House of Commons
Tuesday 24 March 2009
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Community Children’s Nurses
Developing high-quality community children’s nursing services is crucial to the provision of safe, integrated and comprehensive care in the home or close to home for children with complex or continuing care needs. We are embarking on a wide-ranging programme of action dedicated to transforming community services. Within this programme, we are taking forward a project looking at the benefits and the opportunities arising from investment in community children’s nursing services.
I know that the Minister is aware that a reception was held in the House earlier this month that was sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing, of which the Minister was a member, and the WellChild charity, which was intended to encourage primary care trusts to employ community children’s nurses in order to help not only children with long-term complex health needs, but their families. Will the Minister tell me what steps the Government are taking to ensure that these nurses are employed, as they will help children and their families to co-ordinate packages of not only medical but local care, which might help them to spend more time at home rather than commuting to hospital on a regular basis, as this is often painful to them?
I congratulate the Royal College of Nursing and WellChild on holding that reception, which highlighted some very important issues; as the hon. Gentleman said, we were both present. Government funding of £340 million established through our recent child health strategy will help local areas to support the development of more care packages in the location preferred by the child and family. To provide the safe, comprehensive and sometimes highly complex packages of care that these children need takes time to co-ordinate. There are no quick fixes, as was highlighted at the reception. In many cases, delays are caused by the time taken to resolve issues such as housing and adaptations rather than the lack of community nurses, but we are committed to the work force and to the planning of community children’s services. I believe that this area will be addressed in the Prime Minister’s commission on the future of nursing and midwifery.
Will the funding allocated to primary care trusts for community children’s nurses be ring-fenced? As we often see with PCTs, if the money is not ring-fenced, it can sometimes be diverted to other priorities. How will the nurses work and interact with the local authority, which often provides the child’s basic care needs in terms of getting the child up, ready and dressed?
As I was saying, the complexity of the package is very evident, so we have to co-ordinate not only with local authorities, but with other agencies. Commissioners need to consider how the new funding established through the recent child health strategy can enable the development of children’s community nursing services capable of providing a more all-round care package, including palliative care and, sadly, sometimes end-of-life care in the home or closer to home. It is for the commissioners to decide within the local community how best to manage those funds.
NHS Services (Economic Downturn)
The evidence from Britain and other countries is that demand for health services increases in an economic downturn. However, thanks to funding already agreed for the period to 2011, we believe that the NHS is in a strong position to manage this well.
It is quite difficult to get reliable figures on how many people withdraw from private health care, as it is obviously a matter for the private sector itself. A few months ago, Laing and Buisson said—the hon. Gentleman may have picked it up—that there has been a 10 per cent. reduction in people deciding to pay privately for their operations, but that actually preceded the economic downturn. Laing and Buisson believes that it has more to do with the very short waiting times on the NHS: there is now almost no difference at all between waiting times in the NHS and waiting times in the private sector. We are confident that, given the increase in investment that the NHS will receive over the next two years, even if all the people in this country choose to use NHS care—I hope that they would like to do so, given the short waiting times—the NHS will be able to cope very well.
My hon. Friend will be aware of the problems that Brent primary care trust was facing a couple of years ago with a £25 million deficit, so will he join me in congratulating Brent for turning that deficit into a projected £12 million surplus this year, which means that more services are now being directed to the right people in my local area?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that two or three years ago, Brent PCT was in a parlous state. In fact, as recently as three years ago, 104 NHS organisations were in deficit, whereas now the figure is just 3 per cent. There has been a remarkable turnaround, so I would like to pay tribute not only to the management of the PCT in my hon. Friend’s area—as he rightly says, the PCT will now be able to deliver sustainable and constantly improving NHS services to his constituents—but to all the managers throughout the country who have turned around their health care organisations in such a way.
Many of my constituents are very worried about the possibility that the proposed redevelopment of Hinckley and Bosworth community hospital will not go ahead because of the economic downturn. Will the Minister please look into the proposed public-private partnership, hold discussions with Leicestershire County and Rutland primary care trust, and then write to me?
I shall be happy to do that. It is worth mentioning that a week or two ago our ministerial colleagues in the Treasury made an important announcement about the PFI which I hope will prevent the outcome at the hospital that the hon. Gentleman fears, but I will happily write to him to confirm that.
My hon. Friend is aware of the effects of the economic downturn and the pressures that it has placed on the NHS, but is he aware that those effects are nowhere more evident than in the mental health service? People really do suffer, and we always feel that the mental health service is underfunded. Will my hon. Friend ensure that more resources will be provided if they are required, given that there will certainly be further pressure on the service in the future?
Yes. Labour Members certainly do not agree with the Conservatives that a recession is good for people’s health. We know from experience both in this country and abroad that when it comes to such issues as mental health, more men consult their GPs if they are unemployed. That can be an advantage, as men are notoriously reluctant to seek health care and advice. However, as my hon. Friend will know, mental health funding has risen by 40 per cent. in real terms in the last seven years. We do not think that the recession should just take its course, we do not think that it is a price worth paying, and we will be there to ensure that the NHS supports people who may be affected by the economic downturn.
If demand for the NHS is increasing during the economic downturn, it is even more vital for hospitals that have lost money in collapsed Icelandic banks to get that money back. Given the Prime Minister’s recent comments in Manchester about Christie hospital’s missing £7.5 million, what is the Department doing to ensure that Christie gets its money back?
We are working closely with both Christie and the other hospital that has money in Icelandic banks. We are also working to ensure that all charities that are eligible claimants under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme receive their money in full.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is wrong to suggest that a recession is good for people, particularly an economic downturn of this kind. Can he assure us that he will continue to focus investment on public services such as the NHS, and will not be diverted into cutting taxes such as inheritance tax?
National Dementia Strategy
The first national dementia strategy was published on 3 February this year, and will be implemented over a five-year period. Improving services for people with dementia is a Government priority, and we have already identified it as a priority for the national health service in the operating framework. That will help to ensure that dementia is prioritised locally where further improvement may be needed.
The national dementia strategy covers a range of services, but it emphasises the importance of early diagnosis. We intend every area in the country—including the hon. Lady’s constituency—to contain memory clinics, to which suitably trained GPs will refer people who show early symptoms of dementia. There they can be given an accurate diagnosis and assessment—as there are different forms of dementia—and then receive the specialist help and intervention that they require. We know that early intervention enables us to help people with dementia and their carers, and to ensure that people live much better with their dementia and stay in their own homes for longer.
The Minister is well aware that objective 13 of the national dementia strategy is to provide
“An informed and effective workforce for people with dementia”.
He also knows that two thirds of the care home population has a form of dementia. Does he agree that it will be important to provide training for the entire work force in the care home and, indeed, the home care setting? When the all-party group, which I chair, has completed its inquiry into work force skills in this area, will he meet me to discuss the inquiry’s conclusions and consider how they might be included in the implementation of the strategy?
The hon. Gentleman, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group, and I have met regularly. He and the all-party group have made their welcome for the new dementia strategy public, and I am grateful for that. I would be happy to meet him once his group has concluded its investigation into trainees. It is right that we need to ensure that people, whether in hospitals—nurses and doctors—or in care homes, have the right skills, knowledge and understanding of the needs of people with dementia and their carers. That is why the dementia strategy states that a senior member of the hospital or care home should be responsible for ensuring that all staff in the hospital or care home know and understand the needs of people with dementia, so that they can ensure that the response that people get is the best response to meet their needs. It is certainly a matter for both the NHS and social care sector that staff be properly trained. We will publish our work force development strategy for the adult social work force in the near future.
May I place on the record the fact that I am a trustee of a local dementia charity in Brighton and Hove supporting those with dementia and their carers? I am sure that the Minister will recognise the vital role of those caring for people with dementia in their own homes and know how welcome has been the additional funding for breaks for carers. What steps will he take to ensure that primary care trusts make use of the money to support breaks for carers, which is not ring-fenced? For example, in Brighton and Hove I think that £800,000 is available over two years.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he does in his constituency in support of people in need of social care and in support of people with dementia. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the best care we can give to people is in their own homes, where people are with their family, neighbours and loved ones. Interventions that help that to happen for as long as possible are always in the best interests of the patient. What we need to include, of course, is support for the carers. Respite care is critical. He is right to say that more money has been provided for the next two years. It has been put into PCT baseline budgets. We have announced more money for carers through the carers strategy. I hope that not only in his constituency but throughout the country local organisations will ensure that that money is spent and that respite care is provided for those people who support people with dementia in their own homes.
My hon. Friend raises an important point because two thirds of people do not have their diagnosis of dementia undertaken formally. Many people therefore do not get diagnosed until two and a half or three years after they have contracted that destructive disease. Therefore, it is important that front-line staff such as GPs are better trained to spot the early symptoms. If they are not a specialist themselves, and many of them are not, it is important that they refer people to the specialist memory clinics in their areas, which can conduct a proper diagnosis. It is not just about conveying the diagnosis but about the way in which that is communicated to people with dementia and to their family, which can be an important part of coping and living well with dementia. We are ensuring that training for GPs is increased, so that they can spot the signs early, people can be diagnosed earlier, there is earlier intervention to help people to live with dementia better, and that that is the outcome across the country.
There is much to be welcomed in the national dementia strategy and I again ask the Government to find time for Parliament fully to debate that important strategy. But there is one notable gap in the strategy: there is nothing to tackle the grossly inadequate level of research into the various conditions that come under the dementia umbrella. How is the Minister getting on with persuading his colleagues the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to up the research budget for dementia? I know that that is something that the Minister is concerned about, and he knows that he has everyone’s support on that.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the strategy in the House, he can use the usual channels to arrange for such a debate on a Liberal Democrat Opposition day, but I am very happy to debate the strategy because it is an excellent strategy that has been welcomed across the country. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the importance of research. The truth is that we do not have a cure for dementia; that is part of the tragedy of this disease. There is research happening not just in this country, but around the world, to examine what more can be done. But this is not only about cure; it is also about research into what helps people who have dementia and how they can be assisted to live with dementia better in their own homes and be treated better in care homes or in the NHS. I will be chairing a summit in July, where we will be bringing together people from different parts of the country and, indeed, from different countries, to look at what the state of research is and to see where the gaps in the evidence base are and what more we can be doing to improve that evidence base, drawing on the best knowledge not only in this country, but from countries around the world.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s reply to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright), who chairs the all-party group, and I look forward to meeting him to discuss the report. As well as looking at work force development, will he be looking at what the regulators can do in their assessment of care in homes and the community, and also of training, to drive up improvement in skills in dementia care?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the important point that, as well as providing better services, we need to make sure we have inspection systems and regulation systems that drive up the quality of care. She will know that on 1 April the care quality commission comes into being, which will integrate the three current inspection and regulation organisations. That will help to integrate health and social care for patients with dementia, and their loved ones and carers, to ensure we have an integrated system of inspection and regulation to raise standards right across the health and social care system for patients with dementia.
The Minister knows how warmly I welcome the strategy, because he was good enough to meet my constituent, Sir Terry Pratchett, along with the Prime Minister and myself, at No. 10 Downing street to discuss it. I must press the Minister, however; he has just said that he will hold a summit in July, and that is very welcome, but the Government have already announced that there will be no new money for research into dementia. How can he justify that decision?
We had a good meeting with the Prime Minister, who takes a personal interest in these matters and who met Terry Pratchett. I must put on record the huge courage Terry Pratchett is displaying in allowing everyone to see how he is coping with the disease—with the diagnosis and then with living with the early stages. Indeed, many public figures have now been talking about their experiences. That is an important part of the process of raising awareness among the professions and the wider community about this disease and its consequences, and how we can help people live with it. On research, the Wellcome Trust is spending £30 million this year and more money is going into research. We need to ensure that before the summit we have done an analysis of all the research that is going on, and where the evidence base is insufficient or has gaps in it, so that we can plan and direct our resources to those areas where research will be most effective.
NHS Chief Executives
At the current time, I am aware of one NHS trust chief executive and one NHS foundation trust chief executive who are suspended from work. Chief executives and other executive directors are employees of their trusts, and suspension is a matter for the trust, acting in accordance with individual employment contracts and general employment law.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer. In Stafford’s case, where a thorough and damning report is already available, why has the chief executive not already been sacked? If the answer to that is that there is still due process to go through, what assurance can my right hon. Friend give me that it will be brought to an end soon, so that we can stop paying taxpayers’ money—that is hospital budget money—for someone who is doing nothing?
