House of Commons
Monday 8 June 2009
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
My Department is monitoring the potential impact of the recession on all its sectors. It recently published “Lifting People, Lifting Places”, which sets out the role that sport can play in lifting our communities. Our most recent figures show that participation is holding up well, and we remain on track with our ambition to ensure that 1 million more people engage in sport regularly.
The hon. Gentleman, whom I respect, has got his figures completely wrong. Nearly £5 billion has been invested in sport over the past 12 years, and it can be shown that every sport and every area of sport has been very successful. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to tell me which sports have not been successful, at community or at school level, I shall be happy to discuss that with him.
The Minister recently gave us an assurance about the future of the English Institute of Sport facility at Gateshead stadium, in the context of UK Sport’s announcement of changes in the way in which it would fund local sports clubs. In the light of the recession, can he give us a further assurance today that that valuable project will not be put in jeopardy?
I am grateful for the work that my hon. Friend has been doing for sport in the north-east. I am happy to confirm that the English Institute of Sport will have a presence in the region, and will continue to invest in it. I shall be happy to meet him, and to establish what progress is being made. I know that a number of outstanding issues need to be tidied up.
Perhaps the Minister could suggest to local authorities throughout the country—they are all Tory controlled now, and very receptive—that they make available facilities in schools and colleges, such as playing fields, at reduced prices, if not free, to encourage community groups to continue to take part in the sport that they enjoy, particularly at this time of deep recession.
It is vital for us to try to ensure that 1 million more people become active in sport, and I agree that local authorities have a major role to play in that. I know that they are happy to work with the Government, as they did in the case of free swimming. More than 80 per cent. of councils now offer free swimming to the over-60s, and 60 per cent. offer it to the under-60s. Some Conservative councils did not participate then, but I hope that they will do so now.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating all who were involved in establishing the boxing centre of excellence in Gorton, which provides facilities for boys, girls and people with disabilities? It already has a amateur boxing club with 100 members, and is part of a £200 million educational complex in Gorton. None of that would ever have happened without this Labour Government.
I am delighted to agree with my right hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on the work that he has done to support boxing in his constituency. We are trying to ensure that boxing facilities are available to all who want to take part, not just for the physical contact but for the fitness that can be acquired through boxing, and the self-respect that it teaches. I shall be happy to support the initiative in Gorton, and I should like to see more boxing in our schools and communities throughout the country.
Sports clubs undoubtedly make an invaluable contribution to our local communities, yet they continue to be swamped by regulations and bureaucracy. What more can the Government do to ease that bureaucracy and regulation, so that clubs do not go under during this difficult recession?
There are a number of ways in which we can help and are helping. We want to support clubs that apply for community amateur sports club status, with all the benefits that that gives them. We are also looking at water charges around the country, which have caused problems for clubs. We want sport to be firmly at the heart of what we are trying to achieve, because all of us—Members throughout the House—are aware of the benefits it provides for our communities.
My hon. Friend mentioned the excellent CASC scheme, which the Government introduced in 2002. It has helped sports clubs in areas throughout the country, including Newcastle-under-Lyme. As he will know, in November 2007 we wanted the Government to go a little further and extend gift aid to junior subscriptions. There was a “subs for clubs” campaign. What recent discussions has he had with the Treasury about that proposal?
We try to ensure that we support our clubs in any way possible. However, my hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, and we have raised it with the Treasury. As he is aware, tax-related matters are for the Treasury, but we will continue to try to persuade it that it should be supporting clubs.
As my hon. Friend will know, we are considering what further support we can provide. The other week, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that a further 5,000 young people would be given the opportunity to become coaches and to be involved in employment. I believe that we are doing all that we can to deliver and develop sport.
Since the publication of the interim “Digital Britain” report in January there has been extensive consultation, and we will publish the final report shortly.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new position, and I am sure he will do a very good job. I am also sure that he is aware that the “Digital Britain” report raises concerns about, and makes recommendations on, the future of regional news and regional content. Does he not agree that reallocating the money currently used for implementing digital TV would be one way of ensuring that the regions continue to get regional news and programme content on independent television?
I think that every Member of the House values the role played by regional news and acknowledges the importance of some competition and plurality of provision in regional news. The hon. Gentleman is right: this is one of the important issues that will be addressed when we publish the final report, and I invite him to be patient a little longer.
Yes, third time lucky.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that “Digital Britain” takes heed of the interests of the very successful UK video games industry? Video games make their players think, and they challenge them and make them focus, and many people in Britain believe that a medium that does that should be elevated to an art form. I hope my hon. Friend’s Department gives the video games industry a similar status to that of the UK music and film industries.
I assure my hon. Friend that we do recognise the importance of the video games industry to the British economy. Research and development tax credits are available for the industry, and we are looking at introducing further tax breaks. We will deal with the issue of classification, and other announcements that will, I think, please my hon. Friend will form part of the final report.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on taking on one of the best jobs in government. He will have already discovered, however, that he has a very full in-tray, and one of the most pressing problems he faces is the need to tackle online piracy. While I welcome the proposals in “Digital Britain”, does he agree that the best way forward is to press internet service providers to adopt a graduated response against offenders, rather than expect content providers to sue every offender in the courts?
I certainly agree that it is important that content providers work with all the other interested parties in addressing this problem. As part of our “Digital Britain” final report, we intend to ensure that that happens, and I think the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by the proposals that we expect to make. He is right that piracy is a serious issue, particularly for the creative talent of this country, given the revenue that is lost as a result of the practice.
May I also welcome my hon. and, I hope, personal Friend to his new post and say how pleasing it is to see a new Secretary of State sitting in the House of Commons? The BBC lies at the heart of the “Digital Britain” issue, of course. I do not know whether my hon. Friend heard the Public Accounts Committee Chairman trying last week gently to persuade Mr. John Humphrys to reveal how much he was paid by the public. Mr. Humphrys refused—so some people know how to keep secrets. When a Bill is introduced, will my hon. Friend add a clause obliging the BBC to be subject to the full rigour of the Freedom of Information Act so that we can know everything about pay, allowances and expenses for all areas of BBC employment, including its presenters?
As a co-former BBC employee, I am sure my right hon. Friend shares my admiration for the BBC as an organisation. The question he asks is, of course, for the BBC, but perhaps I can reassure him by saying that I believe that when the public pay for something through their taxes—or, in this case, the licence fee—they expect transparency and accountability, and I think they are right to have that expectation.
I, too, welcome the Secretary of State to his new post. Having already praised the BBC from the Dispatch Box, does he agree that “Digital Britain” provides a golden opportunity to sort out an anomaly in the regulation of the BBC’s charter? Is it not ludicrous that the BBC Trust remains within the BBC, so that on the one hand it is a flag waver for the BBC on issues such as the licence fee and on the other hand it is a supposedly independent regulator on issues such as “Canvas”? Would it not be better to see if we can develop an independent regulatory body for all our public service broadcasters?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern—which other Members have expressed—about the fact that the trust acts as cheerleader and regulator of the BBC. I hope he would not expect me to announce Government policy on the hoof, but I can say that I envisage that we will address this issue in the final report. I am, of course, happy to consider his views, which are, by and large, usually very sensible, and to continue to have a dialogue with him about this issue in the weeks to come.
May I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on taking up his post? He is the fourth Culture Secretary in less than two years. In fairness, he has had only two days to prepare for today’s questions, so he has the support of the whole House, particularly today.
One of the crucial issues for the “Digital Britain” report is how to preserve impartiality in a digital era. Does the Secretary of State believe that Sir Alan Sugar can combine his role as host of Britain’s most popular business TV programme with his new job as the Government’s enterprise champion, whereby he will sit in the House of Lords, taking the Labour Whip?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has written to the BBC Trust to express his concerns and I should be interested to see a copy of its reply, if he sends me one. On the face of it, I do not see a conflict of interest; my memory of the BBC producer guidelines is that they were very clear about people who were involved in political programming not doing political jobs, and I recall that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) presented a jazz programme without there being any suggestion of a conflict of interest. This is a matter for the BBC. I understand that Sir Alan discussed it with the BBC before this decision was taken, that he is not being paid and that all his business interests are being put at arm’s length. We will have to wait to see how the trust responds to the hon. Gentleman.
I urge the Secretary of State to examine this arrangement closely, because someone having their own weekly TV programme at the same time as being one of the main ambassadors for Government policy in precisely the same area is unprecedented. If there is a general election in June 2010, according to the current schedules “The Apprentice” will be shown during the campaign. Would it be right for the BBC to carry on screening “The Apprentice” in that period, given that its main star is a principal advocate of Government business policy?
As I said, these are matters for the BBC. The hon. Gentleman will have a robust exchange with the BBC about them. I have just explained that I am prepared to criticise the BBC where I think it has made a mistake. If he were to examine my record on the Gilligan scandal and on the Hutton inquiry, and my comments after the BBC’s failure to publish the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal, he would find that I am not backward in coming forward to criticise the BBC where I think that the criticism is justified. This is an issue for the BBC, and I shall be interested to see how it responds to his letter.
Let us hope that the Secretary of State does not hear the words, “You’re fired.” We know that the digital money underspend is crucial to regional news and current affairs programmes, so will he make sure that it is given to the ITV network, ensuring that we have regional news in the north-west and across the other regions? Without it, the BBC will not have the competition it needs to ensure that quality and impartiality in news programmes.
My hon. Friend is right to mention the importance of sustaining a plurality of provision in regional news. However, I do not think it sensible at this stage to narrow the options for ensuring that. He advocates one position, but there might be others to consider. Whatever happens, I assure him that we will address the importance of regional news provision, its continuity and its plurality when we publish the final report.
Digital Switchover (South-West)
Switchover is on track in the south-west: viewers served by the Beacon hill and Stockland hill transmitter groups have now successfully switched, and other parts of the region will switch between July and September. Three months away from the remaining south-west switchovers, 97 per cent. of residents are aware of switchover and 96 per cent. of homes already have access to digital TV on their main sets.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to an area that is so important in Plymouth, Exeter, the rest of Devon and Cornwall; I am sure that their media industries will look forward to his contribution as Secretary of State. On digital switchover, does have confidence that when it comes to the turn of the Caradon hill transmitter, which serves Plymouth, things will go as smoothly as they have done thus far? What is his assessment of how far the help scheme is reaching out to the people it needs to help?
As I understand it, Plymouth will begin to switch on 12 August, with the Caradon hill transmitter, and will conclude on 9 September. We believe that we are prepared, as are viewers across the region. Leaflets have been sent to every home, and there have been television, radio and press adverts. As my hon. Friend will know, people are eligible for help if they are over 75, registered blind or receive certain allowances or benefits. In total, 300,000 eligible people will be offered help in the old ITV West Country region. So far, we are aware of 26,000 people requesting help.
May I join the general acclamation of the Secretary of State’s appointment and wish him every success in dealing with his crowded in-tray? One of the complex issues that he has to confront is the consequence of digital switchover and the release of spectrum that flows from that programme in the south-west and elsewhere. Will he pay particular attention to the consequences for the programme making and special events sector, and the continued viability of radio microphones for broadcasting entertainment and a wide variety of other purposes?
I will be happy to look into the points that the hon. Gentleman raises. As the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) said, I have had only two days to get on top of the issues, so I hope that the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff) will forgive me if I am not on top of every detail. I will ensure that I look into the one that he raises.
May I also add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend? He was a superb regional Minister and I was proud to be his deputy. All of us in the south-west are delighted to see him elevated to the Cabinet.
He may be aware of an issue in Swindon that I have raised with several of his predecessors—the digital switchover for the railway village. It is one of the poorest communities in Swindon and a conservation area, and the switchover faces extreme difficulties. Will he look into that?
I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State. May I say how welcome it is that we may now expect a large dose of culture in DCMS? Will he look at the situation in Salisbury and south Wiltshire, one of the last switchover stations? Is there any hope of accelerating digital switchover for people in rural communities who depend on it more than other people for any possibility of choice and diversity?
The majority of UK Sport and Sport England funding is allocated to organisations such as national governing bodies rather than regionally. It is used to deliver the Government’s key sporting objectives across the country, including in the north-west. Specific grants benefiting the north-west this year include more than £10 million of Exchequer funding for county sports partnerships and the English Institute of Sport in the region, and more than £1 million of UK Sport Lottery funding for major events, including the Paralympic World cup.
The Minister will know that the previous Conservative Government set up the lottery with provision for grass-roots sports as one of its primary good causes. The sport industry in the north-west makes up 1.5 per cent. of the area’s economy, but—in my experience recently—ever-decreasing funds are dedicated to grass-roots sports. What may my constituents expect in sport funding for 2009-10? This is important, because grass-roots sport is critical.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his involvement in sport. I remember as a new Member discussing with him sport in Macclesfield, many years ago. I do not accept that there has been a reduction in funding for grass-roots sport—indeed, the opposite is true. In schools, we are trying to bring the two-hour offer up to five hours and encouraging sports clubs to work with schools, to try to bring them together to increase the number of young people taking part. We have also seen an increase in the number of girls taking part in sport at all levels. I also mentioned to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) the investment of more than £5 billion in the last 12 years. Rather than seeing a reduction in funding for community sports, we have seen a three-fold increase. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will also be aware of the funding available not only through the governing bodies, but through Sport England’s rural and innovation funds. Many of the clubs that he mentions will be able to take advantage of that funding.
