowledge of English, so I am wondering whether my right hon. Friend is satisfied that the people getting either indefinite leave to remain or citizenship who need English are actually acquiring the English language rather than just paying someone for a certificate to demonstrate the fact.

We certainly believe that the requirements for English and, of course, knowledge of life should be robust. Where allegations have been brought to our attention, we have investigated them. If my hon. Friend is concerned that the problem has become more systemic, I would be willing to look into it in further detail and to raise it with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.

As I said in my opening remarks, the motivating principle for these measures is that the law must be on the side of those who do the right thing and those who need the most protection. Just as important as the principle are the clear steps that I have set out today, which we are taking in those Bills to put principles into practice. The measures demonstrate again the Government’s commitment to protecting the rights of the most vulnerable and the interests of the law-abiding majority, and I commend them to the House.

I listened with care to what the Home Secretary had to say and I am sorry that she sat down before I could ask her about an issue of some importance, which dovetails with the responsibilities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—that of piracy. I hope that we might hear something about it today. Piracy concerns an issue of law and order, and before moving on to the main part of my speech I must say that I have been increasingly mystified as to our apparent inability to take action when the law as I have always understood it, albeit rather ancient, is very clear.

There is confusion in the Navy and other parts of the armed forces as to where we stand with regard to piracy.

The Secretary of State shouts that the Government are against it, but perhaps that needs to be made clear to those who are doing their duty off the coast of Somalia, because they do not know what this Government really think. They do not know whether they are breaking the law if they arrest or indeed shoot somebody; nor do they know whether the person concerned will ask for asylum as soon as the arrest is made. That needs to be clear and it should not be a laughing matter for Government Front Benchers to giggle about.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is a need for clarification both of the law and our ability to prosecute pirates in this country, which is easy and perfectly clear-cut, and of the puzzlement that we seem to be confined to a policy of self-defence. My understanding of the state of the law is that it ought to be possible to take proactive steps to suppress piracy within international law. I very much hope that we will hear more about that.

On the substance of what the Home Secretary had to say, although I can welcome some aspects of her speech, there are many others that I cannot, because the Government’s record on home affairs and justice is not a happy one and is at variance with the aspirations set out in the Queen’s Speech.

The Government have presided over the virtual doubling of violent crime since they were elected, while their incessant red tape and regulation have tied the hands of the police. Indeed, some announcements that are now being made on the subject are merely rolling back red tape and bureaucracy that the Government previously introduced.

The Government’s open-door immigration policy has led to a fivefold increase in immigration—straining public services, exacerbating community tensions and allowing drugs, guns and criminal gangs to flow with far too much ease into this country.

The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the doubling of crime. He is right that recorded violent crime has doubled—his figures are correct in that respect—but when the Conservatives were in government they repeatedly said, as this Government say, that the British crime survey figures were better. Does he accept that that is contradictory and that a rather different picture is shown? What is his view on whether the British crime survey or the recorded crime figures is the more accurate in this respect?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. One problem at the moment is that there does not seem to be much confidence in either set of statistics. As a result, we have been calling repeatedly for independent statistical collation. That would be helpful.

Also, some maturity in the debate would be valuable. If we are considering crime rates merely on the basis of what has happened in the past six or 12 months, we might well be missing the point. We have to look at overall trends. I am the first to accept that on overall trends crime has been rising for a long time. That makes me suspicious when I hear the Government trumpeting that crime is going down. There are lots of mixed messages.

I am quite satisfied that the Government’s own assessment is that violent crime is a growing problem. It was quite apparent from the internal briefing document for Ministers—we come back to these leaks—that the Home Office saw it as a priority issue, because it was a rising trend that showed no signs of diminishing. That undermines some of the assertions that have been made.

Beyond that, I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). It would be sensible to have some proper statistics and sensible in debate if all of us—I put that as a self-denying ordinance to myself as well—tried to take an overall view, rather than just jumping up and down about immediate statistics. That is for the Government to do as much as anyone else.

I would like to follow up, if I may, the point made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). The Conservative party was clear in government. I have here its campaign guide for 1994, which says—[Interruption.] It is out of date to this extent: that was when the Conservatives were in government. That is the whole point. When the Conservatives were in government, they consistently said, and it is repeated here in the guide, that the BCS endeavours to build up an accurate picture of the number of crimes actually committed, and that the BCS showed that while recorded crime had doubled between 1981 and 1991, it also showed that the actual number of crimes committed rose by only 50 per cent. in that period. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not accept, as the BCS was established by the Conservative party, that it is independently verified by the independent statistics authority, which was set up by the House, and that that is the best measure of consistent trends over time?

I am afraid that I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s view with the certainty that he puts forward. I am perfectly prepared to accept the BCS as a helpful indicator, but for the reasons that I have already given I take the view that all statistics should be approached with caution. We also need to review how all the statistical information is collated.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the acid test is what we hear as Members of Parliament, particularly in our weekly advice surgeries? Most residents seem to think that crime is going up, which rather confounds the statistics that are being bandied about. Is not that all the more remarkable given the fact that we live in an increasingly surveyed society, with more than 600 public bodies now able to intrude on e-mails, telephone calls and all the rest of it? If that was working, surely we would expect improved crime figures rather than the ones we see, which are being reported to us by our constituents.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Indeed, he will be aware that Louise Casey, who produced a report for the Government, indicated quite clearly that the public had no confidence in the statistics that were being produced. In fairness to the Government, they appear to be willing to consider that issue, and they jolly well should. My overall impression—I can give it only of my own constituency—is that violent crime and antisocial behaviour continue to get worse. Some categories of crime have gone down in recent years in my constituency, although they have shown some signs of going up again—burglary, for example.

The picture is very mixed, but there are examples from the past, which I think the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor would accept, of proper targeting of crime—such as was done in respect of burglary by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was Home Secretary—achieving substantial reductions. However, sustaining that can be very difficult.