I am sure my hon. Friend will accept that there is no point in acting in haste and then finding there is a tribunal decision against the Government. We have to have due process. I want everyone’s case to be considered properly. I am very pleased that the trust has called in Peter Garland, a former senior official and regional director in the health service, to help it with the investigation and to look not just at the chief executive, but at the responsibility of the whole board for the dreadful events that were catalogued in the Healthcare Commission report.
Will the Secretary of State take account of the fact that I am repeating my call for an inquiry into this whole matter under the Inquiries Act 2005? Will he also make it clear that all those in that trust who are culpable, as set out in the Healthcare Commission report—that includes other senior management besides the chairman and the chief executive at the time—must be removed and not merely suspended on full pay?
As I just said, the investigation will involve everyone who has any position of authority within that trust—the whole board and all the executive directors. It will be a proper investigation and it will be fair, and the action taken will result from that inquiry, not from any knee-jerk reaction by me or anyone else.
Will my right hon. Friend assure us that there is no suspension culture in the national health service? Would he like to hazard a guess as to how long the longest-serving suspended employee in the NHS has been suspended for? If not, could he please send me a note on that?
I do not believe that there is a culture of suspension in the NHS. There are 1.3 million staff in the NHS, and I cannot give my hon. Friend an answer on how many people have been suspended or what the longest period of suspension is. However, I shall see whether somebody can answer his quiz question and then drop him a line.
As I was in Northern Ireland on parliamentary business when the Secretary of State made his statement last week, may I make it plain that my constituents are acutely concerned about this report? We want to restore the confidence and trust that this hospital used to enjoy—it was a good hospital and it did have a good reputation. Would not the quickest way to do that be to have an expeditious public inquiry, so that all the facts and the reasons can come out and we can then go forward under a new regime?
I believe the phrase “expeditious public inquiry” is a contradiction in terms, but I accept what the hon. Gentleman said. Indeed, I was very moved by the contribution of the shadow Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), at last week’s business questions—he pointed out that his mother had died in that hospital, having received excellent care. We have to ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), and other people who use that hospital are reassured that what the Healthcare Commission has said, in terms, in its report—that there has been drastic improvement, not least because of a huge increase in staff; staffing was at the core of the problems—is indeed the case. That is why I have asked Professor Alberti to make a very swift report and to report back to Parliament in five weeks’ time.
Whenever the chief executive of a failing trust, such as the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, is suspended it raises questions about where responsibility really lies. Is not the Patients Association right to repeat the demand for an independent inquiry, looking particularly at the regulation and supervision of hospital care? Is that not particularly the case in the light of the letter in The Times today from Dr. Howard Baderman, a retired accident and emergency consultant who wrote two reports for the Department of Health? He talks of a “grave failure” by the Department to act on those reports in respect of other hospitals. Do we not owe it to NHS patients to ensure that all the lessons are learnt from this dreadful scandal?
We do need to learn all the lessons, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that there was no independent regulator until we introduced one—the important word there is “independent”. The Healthcare Commission report is independent. The letter in The Times this morning is strongly disputed, not just by the strategic health authority, but by people in the Department of Health who worked with the person who wrote that letter. We put patient safety first—we put it at the forefront of everything. I believe that the Patients Association will be reassured, not just with the Healthcare Commission report but with the three other reviews that are going on, and with the clear demonstrable fact that there is a very clear focus on finding out what happened at Stafford and why it happened—there is still an awful mystery to much of that—and on ensuring that we put the problems right, so that local residents can be assured that they have a safe hospital.
In 2007, we issued instructions through the NHS Chief Executive, reminding trusts that if they plan to give any financial reward, payment or golden goodbye to any departing chief executive or anyone else, it requires approval from the strategic health authority and the Treasury. As far as I know, no one in those two organisations would give anything other than the statutory entitlement to individuals, because the Government—and, I think, the Opposition—do not want to see any reward for failure, which has been so apparent in other sectors of the economy, creeping into the health service.
On 15 October 2007, after the terrible events at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, the Secretary of State said that
“we should be spotting these issues much earlier and getting rid of incompetent chief executives or chairpersons who, fortunately, are in the minority, rather than waiting for a report such as this, by which time, frankly, most of the damage has been done.”—[Official Report, 15 October 2007; Vol. 464, c. 571.]
The Secretary of State knew about the failings at Stafford in May 2008, so why did he not intervene then and there?
I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the Healthcare Commission’s report carefully. The difference between what happened in Stafford and in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, and the fact that the Healthcare Commission took into account those words and what others said at the time, is that as soon as commission staff went into Stafford and saw the problems—in May 2008—they immediately called the chief executive to a meeting, put their concerns to him, and started to see the process of improvement. That is the job of the Healthcare Commission while it carries out its inquiry. The staff cannot say at that stage that they have come to any conclusions, and it would be unfair, one day into an inquiry, to reach conclusions and say that heads must roll and recommendations must be made. We made that specific point to the Healthcare Commission at the time of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, so in Stafford staff immediately introduced measures to put things right, rather than wait for the end of the process and the report to be published—as I said they should do in that quote.
I put it to the Secretary of State that he should look at the appendix to the Healthcare Commission’s report and the letter of 23 May 2008 that was received by his Department. If he meant anything by saying that incompetent chief executives should be got rid of at the point at which one becomes aware of them, it should have been done then, but the Department failed to do it. The Secretary of State has to understand that there was a failure, not just within the trust, but within the agencies charged with commissioning, performance management and performance assessment, up to and including the Department itself.
The Secretary of State’s proposed reviews—he now has three—do not have the scope, the powers or the independence to investigate those failures fully and, therefore, to restore public confidence. Will he agree today to institute an independent inquiry in the terms in respect of which I have written to him today?
We discussed this last week and there was no mention of an independent inquiry by the Opposition. The hon. Gentleman refers me to the appendix: let me refer him to the powers that the House gave to the Healthcare Commission. The commission could have immediately put that hospital into special measures. Its decision—as an independent regulator—was not to do so. It would have been quite wrong of Ministers to rush immediately to dismiss or discipline a chief executive when we did not even have any evidence from the Healthcare Commission. It had not reached any conclusion because it had spent only one day in the hospital.
Imagine a giant quango, the independent NHS board, trying to tackle these problems. The whole basis of the Opposition’s policy is to try to remove politicians from these issues. That is quite wrong, and we are right to deal with these issues in the way that we have.
Of course our thoughts and hearts are with those who have suffered because of the debacle at Stafford, but campaigners have drawn attention to many difficulties at the hospital over a very long period of time. The problem is that the board is stacked with accountants and solicitors who are not elected or responsible and who take no notice of what is going on. That is why we have ended up with what can only be called a tragedy. Will my right hon. Friend accept that the structures and targets in place for hospitals, such as looking for trust status and so on, distract them from delivering the care that they ought to be offering people?
I do not think that any neutral assessment of the Healthcare Commission report would conclude that the answer to the problem at Stafford would be to get rid of foundation trust status. However, my hon. Friend is right that the manager and the board at Stafford were seeking foundation trust status. To achieve that, incidentally, they had to put the trust into a proper financial position and save £4 million. They decided to save £12 million, and that is why there was one consultant and not four in the accident and emergency department, and why the hospital had three rather than 12 matrons. It is also why in the emergency assessment unit there was one nurse for every 15 patients, whereas most hospitals of that size have one for every six. Given that 85 per cent. of foundation trusts were considered to be excellent in their provision of services, it would be quite wrong to smear them with what happened in a badly managed and under-staffed hospital.
Children (Complex Health Needs)
The Government’s policy is to provide co-ordinated support as close to home as possible for children with complex health needs and their families. “Healthy Lives, Brighter Future: the strategy for children and young people's health”, which was published in February of this year, built on previous commitments.
While I welcome the child health strategy, what plans do the Government have to increase the number of health visitors to assist children with long-term, complex needs? I understand that the numbers of health visitors have been cut over the past four years, so when will they be back to 2005 levels? What plans does the Minister have to provide adequate respite care for parents and other children in the family?
I know that the hon. Lady follows these considerations very closely, and I commend her for that. She will know that the Government have committed extra finance, to a total of some £340 million over this spending cycle, through both the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health. We have also made clear the future priorities for both the operating framework and the present structure. First, we need to address the issues of palliative care and short breaks. Secondly, we need to look at the clinical pathways and put in place individual care plans. That addresses precisely the point that the hon. Lady made about health visitors, for instance, and the complex needs of these young people. Finally, we must address the question of managing medicines in schools. Those three sets of priorities have been identified by parents, people in the voluntary sector and the young people themselves. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) would just stop talking from a sedentary position, I would be able to answer the question. The day that the Conservative party provides answers to anything will truly be a damascene conversion.
I return to the final point made by the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) about health visitors. I can confirm that the work being taken forward by the Government in the spring of this year will concentrate on the valuable role that health visitors play in meeting the complex needs of these young people.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we talk about improving the care provided for children with complex care needs, we should focus particularly on respite care and day care, for the parents as well as for the child? The press covers far too many cases of parents whose lives have come to tragic ends because of the enormous stress and strain associated with providing care, over a very long period indeed, for a child with the extensive disabilities that we often see. We need to focus on the parents as well, do we not?
I entirely agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes, which relate particularly to the work being done on end-of-life care, and specifically to the requirements on which primary care trusts have been asked to focus, with regard to short breaks, and palliative and end-of-life care, for very vulnerable young people and children.
One group of children and young people with complex health needs consists of those who require high-tech, expensive communication aids to express their hopes, needs, fears and interests. I welcome the proposed joint commissioning pathfinders, to which the Government have sensibly committed. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that they will be taken forward with all due haste, and that the Government will look at other aspects of joint commissioning, and models for the provision of alternative and augmentative communication for children who are desperately in need of it?
I commend the hon. Gentleman on his excellent report, the recommendations of which the Government accepted. I can confirm that we will act on the specific points relating to the individual, and the very important support and care that individuals may need. We will also look at his recommendations on wider issues to do with speech, language and communication, and so at the collaboration that needs to take place beyond the health service, particularly through local area agreements, to make sure that we deliver on the recommendations that he rightly made.
The Secretary of State pledged in his first speech as Health Secretary to meet the care needs of people with a learning disability, but in the light of today’s shocking findings by the ombudsman on the NHS’s failures in long-term care for young people with learning disabilities, when will the Minister of State and the Secretary of State convert the words of January’s strategy—itself an admission of the failure of the Government’s 2001 “Valuing People” document—into the action that is so urgently needed if we are to avoid a repeat of the shocking discrimination and damage suffered by those with learning disabilities?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman; the report is shocking. The Government are determined to make progress by accepting recommendations previously made to us, by concentrating specifically on care plans, and by working with GPs on identifying issues, early intervention and providing the correct support. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope), has today clearly indicated our determination to make sure that the very highest standards are available to all those who access our health services.
Mental Health Services
The level of funding for mental health has never been higher. Since 2001, real-terms investment in adult mental health services has increased by 44 per cent., and the national health service spent £5.53 billion on adult mental health services in 2007. We have 64 per cent. more consultant psychiatrists, 71 per cent. more clinical psychologists and 21 per cent. more mental health nurses than we had in 1997, and are providing better care and support for people with mental illnesses.
I thank the Minister for that answer. I have consulted locally with constituents about the NHS in our area, and in general the feedback has been very good. I visited an excellent, fabulous facility for young people with acute mental health needs that is attached to my local hospital, but constituents have raised with me the issue of community support for young people with mental health needs. What progress is being made to provide community support for those young people in the area, and what I can tell my constituents on the issue?
I had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency a few weeks ago. Newham was in fact a national demonstrator site for the development of new psychological therapies and a whole range of new services, and I was extremely impressed by what I saw. I congratulate her on the work that she does in her constituency to support the development of those services. In Newham, 16 staff are part of an early intervention team that helps young people between the ages of 14 and 35 with assessment and care. In particular, it tries to prevent those young people from being admitted to hospital at the first onset of psychosis or some other form of mental illness. Those new early intervention teams—a major investment—are matched by other teams that handle crisis resolution in homes, and outreach in the community. I hope that when she goes back to her constituents in Newham, she will congratulate them on the pathfinding work that they are doing, and assure them that the NHS in her area is seeking to work with other providers to meet the needs of young people and others in the community.
The picture around the rest of the country may not be not quite so rosy. Figures show that the number of people admitted to hospital for intentional self-harm has increased by a third in the past five years, from 74,000 to 97,000. More than 4,000 of those admissions were of children under the age of 14. One in eight women admitted to self-harm in 2007, an 80 per cent. increase since 2000. Figures released by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children yesterday show that the number of suicidal children ringing the helpline ChildLine has tripled in the past five years. Is the Minister not ashamed of these appalling figures and the Government’s failure to turn the tide on the country’s deteriorating mental health?