We heard earlier how receptive councils will be to the Minister’s advice and views on developing and enabling sport. Will he give advice to local education authorities in the north-west and elsewhere, such as Essex county council, that they should not sell off school playing fields, such as the field at Castle View school in Canvey Island, for development, but should retain those school fields for sport?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that over the past 12 years we have safeguarded school playing fields, ensuring that they cannot be sold without procedures being followed and without Sport England being involved. There is a debate about playing fields as opposed to the provision of indoor sports facilities, which I accept. Our record shows that we have stopped the sell-off of playing fields that happened under the previous Government. We want to see more world-class facilities available to everybody.
One of the most successful funders of sport in the north-west, not mentioned by the Minister, is, of course, the Football Foundation. There were reports last week that the Football Association intends to cut the grant it gives the Football Foundation by approximately 15 per cent., or at least £2 million each year. Incidentally, that contradicts all the assurances that we were given as part of the 2018 World cup launch last week, which the Minister and I attended together. Given that the Government are the FA’s funding partner for the Football Foundation, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees with this policy? If not, as I suspect, what is he doing to stop it?
At a meeting of the Football Foundation board, the issue was raised of the potential reduction in funding to grassroots sports. It is not something that I would be very happy about. I am told that it is only a proposal at this stage, but the hon.Gentleman is quite right to raise it and I shall be raising it with the FA as soon as possible
Through the PE and school sport strategy, £1.5 billion was invested in the five years to 2008. A further £783 million has been committed for the next three years. That has already helped to ensure that 90 per cent. of schools now provide cricket to their pupils. The “chance to shine” programme has also played a significant part in bringing the sport to young people, with 20,000 sessions delivered across 2,000 schools in 2008. In addition, Sport England has awarded nearly £38 million over the next four years to the cricket programmes.
The cricket board’s “chance to shine” programme is an excellent initiative, but it is able to get into only about a third of all state schools. Of the competitive matches it has organised, only a tiny percentage—about 4 per cent.—are played with cricket balls. How on earth are we going to beat the Windies, India and Australia in the future when so few youngsters are playing competitive cricket and when, of those who are playing competitive cricket, only a tiny proportion are learning to play with cricket balls?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I had the misfortune to be at Lord’s on Friday to see England being beaten by Holland. Thankfully, England managed to rectify the situation against Pakistan yesterday. I think that the hon. Gentleman is right, and what we are trying to do with the investment—cricket gets the biggest investment of Sport England money—is to ensure that we have the best coaches and the best opportunities, particularly for school children. We are trying to get school children and the clubs together to ensure that that coaching continues. The way in which that coaching is provided is surely a matter for the England and Wales Cricket Board and not for the Government.
In inspiring young people to take up cricket, is it not a great shame that alone of the major sports there is no live coverage of it on free-to-air TV, particularly in a summer when there are the Ashes and the Twenty20 world cup? Is this not something that the David Davies review of listed events should consider seriously?
Certainly. I congratulate my hon. Friend, who is a keen supporter not only of men’s cricket but of women’s cricket. He will congratulate the England women’s team that won the Ashes in Australia and will hopefully do very well in the world cup that is now taking place. We asked the David Davies review of listed events to ensure that we look at all the things that need to be considered. When that report comes to us shortly, the Secretary of State and I will make recommendations, which will then go out to consultation.
Does the Minister agree that if cricket is to flourish, particularly in state schools, we need close links with clubs and a commitment from teachers to stay on after hours to coach and take teams? What discussions has he held with his colleagues in other Departments to make sure that those people are able to commit their time?
One of the good things about sport is that we work with colleagues right across Government—whether it is cricket or swimming, we are showing the impact that sport can have on other programmes for individual development. Specifically on cricket, the increase in school sport from two hours to five hours can be delivered only by clubs working closely with schools. Yes, PE teachers, and teachers, are important, but we also have specialist sports colleges and competition managers in schools. We need to encourage more coaches at different levels. We certainly want volunteer coaches, but we also want coaches for specific sports, including cricket, which is why we set up investment to offer 5,000 young people the opportunity to become cricket coaches.
The Minister realises of course that for young people to play cricket there must be cricket clubs. What advice can he give Wilnecote sports and social club, which runs two teams, but is suffering from a high level of vandalism and needs £20,000 to build a perimeter defence to reduce it? The club has made applications to our local council, which has reserves of 200 per cent. in its annual budget but refuses to pass on to local clubs the money the Government have sent down. Of course, it is a Conservative local authority. What advice can my hon. Friend give?
I hope the local authority will support its local sports clubs. Whether it is cricket, football, rugby or hockey, the role of the local sports club in our communities is vital. Clubs do work that is usually unpaid and usually done by volunteers, but the impact on our communities is large. The amount of vandalism we see in many sports fields and clubs is regrettable. Sometimes, volunteers are sickened by the mindless vandalism that takes place. If my hon. Friend needs my assistance to speak to the local authority about the specific case he raises, I am happy to provide it. The authority should understand the significant contribution that the local club is making.
The new planning policy statement will be published in draft this summer and consulted on immediately afterwards, with a view to its coming into force early next year. I know that the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) will now take me to task because I promised that it would be available by Easter, but we believe that it is important to get it right.
I thank the Minister for her reply, but does she not appreciate that there is some urgency about not only the reforms and proposals on the PPS, but also the Heritage Protection Bill that the Government should have brought in last year but did not? There is a whole swathe of legislation that we were told would be brought in because we did not need primary legislation, such as reform of secondary legislation to deal with the Shimizu judgment, the heritage partnership agreement, the guidance for investment in and promotion of historic environment records and improved protection for world heritage sites. When will those matters be dealt with?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and I appreciate his concern. My Department and I have been working with heritage groups to address exactly the matters he has raised, not all of which need primary legislation. I should be happy to copy him into the work we are doing in those areas.
Would the Minister be kind enough to tell the new Secretary of State—I welcome him warmly—that one of the biggest disappointments in his excellent predecessor was that he did not bring in the heritage Bill? May we have some real action on that now? There is plenty of parliamentary time.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s disappointment and the disappointment felt in the whole House about that; we argued with L Committee and fought for the Bill and I shall continue to do what I can to advance heritage protection. I know that my about-to- be right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will do the same.
Does the hon. Lady agree that the Government have been short-sighted, mean-spirited and lacking in vision on their duty of care towards the maintenance of the royal palaces? At what stage will the Government agree to play their part in maintaining those vital historic places?
I am afraid that I cannot possibly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I know that the predecessor of my about-to-be right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a meeting with representatives from the royal palaces last week, and I will follow the matter up with the new Secretary of State.
What progress has been made in resolving the various disputes about the options for development close to, and around, Stonehenge?
I am flattered that the Minister knew that I would intervene on this question—and, indeed, knew that one of the things for which I would take her to task was the fact that the planning policy statement has been delayed since Easter. Was she also aware that I would take her to task for the fact that the Government have cut £100 million from the heritage budget over the past 10 years? Was she aware that, like my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), I would invite her to ask the new Secretary of State, whom we all welcome to his new position, to speak to the Prime Minister, so that we can bring forward a heritage protection Bill that has the support of all parties in this House? It would have the added benefit of giving a Government who are currently focused on their own preservation something else to focus on.
I am glad that I can read the hon. Gentleman’s mind. Like him, I am extremely concerned about conserving our heritage, not least because I am Minister for tourism, and people come to look at our marvellous and unique heritage. I will work with the new Secretary of State on that. I realise that there have been cuts, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to pause and consider what his own party has promised in the way of cuts, and what he would do with heritage if those cuts were made.
Museum and Gallery Admissions
Visits to national museums and galleries are at a record high for the third year running, with more than 40.3 million such visits recorded last year. Since the Government introduced the free admission policy in 2001, visits to previously charging museums have more than doubled, from 7.2 million eight years ago to 16 million last year.
On Friday my grandson Charlie enjoyed the delights of Bolton’s excellent free aquarium and museum. Does my hon. Friend agree that the pleasure of museums should not be confined just to rich children, any more than membership of this House should be confined to rich adults?
My Department’s responsibilities are set out in our website. They have an important part to play in sustaining and boosting Britain’s economy, helping define our national identity and improving people’s health and well-being. I look forward to working with my ministerial colleagues and Members in all parts of the House to continue to maximise the public good of the arts, culture more generally, sport and media in all our lives.
I welcome my hon. Friend to his new position. He may be aware that I chair the all-party group on libraries, literacy and information management, which is undertaking a review of the strategic leadership of our public libraries sector. May I ask him to honour his predecessor’s commitment and come before the group to give us a strategic view on the leadership of that important public service, especially in the light of the anger expressed about closures and the failing services evident in the country?
I share my hon. Friend’s concern for the future of libraries and recognition of their importance. I will be happy to meet her and her all-party group. She may, though, wish to reflect on the fact that I might be able to give her a better strategic view when I have had a little more time to settle into the job.
I thoroughly agree with the hon. Gentleman. Such participation increases not only cohesion but well-being, and something that is in rather short supply at present—happiness.
That is certainly something that we shall have to think about carefully as we address the problem of regional news and the merger and acquisitions legislation in the context of the very difficult times that some of our excellent local and regional newspapers are going through. Members in all parts of the House recognise and value the role played by regional and local newspapers not only in informing the public in their local areas, but in holding us and locally elected officials to account. It would be very sad to see the demise of local and regional newspapers.
Now that the appalling system of proportional representation has, predictably, led to the election of two neo-Nazis from the British National party to the European Parliament, does the Secretary of State agree that this raises serious issues for the concept of due impartiality on the part of the BBC and independent television when reporting political matters? What conversations does he propose to have with the broadcasting authorities to ensure that appropriate fairness does not mean a platform to spout racist and other unacceptable views?
Although we agree on many things, the hon. Gentleman and I do not agree on a fairer voting system. I point out to him that in Germany, Italy and a number of other countries that have a more proportional system, that has not resulted in extreme right-wing parties being elected to the Bundestag or the Italian Parliament. I am sure the broadcasters will take their duties under the impartiality rules extremely seriously, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that what happened yesterday poses a dilemma for them. My own view is that usually, when one gives those people a platform, they condemn themselves out of their own mouths.
Given his immediate past responsibilities, I am sure the new Secretary of State will be aware of the benefits of audio description for elderly people and people with poor eyesight. Will he take the opportunity to build on the excellent work undertaken by his predecessor in promoting the availability of set-top boxes with one-button click to audio description for elderly people generally, throughout the community?
I shall look into the issue that my right hon. Friend raises. As I am sure he is aware, audio description is now a mandatory requirement for the equipment provided as the standard offer under the digital switchover scheme, and blind and partially sighted people are also eligible for help with the scheme. I assure him that I will also look into the particular issue that he raises about the single switch.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his promotion. Will he join me in congratulating the Royal Shakespeare Company on its new production of “Julius Caesar” at Stratford upon Avon—a play full of deceit, lies, gossip, intrigue and assassins, but assassins with sharp knives not blunted knives? Will he tell the House what lessons can be drawn from Shakespeare, particularly from plays such as “Julius Caesar”, for the modern world?
What I can say is that, having had to almost give up my cultural life over the past few years, I am looking forward, in this job, to spending a bit more time in the theatre in order to reacquaint myself with the lessons for our modern politics to be found in the great man’s works.
We are happy to look after my hon. Friend’s grandchildren for their cultural and sporting activities—but he raises a fair point. It was important to us to ensure that the whole country supported free swimming, and more than 80 per cent. of councils have introduced it for the over 60s, while 60 per cent. have done so for the under-16s. A significant part of that activity is school swimming lessons, and we have been speaking to the sport’s governing bodies to find better ways to try to ensure that we have enough coaches to teach swimming. That is an important and integral part of what we are trying to achieve. It is one of the successes of this Government, working in conjunction with local authorities, that we have built up free swimming to its current level.
Like the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Crausby), I have grandchildren—eight, actually—[Hon. Members: “Name them.”] I could, but it would take a little time. Some of my grandchildren are already swimmers. Following up the hon. Gentleman’s question, my question to the appropriate Minister is, does he not think that local authorities should be encouraged to give a substantial discount on the hire of a leisure centre swimming pool to amateur clubs that spend a great deal of time and effort on teaching young people to swim—and particularly, to a club in Macclesfield, which provides teaching for people with disabilities? Should we not encourage those clubs by giving them a discount that would enable them to hire the pool more easily without spending so much time raising money?
I hope that we will now see that progression in terms of local authorities working in their communities and with different partners, both public and private, on the provision of swimming. A great opportunity exists, and I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject of people with disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, having the opportunity to become involved in sport in the same way as everybody else. I do believe that we should look at ways in which the governing bodies can be creative in supporting clubs through the club structure, which comes under the governing bodies, and in working with local government. That is why the money has gone through the governing body process. I am also pleased that many local authorities now use sport as a performance indicator. I believe that that progression will develop, and I hope that it will develop in Macclesfield as well.
As a part of the new Secretary of State’s programme for refreshing his interest in the arts, may I invite him to visit Battersea Arts Centre? It pioneered the first “pay what you can” scheme, which still runs on Tuesday evenings, and, under the Government’s free theatre initiative, has now given away more than 630 tickets to local young people in Wandsworth. My right hon. Friend will be able to see two schemes that have already spun off that initiative—“A Night Less Ordinary”, which brings together all the London theatres that put on cutting-edge new work, and BAC’s young critics review, which has engendered huge enthusiasm in young people and now been taken over by Arts Council England.
I shall be happy to visit my hon. Friend’s local arts centre, if I can squeeze that into my diary. I understand that until recently it was under threat of closure by his local Conservative borough council. He may also like to know that although we do not yet have the official figures for the free theatre tickets scheme, the anecdotal evidence is very encouraging: the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has already been referred to, has already allocated almost 1,700 tickets for its summer season in Stratford-on-Avon; the West Yorkshire Playhouse has issued more than 1,000 tickets, 87 per cent. of which have gone to young people who are new bookers, who have not been to the theatre before; the scheme’s website has received more than 360,000 unique visits; and, there are now 3,500 members of its Facebook group—one of the other Facebook groups that I shall have to join.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to congratulate Burton Latimer library in my constituency on proving to be an increasingly popular local library resource, and on using ever more innovative ways to encourage local community participation?
I am told that the national skills academy for creative and cultural skills, which is to be co-located with the Royal Opera House project in Thurrock, is in jeopardy because of the bureaucracy involved in getting the necessary funding from the Arts Council and the regional development agency. My hon. Friend is the Minister for the East of England as well as being at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Can she assure me from the Dispatch Box today that the inertia will be broken through and that the funding will be obtained? Jobs are in jeopardy and the situation is jeopardising some of the Government’s other strategies for the Thames Gateway. Furthermore, we want the investment for cultural and economic reasons. What is the hold-up? Will my hon. Friend please say what she will do about it?
My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue. The Royal Opera House is to move its scenery operations and some of its rehearsals base to Thurrock. Its work there and the national skills academy’s work at the Royal Opera House are vital. We are working to resolve the hold-up involving the money; I am working on the issue both as Minister for the East of England and as a Minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Minister for the Olympics was asked—
I certainly am.
In January this year the Olympic Delivery Authority announced that an additional 250 apprenticeships would be created on the Olympic park, bringing the total number of apprenticeships there to 350. That will be achieved in a number of ways. Critically, the ODA will mandate that apprentices should make up 3 per cent. of project work forces for the remaining £500 million worth of contracts that are still to be tendered for; it is worth underlining the fact that that level of apprenticeship investment represents three times the industry average for London and the south-east. It increases the ODA’s overall target for trainees, apprentices and work placements to 2,250. That is an important and ambitious target in ensuring that the legacy of the Olympics will be a local population that is more skilled and qualified to stay in work.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and for the Government’s continuing commitment to providing apprenticeships and training on the Olympic site. However, given that the Olympics are a fairly time-limited project, and that Crossrail and the development along the lower Lea valley is coming up, will she assure me that the apprenticeships and training opportunities currently provided on the Olympic site will be rolled out into those new development and construction opportunities?
I thank my hon. Friend. I should like to place on the record my recognition and gratitude to her, and other Members with constituencies in the Olympic borough, for their advocacy for this level of investment in apprenticeships and skills. I give her the assurance that she seeks. The skills academy, which is currently training apprentices for the Olympic park, will continue its work. London’s construction industry is an ageing one. We are recruiting new young apprentices who will be able to transfer to other major infrastructure projects such as the Crossrail programme, on which construction is to start shortly; that is another example of the Olympic legacy.
I welcome what the Minister says about apprenticeships. However, the depressing news of the election of two BNP members underlines the importance of targeting apprenticeships, training and employment opportunities on the main Olympic site at local people. Does the Minister regret that there has been a drop in the proportion of local people employed on the Olympic park, can she confirm whether there has been a similar drop in the number of apprentices and trainees from the local area, and what action is she taking to redress that problem?
The hon. Gentleman is correct that the recent figures show a reduction from 23 per cent. to 20 per cent. in the proportion of local people working in the park, but he should also recognise that the actual numbers of local people working there have increased. In fact, when I looked at the apprenticeship figures, I saw that they mirrored that. About 20 per cent. of young apprentices are from local boroughs, but 50 per cent. are from London. The five Olympic boroughs are among the most diverse communities in London. They are optimistic and committed to the Olympics, and in everything they do as part of the Olympics they are a powerful argument against the hatred and racism of the BNP.
Contracts (Scottish Companies)
Just over 2,000 businesses registered in Scotland have registered on the CompeteFor network. To date, 13 businesses registered in Scotland have been awarded contracts by the Olympic Delivery Authority, which is 1.4 per cent. of the total number awarded. However, those figures do not include subcontractors, of which Scottish Enterprise, which is doing an extremely good and vigorous job in selling the potential of Olympic contracts, recognises another 15, with more to come. Of those, two contracts were awarded to suppliers registered on the CompeteFor network. In order to continue to press the business opportunities not only at the construction phase but beyond, the ODA has hosted events in Glasgow, Dunfermline and Edinburgh to ensure that all local businesses in those areas, and across Scotland, are aware of the commercial benefits that they can gain from the Olympics.
I welcome what my right hon. Friend says. Indeed, I know that businesses in my own constituency have won contracts from the ODA. However, may I invite her to speak to the Scottish Government to urge them to play a more active role in encouraging businesses in Scotland to take opportunities provided by the Olympics in London? I am afraid that their record has not been very good as regards co-operation with the UK Government, and I urge her to speak to them to ensure that they redouble their efforts to try to get businesses in Scotland to take full advantage of the opportunities arising from the Olympics in 2012.
Yes, I am happy to do that. Indeed, I hope that the message goes right round the country that the contracts that will be let are commercial and business opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses, not just in Scotland but across the United Kingdom.
The Minister has given some rather disappointing figures. I would not wish in any way to take anything away from London—and neither, I am sure, would she, as a fellow London Member. However, it is important to recognise that these are national games, and we would not wish any part of the United Kingdom to miss out. In the run-up phase beyond the construction phase, which she rightly mentions, can she ensure that we do more to promote the national element of the games? Particularly given the cost and the controversy that has surrounded the London Olympics, nothing would be worse than to give the impression that they are just for the capital city, because they are something of which everyone in the UK should be proud.
The hon. Gentleman should accept that every Member in this House can have a responsibility in that respect. Every day I make the point that these are the UK’s games in London. That is why we have been so successful in ensuring that about half the contracts for the construction of the Olympic park go to businesses outside London. The advocacy of Government is one part of delivering this sense of shared opportunity, but the initiative can also be taken by Members of Parliament, local chambers of commerce, small business support services and so forth. All around the country the opportunities are there to be seized. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we must be able to show at every turn that these are the UK’s games in London.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Stephen Pound) for his question. All the major venues on the Olympic park are either on schedule or ahead of schedule. [Interruption]. I thought that he would like some good news today. The International Olympic Committee’s co-ordination committee, during its visit in April, described progress to date as “nothing short of astounding”. We will be very happy to facilitate a visit to the Olympic park for any Member.
Some 34.1 per cent. of the Olympic Delivery Authority’s programme is now complete. Construction has now commenced on all five major venues, and construction of the Olympic stadium is now one year in and remains ahead of schedule. Excellent progress is being made on the aquatics centre, and the roof that will form the gateway to the games is already taking shape in the skyline. Construction has also begun on the international broadcast centre, the main press centre and the velodrome.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. During the riotous celebrations that followed Labour’s victory over the Conservatives in Ealing last night, my thoughts naturally turned to the Olympic construction programme. Ealing is an olympian borough, if not an Olympic one, and we are acutely conscious of the legacy of the infrastructure that she is building. Will she please keep foremost in her mind the fact that future generations, including generations unborn, will look to the physical legacy of the Olympics to progress Britain’s sporting supremacy?
The only venue yet to be constructed that continues to cause controversy is the shooting venue. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) would have raised that issue had there been time to call his question, which is next on the Order Paper. The key issue is clearly cost. The shooting authorities make the claim, which was repeated in the House of Lords at the end of last week, that it would be £10 million cheaper to build the venue at Bisley. The Olympic Board clearly rejected that at its meeting last month, saying that it would be considerably cheaper to build it at Greenwich. At the previous Olympics questions the Minister undertook to publish a full set of costings so that we could all make a judgment. Is she in a position today to say when that will be, so that we can all make a judgment one way or the other?
No, I am not in a position either to publish the figures today, or to say when we will. [Hon. Members: “Terrible!”] It is not terrible at all; the figures are subject to sensitive commercial negotiation. When we are in a position to publish them, I shall do so. There was wide consultation leading up to the Olympic Board’s decision last month. That decision has now been taken, and I hope that we will be able to proceed to develop the venue at Woolwich as decided.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the case of Daniel Sonnex. Last Thursday, Sonnex was convicted with Nigel Farmer of the brutal and sadistic murders of two French students, Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez. They were killed on 29 June last year at their flat in New Cross, in the London borough of Lewisham.
I know that I speak for the whole House in sending our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the two young victims of this appalling crime. I have met those families on two occasions and have discussed the case with the French ambassador. The families will continue to be given every possible support in their time of grief.
Sonnex was a serious criminal. At the time of the murders he could and should have been in custody. The background is as follows. In 2003, Sonnex was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for multiple offences. He behaved violently in prison and admitted to a prison medical officer that his “reactions could kill”. He was released from prison on 8 February 2008, the latest date he could lawfully be held in custody, having twice been refused parole. He was on licence, liable to recall, until 11 October.
On Sonnex’s release, there were serious failings by prison and probation staff. Potentially crucial information, such as that from the medical officer, which I have just quoted, was not shared between the Prison Service and the police and probation services. Sonnex was never adequately assessed for risk, nor considered for multi-agency public protection arrangements—MAPPA—both of which would have resulted in more intensive community supervision.
Within days of release, Sonnex and another individual were alleged to have tied up a relative and her partner and violently threatened them. The allegations were subsequently withdrawn, so the police pursued the matter no further. Probation staff then judged that the incident merited nothing more than a formal warning. That was clearly a further error. The seriousness of the allegation warranted a revised risk assessment and referral to a multi-agency public protection panel. That did not take place.
In the event, Sonnex complied with his licence requirements until 23 April last year, when he was arrested for handling stolen goods and remanded in custody. On 3 May, his offender manager initiated the process to recall him to prison in the light of the alleged offence. However, at the handling stolen goods court hearing on 16 May, Sonnex was granted bail.
From the record of the hearing, it seems that the prosecutor believed that Sonnex was being recalled to prison anyway, and consequently did not oppose bail. However, exactly what transpired in the court and its margins is still not clear. What is clear is that Sonnex should not have been released on to the streets that day.
The recall process was then poorly handled and subject to unacceptable delay by probation staff. In addition, the police failed to share information with probation services, which should have altered Sonnex’s risk assessment. The recall was not submitted for approval until 12 June to the National Offender Management Service public protection unit, which turned it around promptly and issued the recall revocation notice to the police the next day. The probation service labelled the recall “standard” rather than “emergency”, which meant that the police target time to return Sonnex to prison was 96 hours instead of 48.
The execution of the warrant was complicated by police concerns about whether Sonnex had access to firearms. In the event, the police did not attempt to serve the warrant and arrest him until 29 June. That was another wholly unacceptable delay, and, tragically, too late for Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, as it was the same day as the murders were committed.
While responsibility for the murders lies with the perpetrators alone, the successive failings that I have outlined meant that Sonnex was free to kill those young men when he could and should have been locked up.
Those failures were not a question of poor resources, but of poor judgments and poor management in London Probation, as well as errors by the Metropolitan police and the Prison Service. As Secretary of State responsible for the probation service and the Prison Service, I take responsibility for their failings, and the Metropolitan police take responsibility for their failings. On behalf of each agency, I have apologised to the families of Laurent Bonomo and Gabriel Ferez, and I do so publicly again today.
Let me now set out the action that has been undertaken since those failures came to light in July last year. After the murders, London Probation held an immediate “serious further offence” review into the case. It was completed in October 2008. In the light of its findings, a more detailed NOMS investigation was established.
Having considered the latter report in late January, I determined with senior officials that the situation in London Probation warranted the most severe intervention statutorily available to me and that the chief officer of London Probation would be suspended pending the results.
Having been informed of this decision and reviewed the investigation reports, the chief officer very honourably accepted responsibility for the failures and resigned on 27 February. Pending recruitment of a permanent replacement, I approved the appointment of an experienced former chief officer, Paul Wilson, to lead London Probation from March. Meanwhile, London Probation conducted disciplinary investigations into the staff directly responsible for managing Sonnex, which determined that the failings were due to factors beyond their control. As a result, one individual received mandatory retraining, but no formal disciplinary action was taken.
Separately, in July 2008, the Metropolitan police referred the case to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Met has accepted both of the IPCC’s subsequent recommendations, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will ensure that they are urgently implemented by every force. One police officer received a disciplinary warning. The Met now has a unit in each borough dedicated to arresting wanted offenders. It has also put in place revised systems with other agencies to improve information sharing and ensure the identification and timely arrest of such offenders.
In February this year, I agreed, following the chief officer’s departure, that London Probation’s performance should be subject to the most intensive scrutiny available. London Probation is also taking steps to provide far greater senior-level scrutiny and prioritisation of high-risk offenders. The new London director of offender management will report monthly on progress to my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson), the Minister with responsibility for prisons and probation, and my right hon. Friend will update Parliament in the autumn.
In March, I asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of probation, Andrew Bridges, to conduct a series of case inspections in London. Mr. Bridges has completed the inspection covering Greenwich and Lewisham, where Sonnex was managed, and has published his findings. Further reports will be published in the coming months. If I am not satisfied that there has been significant progress, I will not hesitate to intervene again. Finally, every probation area in the country has been instructed urgently to re-examine the way in which it manages offenders presenting a risk of harm, in the light of the failings in this case.
All the reports to which I have referred were published last Thursday as soon as the verdicts were known. Their recommendations have been accepted in full. Copies of the “serious further offence” review, the NOMS report, the chief inspector of probation’s report and a London Criminal Justice Board report are available in the Vote Office and the Library.
The failings in the Sonnex case are a matter of profound sorrow and regret to everyone concerned. It is, however, important in considering the case that we do not unduly tarnish the work of all those dedicated professionals who have to deal every day with some of the most dangerous and unpredictable individuals in our society. But nor were those failures the result of a lack of resources—probation funding has increased by 70 per cent. in real terms since 1997, and London Probation underspent its £154 million budget last year by £3.5 million—rather, this was a failure to use the resources available to London Probation effectively.