I understand the hon. Lady’s concerns; it just surprises me sometimes when Opposition Front-Bench spokespersons reel off a list of statistics without asking questions and, more importantly, without acknowledging the substantial extra investment that this Labour Government have put in place and which her party voted against in every Budget since 1997. The issues that she highlights are serious and need to be addressed. I am pleased that the suicide rate in England continues to fall. It is now at its lowest since records began in 1861, and is among the lowest in Europe. I am also pleased that the World Health Organisation said:
“The ambition and pace of change in England has been remarkable over the last 10 years, and mental health services here are increasingly being seen across Europe as a model to follow.”
That is a record that the Labour Government are proud of, but we know that there is more to do and we will continue to press forward to improve services across the country.
In his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), my hon. Friend the Minister said that there had been a 70 per cent. increase in clinical psychology—I think the figure was 70 per cent.—but he will know, as I do, that that was from a pretty low base. Can he assure me that he will redouble his efforts to ensure increased numbers of clinical psychologists? Too often people who have been prescribed clinical psychology have to wait for it.
My hon. Friend is right to say that we inherited a pretty poor show from the Conservatives after they were in power for 18 years. We are endeavouring to increase the quality of mental health services. This year is the last year of the national service framework for mental health, and it is the year in which we intend to look forward to establishing a new strategy for mental health services. Building on the success that we have had so far, we will be launching our New Horizons project to go out to consultation to enable us to hear throughout the country what more we can do to embed success in our mental health services, and to go further to ensure that we have mentally healthy communities more widely so that the public health system, as well as specialist services, reach the quality of care that we wish every individual to be able to receive across the country.
I was assured by NHS South West and Gloucestershire primary care trust this morning that the PCT is in the process of inviting tenders for dental services with a total value of £6 million over the next two years—that is, £3 million in 2009-10 and £3 million in 2010-11. This investment will be used for building purpose-built practices as well as refurbishing community hospital sites to enable them to provide dental services, focusing on areas of most need in Gloucestershire. This investment has the potential to offer access to a dentist to approximately 95,000 people.
It is difficult to calculate how many people are registered with an NHS dentist since the new contract was established. Perhaps the Minister could give us some idea of how many people are registered in Gloucestershire and nationally. Registration is patchy. In my Tewkesbury constituency a relatively small number of people are registered with NHS dentists, even when compared to other constituencies in Gloucestershire and especially when the national figure is taken into account. What can the Minister do to help the local PCT to increase that number?
We have just announced the money, which will give access to an extra 95,000 people. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would like to welcome that and congratulate the strategic health authority and primary care trust on the great leadership that they have shown on dental practice. I have been advised by the South West strategic health authority that Gloucestershire commissioned three new dental practices, all of which became operational in October 2008—in Forest of Dean, Cirencester and Tewksbury. The SHA has advised that in 2009-10 the tender is expected to be let for schemes in the areas of Gloucester city, Cheltenham and Stroud. The plan is for them to be fully operational by 2010-11.
The 90,000 extra places for patients that the Minister has just announced will go part of the way to addressing the issue of the 1.1 million people who would like an NHS dentist. Professor Steele is currently doing his review. Will his report be published in full, and will the Government accept all his recommendations?
No, it will be published in full; all of us on this side of the House are humble enough to say when we have made an error. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman would be as honest when Conservative Members do. Like any sensible Government, we will look at the review when it is published.
I suspect that neither the Secretary of State nor the Government will want any surprises in early August. So will the right hon. Gentleman ask all the chief executives of hospital NHS trusts to report to him personally by the end of May on their ability and preparedness fully to implement the European working time directive? I suspect that such reports will demonstrate the need for some more middle-grade doctors if we are to continue with existing services.
We debated that issue during an Opposition day a few weeks ago. Everyone is aware of the need to comply with the European working time directive by 1 August; I trust that Opposition Front Benchers are now aware that every individual has the benefit of the opt-out.
Yes, I can. I saw my hon. Friend’s comments; obviously, I am particularly sensitive to how he, as the local MP, feels this inquiry is going. George Alberti has not only national but international renown on accident and emergency. As the Healthcare Commission report points out, accident and emergency is where the problem is in Stafford hospital. I assure my hon. Friend that there will be no no-go areas for Professor Alberti as he conducts his inquiry.
Unless my memory is fading, I met the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) very recently. But let me say this: services locally in their area have to be determined on the basis of what is best for patient care. I will become involved in the issue only if local politicians on the overview and scrutiny committee refer it to me. That is the right way for those issues to be resolved.
There are a number of bits of analysis on this. The one that struck home more than any other was the Foresight report conducted by some of the world’s most eminent scientists and epidemiologists about the effect of obesity, which is a major driving factor in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and, indeed, cancer. They said that if we do nothing about this, by 2050 not only will there be an enormous burden in terms of disease but enormous costs—they estimate the cost will be around £50 billion to the NHS and to society more generally. That is why we are introducing the abdominal aortic aneurysm ultrasound check from this year, the vascular check for every adult between 40 and 73, call and recall, and many other initiatives to deal with prevention. The hon. Gentleman raises a crucial point about what we have to do now to prevent this disease burden in future.
Last week, I attended a celebration of the Ear Foundation, which is a charity that was set up to fund the first cochlear implant procedure in the city of Nottingham. Now that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has decided that it is a good idea for profoundly deaf children to have implants for both ears, can the Secretary of State tell me what he is doing to ensure that primary care trusts listen to that advice?
The recommendations from NICE with regard to implants must be complied with within three months of the guidance being issued, which was 28 January. PCTs are required to do two things. First, they must make available the funds for clinical decisions to be taken on the patients who should receive that treatment. Secondly, where there are patients who have already been treated but would now benefit from the NICE recommendations, they must ensure that a proper assessment is made of whether they should have that treatment provided to them.
I would be very willing to look at the situation in the hon. Gentleman’s own area. The roll-out of the IAPT—improving access to psychological therapies—initiative, described by Professor Layard as the most important reform in mental health since the NHS was created, will affect the hon. Gentleman’s area as well as others. With 3,600 psychological therapists, on the back of a very successful trial in Newham and Doncaster, and the announcement made last Monday for the very reasons that he mentioned—the health problems associated with the global economic recession—we are bringing forward to this year the money, and recruitment, that was to be spent in 2010-11. That will make an enormous difference to the availability of psychiatric services.
In the private sector and in the public sector, those at senior levels who fail are too often allowed to walk away with money, not fired. Can the Minister tell me how many NHS chief executives and trust board members have been fired since 1997?
No, we do not keep those figures centrally. We know how many non-executive directors have been fired—seven since 2001, when the Appointments Commission took over the role and kept statistics. Executive directors are the responsibility of each employer and each trust, and we do not hold those figures centrally.
We are actively recruiting midwives, and working very closely with the Royal College of Midwives. If an expectant mother were turned away from a unit it would be for reasons of safety—for the mother and the birth—because there was not enough capacity. We have an escalating birth rate and an active recruitment programme of midwives. We are also encouraging return to practise. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that the safety of the mother, and the circumstances of the birth, is paramount and it is better for a mother to travel elsewhere than for her to be admitted and made unsafe. It is unfortunate when a woman has to travel further to give birth, but it is a matter of safe practice.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Some of the evidence from Stafford—and we do not have it all yet—shows that staff were raising complaints, but they were never reported to the board. Indeed, the board, when it discussed such issues, met in private, and all the indications are that it did not consider individual cases. It dealt with high-level issues.
The hon. Gentleman will accept that the NHS constitution, which has a substantial section on staff responsibilities, and the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which was introduced by this Government, ensure that if there are whistles available, someone to blow them and something to be blown about, that should happen, and we should know about it. One of the great abiding mysteries of Stafford is that no such whistle was blown.
Will the Secretary of State look into the situation where Newcastle hospitals have withdrawn from the joint partnership on laundry services with the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead in my constituency? They are now transporting laundry to Leicester—364 miles there and back. That is a ridiculous thing to do when the cost of the contract is exactly the same.
I share the right hon. Gentleman’s view on that. For 150 years, the chief medical officer has been producing such reports—not the same person, of course—that have made a huge contribution to public health in this country, sometimes years after a report has been published. I respect the integrity of the chief medical officer, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does, but I just happen to disagree with that solution.
Incidents of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in my three local hospitals have drastically reduced in the last few months, but will the Secretary of State look at the methodology currently used for determining incidents of MRSA in hospitals? In Barnsley, we had an incident where a patient had an infection after his pacemaker had been fitted in an independent treatment centre. Because it took some time to discover how he had been infected in the hospital, the infection was counted as three separate incidents of MRSA for that same patient. That seems a bit unfair to me, so will my right hon. Friend look into that?
My hon. Friend is right to point to the 65 per cent. reduction in MRSA against the baseline of 2003-04, and there has been a 47 per cent. reduction in cases of clostridium difficile compared with the same quarter last year. He raises an important point, and one case of MRSA, clostridium difficile or any hospital-acquired infection is one case too many. We must consider sensible points such as his to see whether we can eradicate another source of health care-acquired infection.
I know about that case, because the hon. Gentleman dropped me a note about it after the debate last week, and I am looking into it. As he did not mention the hospital, neither will I, but the fact that he has now placed the matter on record allows me to respond to him more formally than I would otherwise have done.
I do not understand why clinicians whose primary role is the safety of their patients are somehow concerned about whistleblowing. Indeed, knowing the number of people in various occupations who are not slow to make people aware of such difficulties, it amazes me that that did not happen at Stafford. The hon. Gentleman has taken a great interest in the matter, and I shall make absolutely sure that the issue that he has raised with me is thoroughly examined. Incidentally, I would also like to talk to the consultant concerned to find out why they were so frightened to raise the matter.
We are waiting for the latest statistics, but we want no children under the age of 16 with mental health problems to be treated on adult wards. There is a discussion about what is in the best clinical interests of adolescents aged 17 and 18 to meet their needs, but until those statistics are published I am unable to comment on the specifics. I am happy to examine the details that the hon. Gentleman mentions.
I have today published the revised version of the Government’s strategy for countering international terrorism. Protecting the safety of everybody in Britain is the primary duty, and the abiding obligation, of Government. Recent events in Northern Ireland were a chilling reminder that the threat of terrorism has not left our shores, and they demonstrated the need to continue to adapt our approach so that we can deal with that threat wherever it emerges.
As we set out in our Contest strategy today, the greatest security threat that we face comes from al-Qaeda and related groups and individuals. Our aim is to reduce the risk to the UK and our interests overseas from international terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. We know that the threat is severe and that an attack is highly likely and could happen without warning at any time. We know that this new form of terrorism is different in scale and nature from the terrorist threats that we have had to deal with in recent decades. This new form of terrorism is rooted in conflicts overseas and the fragility of some states and grounded in an extremist ideology that uses violence to further its ends. It exploits the opportunities created by modern technologies and seeks to radicalise young people into violent extremism.
The threat now comes from the al-Qaeda leadership and its immediate associates, located mainly on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, as well as from its affiliates and from others, including rogue individuals, who espouse similar views. As hon. Members throughout the House will know, not least my predecessors as Home Secretary, on whose important work this strategy builds, those groups have planned a succession of attacks against the UK with the aim of causing mass casualties.
Thanks to the hard work and dedication of thousands of people, to whom I pay tribute, we have had considerable success in stopping terrorists in their tracks and bringing those responsible to justice. We have disrupted more than a dozen attempted terrorist plots in the UK and, since 2001, almost 200 people have been convicted of terrorist-related offences.
However, the threat remains and is always evolving. The strategy takes that into account, draws on what we have learned about how to counter it, and reflects the increased resources that we have rightly made available to keep Britain safe. In recent years, the number of police dedicated to counter-terrorism work has grown from 1,700 to 3,000. The Security Service has doubled in size.
We have trained tens of thousands of people throughout the country to prepare for and protect against a terrorist attack, and we are working with communities to prevent the spread of violent extremism. We currently spend £2.5 billion on countering terrorism. By 2011, that will rise to £3.5 billion—the majority will be spent on the main focus of work: pursuing terrorists wherever they are and stopping their attacks.
The Contest strategy remains centred on four key areas—Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. We have updated each of them. Pursue will make use of the new resources and new legislation available to the intelligence agencies and police to investigate and disrupt terrorist networks here and overseas, and to prosecute those responsible.