When serious offenders are released into the community having completed their sentences, there will always be some risk that they will offend again. However, the criminal justice system has a duty to manage and minimise that risk. Where the system failed in this case, action has been taken. I will personally be monitoring progress until I am satisfied that standards have improved. The safety of the public and the memory of those two innocent young men whose lives were so brutally taken demand no less. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Justice Secretary for advance sight of his statement. The whole House will be shocked at the horrendous murder of Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo by Sonnex and Farmer. I join the Secretary of State in sending our sympathies to their families.
Those tragic deaths were the consequence of serious and systemic failures across the criminal justice system. The independent review into the case found “errors of judgment”, “failures of communication”, “inadequate staffing levels”, wrong assessments and, finally, a whole series of “systematic” failures. Sonnex, a dangerous criminal, slipped through every crack in the system. He was serving an eight-year sentence for robberies and violence, yet despite 40 breaches of prison discipline, including violence to staff and inmates, he had to be released in less than five years. His risk rating was inexplicably downgraded from “high” to “medium”. The probation officer in charge was overworked and overwhelmed, but even at this stage tragedy was avoidable.
Sonnex then kidnapped a pregnant woman and her partner. He held a knife to her throat and a hammer to his head. The fact that they managed to escape was down to their bravery and a measure of luck. Will the Justice Secretary explain how, after that, Sonnex received only a verbal warning, when the incident could and should have led to his immediate recall to jail? Sonnex was then arrested for handling stolen goods. Inexplicably, he was bailed. Recall proceedings were then initiated by the probation service, but they took over a month just to be processed, and by that time it was too late.
Does the Justice Secretary accept that these systemic failings are a direct result of a number of factors? First, that fixed-term sentences are utterly meaningless because, however poor the behaviour in prison, release at or soon after the halfway point is obligatory. Secondly, that an overcrowded prison estate has led Ministers to pressurise the courts and probation service not to use custody even when, as in this case, it is vital to protect the public. Thirdly, does the Secretary of State accept that the failure to deliver on yet another information technology system—C-NOMIS, linking the courts, prisons and probation service—left staff ill-equipped to cope, and that the £40 million squandered on that system would have been better spent on strengthening front-line capacity?
Fourthly, does the Justice Secretary accept the independent review’s findings that the local probation service was inadequately staffed, diluting the supervision of such high-risk offenders? Does he also accept that the independent review’s finding that the probation service focused on Sonnex’s employment and accommodation needs, when its No.1 priority should have been public protection, is yet another symptom of confused priorities, paralysis and a lack of direction? He stated that resources were not an issue because the London section had an underspend of £3.5 million on an annual budget of £154 million, but is it not the case that this was due to the need of that section to anticipate cuts that would follow in an environment where consistent long-term funding simply does not exist?
The Justice Secretary seeks to respond to a wholesale breakdown in the system with announcements of procedural changes. Probation officers will get new guidance and a new template for managing high-risk offenders. If anyone is tempted to give credibility to this papering over the cracks, I would urge them to read the 2006 independent review into the murder of John Monckton by two dangerous criminals on probation, which revealed exactly the same basic failures to protect the public. A series of recommendations were made that, as we can see all too clearly today, have not been followed through.
Will the Justice Secretary confirm that Mr. David Scott, the chief probation officer for London who resigned in February, was brought in after the Monckton case? Will he confirm that Mr. Scott was specifically told at the time that he would be able to report back directly to the then Home Secretary on operational problems? Is he aware that Mr. Scott found that, after the Ministry of Justice was created, he was always channelled through NOMS, so that he felt that his concerns were not heard, let alone heeded, by Ministers, as promised? How can the Justice Secretary expect the House, or the wider public, to have any confidence in this Government’s resolve to see through his latest recommendations when they patently ignored the last ones?
That is my gravest fear. With £30 million of fresh cuts to front-line probation services, and with the Justice Secretary’s Ministry issuing directions to reduce the monitoring of those released on licence for life to once every six months, how can he give the House and the public an unequivocal assurance that these errors will not be repeated again? I fear that he cannot, because this Government’s systemic failures have put the public at greater risk.
Let me answer the hon. and learned Gentleman’s points in turn. He first asked whether it was appropriate for this man, Sonnex, to have been given a determinate sentence. Having been given such a sentence, he was released at the last possible moment, and I do not think that even the hon. and learned Gentleman is suggesting that people should be kept in custody unlawfully. Further legislation was going through as that man was being sentenced to eight years for robbery and other violent offences in 2003, and we have now introduced indeterminate sentences for public protection. It is almost certain that, had the IPP sentence been available for this case in 2003, Sonnex would have been given it and he would probably not have been released. One of the reasons we introduced the sentence was to cope with exactly this kind of offender.
The hon. and learned Gentleman then made a number of points about computer systems, some of which have not worked out as well as they should have, but he effectively answered his own point by highlighting that what ultimately failed here was not a lack of information or any lack in the computer system, but a simple matter of judgments by people who should have reached different judgments. Faced with the information about Sonnex’s alleged kidnapping of a relative, the probation service could and should have assessed the case as presenting a much higher risk; it should not only have given him a verbal warning, but made him subject to the MAPPA procedures and probably recalled him as well. As I say, that shows the importance of the judgments made—or those that failed to be made—all the way through, which is one of the causes of the tragedies that took place.
The hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to inadequate staffing in Greenwich and Lewisham, and I think that he is probably right about that, as it is also the view of Paul Wilson, who has replaced Mr. Scott on a temporary basis. What has emerged from work done across London Probation is that, overall, there was no shortage of resources—there could not have been; it underspent—the problem was the way the resources were allocated. The head of London Probation and the senior supervisors failed to take account of high work loads in some boroughs and lack of work loads in others, and they failed to shift resources accordingly. They failed to notice, for example, that although the average sickness rate across all London boroughs was already too high at about 13 days a year, it was running at 27 days a year—five and a half weeks—in Greenwich and Lewisham. That, alone, should have alerted senior managers to the problems that had to be faced.
Let me deal with the overall effectiveness of London Probation and of probation services more generally. I hesitate to use these figures—they are not being quoted by me or others in any way as an excuse for the failings that took place—but it happens to be the case that starting from a lamentable period of performance about a decade or so ago, there has been year by year improvement, including in recent years, in London Probation’s recall performance. It was down at a third 10 years ago, but it is up to 88 per cent. for the most recent period—and we intend to increase it still more.
As for money, I am happy to take lectures from some others on that subject, but not from the Conservative Front-Bench team, which is committed to further cuts. The money for London Probation has gone up by 62 per cent. since 2001 and by 16 per cent. since 2005. The probation service budget is not being cut by £30 million—not at all. In common with other public services, it is facing tighter budgets than it had before, but that is from a position of very generous settlements over many years.
It is typical of my right hon. Friend to come to the House to accept responsibility for the failings of his Department, but I am afraid that what he has said will not satisfy the parents of those who have died. Anyone who has read the victim impact assessment statements will know that the parents do not feel that what has been said so far has been satisfactory. My right hon. Friend talks about an increase in resources, but last year, as he said in an answer to me, the number of sick days in the probation service was 239,000. Replacing the chief executive of London Probation is simply not sufficient. Will he give the House an assurance that he will seek a very early meeting with the new Home Secretary, who has just left the Chamber, to address the communication problems so that when a request is made in the future, it is implemented immediately rather than in 33 days, which is the time it took for the last request from the probation service to be implemented by the police?
I will talk—indeed, I have already done so—to the new Home Secretary. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) for his comments. As I have highlighted in my answers to him, the level of sickness in some parts of London Probation was simply unacceptable. Given the shock created by this lamentable failure, as with the shock felt about similar previous incidents, improvements have been made, but we have to ensure that we raise the overall standard of management of the probation service, the police and the Prison Service in the handling of these dangerous offenders.
I, too, thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement.
This is a grim and dreadful case. I agree with the Secretary of State that ultimately the blame must lie with the evil individuals who carried out these appalling crimes, but the authorities must accept some degree of responsibility where their actions have contributed to creating the opportunity for crimes to be committed. That is why the right hon. Gentleman was right to apologise to the families of the victims for the failures across the criminal justice system: the Prison Service, the probation service, the Courts Service and the police. However, I must question his view that all the failures were failures of individuals or of management, and not failures of policy.
The right hon. Gentleman has said repeatedly that there was not a problem with overall resources, only a problem with the way in which those resources were allocated. Will he confirm what independent research has found—that the number of front-line probation officers in London fell by more than 700 between 2002 and 2006? If resources are not a problem, why has he announced the provision of 100 more probation officers in London? Surely that announcement itself flatly contradicts his argument.
The Secretary of State referred to the £3.5 million underspend in the London probation service, but did not answer the question put to him by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). May I ask that question in a slightly different way? Will he tell the House precisely how the underspend came about? Is it not the case that underspends often happen because of too frequent changes of policy, and because politicians demand change on unrealistic time scales, so that managers do not know how to plan for the long term? Can the Secretary of State guarantee that nothing of that sort happened in this case?
What explains the extraordinary figures relating to the inexperience of the probation officers concerned—nine months’ experience in the case of one officer at the centre of these events, and only two years’ experience in the case of the supervising officer? What has happened to all the experienced officers?
Let me turn to the subject of the Prison Service and the mistakes that were made about the classification of Sonnex as medium risk. The Secretary of State recognises that part of the problem must have been the chaotic state of the C-NOMIS project. Is it not the case—the right hon. Gentleman has not answered this question properly yet—that the extra millions that the Government claim to have put into the probation service were thrown at that failed project? Do the Government not take responsibility for that failure, or is it merely managerial as well?
Finally, let me deal with the issue of the police. The crucial question is, why did they not take Sonnex into custody in the 16 days between his recall and the murders? Could that failure have anything to do with the fact that at the time national police targets were all about sanction detections, so the kind of work involved in taking Sonnex back into prison would have been a low priority?
There are questions to be answered here, not just by individual officials on the operational side of the criminal justice system but by those responsible for policy, and ultimately that includes the Government.
I have made it clear from the moment when this matter became public last Thursday that I accept responsibility for the failures that have happened. They were mainly, but of course not exclusively, failures—I was going to say “failures by individuals”, but they were failures within an environment as well. I am not suggesting that the authorities should not—if I may pick up the phrase used by the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth)—accept some degree of responsibility. Of course they do: London Probation does, so does the National Offender Management Service, so do the Metropolitan police, and so do I.
The hon. Gentleman quoted a figure relating to a decline in London probation officer numbers which I simply do not recognise. The figures that I have show that between 2003 and 2007 inclusive—I do not have last year’s figures—there was a net increase in the number of senior probation officers and probation officers as a whole. That included a decline in the number of senior probation officers, an increase in the number of probation officers, and a very big increase in the number of probation service officers. Across the country, there has been an increase between 1997 and 2007 of getting on for 200 in the number of probation officers and senior probation officers, and an increase of more than 4,000 in the number of probation service officers. The money that has been put in has, therefore, gone principally on additional staff, as well as greatly improved training.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the inexperience of the probation officers who were expected to supervise Sonnex. That was terrible, and it is one of the reasons I have been extremely anxious throughout all my public comments not to suggest that that individual probation officer was responsible for the errors that were made. To do so would be unacceptable, because of the fact that somebody of such inexperience was put in charge and that they were given far too high a case load, despite neither being necessary given the resources available within the service.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned C-NOMIS. In 2007, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) made the decision to stop C-NOMIS—to reduce its scope. His decisions, for which I commend him, have been endorsed by the Public Accounts Committee, and a reduced C-NOMIS will be operational next year. It is not the case that it sucked resources away from front-line probation services.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman asked about national police targets. They have been one of the contributory factors that have led to a significant reduction in crime, which affects all our constituents, but they had nothing whatever to do with the failures here. The police had the target, which should have been shorter, to arrest Sonnex within 96 hours—four days. They palpably failed to meet that target, when they should have done, and that should be seen along with the other failures elsewhere in the system.
This was obviously an absolutely horrific crime and there were some inexcusable failings in how it was dealt with, such as failures to share information. The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that it was not a matter of resources, but he has also said that staffing levels were inadequate in that part of the probation service. How many cases was this inexperienced officer being asked to handle, and how confident can the Secretary of State be that officers will not be in a similar position in future given that we are expecting significant cuts in probation service budgets over the next few years?
The officer was handling about 120 cases, and for the level of work load and responsibility, it should have been 50 or 60; that is accepted. The issue, however, is that resources were not allocated properly either across different London boroughs according to their needs, or within each borough according to the priority that ought to be given to offenders. Too little was going to high-pressured boroughs and, in a sense, too much was going to those that could have managed with rather fewer resources.
How confident am I that the service can manage? I am as confident as I can be. As my hon. Friend knows from experience, it is impossible in any system to guarantee that an offender released from prison, however long they have served and however serious their parole reassessment, will never commit a further offence. Life is not like that, I am afraid, and we would be deluding the public if we said that we thought otherwise. We are, however, taking every step we can to improve the system and ensure that this kind of appalling thing is less likely to happen.
Is the Justice Secretary seriously claiming that, if there had not been a 2.5 per cent. underspend in the London probation service and there had been some reallocation of resources, the case load, supervision levels and experience of the officers involved would have been adequate throughout the boroughs of Lewisham and Greenwich? Does he also recognise that the shattering effect on public confidence of this case and the Monckton case is so great that in order for us to have a system of licensing, which any good prison system needs, an enormous effort will have to go into winning public confidence in the fact that soundly based decisions are made and that they are effectively implemented?
I am quite clear, and I have been assured of this, that there was no reason why within existing resources there should not have been a more sensible case load and more experienced officers allocated to cover such a case, even in London. Indeed, in general, including in London, this kind of case is covered by more experienced and better supervised officers.
On resources, I must repeat the point that an almost unique level of sickness of, on average, five and a half weeks for the staff in that office was ridiculously high and should have alerted senior managers to the fact that there were some endemic problems requiring immediate effort.
I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says about the issue of release on licence—public confidence has been damaged—but it is far better for such offenders to be released on licence than simply to be dumped in the community, which is what used to happen.
May I ask the Secretary of State to focus on the issue of early release during a sentence? Where a person is sentenced to eight years—or to eight months, for that matter—one can understand their being released after half their time if they have behaved well in prison, but if they have behaved disgracefully is there not an argument for their being made to serve their full sentence? If that does not happen, what is the point of their behaving well? I am sure that many of us would find it quite offensive to hear that this person committed 40 breaches of discipline yet still came out.
Had this man behaved properly and also presented a very low risk of reoffending, he would have received parole—he was refused that on two occasions. I accept, however, the burden of what the hon. Gentleman says, which is that there are some offenders who ought to stay in prison until it is safe to release them. That is why we introduced, to some controversy, the sentence of indeterminate detention for public protection. More than 5,000 offenders are now on an IPP and it is having a salutary effect on them.
One must question the culture of an organisation that imposes the management of a criminal of this degree of evil on someone who is so inexperienced and who has such a case load—they had about 100 other cases to manage. The Secretary of State ought to be able to give the House a cast-iron guarantee today that criminals of such calibre will simply not be managed in this way in the future.
I give the House, and the hon. Gentleman, the guarantee that I am determined to ensure that this kind of failing does not happen. What I cannot do, because we are dealing with thousands of staff and many thousands of potential offenders, is give an absolute guarantee—nobody in my shoes could do so—that there will never be failings of this kind. I pray to God that there will not be any such failings, but I cannot guarantee it.
The Justice Secretary knows that hundreds of probation officers throughout England and Wales are grossly overworked and have far too many cases with which to try to deal. Why are these cuts now affecting recruitment? In Wales, 41 of the 44 probation officers who will qualify in October will be without jobs, and the situation is the same from Humberside to Somerset. I fear that this sort of thing will happen again—please God that it does not.
There is an issue to address about the fact that, at the moment, those on training to do probation work are not necessarily matched to jobs. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) is about to issue a new consultation on changing the training of probation officers, and I commend that to the House. Part of that will involve ensuring that there is a direct match between the places available for training and the guarantee of a job at the end of it; that will be better all round. There has been a reduction in vacancies because of the overall economic climate, but I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the probation service, be it in Wales or elsewhere, will suffer serious cuts. Money is tighter than it has been, but it is tighter from a high base.
To return to the issue of length of sentence raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), this criminal was imprisoned for eight years and, according to the Secretary of State, behaved violently there and admitted to a prison medical officer that his reactions could kill, so many people will be surprised to learn that the maximum sentence that he could serve was only five years. There does not seem to be much transparency in sentencing, and that will not restore the confidence of the British people. If a sentence is eight years, should it not be eight years?
This should not be a party political issue, but this man was sentenced under Conservative legislation, he had to be released at the two thirds point and the licence lasted only until the three quarter point. We have tried to change that structure. We could say that prisoners should serve exactly the sentence that is awarded by the courts, or we could have minimums and maximums, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) suggested—effectively what we have at the moment. However sentences are denominated, we need to have incentives for good behaviour and penalty periods for bad behaviour. We also need to take into account the fact that the prison population is rising and will continue to rise, and resources—although they should be increased—are finite. Those are realities that affect Governments of every persuasion.
The statement understandably concentrated on the probation service, but if events on 16 May had been handled correctly, two young men would be alive today. Sonnex was brought before the courts on a completely separate offence and was granted bail, when that should never have happened. In the statement, the Secretary of State says that it is still not clear exactly what transpired on that day. How can we have no idea why someone was given bail when he should have been in prison?
I try to tell the truth in this House, and I wish I could give a better account of what happened in that court, but I cannot. Magistrates courts are not courts of record, and there is a wholly inadequate record of what transpired. It is clear that no application to oppose bail was made by the prosecution. It also appears clear that the reason no application was made was that inquiries had suggested that Sonnex was due to be rearrested for a breach. It is clear that the information available to the court was flaky. The answer to the question about whether he was about to be rearrested was not pinned down, and the Attorney-General, the police service and Her Majesty’s Courts Service are determined to ensure that this does not happen again. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that if this man had been remanded in custody on 16 May, as he had been on 3 May, none of the rest of this would have happened.
In south-west London in recent weeks people have seen the eventual conviction of John Warboys, a cab driver who had come to the attention of the police but who then went off the radar and committed a string of serious offences against women, and now the case of Dano Sonnex, who came from a criminal and violent family and had been sent to prison for eight years for stabbing and other serious knife crimes. Sonnex had said that he felt he could kill, but on his release that information was not passed to the Prison Service or the probation service. It would be helpful if the Home Secretary gave an assurance—it is a Home Office and a Ministry of Justice matter—that when people with such criminal records, or facing such allegations, emerge into society, senior police and probation officers are in charge of their ongoing management. If that were done, it would be some reassurance that the lapses that happened in this case would not happen again.
I basically agree with the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed the whole Sonnex issue with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Sir Paul Stephenson, and with the acting deputy, Tim Godwin, and they are seized of the need to improve the police’s performance in this case. The terrible error happened in court on 16 May, and if the probation service had acted within targets and if the police had acted properly within their slightly longer targets, Sonnex would not have been available to commit those murders on 29 June.
The recall failure was at the centre of this atrocity, and those failures went far wider than just the probation service. In fact, they come right back to this House. There should be greater powers to force the immediate recall of dangerous criminals and potentially dangerous people. When will this House start to err on the side of protecting innocent people—the public—rather than on the side of the rights of potentially dangerous criminals?
We have been much criticised for it, but that is what we have been seeking to do in recent years. If the hon. Gentleman goes through all the reports—I have published every report that has been made available to me—he will see that there is no suggestion whatsoever that the recall powers available to the probation service and the police were inadequate. This man could and should have been assessed as a high risk and probably recalled when he was alleged—just alleged—to have kidnapped a relative. He certainly should have been recalled when he was arrested and charged with handling stolen goods. Without any question, the full powers were there. The National Offender Management Service—the one agency to come out of this properly—turned the application round within 24 hours, as it was required to do. It was there. It was an issue not about powers, but about judgment and the use of powers.
Citizens’ Convention (accountability and Ethics) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr. Martin Caton, supported by Norman Lamb, Mr. Douglas Carswell, Mr. David Drew, Julia Goldsworthy, Jim Dowd and Norman Baker, presented a Bill to set up a Citizens’ Convention for the purposes of establishing minimum standards of ethics for Members of Parliament and for promoting the involvement of citizens in political decision making; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 106).
Standards and Privileges
I beg to move,
That this House—
(1) approves the Seventh Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 501);
(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 49, 54, 73 and 85 of the Report; and
(3) accordingly instructs the Serjeant at Arms and the Director of Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology to withdraw access to the House and its facilities from Mr Stephen Lotinga for a period of 14 days, and from Mr Tom Smith for a period of 28 days.
The Chairman of the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), is in his place and, I am sure, will catch your eye in a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker. Indeed, it is for him to lay out the full substance of his report. I do not want in any sense to tread on his toes, but merely wish to make one point about the way in which the House deals with the business of leaking from Select Committees and how the House authorities can respond to the comments made in his report.
A previous report of the Committee said:
“Leaking is a reprehensible act and in any case where this Committee”—
namely, the Standards and Privileges Committee—
“is able to discover the source of a leak it will be prepared to recommend appropriately severe sanctions.”
That was the 20th report of the Session 2007-08. In today’s report, which we are considering this afternoon, the Committee draws the attention of the House to the fact that
“the Liaison Committee has recently (on 14 May) agreed a restatement of procedure to be followed by select committees of the House when dealing with sensitive papers.”
It said that, in particular,
“Sensitive papers, in particular draft reports or evidence which is security classified, will not be circulated by electronic means, save in exceptional circumstances.”
The Committee’s report went on to point out that
“the secretariat did not apply the appropriate marking to the document”
that was leaked, and that
“it circulated the document as an attachment to an e-mail without protecting it and without drawing attention to its sensitive nature”.
The Committee’s report draws attention to the fact that that is a problem and points out that if the Committee secretariat had acted in a different way, it might have been presenting a rather different report with rather different sets of conclusions.
The Committee calls on the senior management in the Committee Office to draw the Liaison Committee’s note
“to the attention of all clerks”
and to ensure
“that steps be taken to ensure that the procedures set out in the Note are implemented and adhered to.”
I merely want to reassure the House that I, too, will be writing to the House authorities to ensure that that is followed up, and to ensure that in every instance Clerks ensure that hon. Members on all Select Committees understand the rules by which Select Committees operate so that there is no inappropriate leaking, which interrupts the proper business of the Committees. I think that all Members on both sides of the House would acknowledge that Select Committees have been one of the most important innovations in the past 35 years and one of the most important ways in which we do our business today.
Finally, I thank the Chairman of the Committee and all its members for their assiduous work in bringing the report to the attention of the House.
I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for his supportive remarks, for the action he outlined in his closing paragraphs and for his kind words about the work of my Committee.
At the end of last year, the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), carried out an inquiry into the BBC’s commercial operations. On 25 February, substantial excerpts from the Committee’s draft heads of report were published on The Guardian website. The Committee immediately carried out a leak inquiry, which failed to discover the source of the leak. Having consulted the Liaison Committee, the CMS Committee made a special report to the House, stating that the leak constituted a serious interference with its work.
Like my colleagues on the Liaison Committee, I accept entirely that such leaks interfere with the work of Committees, and that it was right for the CMS Committee to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Disclosure of a Committee’s draft conclusions not only reduces the impact of the eventual report and gives prior but not necessarily wholly accurate warning to those who may be the subject of its recommendations, but as the Deputy Leader of the House has just said, can poison working relationships in a Committee. When a leak occurs, and it is not clear who is responsible, everyone is under suspicion. That includes the staff of the Committee and its advisers as well as Members.
The CMS Committee in its special report described leaking as “reprehensible”. My Committee used the same word last year to describe leaks from the Home Affairs and European Scrutiny Committees, and in a coda to the report we debate today we have tried to explain why, at a time when the public are more concerned with transparency and freedom of information than with preserving the confidentiality of Select Committee papers, the House should continue to take leaks seriously.
It is in the public interest for the work of Select Committees to be effective. All those of whatever political persuasion who value our parliamentary democracy wish the Government of the day to be subject to the most effective evidence-based scrutiny that can be brought to bear. Select Committees are an important part of the apparatus for achieving that, but the effectiveness of a Select Committee can be seriously compromised by a breakdown of trust. The House is right, therefore, not to tolerate the actions of those who breach its rules by leaking confidential Committee papers, and it rightly expects the Committee on Standards and Privileges to do a thorough job of investigating such leaks, as I believe my Committee has done in this case.
As our report sets out, we had grounds for pursuing a particular line of inquiry. We saw two of the main players twice, and all those involved had an opportunity to explain their actions in a private evidence session without the pressures of television or media coverage. With the assistance of PICT—Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology—we were able to discover how the leak came about and to obtain a full explanation from the person who provided the draft heads of report to a journalist from The Guardian. All the witnesses confirmed our understanding of the facts, which are set out in full in the report.
It was neither the first nor the last leak of the conclusions of the CMS Committee’s inquiry into the BBC. There had been an earlier leak to the same newspaper just 10 days previously, and there was a subsequent leak to The Daily Telegraph. Neither of those leaks was as serious as the one on 25 February and neither was referred to my Committee. Although we asked our witnesses about the earlier leak, we were unable fully to pursue it. I mention that because it is possible that there were others associated with the CMS Committee who were leaking but who as yet remain unidentified.
I turn to my Committee’s conclusions and recommendations. To start at the beginning, it is clear that the CMS Committee staff did not follow the correct procedures for the draft heads of report. They did not mark the document as confidential, they did not password-protect the electronic version, and they gave it an unnecessarily wide circulation. Although those shortcomings do not excuse the subsequent actions of others, they significantly mitigate them. Lessons have been learned, and I am delighted that the Liaison Committee has promulgated new guidance to Select Committee staff. I expect them to follow it and I ask colleagues who sit on Select Committees not to put pressure on Committee staff to depart from those procedures.
It is now clear that Mr. Tom Smith, the parliamentary researcher for the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), who sits on the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, was in the habit of routinely passing on Committee papers to the office of the Liberal Democrat spokesman on Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster). He should not have been doing that. In a crucial misjudgment on his part, Mr. Smith failed to tell us that he was routinely passing on those papers, until confronted with the evidence.
Mr. Smith also misled my Committee on his first appearance before it by withholding information and by failing to provide full answers to our questions. He has committed two serious contempts, to use the language of the House, first in passing on confidential papers and secondly in misleading the Committee. We therefore recommend withdrawal of Mr. Smith’s access to the House and its facilities for a period of 28 calendar days, which, if the House agrees, will begin today. In my Committee’s view, that is a proportionate penalty, given the seriousness of the offences.