Prevent will reach more people than ever, as we step up our efforts to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. That reflects our better understanding of the causes of radicalisation and includes new programmes and new partnerships with communities here and overseas.
Protect aims to strengthen our defences against an attack through a strong border, improved resilience in our critical national infrastructure and greater protection for the crowded places where we all live, work, shop and play.
Prepare will limit the impact of any attacks that occur, with tens of thousands of emergency services workers, security guards, store managers and others trained and equipped to deal with an incident. Every region of the country now has plans to deal with an attack, improve our ability to recover and ensure a return to normal as soon as possible.
There is also dedicated cross-Government work on the specific threat posed by terrorist use of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons and explosives.
The vital work to counter terrorism cannot be done by central Government, the police and agencies working alone. That is why the revised strategy is based on work right across central and devolved Government and local government, and with our international partners and local communities.
In addressing both the immediate threats and their longer-term causes—and how we will deliver action locally, nationally and internationally—our aim has been to publish as full and open an account of our work as possible. The strategy also draws close links with other Government policies that are essential to its delivery, including conflict reduction, our international aid programme, counter-proliferation, our work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and our support to communities here, building cohesion, empowerment and equality in this country. The strategy is also closely co-ordinated with the national security strategy, which was published for the first time last year.
The challenge that all of us in the House face is striking the right balance between measures to protect security and the right to life, and the impact on the other rights that we hold dear.
Contest is based on clear and unambiguous principles. My approach to protecting Britain’s security in the face of the terrorist threat will always be underpinned by our core shared values, including the protection of human rights, the rule of law, and democratic and accountable government.
The Government have sought that balance at all times, but we remain uncompromising on several issues. We oppose the use of torture in all its forms. We have always condemned the practice of extraordinary rendition, and will continue to do so.
The strategy is comprehensive and wide ranging. In publishing it, our primary aim is to reassure the British public that we are doing all in our power to protect this country through our relentless pursuit of terrorists and our determination to prevent violent extremism.
I commend the statement to the House.
May I thank the Home Secretary for providing an advance copy of her statement? Once again, however, may I express my annoyance on behalf of the House at the fact that the documents, which are published today, were released and distributed through the media long before they were released to MPs? That is completely unacceptable and goes against numerous rulings by you, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary should be ashamed of herself.
I join the Home Secretary in paying tribute to the police and all the security services, both overseas and at home, for their work in protecting us against the terrorist threat, but we should do more than recognise that hard work—we should also recognise their personal courage in looking after us. We all share the same goal in respect of the issues we are discussing today. We want to do everything we can to combat terror, and we will be constructive critics of what the Government do as a result.
Furthermore, we face new kinds of threat. The events in Mumbai in November were truly shocking. Innocent people were gunned down in their hotel rooms or shot at random on a busy railway station. Armed men roaming the streets of cities looking for people to shoot indiscriminately is a new experience in the battle against terror. That is why we back the Government’s aim of broadening knowledge of the terrorist threat to thousands of people who work in public places.
However, the Government have to do the job properly. It is depressing to discover that the programme described in last weekend’s newspapers by the Prime Minister does not appear to be what we were promised. He described the programme as follows:
“Tens of thousands of men and women…from security guards to store managers…have now been trained and equipped to deal with an incident and know what to watch for as people go about their daily business”.
Will the Home Secretary confirm that the training programme described by the Prime Minister amounts to no more than a voluntary three-hour seminar, and that includes the coffee break? I do not see how we can train people properly to deal with terrorism in less than half the time allocated to a cycling proficiency course.
Will the Home Secretary tell us how widely the training has been spread? When we contacted the management of two major shopping centres this morning, we were told that all that they knew about the plans was from newspaper reports this week. Why?
When it comes to new kinds of threat, the Home Secretary is right to highlight the need to be aware of the danger of an attack with chemical, biological or radiological weapons, but will she tell the House why police in London will not all have access to protective equipment ahead of the G20 summit?
The other big caveat is how we deal with the groups that foster both hatred and violence in our society and the extremism that underpins many aspects of the threat that we face. The meeting held in a school in London last week at which one of the most controversial of all the so-called preachers of hate, Omar Bakri, was able to preach over a phone line to a group of followers and call for attacks on British soldiers and civilians was a disgrace. Why was that allowed to happen?
We have to deal with extremism in all its guises. People have the right to campaign for radical change in our society. We should not seek to ban them from doing so, but the state has the right to protect its people and its institutions, and the principles of a democratic society. We should not be providing support to those who wish to undermine that society, so will the Home Secretary now stop funding groups that propagate extremism, and instead concentrate on funding projects that break down the community divide?
We will support the Government when they do the right thing to combat terrorism. There is much in the document that we welcome, but the Government’s strategy is not perfect and we will continue to push for change where we believe that it is flawed. We will do so out of a desire that I believe is shared right across this House: to do everything we can to keep the terrorist threat at bay.
No, the media did not have it last night. It was available to hon. Members at 10 o’clock this morning and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I personally sent him a copy today as well.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to those involved in helping to keep this country safe. I welcome that tribute. I accept his point that we need to learn from terrible events such as those in Mumbai and Lahore—and we will—and to feed that into our ongoing work to protect from and to prepare for terrorist attacks.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the work we are taking forward through Project Argus. I am sorry that he was so dismissive of a wide-ranging programme that is placed on top of the work of police officers, police community support officers, the security and intelligence agencies and others who work to keep us safe, and that aims to provide training and preparation and to protect us where we shop, where we work and where we live. About 700 programmes have been implemented under Project Argus and more than 30,000 people have received training—and plans are in place for even more people to receive it. On top of that, separate training programmes for security guards are being conducted throughout the country to help ensure that they are vigilant. I hope that hon. Members will welcome and support that work in their local communities.
The hon. Gentleman welcomes our focus on the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat. We are ensuring, once again, that all police officers receive basic information training in CBRN threats, with 8,000 police officers receiving specific training, and they all have access to protective equipment.
The hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises, as do we, the challenge to counteract violent extremism and those who want to support terrorism. In providing funding for groups and other elements of the work, we have ensured that we can measure the outcomes of what those groups do. We commissioned a review from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission, which has already been published. I agree that our work to counter violent extremism and to support shared values needs to go even further, which is why we are clear in this document about the values that we share—the same values, incidentally, that are under attack by terrorists— and we will as a Government and more widely across the community challenge those who do not share those values. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that our emphasis on working—not just in communities, but more widely in prisons, schools, universities and internationally—to prevent people from turning to violent extremism is an important part of, and the correct long-term approach to, what I hope is our joint work to help keep this country safer.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and her commitment to continue to engage with communities. As events in Luton showed, it is extremely important to continue that process of engagement. She mentioned Mumbai, but security in major hotels and tourist places in such cities does not bear comparison with what is happening in London. Although I of course welcome everything the Government have done in training staff, it is vital that we continue to work with the private sector to ensure that it puts in place the necessary security arrangements in our major hotels and major tourist destinations, which will be targeted by terrorists, and we must prepare for that.
I think my right hon. Friend is right to draw attention, as I did, to the need to learn from events such as those in Mumbai. I am glad that he welcomes the fact that, through the security advisers we fund, we have ensured that hotel operators are trained. In addition, of course, we provide advice, and we are developing the way in which we provide it—for example, ensuring that buildings are designed and built to be as safe as possible from potential terrorist attack. We will continue to do that and build on that work. I am sure my right hon. Friend shares my view that terrorists want us to garner obvious, difficult and cumbersome forms of security that prevent us from going about our daily lives. Our task is to make sure that everybody is able to live their daily lives as freely, but as securely, as possible.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving me advance sight of the statement, although I should have liked more opportunity to look at the substantial purple document that accompanies it. Perhaps on the next occasion the Home Secretary could arrange to inform Members that it is available, as that certainly was not obvious to me.
Terrorism remains a grave threat to our society—on that, we are agreed. I too pay tribute to the work of the Security Service, the Secret Intelligence Service and, indeed, the police forces involved in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism, who are so involved in this fight. We have faced it before in the form of republican Irish terrorism and have survived it, and I have no doubt that we shall do so again. Does the Home Secretary agree, however, that although the threat is severe, our response must always be measured and proportionate? We must never become what we are fighting, for therein lies a loss of the moral high ground and the esteem of the very people whom we need to provide intelligence and witnesses.
There is much to welcome in this document, but what further ongoing training, and indeed communication with those involved in counter-intelligence, will these 60,000 people have? What powers will they have, and what does she expect of them? Does she recognise that many innocent people going about their lawful business, from train-spotters to tourists and, in the latest incident, night fishermen, have been arrested by over-zealous police officers? What will she do to prevent that from happening again?
Our concern about the strategy is that it continues to sacrifice hard-won liberties in the name of security, and to trespass at the edge of what is acceptable to many British people. Ministers have repeatedly returned with proposals for longer periods of detention without charge, as if the whole fight against terrorism could be reduced to a number: 90 days, 42 days and, still, 28 days—more than double the next longest period in an English-speaking country.
Would it not be better if the Home Secretary made more hasty progress with the introduction of intercept evidence in courts? What progress is she making with that? Given the substantial success of criminal convictions for terrorist offences—at 92 per cent., the figure is far higher than those for other serious crimes, which is cause for real congratulation of the Home Secretary—will she now review the need for some of the more extreme measures that she introduced in relation to the very long period of detention without charge? Will she come back to the House with a reform of the regime for control orders?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to those involved in countering terrorism and keeping us safe. I agree that our response should be measured and proportionate, but I disagree with his assessment that it is not. I have made it completely clear in the strategy that our approach to countering terrorism must be grounded in basic human rights: that is at the heart of our approach.
The hon. Gentleman described the training that we provide through Project Argus, and other training, as being about giving powers to those involved, but it is not about giving them specific powers. It is about, for example, enabling security guards to be vigilant and aware of what is happening outside, perhaps outside the night club that they are guarding, and training people in shopping centres to be aware of what would happen in the event of a terrorist attack. Those people must learn how to lead others to safety, and where the safe places are. Pretty practical and, I think, sensible guidance and advice will be given to people who can play a role—although it will not be their primary role—in keeping others safe.
The hon. Gentleman returned once again—which I did not, in my statement—to detention periods, and to the fallacy that detention periods in this country are somehow out of step with those in other countries. We have presented our arguments time after time. I remind the hon. Gentleman of the arguments that we have presented about European countries—never mind other countries—where people are detained for longer periods, effectively pre-charge, than is the case in this country, and I remind him that in this country any detention for longer than 24 hours is subject to judicial oversight and review.
The hon. Gentleman asks about our progress with intercept evidence. As we have made clear, we are working through the proposition made in the Chilcot review that it is possible to design a legal system in which we could use intercept evidence, while fulfilling the Privy Council review’s nine tests. As we spelt out in a recent written ministerial statement, we are now, having reviewed and designed a system, trying to test it with real cases.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is important that these reviews are ongoing, as terrorist movements across the world and in this country do not stand still in trying to ensure that on one occasion—it only takes one occasion—they get through, kill people and cause the destruction of life and property. For those who are maimed, life will never be the same again.
I welcome the statement but I would like my right hon. Friend to go back to her colleagues in Government on one part of it. In the past 10 years, 200 of our fellow citizens have been killed abroad in terrorist attacks, and 150 have been maimed for life, yet we still do not have a comprehensive compensation scheme for British citizens abroad. These are not combatants or volunteers; they are simply men, women and children who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and because it was not in the United Kingdom they are treated differently. That is indefensible. We are dealing with worldwide terrorism. Every British citizen is entitled to be treated the same and to be protected. Where something goes wrong, they and their families are entitled to be looked after by this country. I ask her to take that back to her colleagues and to give a clear indication, possibly as early as the Budget, about what we should do about it.
My right hon. Friend is right to be impassioned about the safety of people both in this country and overseas. A specific part of the strategy is to protect our interests here and overseas, but I understand that he is making a specific point about compensation. We already provide considerable assistance, but I will reflect on his points about a compensation system for those harmed in terrorist attacks overseas, and discuss them with colleagues.
Is there any particular reason why the Pursue strand in the document is being moved up ahead of the Prevent strand, which is normally the first named? Has the right hon. Lady made any progress in her dealings with university staff in reminding them that, while the preservation of academic freedom is absolutely vital, they also have duties as citizens of this country to report to the appropriate authorities any incipient criminal activities that they detect on campus?
I think that the order has always been Pursue and then Prevent. Of course the short-term task is to pursue those who are plotting terrorist attacks and to bring them to justice, and the long-term aim is to prevent people from turning to terrorism or violent extremism in the first place. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not read too much into the placing of those elements in the list. It is a wide-ranging and comprehensive strategy that requires all four Ps to be successful.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about higher education institutions. We have made considerable progress, not least through the work of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, in providing more guidance on what happens in higher education institutions. It is now recognised that while academic freedom and the right of discussion is absolutely fundamentally part of university life, so is the protection of young people from potential radicalisation, which may lead them to tragic consequences, and the right of everyone to have freedom to live on university campuses without being subject to some of the radicalising influences and violent extremism that there is a risk of being perpetrated in some of our higher education institutions.
I thank my right hon. Friend and all those who have worked with her on updating the Contest strategy, which we first put together in 2003. While it is understandable that she will be concentrating on the immediate physical risk to life and limb, demonstrated so tragically on 7 July 2005, and the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threat that exists, will she consider adding a further letter to CBRN—E for electronic or cyber attack?
There is a brief mention of it in the updated document, but as we saw from Estonia and can see what is happening across the world, there is a real danger that terrorists could launch such an attack in a devastating fashion that would not only undermine our already fragile economy, but put people at substantial risk.
My right hon. Friend makes those comments from a position of considerable experience in terms of his contribution to the whole issue of how we counter the terrorist threat. He is right that cyber-security generally cuts across almost all the challenges highlighted last year in the national security strategy, including not only terrorism but matters such as organised crime and business crime. That is why a piece of work currently being undertaken by the Cabinet Office is extremely important; it is leading a cross-departmental project on cyber-security, and I hope my right hon. Friend is reassured to know that that work is going on in Government. He will also know, not least because he and I were in Washington at the same time, just over a week ago, that the way in which we can work with our international partners is also very important. During that trip, I was able to meet Janet Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security, who is currently reviewing the role that that Department should play in cyber-security in the US, and we agreed to share experience, to work together, to tackle many of the problems posed in the area of cyber-security and to ensure we can be safe in the virtual world in the same way as we are in the real world.
The Home Secretary will be aware that one of the so-called preachers of hate is currently in a high-security prison awaiting deportation as a danger to the state. When he was on Special Immigration Appeals Commission bail, he was forbidden to use the internet, yet as we speak, he is broadcasting on the internet his litany of hate, trying to suborn young minds across the country and the world. That is happening from inside a high-security prison. How can that happen?
As you may know, Mr. Speaker, I have an interest in these matters, as declared in the register. First, may I congratulate the Home Secretary on what I consider the most important element of this strategy: its unparalleled openness? Does she agree that if we are truly to be able to face, respond to and—God forbid that we ever have the need—recover from a terrorist attack, the resilience that is needed will ultimately lie not in the agencies of the state, but in the resolve, spirit and understanding, and support for our aims, of the ordinary people of this country? Therefore, may I commend her training programmes, and ask whether she agrees that the litmus test of this strategy is how far it will embed that resilience not just in the political leadership here or the formal security agencies of the British state, but in the ordinary people of Britain, because it is ultimately through them and in the communities that we will defeat the terrorists?
I thank my right hon. Friend for those words, and also for his extremely important work in the Home Office, not least in setting up and reorganising the structure of government to ensure that, in the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, we have a strong strategic lead for taking this work forward across government, and his work in highlighting the evolving nature of the threat and the requirement for us to evolve how we dealt with it. I agree with him that while we depend on those in the police, the security and intelligence agencies and the armed forces to tackle terrorism, it is not enough to expect that they will enable us to mitigate that threat. Each of us has a role, and it is in recognition of that that we have—unprecedentedly, I think—made all these 170-plus pages unclassified and available to the public. It is why we have also ensured that we have a more digestible version that the public can read too. He rightly says that it is when everybody understands not that there is a lot to fear, but that there is a lot to be gained by being vigilant and by having a role to play in helping to counter terror, that we will truly be safer and more confident in this country about our security.
May I say to the Home Secretary that a tragic reminder of the less than competent implementation of the strategy is the fact that she was unable to answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer)?
To come back to the strategic issue, one of the most fundamental aspects of Contest is the Prevent strand—preventing a large number of young Muslims from becoming radicalised. Her own heads of MI5 successively have told us that there has been a massive 25 per cent. year-on-year increase in the number of those young Muslims. That demonstrates a failure of the Prevent strand, and it is made worse by the fact that her Government attempt, time and again, to implement excessively authoritarian measures such as 42 days, 90 days and so on. What is she going to do to make this strand work?
I have to say that I do not recognise the right hon. Gentleman’s comment that there has been a 25 per cent. year-on-year increase. In fact, it is this Government who, over the past few years, have put a particular focus on the action, resources and partnerships that we have built up in order to prevent violent extremism not just in the communities, but more widely. He does not choose to listen, so I shall end my reply there.
Many of us remember the Omagh bombing and some of us in this place remember Airey Neave. Surely the whole House must agree with my right hon. Friend that there are major differences between the past challenge of the Provisional IRA and the situation we face now. Not only is it international—that makes a crucial difference—but we know the scale of the threat following the attacks on the twin towers and the London underground transport system. Does she agree that one of the important things to recognise in her whole approach is the distinction between the short term, when we have to both disrupt these groups, many of which follow the leadership of al-Qaeda, and convict the people who are found guilty, and the medium to long term, when we have to win the hearts and minds for a society where we have freedom and justice for all?
My right hon. Friend is exactly right; that is the reason why all four Ps that I have outlined today are fundamentally important and why, in the short term, we do need to take action to disrupt terrorist plots and to bring terrorists to justice. It is also why we have focused considerable effort and funding on the second P—Prevent—and why the way in which we prevent people from becoming violent extremists and from supporting terrorism, both in this country and abroad, will be the defining factor in whether we can help to reduce the risk in the longer term.
In the Home Secretary’s Prevent strategy, on page 84 of the document, she rightly says:
“Building community cohesion is about creating strong and positive relationships between people of different backgrounds, including those...from different faith communities.”
Given that statement, does she recognise the potential for inconsistency in allowing schools, through religious discrimination, to segregate communities further, meaning that white-only schools can stay white-only by refusing admission to Muslims and Asian schools can remain Asian-only by excluding applications from non-Muslims? Will she pause to reconsider the policy of allowing that sort of segregation to get worse?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but can she assure me that it will prevent a repetition of the situation where Daud Abdullah, the deputy president of the Muslim Council of Britain, was able to advise Ministers on social cohesion while he was, as he remains, a promoter of violent jihad?
Certainly, we condemn not only the comments, but the statements supported by Daud Abdullah. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is in ongoing dialogue with the MCB about his role and the response to those particular circumstances.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, but while her responsibilities are inevitably focused primarily on her own Department, may I commend the cross-governmental approach that the document adopts? Does she share my concern that the pages on Pakistan and Afghanistan suggest that it is hardly possible to say that the Prevent strategy is working in those countries? In fact, what we have done in Afghanistan seems to have fed the forces of radicalisation rather than defeated them. What discussions is she having with her counterparts in the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence on revisiting the Afghan strategy to ensure that we start to provide a more stabilising influence in that part of the world and to devote a fairer proportion of our resources to Pakistan rather than just to military effort in Afghanistan?
Of course, military effort is part of the approach that we need to take to making the world safer and ensuring that those states that have in the past undoubtedly been the basis of a terrorist threat are tackled, but so are diplomatic effort and international aid effort. In all those areas, we are working closely with the Government of Pakistan and other international partners—for example, the US—on setting clear objectives, especially with respect to Pakistan and Afghanistan, and on how we can carry those out with the widest range of international partners.
I have not been approached by my constituents saying that too many powers have been given to the police and security services. My constituents are interested in the fact that Islamic fundamentalists are appearing to get away with saying some extreme things about terrorism and the murder of British service personnel. That is what my real concern is, and will my right hon. Friend take some strong action on that? Clearly, the hearts and minds campaign is very important, but work on it should be based on some fundamental truths, including that the biggest killer of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan is al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the vast majority of Muslims in this country condemn completely the actions of terrorists and want to join others in the community to promote the shared values that we spell out in this document and to work against those who want to promote violent extremism.
It has been confirmed in the past week that the Department for Communities and Local Government is only now compiling a central list of exactly where the £12 million of preventing violent extremism money has gone this year. That makes it very hard to see what due diligence has been exercised. Can the Home Secretary give the House an unequivocal guarantee that none of that money has gone astray, and that none of the £386 million spent overseas on preventing extremism projects has gone astray either?
I really do not think that that money has gone astray. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has already said that she will provide a report on that money at the end of this financial year. The domestic funding is going to groups from which we will expect evidence of the impact of the projects they are running. We have asked Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission to evaluate the work, and their report has been published. As for the overseas work, my colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development track such work carefully to ensure that its impact is felt and seen, and that, internationally and domestically, it means we are safer.
I welcome this new strategy and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s staff and others across Whitehall who put so much effort into delivering this important document. Will she comment on the importance of capacity building in failed and weak states, especially in the policing and judicial processes? What plans do the Government have to build a truly comprehensive programme to deliver in those areas?
My right hon. Friend is right. We have identified that failed states and countries where there is unresolved conflict provide strategic sources of support for the terrorist threat. That means that we need to take a broader approach to our support for those states, which would include providing support for law enforcement and law and order. Our wide-ranging support programme is provided through the Department for International Development and directly by police forces in this country, and it goes to places such as Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is an important element of ensuring that that strategic problem is tackled in the overall attempt to reduce the risk from terrorism.
The Home Secretary will be aware that, every so often, protests and marches are held at which people use language, both orally and on placards, that many would regard as inflammatory. The police do not seem to take any action, despite the popular belief that various laws have been broken. Not surprisingly, there is a perception that some people can get away with breaking the law, whereas the majority of the public would be prosecuted for committing the same breaches. Will the right hon. Lady kindly assure the House that no one is above the law and that, when it comes to this issue, anyone who breaches the law will be prosecuted?
Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that commitment. That was why we changed the law to ensure that the glorification of terrorism was a criminal offence. People have been prosecuted for precisely the sort of activity that he outlined. Our argument is that we should use the law for people who overstep it, but that even when they do not overstep that line, the Government, Parliament and the community more widely should nevertheless provide a strong challenge. That is something that I hope and expect to see.
Will the Home Secretary give the House an assurance that all measures to combat international terrorism will treat every British citizen in the UK in the same way? That is especially important for people in Northern Ireland. Will she assure the House that she will not require Northern Ireland citizens to have a passport to come over to mainland Britain, just because there is an open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland?
My hon. Friend knows that the work that we are taking forward on the common travel area is the subject of discussion as part of the Borders, Citizens and Immigration Bill. The matter has been the subject of in-depth discussion in the House of Lords, where some of the assurances that she seeks have been given already. This is an important matter: we need to safeguard the rights of UK citizens in the way that she outlined, but we must also put in place sensible provisions to mitigate the risks arising from the open borders and the forms of travel within the common travel area. We will do that in a way that I hope balances both requirements, and that is the subject of discussion at the moment as the legislation proceeds through the House.
Why does section 9 of the document propagate the fiction that the Government are tackling internet-based extremism, when an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) of 24 February confirmed that the Government have not closed down a single internet site under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2006? Is that incompetence or complacency, or a combination of both?
I should like to add my thanks to another group of people who have helped to keep us safe—the moderate voices in the Muslim community who stand up to those who would preach violent extremism. I had the opportunity this summer to meet a visiting imam from South Africa, who seemed to be exactly one of those moderate voices. He recently applied to be a permanent imam in a mosque in Slough but has been refused, for reasons that I think are spurious. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the policy adopted by her Department works in practice as well as on paper?
It is almost six years to the day since the invasion of Iraq. I am sorry that the Home Secretary does not feel that the report should be accurate enough to recognise the mistakes that have been made because of that intervention. I quote from page 23, which says that
“in 2003, radical Islamist groups emerged in and travelled to Iraq to take part in what they regarded as a new jihad”.
Further down the page, it says:
“After 2003 Iraq was used as a base for terrorist attacks”.
Does she not recognise that our going there with a military campaign left a power vacuum, which allowed al-Qaeda—the very terrorist group that she spoke about—into Iraq, and allowed it to operate from that country? Will she not put her hand up and say, “Mistakes have been made, and lessons must be learned”? If there is any reason why there should be an inquiry into the war in Iraq, this is it, because exactly the same mistakes are now being made in Afghanistan.