As for the role of Alice Aitken, who works in the office of the hon. Member for Bath, it is clear that she was essentially acting as an intermediary by sharing the Culture, Media and Sport Committee papers sent to her with Mr. Stephen Lotinga, who was responsible for culture, media and sport in the parliamentary office of the Liberal Democrats. On balance, the Committee did not conclude that a formal penalty would be appropriate in that case, for reasons that we set out in paragraph 57.
It was Mr. Lotinga who passed a copy of the draft heads of report to a journalist on The Guardian, Mark Sweney. Although we were told by Mr. Smith that Mr. Lotinga had previously informed him that he was not involved in the leak, Mr. Lotinga admitted his involvement to us and made a full apology. We acknowledge his remorse and his co-operation with our inquiry, but we feel that the seriousness of the offence demands a formal penalty, and we have therefore recommended that Mr. Lotinga’s access to the House and its facilities be withdrawn for a period of 14 calendar days.
I turn finally to the role of hon. Members in this affair. I have mentioned already the part played by the office of the hon. Member for Bath. He told my Committee that he gave no specific guidance to his staff about the handling of Committee papers, and he was unaware that such papers were routinely passing through his office. We accept that he was not involved in the leak, or even aware of it, but like all hon. Members, he needs to take responsibility for the conduct of his office and those who work in it. As the report states, the hon. Gentleman has been “remiss”.
The hon. Member for Torbay was the only person named in our report who was entitled to see all the papers of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which he was a member. He was responsible for the secure custody of those papers, and he also had a duty of care towards his staff, and not least towards Mr. Smith. That included a duty to ensure that they were fully briefed on the importance of respecting and preserving the confidentiality of papers. The hon. Gentleman told us that he asked his staff to abide by the standard contractual terms and conditions of employment that applied to them, which include a duty of confidentiality. I think that he now accepts that that was not enough, and I look forward to his contribution to this debate.
Finally, may I make some observations on the respective roles in this place of Members and their staff? Just as Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the actions of their officials, so are we all, as hon. Members, accountable for what is done by our staff in our name. It is right, therefore, that the hon. Member for Torbay should take some responsibility for the actions of his researcher, of which, I accept, he was completely unaware at the time. That does not, however, absolve entirely those individuals who played the main roles in the affair, Mr. Smith and Mr. Lotinga. In my Committee’s view, the House needs to send a strong signal that it will not tolerate such breaches of trust as both men committed. Nor will it tolerate one of its Committees being misled by a witness. In agreeing the motion before it today, the House will send the appropriate signals.
I thank the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), for his Committee’s consideration of this case. I should like to make it clear from the outset that I do not approve, or seek to excuse, the unauthorised disclosure of Committee papers. The Standards and Privileges Committee was good enough to include, in paragraph 71 of its report, my initial comments to the inquiry:
“In a sense I am very angry about being here today. I have been a member of select committees and been a Member of this House now for 11 going on 12 years; I have never leaked anything; I think it is reprehensible to leak things”.
That strongly remains my view.
I am grateful to the Committee for its finding, on page 17 of the report, that I was not directly responsible for the unauthorised disclosure of the draft heads of report. There is no suggestion that I was in any way instrumental in the forwarding of the papers, and the report states that I was unaware that my assistant was receiving Committee papers, still less routinely forwarding them. The Committee found, however, that I should have explained more fully to my assistant his duties under rules of parliamentary privilege, and that I had a duty to explain to him the meaning of the confidentiality clauses in the contract that he had signed.
This is an important lesson for all hon. Members, particularly those who sit on Select Committees. The Standards and Privileges Committee clearly feels that a specific duty of care rests on each of us to make these matters explicitly clear to every member of our staff. In so far as I failed to make this plain to a member of my staff, I of course accept the conclusions of the Committee and apologise to the House. May I suggest to the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee that it might be appropriate to send new guidance to every hon. Member and every member of staff, including House staff, to draw renewed attention to their terms and conditions relating to the confidentiality of Select Committee papers and with whom they may be shared?
I think this is an example of a lot of humbug being expressed in the House, and I want to place on record my disappointment at the Committee’s conclusions with regard to sanctions. I realise this is a sensitive and stressful matter both for some hon. Members and for their staff, and I bear no malice whatever towards them. It is an example of the culture of this place, the overbearing command of Front Benchers—Government, Conservative and Liberal—and the tribal view that one must be able to score points and expose things in advance, get brownie points in the press and so on.
I am sick and tired of it, especially after battling for many years, and certainly since 1997 when I was put on the Foreign Affairs Committee. I bear the scars of the Sierra Leone inquiry, which resulted in the 1999 inquiry referred to in the current report. I admired the late Robin Cook and loved him very much, and I still do. I remember him phoning me at midnight one Sunday, saying, “Andrew, what the XXXX are you doing?”, because I was asking questions. One of our then colleagues was leaking stuff to him—documentation and, as we now know, almost word for word the deliberations of the Foreign Affairs Committee, when the Government were doing everything to stop my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and me supporting and combining with other Members to ensure that we had full scrutiny and accountability.
That is not the only occasion in my time on the Foreign Affairs Committee that that has happened. I have deprecated the fact that there has been an unhealthy linkage, primarily of Labour Members with the Government, but it also happens the other way. I can think of instances when the partisan enthusiasm of a particular Conservative Member was reflected in his feeding information to his Front-Bench team. I am surprised at the Liberal party, which is embarrassed, particularly by the evidence of paragraph 55 of the report, which cannot be ignored. It states that Mr. Smith
“told us that when he took up his position in October 2008, he attended a meeting of the Liberal Democrat CMS team, including Members of Parliament, at which he was told that he should send CMSC papers to Ms Aitken, so that she could keep the team briefed on the Committee’s work.”
The real test is whether we will allow this culture to go on. That gentleman was probably the most innocent party. He was newly employed in his job and he was told what was expected of him by the Front-Bench team of a particular party, but all the parties are guilty of the same thing. Unless or until we create a situation in which members of Select Committees can leave their party affiliation at the Committee door, that will continue, and it debases Parliament.
I appeal to colleagues to pause and reflect. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal party keep going on about reforming Parliament. This is a test of whether they mean what they say. Even within their own organisations, they ought to make it a serious offence against their party for people to abuse the Select Committee system.
The response of the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) to paragraph 85 is just pathetic. Let me justify that statement, because I do not think anybody will argue but that its conclusions are logical. There was an attempt to deceive the Committee’s investigation into the leak; the good gentleman set out to dissemble—to mislead—the right hon. Gentleman’s Committee in its legitimate inquiry; and all there will be is a 28-day sanction. However, unless or until the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal party and this House are determined that when people appear before a Select Committee they shall be required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, such events will continually occur.
And there are casualties. If Dr. David Kelly had been told and advised and had had to give evidence under oath, as happens in the United States Congress, people would not have prevailed upon him not to be candid with the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Obviously, colleagues will recall how the matter is ingrained in my memory. I therefore say to the House and to Front-Bench spokesmen, “Don’t give me all this nonsense about parliamentary reform unless you mean it.” I say it to the leader of the Conservative party, too, and to the leader of the Liberal party, in particular, because sometimes it is like the unctuous talking to the sanctimonious.
The hon. Lady goes, “Ooh!”, but I listened to what the leader of the Liberal party said and I desperately believe that we must address the status of this House and the role of Select Committees. As the House knows, in my defence I thought that the whole business of Regional Select Committees was nonsense and an invitation for such events to occur. Unless and until there are proper sanctions against such abuse, it will go on. One could say, “Everyone’s a beneficiary and everyone’s a loser; it all works out; it’s all politics,” but this issue is related to the other matter of our party leaders talking about the reform and status of Parliament.
The business of the Select Committee staff is a total red herring. Whether or not they put “Confidential” on the documents and whether or not there was a problem with the technology is irrelevant; we all know what the ground rules are supposed to be, and they should be enforced. I hope that Members will reflect on the matter. The hon. Lady thought I was being perhaps pompous by pointing it out, but I ask her to reflect on the matter, too. It is wrong that the events should have occurred, but I do not attribute anything to the poor people in the report. They are probably very upset, and no doubt hon. Members will reflect that there was wrongdoing, but, to others who go before Select Committees in the future, we really must show that documentation has to be clearly safeguarded, and that people should be candid—certainly with a Committee that inquires into wrongdoing and bad conduct.
In my view, there must be severe sanctions, because they will mean that people do not commit wrongdoing, and sanctions afford a degree of protection to people who want to tell the truth to a Select Committee. If they know that they have to take an oath or—if I cannot persuade the House about an oath—that a serious sanction will be applied to them, such events will not happen. It would help them to tell others, such as Members, civil servants and company executives, who might be leaning on them: “Get lost; I’m appearing before Parliament.”
I remember that I was once derided for saying that this is the high court of Parliament. I could not understand why and I still do not today. It is the high court of Parliament, and we have to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I do not want to delay the House, but everyone here should reflect on the issue and talk to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the leader of the Liberal party and say, “Don’t give us all this nonsense unless and until we make the Select Committees independent of the Front Benches and the party spokespersons in our political system.”
I begin by commending my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) for the measured way he has responded to the report and for the apology that he has so willingly given the House. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) has said, with one exception: he is wrong in the inferences he has drawn in respect of instructions having been given by any member of the Liberal Democrat Culture, Media and Sport team, which I lead.
However, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay and probably with all Members of the House that the leaking of Select Committee documents is wrong and should be deprecated. Although paragraph 59 of the report makes it absolutely clear that I had no involvement with and no knowledge of the leak that took place, I accept entirely that I, like other hon. Members, have to take responsibility—in my case, for actions that have taken place in my office and within my wider DCMS team. In so far as I did not give instructions to my staff about the need to deal sensitively with documents of this kind, I was remiss. I apologise to the House for that.
The Deputy Leader of the House said that there was a responsibility to ensure that all members of Select Committees were reminded of their responsibilities in that regard, but I believe we should go further and accept the recommendation of my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay. He rightly pointed out that all Members need to be reminded of the importance of giving such instructions clearly to all members of staff who work for us and to those within the teams for which we have responsibility. For my part in the issue, limited though it may have been, I apologise to the House.
I, too, express sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) about the need to strengthen the Select Committee system. However, I want to concentrate specifically on the events that occurred in the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which I chair.
I express my thanks and those of the rest of my Committee for the work of the Standards and Privileges Committee. When we made the referral to that Committee, to ask it to try to discover the source of the leak, we did so without huge optimism that it would be successful; on previous occasions, the Committee has not managed to expose sources with the success that it has had on this occasion. We are grateful to the Committee and we hope that the fact that we have been able to discover the source and take action this afternoon will send a message to other Select Committees about the importance of maintaining the confidentiality of their proceedings.
My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, began by talking about the importance of a relationship of trust between Committee members; that, he said, was why leaks should be regarded as reprehensible. I entirely endorse his words, but I take issue with one comment in his report. Having said that the matter was serious for the reason that I have just mentioned, he went on to say:
“We have to recognise that no-one outside Parliament has complained about the leaking of the draft Heads of Report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the BBC’s commercial operations. It is quite possible that no-one outside Parliament cares.”
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised that I slightly dispute that. The leak occurred online, appearing on mediaguardian.co.uk. Most news distribution is done online in the world that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee looks at; indeed, as observers will know, that is the cause of problems for the traditional media.
The report appeared at about 10 am, I think. I was at a meeting of the British Screen Advisory Council, an umbrella body for media organisations. I was approached by representatives of ITV and the BBC within 35 minutes of the report’s appearance, and I was called by the chief executive of Channel 4 within two hours. I simply say that the report was of great interest to a number of people in the media. It also had a degree of market sensitivity because we were dealing with the independent production sector, which was going to be affected by our recommendations.
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend that the relationship of trust is paramount, but I would not like him to think there were not other good reasons why we felt that the leaking of that particular heads of report was indeed a serious matter.
In its report, the Committee rightly draws attention to failings of members of my Committee’s staff. That is fully accepted by those members of staff, and they will take its recommendations very seriously. As Chairman of the Committee, I should like to put on record the extent to which we depend on those staff and how professional and dedicated I have always found them. It is not just my Committee that enjoys that degree of support; I think that any hon. Member who is involved in Select Committees would agree that generally we are extremely well served by our staff. I was slightly surprised to discover that some of our papers were being circulated by e-mail not only to people involved in our present inquiry but to some of our advisers in other inquiries. I am not sure what our adviser on heritage and planning made of the heads of report on the BBC’s commercial operations. In future, we will be much more restrained in circulating material; I think that that lesson will be well learned in all Select Committees.
The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders)—in this context, I would say my hon. Friend—has made a gracious apology to the House. When I first asked all members of the Committee whether they could give any indication of how the leak occurred, he was clear that he had no knowledge of how it came about. I said to him at the time that I fully accepted his assurance, and I fully accept it this afternoon. It is extremely unfortunate that the leak occurred within his office, but he has made it plain that he had no knowledge of it and that it was not under his instruction. That is fully accepted by me and, I think, by all members of the Committee. Although I think I am right in saying that he told the Standards and Privileges Committee that our inquiry into the BBC’s commercial operations did not “float his boat”, he is nevertheless a valuable member of our Committee who participates in other areas of our activities. We are very glad that he does so and look forward to his continuing to do so in future.
I, too, thank the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and the Standards and Privileges Committee, on which I was privileged to serve for a good period of time, for their work and care in producing this report. I want to make it absolutely clear that there are no circumstances in which I condone or seek to excuse the leaking of material from Select Committees. As the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) said, that happens far too often, and it has happened historically. He referred back to the Foreign Affairs Committee and its Sierra Leone report, and to his involvement and that of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)—and, rather gnomically, “other members”, of whom I was one. We were very much engaged with that episode. I remember how outraged we were that our carefully constructed lines of inquiry were being directly leaked to a Minister of the Crown, in direct contravention of the interest not only of the Committee but of the inquiry whereby we were trying to shed light.