Well, of course the threat from al-Qaeda pre-dated the military action taken in Iraq. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head; it is a fact that the threat from al-Qaeda in the world pre-dated the action taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I would be very surprised if he did not understand that.
May I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to operating within the framework of human rights, which of course imposes positive obligations on the state to protect us from the consequences of terrorism? May I also particularly welcome her commitment to complete opposition to the use of torture? Does she agree that we have to make sure that our agents overseas, who are operating in one or two dubious countries, such as Pakistan, are properly trained, and are under proper instruction to make sure that they do nothing that could in any way, shape or form be seen as making them complicit in the use of torture?
I agree with my hon. Friend, which is precisely why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last week made it clear that we will publish, after a review by the Intelligence and Security Committee, the guidelines of the codes under which intelligence officers and armed forces question and deal with detainees overseas, to make it clear that the sort of provisions that my hon. Friend is talking about are in place. Furthermore, we will ask for that to be reviewed annually by Sir Peter Gibson, the intelligence services commissioner, and reported to the Prime Minister.
On Saturday, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Roger Berry), I took part in a discussion with members of the Youth Parliament about the Government’s Prevent agenda. The young people expressed real concern, not so much about the powers that the police have been given to tackle terrorism, but about the somewhat arbitrary and over-zealous way in which some police officers use the powers. What reassurance can she give me that sufficient guidance has been given to the police to ensure that they use the powers only when they are engaged in serious investigation of terrorist offences, and not more widely?
Guidance is given. There is both a legal basis for the power, and guidance is given to police officers about how the powers are to be used. My hon. Friend’s point identifies the need for the police to engage with communities, as happens effectively in many areas, to make sure that everybody can understand the nature of the powers, the nature of the threat, and what is, and is not, appropriate. That discussion should be had with the sort of young people with whom, I am pleased to hear, my hon. Friend and colleagues were engaging last week.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the point that my hon. the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) made about the handling of the “Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare” document at the beginning of his questions to the Home Secretary, and the points made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne). I want to commend a young researcher of mine, Ruth Davis, who examined the larger version of the Order Paper and noted, in the Votes and Proceedings, that the paper had been laid before the House yesterday.
I attempted to get a copy from the Vote Office after 10 o’clock. The Clerk in the Vote Office informed my research assistant that a copy would not be available until the statement was made at 3.30 pm today, as the Vote Office had been told to release on instruction. An hour later, I returned to the Vote Office in Portcullis House, and copies were then available. I understood from later inquiries that the fact that the document had appeared in the Order Paper meant that it had been laid in the Journal Office yesterday, but only one copy was available there for Members, in the unlikely event that they were aware that it was there. There was no mechanism to make Members aware that the document was available in the House yesterday. The whole exercise is plainly unsatisfactory. Can it be improved?
I always want to make sure that hon. Members—Front-Bench and, of course, Back-Benchers—get information as soon as that information is published. I ask the hon. Gentleman to allow me to look into the matter and get back to him. That is the best thing I can do.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have tabled a number of named day questions to the Secretary of State for Health, which were supposed to be replied to today. They are highly relevant to the tragedy of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, in particular on the question of a public inquiry and on protecting whistleblowers, which the Secretary of State said should be done. In the circumstances, may I please ask you to insist that my named day questions are answered today?
This is a matter for the appropriate Minister, who will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman, like his colleagues in the Staffordshire area, will pursue the matter in every way possible, and I will seek to help where I can. He has put the problem on the record.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give the House guidance? Is it in order for the Secretary of State to deny the existence of information on the growth of the terrorist threat, when that information is published by her subordinate, the head of MI5?
Pension Credit and Personal Expense Allowance (Duty of Consultation and Review)
Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the periodic review of the capital limits and tariff income rules and the personal expense allowance; to make provision for consultations on the level of those allowances and rules; and for connected purposes.
The Bill I wish to introduce seeks to tackle two injustices. The first concerns the penalty that over 500,000 thrifty pensioners face as a result of benefit rules which, in effect, assume that they are earning 8 per cent. interest on their savings. The second concerns 250,000 frail pensioners in care homes who are reliant on state support and are left with just £21.15 a week to cover their personal living costs.
Under existing benefit rules—the so-called tariff income rules—pensioners with savings over £6,000 who qualify for pension credit are assumed to be earning anything up to 8 per cent. interest on their savings. Whenever I talk about this matter with pensioner and other groups in my constituency, there is one of two reactions—derisive laughter or disbelief turning to outrage, often followed by the question, “Which bank gives that much interest on savings? I want to move my savings there straight away.”
A rate of 8 per cent. is significantly higher than any savings or investment account currently available, and it has not changed, up or down, since 2003. Benefit entitlement is calculated on an assumed rate of return that pensioners receive from their savings. Any savings below £6,000 are disregarded, but for every £500 above that, a saver is assumed to earn £1 per week from their investment.
My Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to review the tariff income rules and the level of capital. By placing a duty on the Secretary of State to consult widely about the rules and limits, I hope the Bill will force the Government to address the growing anomaly which discriminates against thrifty pensioners. I would go further, but that is as far as the rules of the House allow me in a ten-minute Bill.
The Government argue that the tariff income rules do not represent a rate of return for investing capital, but are there to
“provide a simple method of calculating the weekly contribution that people with capital in excess of £6,000 (or £10,000 if in a care home) are expected to make from those resources”.
However, the rules imply that pensioners with savings over £6,000 are receiving up to 8 per cent. interest. Back in the real world, where, for example, an individual savings account provided by the Government-backed National Savings and Investments currently offers only 1.62 to 2.16 per cent., that notion bears no scrutiny whatever. More than 500,000 pensioners are having their income overestimated, and are missing out on pension credit and other benefits to which they should be entitled.
The Government calculate, for example, that a pensioner with savings of £16,000 earns £1,080 per annum in interest. In the real world of, for example, National Savings and Investments ISAs, such savings would generate £259 to £345 a year. The Government’s assumption that such an interest rate is unrealistic is costing such pensioners at least £734 per year. As real interest rates fall, hard-pressed pensioners are being forced to run their savings down at ever faster rates. That is unfair and needs to be changed.
As for the second injustice, the personal expenses allowance is the only source of income for care home residents whose care is funded by the local authority. At the moment, 250,000 residents receive that support. Means-testing rules require those entering care homes with savings of less than £22,250 to surrender to the state their income, including their state pension and assets to cover the cost of their care. The personal expenses allowance is the amount that residents are allowed to keep for personal expenditure each week, and it currently stands at £21.15—about £3 a day. That amount is the only source of income for local authority-funded care home residents and is intended to pay for toiletries, clothes, gifts for family and friends, travel, hobbies, hairdressing and other leisure activities. Some have had to use that money to pay for health services such as chiropody and physiotherapy. In some cases, the personal expenses allowance is being called on to top up the fees that people pay in care homes. The personal expenses allowance is due to rise this April by 75p a week.
The case for reform and an increase is compelling. It has the support of many older people’s charities, as it is vital to ensure the dignity and self-respect of residents and to give them a certain amount of independence. Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have all published reports demonstrating that the personal expenses allowance is crucial to the dignity of older people and must therefore be raised, as many elderly people live in poverty or their relatives supplement their allowances from their own incomes.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation conducted research among pensioners and concluded that the minimum such amount needed by a single pensioner to maintain an acceptable standard of living is £42 per week. The Royal British Legion, in its Return to Rationing campaign, also calls for a higher personal expenses allowance. In 2005, the Work and Pensions Committee stated:
“The Committee remains concerned at the low level of the Personal Expenses Allowance and repeats the recommendation of the Social Security Committee that the Government should ‘conduct research to establish the amount necessary to enable pensioners in institutional care to live their lives with dignity.’”
Three years later, the then care services Minister, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), twice gave an undertaking to Parliament that a public consultation would be carried out that included the rate of the personal expenses allowance.
However, the current care services Minister, the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope), who is sitting on the Front Bench, issued a written statement in January 2009 in which he refused to initiate a consultation on the level of the personal expenses allowance. How does that square with the Department of Health’s Dignity in Care campaign launched in November 2006, the stated aim of which is to ensure that older people are shown dignity and respect at all stages of their care? In that campaign, one of the Department’s dignity tests is
“to enable people to maintain the maximum possible level of independence, choice and control.”
The low level of the personal expenses allowance compromises the quality of life and dignity of older people by restricting their ability to meet their essential physical and social well-being needs. An amount of £21.15 is simply not enough.
My Bill would place a duty on the Secretary of State for Health to undertake an annual review of the level of the personal expenses allowance, including public consultation, so that it can be increased to a level that guarantees a decent, minimum standard of living. Thrifty and frail pensioners in this country deserve a better deal than they are getting on such matters from this Government. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That Mr. Paul Burstow, Steve Webb, Sandra Gidley, Tom Brake, Susan Kramer and Greg Mulholland present the Bill.
Mr. Paul Burstow accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 12 June, and to be printed (Bill 80).
Coroners and Justice Bill
[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant Documents: The Second Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2008-09, The Coroners and Justice Bill, HC 185, and the Government’s response, HC 322, and the Eighth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, Session 2008-09, Legislative Scrutiny: Coroners and Justice Bill, HC 362.]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 11
Guidance on offences that involve hatred on grounds of sexual orientation
‘(1) The Director of Public Prosecutions, in consultation with the Attorney General, must issue guidance to prosecutors explaining the operation of the offences under Part 3A of the Public Order Act 1986 (c. 64) that involve hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
(2) Chief constables must ensure that the contents of the guidance to prosecutors issued under subsection (1) are made known, in an appropriate form, to officers in their force.
(3) When considering whether to consent to a prosecution for an offence falling within subsection (1), the Attorney General must have particular regard to—
(a) guidance issued under subsection (1), and
(b) the importance of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, respect for private and family life and freedom of assembly and association provided by the European Convention on Human Rights.’.—(David Howarth.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 37—Incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation: association with child sex offences
‘(1) The Public Order Act 1986 is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection 29B (1) insert—
“(1A) “Threatening” in subsection (1) extends to words, behaviour or written material which asserts or implies an association between sexual orientation and a propensity to commit child sex offences under Part 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (c. 42).”’.
Amendment 1, in page 34, line 5, leave out Clause 58.
We now come to a short debate about the aspects of the Bill involving homophobic hatred. The offence of using threatening words or behaviour with intent to stir up hatred on grounds of sexual orientation was created by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. Anyone who knows anything about the lives of gay people in this country knows why the provision was necessary and important.
Homophobic bullying and intimidation are distressingly common occurrences. Recent research shows that one in eight lesbian or gay people have experienced hate crime in the past three years. The problem is not only distressingly common but can have lasting deleterious effects on the lives and well-being of the victims. I hope that no one in this debate will question the need for the provision; if they do, I hope that they will be honest enough to say so openly.
This debate focuses on a particular aspect of the 2008 Act. Some religious groups have said they are afraid that the new law will catch them because their religion strongly disapproves of homosexuality, and their representatives or preachers want to continue to say so publicly. It is important, however, to stress what the 2008 Act says and what the new crime is. The Act says:
“A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
That means that the words have to be both threatening and intended to stir up hatred. It is not enough for the words to be insulting or offensive; they have to threaten. Nor is it enough that the words may have the effect of stirring up hatred; they have to be specifically intended to do so.
The crime is difficult to prove at the best of times. If a charge was brought against a saintly religious leader whose intention was to save souls, I cannot see how anyone might think that that offence had been committed.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
This is a very short debate. Usually I give way freely but, if hon. Members will forgive me, I will not be able to do so with the same freedom in this debate.
The problem is not what the law says, but the fact that some rather odd investigations have been started—not under the provisions that I have mentioned, which are not yet in force, but under different ones. That has given rise to a great deal of anxiety and I am sure that we will hear about the cases in the course of the debate. However, it is important to realise that those cases are brought under entirely different provisions. It is right to say that people should not have to suffer unreasonable and unfounded investigation.
Cases in which people have been exposed to this sort of intrusive investigation, even though no prosecutions have been brought, have been those where the existing laws have been stretched even further to warrant the police coming and knocking on their doors. Should not the hon. Gentleman bear that in mind when considering whether this legislation, which is very specific, may be a mistaken encouragement to others in authority to do likewise?
That is why it is very important that we have specific legislation to give guidance to the authorities about how they implement the new laws. The offence that is usually referred to, as in the cases of Miguel Hayworth and Stephen Green, concerns section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, whereby it is a crime to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby. In my view, that provision is in itself a violation of freedom of speech. It seems to allow prosecution merely for insults, and for insults that are merely likely to cause distress but have not necessarily done so.