I hardly know of any Select Committee where there has not been, on occasion, at least an intimation that material has been leaked. That even includes the Standards and Privileges Committee. There was a time when we were very concerned that material was being leaked from that Committee; happily, that practice has not persisted. Let us be absolutely clear: the leaking of material from Select Committees cannot be condoned or excused; I do not care which party is involved—the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives or Labour—or whether it involves members of staff or Members of Parliament.
I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for the advice that he has caused to be sent to Clerks to Committees, because it is clear from the report and from the remarks of the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee that procedures had become a little lax in terms of how material was circulated. It was perhaps circulated rather more widely than it should have been, and it was not sufficiently clearly marked as confidential. That is a lesson that is well learned.
I have just two further points to make. With regard to the leak inquiry itself, one thing puzzles me. It is clear from the very first page of evidence that there were in fact two leaks, one on 14 February and one on 25 February. As I understand it, all the evidence relates to the leak of 25 February, and there is no link, either suggested or otherwise, between my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders) and the very similar material that appeared on the earlier date. I wonder why the Committee did not inquire into the earlier leak and its provenance, because that leak seems equally relevant and remiss.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having the good grace to apologise to the House despite the fact that, as he said, he clearly had no direct knowledge of the circumstances in which the material was leaked. What he said was important—that we each have a duty to ensure that members of our staff clearly understand the rules of privilege and what they are required to do and not do. That applies to any Member who is a member of a Select Committee, but equally to any other Member who receives a Committee’s material. I suspect that many Members are in the same position as my hon. Friend of not having made that explicit to all their staff. I hope that clear guidance will be given to every single one of us, and to the staff under our control, that they must not leak such information, and that to do so is a contempt of the House and of the process of Select Committees.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Thurrock that the sooner we get Select Committees absolutely free of the executives of each of our parties, the better. Then they will be able to act properly independently, scrutinise and do their job effectively without any suggestion that they have ulterior political motives, beyond the obvious one of doing their job as Members of this House. If we make that clear in today’s debate, we will do a good job on behalf of the House.
I, too, welcome the conclusions before us and congratulate the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), and all the Committee’s other members, on having undertaken a thorough investigation and come up with their conclusions.
All of us recognise the importance of this issue. If Select Committees are to operate effectively, it is vital that they can carry out their work free from leaks, particularly given the cross-party, collegiate nature of their work. Much has already been said, and I do not intend to detain the House longer than is necessary, so I shall simply make three brief points.
First, given the discussions on a new parliamentary standards authority, we must ensure that it does not impact on this type of investigation being carried out with similar conclusions, including the ability to impose sanctions. Secondly, as we reform the way in which MPs’ staff are employed, we must give serious thought to sanctions being imposed by the Committee on Members’ staff, even if they are to be directly employed by the House authorities.
Finally, given the large turnover of Members’ staff, it would be no bad thing for some Members to remind their staff of the confidential nature of Select Committees and all their deliberations. Leaks to journalists, or for that matter to anyone else, undermine not only the work of Select Committees but the whole of Parliament.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House—
(1) approves the Seventh Report of the Committee on Standards and Privileges (House of Commons Paper No. 501);
(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 49, 54, 73 and 85 of the Report; and
(3) accordingly instructs the Serjeant at Arms and the Director of Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology to withdraw access to the House and its facilities from Mr Stephen Lotinga for a period of 14 days, and from Mr Tom Smith for a period of 28 days.
Health Bill [Lords]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As first days in a new job go, there must have been easier ones than this, but it is very good to be back and to be supported by an excellent new or nearly new team, in time to bring to the House a Bill that I can modestly claim to have had some hand in creating.
First, let me summarise what I think the Bill does. Building on last year’s 60th anniversary celebrations, it begins a new era in the national health service, in which quality becomes the focus of everything that the NHS does; the drive for quality is predominantly locally and staff led rather than dropped from on high; patients have more rights, choice and control over their care; prevention and health promotion truly come to the fore; and further reform can take place against the knowledge that NHS principles and values are secure and that the NHS will endure as the preferred British model throughout the century.
We build on a position of strength, banking the huge progress that the NHS has made in the past decade, but setting out a new direction for continued improvement in the next. By way of context, let me remind the House of some of the key developments of recent years.
In the past 12 years, the NHS estate has been transformed, with 100 new hospitals. NHS finances are secure, with more than a £1.7 billion surplus and only six trusts in deficit. Hospital-acquired infections are being tackled, with MRSA rates down 65 per cent. on 2003 figures. We now have the shortest waits in the history of the NHS, moving from the scandal of 18-month waits for operations to the landmark pledge that all patients are now seen in 18 weeks. On average, patients now wait only eight weeks for treatment and are seen by a specialist in two weeks if cancer is suspected.
Public satisfaction with the NHS is at a record high. The Care Quality Commission’s adult in-patient survey found that 93 per cent. of patients rated their overall care as good or better. That is conclusive proof that the NHS is Labour’s great achievement, and its revival in the past decade is arguably the Government’s greatest success story, which I intend to tell with pride and energy every day that I do the job.
May I be the first to congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new post? I am sure that he will do a splendid job, building on the amazing work that has already happened in the health service. Far from 18 weeks being the target, many people in my area are seen well before that. When I, as a practising GP, see somebody with suspected cancer, I can often get them seen in a few days. That was unthinkable five years ago. I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend and the whole team on such a remarkable achievement.
I always bow to the wisdom of my hon. Friend. When I occupied the Minister of State position in the Department, I often talked about the 18-week commitment as the end of waiting lists. Conservative Members greeted that with derision, but that has happened, and my hon. Friend knows that better than anybody.
That success and the others that I listed are due in no small part to the skill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), who—to paraphrase the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley)—is the postman who delivered. The Bill takes forward my right hon. Friend’s excellent work and that of my noble Friend Lord Darzi of Denham, providing the legal framework for the reforms proposed in the NHS next stage review, which was published almost a year ago.
May I be the first Conservative Member to congratulate the Secretary of State on his elevation? While revering his predecessor and his work in the Department, will he kindly undertake, as one of his first steps, a review of his predecessor’s decision in the past month to scrap the community hospital redevelopment fund building programme of some £500 million? It was announced to our strategic health authority, at great cost to the plans for redeveloping Ludlow community hospital.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s reverence—I will be doing well if I get close to such praise. Obviously, I have not had time to examine that particular decision. I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment that I will do so and write to him.
The first chapter of the Bill relates to the NHS constitution and provides for further improving quality and giving patients greater say about their care. The Bill places a duty on all providers of NHS services to have regard to the first ever NHS constitution. It will also require the Secretary of State to review the constitution every 10 years and to report on its impact every three years.
The constitution is a landmark document. It sets out the rights and responsibilities of patients and staff, bringing together existing legal rights with commitments to deliver the standards of service that patients can expect from the national health service. However, the constitution is far more than a piece of paper. It provides three concrete legal rights for patients: first, the right to recommended vaccines under a national immunisation programme; secondly, the right to all National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence-recommended drugs and treatments; and thirdly, the right to make choices about NHS care and the right to the information needed to make those choices.
The constitution belongs to every one of us. It reflects what people, patients and staff say they want to see in a 21st-century health service, and it commits the NHS to delivering on that promise, now and in the future. By placing a legal duty on all providers of NHS services to have regard to the constitution, we are reaffirming the right of patients to access the best possible treatment, while ensuring that the fundamental principles of the NHS are protected for future generations.
The proposal for an NHS constitution was the central recommendation of a report that I published for the then Secretary of State for Health, following a period of shadowing work at every level of the system. It is a pleasure to see the constitution as the centrepiece of the Bill, and I was encouraged by the wide welcome that it received when the Bill was in another place.
To improve the focus on quality, the Bill will place a legal duty on all NHS providers to provide annual quality accounts, in the same way that they are required to publish financial accounts. That information will be in the public domain, so that patients will have clear information on the quality of care provided by local health services. Lord Darzi’s definition of quality includes patient experience. The quality accounts will therefore cover not only the quality of clinical care, but whether patients feel that they have been treated with dignity and respect.
As Lord Darzi has pointed out, the NHS is good at invention, but it can be slow to adopt new technologies and treatments, and the spread of new ideas is variable. We are taking several measures to foster a more innovative culture in the NHS. NHS Evidence provides all the clinical and non-clinical evidence on new treatments and best practice in one place, through one easily accessible portal. The £220 million strategic health authority regional innovation funds will help front-line staff to develop, grow and spread new ideas, delivering genuine improvements in the quality of care that people receive. The Bill will provide further support for innovation by enabling the Secretary of State to make payments, as prizes, to promote innovation in health services. Innovation prizes will reward those front-line staff who have excelled and will encourage others to do likewise.
In order to give patients more choice and control over the care that they receive, the Bill brings forward measures that will enable the NHS to pilot direct payments, as part of a wider programme of piloting personal health budgets. Personal health budgets could work in many ways. The NHS is already setting up pilots where the personal budget is not physically held by the patient—rather, there is a notional amount—or where it is held by a third party on the patient’s behalf. However, where it makes sense, we also want to allow the option of direct cash payments to patients. The Bill provides powers for that, building on the experience of direct payments in social care, which have transformed the lives of many people over the past decade.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his new post. Help the Aged, the British Medical Association and others have expressed concern about direct payments, which are to be piloted as part of the new personal health budget initiative. Will direct payments in any way remove patients’ human rights, and what happens to any underspend from them? Does it stay with the patient or does the patient pay it back to the NHS? There are genuine concerns about direct payments, so can we have a lot more meat on this bone?
I would say quite the reverse. The introduction of payments could help patients to secure their fundamental rights, particularly those that I mentioned earlier, as set out in the NHS constitution. I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, however, and there is a need to proceed cautiously. I looked at the issue when I was Minister of State in the Department, and I felt that although the idea had merit, there was a need to proceed cautiously. However, that is exactly what the Department is doing, with a programme of 70 pilots beginning next year. So we will listen carefully and work cautiously. The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Phil Hope) has done such good work in social care to unlock the benefits for patients of having more control over their care, and we now feel that there is merit in proceeding in this direction, especially when we can bring the two budgets together for people with particularly complex health and social care needs.
We are not being prescriptive nationally about how and where personal health budgets or direct payments should be used. Many of the primary care trusts that have applied to join the pilot programme believe that the arrangements could have the greatest impact for people with long-term conditions or mental health needs, but a range of innovative ideas is under consideration. However, we have set out a clear policy framework and guiding principles for how all types of personal budget will operate. Any budget should be spent on goods and services agreed in a care plan on which it is appropriate for the NHS to spend money, and there should be high quality advice and support to help people to manage their budgets properly. In the case of direct payments, the Bill and subsequent regulations will provide explicit safeguards. There will also be a robust evaluation to assess how personal budgets and direct payments can best improve the quality of care for patients.
While my right hon. Friend is on the subject of direct payments, will he clarify what would happen if a patient decided to spend their budget on a clinically ineffective regime that did not deliver the goods? Might not that result in a fall-back on the NHS, which would have to pick up the pieces or repair the damage caused by ineffective or harmful treatments?
My hon. Friend raises a reasonable point, but as I said a moment ago, authorisation for direct payments will be given only for services that NHS money is normally used for, and they will form part of a care plan that will have been signed off by a clinician or a health service manager. Actually, there must be a role for the GP in this—[Laughter.] My hon. Friend is always looking for work. Perhaps GPs will be able to play a guiding role in helping people to explore options that might not be readily available through mainstream care. Obviously, we shall want to tease out all these points and, as I said to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) a moment ago, we shall proceed cautiously in order to pick up precisely the kind of concern that my hon. Friend has just raised.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment at the Department of Health. He talked about the evaluation of the personal budget pilots. Will the outcomes of the evaluation be published before anything is rolled out across the NHS?
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee for his kind congratulations. This is an issue on which I have not yet taken a firm view. I have seen the list of pilot projects; I believe that they exist in every SHA region and in many primary care trust areas. I hear what my right hon. Friend says and I believe that there should be careful analysis of what the pilots tell us before there is any rush in this direction. It is also important to acknowledge at this point that different issues arise in respect of health care and of social care. Health care can often involve more specialised or complex services that might require a critical mass of patients to support their continuation, for example. These are precisely the kind of issues that the pilots will test, and I give him a commitment that we will proceed with caution and, wherever possible, publish information as we go along.
In the case of direct payments, the Bill and subsequent regulations will provide explicit safeguards. There will also be evaluation. The Bill will ensure that direct payments could be extended more widely only in the light of evaluation and with the active approval of Parliament. I hope that that will give my right hon. Friend further reassurance; Parliament would have to endorse any further development of direct payments.
The second part of the Bill establishes a new regime for NHS providers that have been performing badly despite interventions by primary care trusts, the strategic health authority or the appropriate regulatory body. The vast majority of trusts perform well, but in the rare instances where that is not the case, there must be transparent processes in place to deal with poor performance.
The Bill outlines the following measures, which would be taken only as a last resort and when other measures have failed. In such circumstances, the trust board would be immediately suspended and the Secretary of State would appoint an independent trust specialist administrator to review and consult patients, public and staff on the organisation’s future. Recommendations would be made to the Secretary of State, who would report to Parliament the final decision about the organisation’s future. These measures will provide protection against the possibility of allowing NHS providers that have consistently failed patients to continue indefinitely.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on becoming Secretary of State for Health. Will he explain who would trigger the occurrence that he described? If, for instance, people disagreed fervently with a decision about a foundation hospital, who would trigger the decision about how to proceed? Would it have to be the Government or could the public be involved in it?