And without intention, as my hon. Friend says. That is why yesterday I would have supported his amendment, which we never reached, to remove the word “insulting” from that provision. That answers the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve).
The provisions regarding hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation are not the same—insult is not enough; likelihood of distress is not enough—but some people are anxious about the possibility that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service will not recognise the difference. I accept that that anxiety exists and that we should do something about it—the question is what. There are two proposals on the table.
The first is to do what the 1986 Act already says following the so-called Waddington amendment, which went through after extensive ping-pong between this House and the other place last year, when the Government eventually gave way. I thought they were wrong to do so, and divided the House right at the end of that process. They did it because they were up against a deadline on another provision in the Bill about industrial action in prisons. However, they made it clear that they were with me in spirit, if not in the Lobby.
The Waddington amendment is sometimes called the free speech amendment, but it completely fails to mention freedom of expression. It says:
“For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”
There are many problems with the Waddington amendment. First, it is not aimed at the problem that it is supposed to solve. The problem lies not in the content of the law—a point that it seems to admit itself by using the phrase,
“For the avoidance of doubt”—
but in a possible mistaken interpretation of the law by the police and the CPS. If the police pay no attention to the wording of the offence itself, why should we believe that they will pay attention to the wording of the Waddington amendment? Secondly—this is the most important criticism—it either achieves nothing at all or is attempting to do something that we should oppose. If it really is
“For the avoidance of doubt”,
it adds nothing to the law at all, but if it is read in a different way, as a “deeming” provision, it is entirely unacceptable.
A “deeming” provision is a statutory section that tells courts to ignore reality but to treat one thing as another. Last year, we passed about 85 “deeming” provisions. In the Energy Act 2008, for example, we deemed a place where uranium was enriched to be premises owned or used for the purposes of the Crown, so that the Official Secrets Act would apply even when the place was owned by someone else. It is very common for us to do this. The difficulty with the Waddington amendment is that it can be read as deeming discussion of sexual conduct and so on not to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred even when the words actually were threatening and were intended to stir up hatred. That is particularly worrying in the case of urging persons to modify such conduct, which is what the amendment refers to. Such urging could certainly be done in a threatening way and with the necessary intent. There is a danger that the Waddington amendment could be read in a deeming manner so that a person doing such urging in a threatening way, with intent, would not count as having done so.
Proponents of the Waddington amendment put a lot of weight on the phrase “of itself”, but that phrase has at least two possible meanings. It could mean—this is the hopeful interpretation—something like, “But if the way this was done indicates threats or intentions, the provision does not apply.” “Taken of itself” might mean that, but it could mean something rather different, such as, “Ask only whether the acts complained of are within this provision, and ignore the context.” That would mean that “of itself” was an excluding phrase, rather than an including one. The latter interpretation would fit closely with the interpretation of the Waddington amendment as a deeming provision, which is a grave danger. That is why the Government are absolutely right to propose removing the Waddington amendment from the legislation. It is either useless or dangerous. I do not, however, think that the Government are right to offer nothing in its place, which is where new clause 11 comes in.
New clause 11 would meet head-on the problem of mistaken interpretations that lead to fruitless and distressing investigations. It would do so by requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions to issue guidance to prosecutors on the meaning of the offence, and crucially, it would require chief constables to make the content—or for those Members who were here yesterday, the gist—of that guidance known to police officers. New clause 11 would also introduce a real free speech element by requiring the Attorney-General, whose consent is necessary for any prosecutions to go ahead, to have regard to all the relevant rights and freedoms in the Human Rights Act before giving that permission.
The hon. Gentleman is placing enormous reliance on guidance to be issued by the authorities—the Crown Prosecution Service or the police. I have an extract from the guidance on prosecuting cases of homophobic and transphobic crime, issued by the Crown Prosecution Service in November 2007. It describes homophobia and transphobia as
“terms used to describe a dislike of LGBT people or aspects of their perceived lifestyle. In other words, homophobia and transphobia are not restricted to a dislike of individuals; the dislike can be based on any sexual act or characteristic that the person associates with an LGBT person, whether or not any specific LGBT person does that act or has that characteristic. That dislike does not have to be as severe as hatred. It is enough that people do something or abstain from doing something because they do not like LGBT people.”
Surely that is hugely wide-ranging. Parliament has no say in this matter, and we could be faced with a situation where such an interpretation means that anyone who expresses a dislike of this kind of behaviour would be caught by the CPS under its interpretation of the law.
But that guidance has nothing to do with this aspect of the Bill because it has not yet been brought into force. I am proposing guidance specifically about that aspect; the word “homophobia” does not exist in the provisions we are talking about. Furthermore, the guidance would have to be issued after consultation with the Attorney-General. That means that there will be accountability to this House over what that guidance says, through the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General.
The effect of the second part of the new clause would be that the Attorney-General would also have to have regard to all rights of freedom of expression before a prosecution was brought. That would feed back through the system and create at least some hope of a judicial review of a decision to go ahead with a prosecution, which there would not normally be. New clause 11 is far more focused on the real problem than the Government’s provisions and would help in a much less dangerous way, but it is capable of meeting genuine anxieties that have arisen in religious communities. It is necessary to do something of this nature rather than, as the Government suggest, do nothing at all.
May I bring my hon. Friend back to the fact that there are complaints, which I recognise as genuine, about misguided police investigations and the questioning of individuals who express an honest view? Although I disagree with that view, I absolutely accept their right to express it. Would not a combination of the production of guidance and reform of section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 to remove the word “insulting” not only deal with worries about clause 58 but solve those problems?
I am very glad that my hon. Friend has brought me back to his proposal to remove the word “insulting” from section 5 of the 1986 Act, because that would be a very important reform and I hope that the Government will take it up at some point.
Finally, I wish to speak to new clause 37, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend. It is an attempt to ensure that a particularly despicable form of homophobic intimidation comes within the meaning of “threatening” in the Act. That is the disgusting technique employed by certain political groups including the British National party, alleging that gay people have a propensity to be paedophiles and commit offences against children. That particular form of intimidation is not just unpleasant but literally life-threatening. I therefore hope that the Government will accept new clause 37 as well as new clause 11.
I hope later formally to press amendment 1 and to have the opportunity to vote on it. It has been signed by 14 other hon. Members of all parties.
We have heard from the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) about new clause 11, and it is gratifying that Liberal Democrat Front Benchers recognise that there is a need for some reassurance about free speech on the statute book. Sadly, I do not feel that the new clause would work, and I shall say why later if I have time. Having heard the hon. Gentleman’s explanation, I still do not understand why they oppose so vehemently the inclusion of a simple free speech clause, which is much more likely to be read and followed by police and prosecutors than page after page of guidance. Either the Liberal Democrats are serious about protecting free speech or they are not, and I cannot understand why they played such an important role in securing a free speech clause in the case of the religious hatred offence, but oppose a much narrower free speech clause in the case of the homophobic offence.
The so-called Waddington free speech clause has now been law for 10 months, although by a quirk of how this place works the incitement law itself has not yet come into effect. If the offence had been in operation, and there was evidence that the free speech clause was being abused in the unacceptable way that the Government and the Liberal Democrats claim it could be, their case would be significantly stronger. However, I do not think that anybody really believes that such abuses are possible.
The wording of the free speech clause simply does not lend itself to the drastic and repugnant misuse that is alleged. Even Stonewall, which the Liberal Democrats often cite in evidence, does not appear to think that it does. Its briefing note, which came to all of us, stated that clause 58
“could mean that a very small number of people of extreme views attempt to avoid prosecution”.
I am sure that a very small number of people could do that using all sorts of methods, including the Human Rights Act 1998, evidence laws and other provisions that we consider essential to protect civil liberties and that we would never dream of repealing. Stonewall does not say that the freedom of speech provision would prevent convictions, thereby contradicting the Justice Secretary. It does not say that it will prevent prosecutions, but only that a small number of extremists will attempt to use it to get out of a prosecution. I do not think that they would succeed and I suspect that Stonewall does not think that, either. Stonewall has been candid. Its members know that a free speech clause does not seriously undermine their intention for the new offence.
Whenever the House legislates, we engage in a balancing act. In the case that we are considering, on one side of the scales, we have freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the pressing need for reassurance about the prevention of potentially widespread abuses of civil liberties. On the other side, according to Stonewall, we have a tiny number of extremists who might point to the free speech clause when they are charged, but almost certainly without success. The organisation does not, therefore, make a strong argument against a free speech clause.
Indeed, Stonewall’s director, Ben Summerskill, said in evidence to the Public Bill Committee that considered the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008:
“We would have no difficulties if the provisions as drafted indicated the mindfulness of those who created them for the importance of free speech.”––[Official Report, Criminal Justice and Immigration Public Bill Committee, 16 October 2007; c. 80, Q179.]
A free speech clause simply indicates Parliament’s mindfulness of the importance of free speech.
What does the free speech new clause say? Let us have it again—it is worth hearing. It says that
“for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself”—
whether that has two meanings may emerge in debate—
to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.”
It simply makes it clear that discussion or criticism of sexual conduct is not caught by the homophobia law.
The religious hatred free speech clause, for which the House voted in January 2006, goes much further. It protects
“expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse”
against religion. I do not understand how anyone could support a clause, which allows expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse against religion, but oppose a provision, which allows mere discussion or criticism of sexual conduct. That defeats logic. I do not understand why the Government would insist on repealing only the weaker of the two provisions, when they claim to oppose both.
Let me try to explain why there is a difference. The religious saver specifies that abuse and ridicule are not covered by the offence. It is tautological but they are not. The Waddington amendment does not exclude ridicule or abuse, because they are already excluded, but purports, according to one interpretation, to allow the exclusion of intentional threatening incitement as long as it refers only to practice. That is the difference, and the hon. Gentleman must explain whether he understood the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) when he outlined the potential effect of new clause 11.
I shall deal with that at the end of my remarks.
The religious free speech clause deliberately narrows the definition of the offence whereas the homophobic free speech provision does not. It simply clarifies what is already outside the scope of the offence. It is not a defence but a signpost, so that those involved at the early stages of the criminal justice system—police and prosecutors— have it drawn to their attention clearly and simply that certain legitimate activities are outside the definition of the offence. That way, if vexatious complaints are made, the police and prosecutors can simply point to the free speech provision and dismiss the complaint, instead of spending time and taxpayers’ money pursuing pointless complaints and trampling on the civil liberties of innocent people in the process.
It is also worth emphasising that the Waddington amendment refers to criticising not sexual orientation, but sexual conduct. I repeat: it does not create a defence. I welcome the support of Liberty—often paid-up members of the Liberal Democrat tendency—for amendment 1. It speculates that clause 58 might possibly remove a defence, but the explanatory notes have got it right. The Ministry of Justice officials who drafted the notes state in paragraph 372:
“The removal of the section will not affect the threshold required for the offence to be made out.”
Clearly, if removal of the free speech clause will not affect the threshold of the offence, its inclusion will not affect the threshold, either. We are tinkering. If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change—a favourite phrase of the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). The explanatory notes are more accurate and fairer than the Justice Secretary was to those who tabled the free speech clause. On Second Reading, the Justice Secretary alleged that those tabling it intended to make a conviction difficult.
When Lord Waddington moved the amendment, he said that he wanted to make it plain
“that I did not in Committee, and do not now, seek to weaken the protection that the Government’s proposal is designed to give gay people. I have never set out to narrow the scope of the provision. My intention has been absolutely clear: to make clear what both the Government and I agree is outside the scope of the provision.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 April 2008; Vol. 700, c. 1365.]
I hope that the Secretary of State will accept that it is not our intention to provide help to those who use threatening language intentionally to stir up hatred against anyone. “For the avoidance of doubt” means just that. It does not change anything; it just makes clear what is already there. The Office of Public Sector Information’s online statute law database lists 588 legislative uses of the phrase “for the avoidance of doubt”—from the Children Act 1975 to the Crossrail Act 2008—so there is hardly anything unusual about it.
We need free speech about sexual conduct to be put beyond doubt. Joe and Helen Roberts, the Bishop of Chester, Iqbal Sacranie, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, and Lynette Burrows—I could go on—are all names synonymous with vexatious complaints to the police and with heavy-handed police intervention against people whose actions were not inciting hatred against anyone.
Now that the free speech provision is on the statute book, I wonder whether we should not look at things the other way round. Will removing it send the signal that discussion or criticism of sexual conduct is caught by the new offence? The Church of England—my own Church—seems to fear that it might. Its briefing says:
“If it is argued that it is necessary for the effective operation of the law that the amendment should be removed, the implication would be that such discussion or criticism could in itself constitute an offence, and to this we would be strongly opposed.”
I am sure that that is right, and I strongly endorse what the hon. Gentleman says.
Someone else who has spoken out is the actor Rowan Atkinson, who just a few days ago addressed a Committee Room packed with Members of the House of Lords about the chilling effect of the law. He said that he did not think that he would be prosecuted because of jokes or drama about sexual orientation, but he also said:
“I dread something almost as bad—a culture of censoriousness, a questioning, negative and leaden attitude that is encouraged by legislation of this nature but is considerably and meaningfully alleviated by the free speech clause.”
He said that it
“would provide succour and reassurance to those of us in the creative world.”
My union, Unison, has sent out a briefing that says that the free speech clause is a “Tory wrecking amendment”. Unison is entitled to that view, but I do not think that it is being fair. The majority of the sponsors of my amendment are not Tories—although I welcome support from everyone—and even Stonewall does not believe that it is a wrecking amendment.
Let me turn to new clause 11, because I said that I would explain why it is not up to the job of meaningfully protecting free speech. For a start, it focuses mainly on the decision to prosecute, but we are not concerned about prosecutions at this point. None of the cases that I listed earlier resulted in a prosecution. The liberties of those people were breached not by the Attorney-General authorising a prosecution, but by decisions earlier in the criminal justice process.
There is some merit in that, but it is not a particularly strong point.
New clause 11 reminds the Attorney-General about human rights law, but human rights law applies to the police, prosecutors and the Attorney-General anyway and, to judge from the list of cases that I gave earlier, precious use it has been. New clause 11 also proposes guidance, but that will be issued anyway, without the need for a new clause. New clause 11 does not even say that guidance must deal with free speech; it just says that guidance must deal with
“the operation of the offence”.
Presumably that will include pointing out that the religious hatred offences have a free speech clause, whereas the homophobic offence does not.
Experience has shown that guidance is the problem, not the solution. When two six-foot police officers in body armour interrogated pensioners Joe and Helen Roberts for 80 minutes after they had phoned the council to complain about its gay rights policies, the officers were almost certainly acting in accordance with the guidance issued in March 2005 by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office. The guidance is called “Hate Crime: Delivering a Quality Service” and in paragraph 2.2.6 it tells officers:
“The perception of the victim or any other person is the defining factor in determining a hate incident. The apparent lack of motivation as the cause of an incident is not relevant as it is the perception of the victim or any other person that counts.”
So a hate crime is to be treated as a hate crime even if it is not a hate crime—I need to think through that one. Paragraph 2.5.1 says:
“If, as victims of hate crimes or incidents, individuals experience indifference or rejection from the police this in effect victimises them a second time.”
I would hate to be a police officer trying to navigate my way through that lot. Some obviously believe that the answer is to come down like a ton of bricks on people about whom complaints of homophobia have been made, regardless of whether they have broken any laws.
I do not believe that we can leave it up to guidance to protect the precious civil liberty of freedom of speech. The existing wording asserted by Parliament less than a year ago provides clarity and reassurance; we must keep it. We must remove clause 58 from the Bill. I hope that we will have the opportunity to vote in a few minutes’ time, as I shall press the amendment.
As this is a short debate, I shall try to keep my remarks as short as possible. The hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) has raised an important issue, and I think that there is common ground between us that the right to freedom of speech and expression must be protected. It must be protected in terms of how a statute would be interpreted in court, but it also has to be interpreted, to use an expression often used in the past by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris), against the chilling effect that a statute can have if it is mistakenly applied by those in authority. As the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) rightly highlighted, there are, unfortunately, quite a number of examples in which laws—not this law, but others that in many ways stretch even further—have been applied in an oppressive way against perfectly respectable people. We have to keep that in mind when we come to legislate.
The hon. Member for Cambridge says that he considers that the law drafted last year—without Lord Waddington’s saving clause—would be sufficient and all right if we simply had guidelines. I have to say to him that I have some anxiety about using guidelines in that way. I accept that guidelines may be of some utility, but the fact of the matter is that if guidelines are disregarded and a legal process against an individual starts to get ratcheted up, there is nothing to stop it until the matter gets into the courts; and by then, as we know, a great deal of damage has been done in many cases to the individuals concerned in terms of stress, their reputation and the anxiety they are placed under—all quite needlessly. It thus seems to me that it would be sensible for the House to consider whether having a saving clause would help.
Now, Lord Waddington, as well as having been a past Home Secretary, and, I believe, a man of moderate views—[Interruption.] Yes, a man of moderate views, I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (John Bercow). Lord Waddington has also been a lawyer. When I listened to the comments of the hon. Member for Cambridge, it prompted me to look again at the saving clause to see whether it contained the mischief of being a deeming provision along the lines that he identified. He has clearly raised a serious issue for the House to consider. I have to say, however, that having looked at the provision and read it over and over again, I do not see that it can have the possible effect that he has suggested. The reason for that is the appearance of the two words “of itself” in its penultimate line which refers to something that
“shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred”.
It seems to me that those words make it absolutely plain that if a person carries out a discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices that is accompanied by threatening language, those words “of itself” would immediately take that person outside the scope of the saving clause. I have to say that I just do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis that the saving clause could be used to justify people coming forward and using hateful terminology, language and threats.
The more I listen to that argument, the more I take the view that a saving clause is required, so let me explain briefly to the House why I think this is so important. First, it will provide comfort and reassurance to people that they can continue to express their views. One of the things we are experiencing at the moment in this country is that people of moderate views on any side of an argument are increasingly deterred from expressing their views at all, but those who are full of extreme opinion, whether they be at one end of the spectrum or the other, are not deterred in any way by the law and, in fact, have a free field for themselves. That is not good for the health of our democracy or our civic life. We also need to consider that when Parliament enacts legislation in this way, groups and individuals will undoubtedly attribute to it meanings that Parliament may not have intended.
I thought it worth looking at Stonewall’s briefing, because I have a high regard for Stonewall and its campaign for gay rights. To support its analysis of why the new offence was needed and why it opposed the saving clause, it presented a number of examples. One involved rap lyrics expressing great hatred, such as “Hang lesbians with a long piece of rope”. Quite apart from the fact that I would expect that to be caught by existing law, I feel completely comfortable with the idea of enacting legislation of the kind that we passed last summer, which will criminalise it.
Stonewall says that another example of the sort of thing that it would like halted is a website which describes, in referring to homosexuality generally,
“young people who are being drawn into a lifestyle characterised by disease, degradation, death and denial.”
When I was talking recently to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), who is a very old friend of mine—we have known each other since university—I said to him that I did not think that his life had been characterised by any of those phenomena. Most people reading the website would consider it to be utterly wacky. I have to say, however, that if it is Stonewall’s opinion that such material should be criminalised, the House needs to approach the matter with some caution.
I am afraid that, just as with incitement to religious hatred, messages are sent out from this place that are latched on to by pressure groups wishing to prevent other people from expressing legitimate views, even if those legitimate views are in fact nonsensical. We cannot have a working democracy without the underpinning of freedom of speech, which also requires tolerance of opinions that we may consider to be bonkers or which we may dislike. As long as hatred is not stirred up, which is the mischief that we have been trying to address—as long as the civil order of society is not being undermined—we must tolerate such opinions. Indeed, as politicians, we tolerate them all the time.
For those reasons, let me simply say that I am unpersuaded that Lord Waddington’s amendment is in any way mischievous. I believe that it is sensible. As we need some saving clause in an extremely difficult piece of legislation in which the balance that we strike will always pose a problem, I can think of no good reason for us to get rid of it on the basis of the arguments that I have heard this afternoon. I therefore intend to support the retention of Lord Waddington’s amendment, and encourage my hon. Friends to do so as well.
I respect the hon. and learned Gentleman’s position on matters of free speech. He is right to criticise Stonewall’s view that that material would be caught. That is not our view, and I do not believe that it is the Government’s view. I hope that they will make that clear in due course.
Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if we are to solve these problems, we must make it clear, in statute and in the minds of the police, that there is no right not to be offended? We need to get rid of the idea of insult, especially unintentional insult—as in section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986—from our statute book, and also to ensure that guidance throughout makes it clear to the police that they cannot take seriously complaints of insult which is not direct abuse. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree with that?
Yes. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the fact that, in the time allowed, I have not dealt with that point.
The question of insulting behaviour raises an important issue. I am not sure that I can do full justice to it in this short debate, but if the hon. Gentleman wishes to revisit it, I shall be happy to discuss it carefully with him. I can see that there may well be merit in getting rid of an expression that, I think, carries a number of connotations in wider legislation and that may be undesirable. There is, however, an issue that I think we cannot completely avoid. In some cases, insult, particularly if it takes place in a public arena, can reach a point at which it becomes incitement to a breach of the peace. We must guard against that possibility, but subject to that, I am sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman has said.
For the present, we have quite a simple issue to deal with. We have a piece of legislation, passed on to the statute book last summer, that has not yet been brought into operation and that has not yet been given the chance to see whether it works. I do not see anything in Lord Waddington’s amendment to justify its deletion at present. Its support goes much wider than people with a religious viewpoint. It extends across a wide spectrum of those who have deep anxieties about the erosion of freedom of speech, including within the theatrical world, as has been shown by Rowan Atkinson.
For those reasons, although I am mindful of the mischief that we are trying to address and I want the incitement of hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation to be prohibited, I believe the amendment does nothing to prevent that from happening that and does a great deal to ensure that the legislation that we pass is balanced. For those reasons, I support the amendment.
The hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) are right: Stonewall’s example in the briefing is wrong about what would be caught by this part of the law.
Amendment 1 deals with freedom of speech, but it is important that we remember that we are also talking about the freedom of gay people to live their lives free from hatred and bigotry. When we debated the offence of stirring up hatred on the basis of sexual orientation last year, we had a long discussion about freedom of expression and were rightly concerned about getting the balance right.
We need to protect groups that are the target of threatening behaviour intended to stir up hatred. We must also ensure that those who have concerns about some types of sexual behaviour are free to express their arguments and concerns in a reasonable way. They do not need to fear that they will be caught by the criminal law. Last year, we had a very lively debate and the Government took the view that no additional provision was needed to ensure freedom of expression. The offence that we are talking about has a very high threshold and a number of safeguards are built into the system to ensure that the offence cannot be used in any way that disrupts the balance between those two concerns.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its report published last week, reaffirmed its view that we have the balance right, as did the Equality and Human Rights Commission at about the same time. Last May, this House agreed, by a very large majority, that we had got the balance right. However, as the hon. Member for Oxford—the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) rather; I must get my university towns in the right order—pointed out, the other place inserted a measure for the avoidance of doubt. We all agreed with the principle that the offence should not be misused. As I say, those safeguards have already been built into the offence. The additional provision was and still is unnecessary. It serves only to make the offence less clear; it muddies the waters. This House rejected the amendment and I ask it to do so again today.
In last year’s debates, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), said that we would return to the issue, so it should come as no surprise to any hon. Member, including those who have put their names to amendment 1, that we are now seeking to repeal the so-called freedom of speech saving provision.
Does the Minister recall the comment made by the distinguished lawyer, Lord Thomas of Gresford:
“Freedom of speech is not derived by clauses inserted into every statute for the avoidance of doubt.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 21 April 2008; Vol. 700, c. 1373.]
There may be doubt in Lord Waddington’s mind, but I do not think that there is doubt more widely. The measure was carried, on a pathetic turnout, by 81 votes to 57, and it is time we got rid of it.
The hon. Gentleman, as always, puts the argument so eloquently that I simply endorse what he says.
It was again evident from the debate that there are strong and divided views about where the correct balance lies. I remind the House, however, that the offence covers only behaviour that is threatening and is intended to stir up hatred. I think all Members will agree that that type of behaviour cannot be acceptable under any circumstances. It should not be protected by freedom of speech, and any provision that implies otherwise should not be on the statute book. That is why I invite the House to reject amendment 1.
Does my hon. Friend agree—I assume she does, as she will have signed off the information given by the Government at the time of this debate—that if the removal of the free speech clause will not affect the threshold of the offence, logically its retention cannot affect the threshold of the offence either, and that the clause is being used not as a defence but as a signpost to help police and prosecutors deal with allegations more speedily and effectively?