In the legal context, Monitor, as the authorising body of foundation trusts, would be responsible. The public could, of course, be involved and one hopes that a foundation trust would have developed better mechanisms for public engagement and consultation. Any information that came through that route would inform any decision that Monitor reached. As I say, Monitor is the decision maker in this context.
The administrator would review and consult patients and staff on the organisation’s future and then make recommendations to the Secretary of State. We believe these measures will provide protection against the possibility of NHS providers continuing indefinitely.
The National Health Service Act 2006 placed restrictions on the amount of income foundations trusts can earn from private patients. The private patient cap is automatically set at the proportion of private patient work a trust did in 2002-03. It was introduced because of the understandable concern that foundation trusts might expand private patient activity at the expense of the NHS. These concerns are still relevant today. Private care must not be delivered on NHS premises to the detriment of NHS patients, but the implementation of the cap has raised complex issues for some foundation trusts, which need to be resolved.
An amendment was tabled in the other place to give the Secretary of State the right to grant exceptions to the rule that limits the amount of income a foundation trust can generate from private work, but I do not believe that this is the right solution. Striking the right balance between protecting NHS services for NHS patients and allowing foundation trusts the flexibility they need to operate in the interests of patients is a complex issue. There is no quick fix to implement, particularly without widespread consultation with the NHS.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope that he enjoys his tenure until the end of this Parliament. He refers to the income that foundation trusts can receive from treating private patients. I have received some briefing material from the Foundation Trust Network, one of whose chairmen is my constituent. The briefing points out that there are some perverse impacts on foundation trusts stemming from the cap on private patient income, which effectively limits some of the Government’s own proposals for the health service. I do not want to get into a Committee stage debate, but will the Secretary of State provide an indication of what scope there will be to ensure that the cap no longer creates such perverse incentives?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s congratulations. I have some aspirations to stay beyond the next general election—who knows; we will see. She raises a very fair point and it is also fair to say that my predecessor had acknowledged that although we did not want to accept what we saw as a quick fix from the other place, we nevertheless believe that there is a case to review the operation of the cap and how it affects foundation trusts. We appreciate that many trusts are in very different positions in view of their case mix, and we would like to work with the Foundation Trust Network to explore those issues as part of the review. As I say, we are committed to looking again at the cap’s operation, but we think it would be better done through a wider process of consultation with the NHS rather than by simply accepting the amendment from the other place.
I join others in welcoming the Secretary of State to his new position. I shall say a bit more about that in a short while.
As a Back Bencher, the Secretary of State contributed to the debate on the private income cap during the Report stage of the Bill that became the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Act 2003. He therefore knows about this issue. He must be aware that the way in which the cap is biting on foundation trusts that are also mental health trusts, which have had virtually no private income, is preventing them from supplying services to, for example, the private companies that are acting as employment providers under the new deal. It is having potentially significant perverse effects.
I hope that the Secretary of State has noted that his noble Friend Lord Warner, who moved the relevant clause back in 2003, said in another place on 12 May this year:
“I was the Minister who moved the offending clause… I repent my sins.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 May 2009; Vol. 710, c. 936.]
Will the Secretary of State at least tell the House now, on Second Reading, that he will not exclude the possibility of leaving the Bill as it is in this respect, so that Ministers can make the necessary regulations in the future? If he does not do that, he may close off the possibility of a change in the primary legislation.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his congratulations, and look forward to crossing swords with him once again. I have enjoyed many exchanges with him in television studios and across the Floor of the House, and I am sure that I shall do so again.
I did indeed read Lord Warner’s words in preparation for today’s debate, and they obviously carry considerable weight, given the position that he held in the Department and his role in the Bill’s passage. I am also aware of the particular position of mental health trusts, not just in terms of their relationship with bodies working for the Department for Work and Pensions or, as the hon. Gentleman said, with the new deal, but in terms of their relationship with local authorities and other parts of the public sector.
The hon. Gentleman is right to identify issues that need to be examined. That is why we set up the review. As his intervention demonstrated, this is a complex issue, and, especially given my recent arrival, I do not think that it would be wise for me to make a snap judgment today on whether to accept an amendment from the Lords. However, I give the hon. Gentleman a commitment to work through the issue, and I suspect that, with his engagement and that of the Foundation Trust Network, we shall be able to reach the right place.
May I express a counter-balancing view? I am not at all sure that my right hon. Friend will be able to “reach the right place”. I think that the fact that NHS institutions—foundation trusts—carry out private procedures is a distraction from their core business. I am saddened that they continue to do that, and extremely saddened that they now want to bust the cap—a bit like universities with top-up fees—and get away with charging more for private services. I urge my right hon. Friend to go in the other direction and ban the whole thing.
That intervention illustrates why I am not going to jump in feet first and say something that I might regret. It also illustrates that there are strong views on both sides of the debate. However, I think my hon. Friend would agree that we would not want the operation of the cap to stand in the way of improvement of NHS services if it could be demonstrated that that could be achieved, particularly where NHS trusts—especially mental health trusts—might wish to work in closer partnership with other parts of the public sector. Those are the issues that we shall have to tease out in the review. As I have said, it will be a thorough review, so that NHS and other key stakeholders can be properly consulted and we can ensure that any new proposals are workable and have broad support from managers, staff and patients.
The Bill also amends powers in relation to public appointments. The Secretary of State currently has powers to suspend chairs and non-executive directors of primary care and other NHS trusts. The Bill extends those powers to cover chairs and non-executive directors of strategic health authorities, relevant arm’s length bodies, and other bodies concerned with health. As with other responsibilities relating to public appointments that rest solely with the Secretary of State, this power will be delegated to the Appointments Commission.
The third part of the Bill reforms the process by which primary care trusts commission pharmaceutical services—I feel right away that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and I will be picking up a debate we had some time ago about how best to drive improvement in the pharmacy sector, and I respect the huge experience she has in the subject. It grants PCTs additional powers to deal with poor performers, including the right to issue remedial notices and to withhold payments from contractors who do not meet minimum standards. The Bill will also permit primary care trusts to provide pharmaceutical services themselves in an emergency such as a flu pandemic or where there is no suitable alternative.
The Bill also makes changes to the social care complaints system, enabling people who pay for their own care to refer any complaints to the local government ombudsman, just as those who receive free care from their local authority are currently able to do. I think the House will accept that that closes the long-standing loophole whereby self-funders have not been allowed to make complaints in the same way.
The Bill also gives a firmer legal footing to the transfer of anonymised data on doctors’ and dentists’ pay from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to UK health departments. These data have been shared between HMRC and UK health departments for more than 20 years and form a vital part of the evidence that goes to the Doctors and Dentists Review Body on pay.
Let me turn to the final aspect of the Bill. It is becoming increasingly clear that the big challenges to the health of the nation are rooted in our lifestyles, and that if we want to build a sustainable NHS, we must now put as much focus on preventing illness as on treating it.
I am aware that this part of the Bill addresses tobacco control and protection for children in relation to tobacco, but is it not time that we looked at protecting children in other respects as well, because they are particularly at risk from both tattooists and piercers? Currently, there are no minimum age limits for children having piercing of their genitals, navels, nipples, mouth, nose, eyebrows and ears. There are also no minimum training qualifications and no skills qualifications for those who carry out such piercing. Should we not also be looking at the risks to children from such tattoos or piercing, which include the danger of infection, bleeding, complications and the need for plastic surgery? Should we not be updating the NHS to take account of such new risks to our young people?
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. I am always on the side of the argument that says we must give maximum protection to young people. I think I am correct in saying that there is currently a minimum age for having a tattoo, and I can assure my hon. Friend that I have no plans to change that. However, I know that she and other Members have raised the issue of piercing before, and I undertake to meet her to discuss her concerns more fully.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his promotion. We all want people to live longer and to lead healthy lifestyles, but does he not share my concern that there might be an unintended consequence of particularly the health promotion aspect of the Bill in relation to tobacco advertising and the display of products, in that local convenience stores and small shops may well close? Of course the right balance must be struck and I agree that we need health promotion, but we must also bear it in mind that most small shop owners are responsible and undertake their duties in a lawful way, and that in order to survive they need to sell products and to provide products to the wider community.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I can confirm that it would never be my intention to make it harder for small retailers to survive; I do not think anybody would want that. Nevertheless, we have to act to counter the fact that many young people still take up smoking, and if we in this House can take measures to reduce that, we have a responsibility to consider them. It is my judgment that this can be done without causing the effect on small businesses that the hon. Gentleman described, provided that we can find the right point of balance so that we do not put an unfair burden on small shops. I hope the hon. Gentleman will work with us to find that point, because we still have some way to go before we reduce smoking rates among young people to a level that we would find acceptable.
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment; I am sure that he will make an excellent Secretary of State, and I hope that he also proves to be a tolerant one. Is he aware that in Canada, Iceland and Thailand, which are the only countries to have introduced a comprehensive retail display ban, there is no evidence to suggest that it has had any effect on youth smoking rates or consumption? Indeed, the Prime Minister of New Zealand has ruled out such a ban, stating:
“There’s no international evidence it actually works”.
On what basis is my right hon. Friend taking this measure forward?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s kind words of congratulation. I stand to be corrected, but what I read of the evidence over the weekend suggests to me that in both Iceland and Canada measures to restrict point of sale materials did have an effect on smoking prevalence among young people. In Iceland, the fall in smoking prevalence among 15 to 16-year-olds between 1999 and 2007 was most rapid in the period immediately following the display ban introduced in 2001—smoking prevalence for that age group fell by more than 40 per cent. during that period. I would argue that it is not correct to say that there is no evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of this proposal, but I agree that it should be introduced in a way that does not make it even harder for small shops to trade. We all have concerns about the high streets in our constituencies, the community facilities and the community shops and services. It is not our intention to make those commercial pressures even greater; nevertheless there are steps we could take to reduce smoking among young people. Where there is evidence to suggest that things that we could do could have an effect, we are duty-bound to consider them.
In addition to that, will the Secretary of State try, whenever he can, to make the point to those who smoke that they should try never to be the first person to light up in any group and that they should try not to smoke in front of someone younger than them?
I join others in welcoming the Secretary of State to his new job—it is a very important one. The debate about how one prevents young people from becoming addicted to a harmful substance, be it tobacco, alcohol or another harmful drug, is difficult. While respecting the rights of adults to make choices about those products, will he give an undertaking that, first, everything he proposes will be evidence based and, secondly, that he will always seek all-party agreement, via the Select Committee and through other means, to ensure that we proceed with maximum consensus on such difficult issues? As we all know, young people can find ways around regulations as easily as anybody.
I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that consideration, but what I ask in return is that if we give the evidence a thorough test in Committee and find that proof exists for certain action, the House does not then find other excuses not to take such action. Like me, I do not think that he is comfortable about the prevalence of smoking among young people in our constituencies. I think that there is more we can do to cut the number of young people smoking, and if that can be done, the effects on their standard of health will be huge. We must take this important issue incredibly seriously.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment. We must recognise how powerful and influential the tobacco lobby is. At every stage it challenges causation, manufactures uncertainty and hides behind third-party organisations—Save Our Shop is funded by the Tobacco Manufacturers Association. As the very last resort, it will drag its feet against the inevitable—what Philip Morris calls throwing grit into the gears of regulatory reform.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which stresses the need—perhaps this goes back to what the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said—for us to examine the evidence and put aside some of the vested interests. I will argue strongly that if we can take steps to reduce the level of smoking among young people, we should always do so.
Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in this country. Although the number of people who smoke in England is at an all-time low, there are still too many young people taking up smoking.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his promotion. Will he think again about the ban on tobacco display, which is a triumph for the nanny state? The most recent evidence that the Department of Health itself commissioned on this subject showed that brand awareness was not a factor in influencing young people to smoke compared with other social, economic and family background factors. He said that he does not want to damage small businesses, and that is reassuring, but his Department says that it will cost at least £1,000 a store to implement this proposal. It is gesture politics of the worst kind: will he think about it again?
I will think about it, but I would just point out that during the life of this Government we have taken measures to restrict the promotion of tobacco and control exposure to it. At every point in that journey, the voices from the Opposition Benches have cried, “Nanny state!” Almost every time that a sensible measure has been proposed to tackle smoking, especially under-age smoking, we have heard those voices. If we had listened to them, we would not have reduced the proportion of people who smoke from 28 per cent. in 1997 to 21 per cent. in 2007. On this issue, the calls from the Opposition do not have credibility. Without those measures, we would not have had that progress—[Interruption.] The noise is rising from the Opposition, but we will stand firm on this issue.
The total number of deaths caused by smoking in this country is more than the number of deaths from diabetes, road traffic accidents, suicide and drug and alcohol related causes combined. Some 8.5 million adults still smoke, and some two thirds took up the habit when they were under the age of 18. Some 200,000 11 to 15-year-olds smoke, which is a major cause of health inequality. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to become smokers.
Since the tobacco advertising ban, the main conduit for marketing cigarettes to children is through retail displays in shops. There was a full and impassioned debate on this issue in the other place, where the full range of views was set out and discussed. Their lordships have thoroughly scrutinised evidence on the benefits and costs of our proposals, and their conclusion—by an overwhelming majority—is that we should act now in accordance with the measures set out in the Bill.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the reduction in the prevalence of smoking was greater in the 1980s, under the Conservative Government, than it has been at any other time in the last 50 years, because of the impact of the increase in the price of cigarettes? The increase in prices in Iceland had the same impact.
We believe that evidence exists to support the proposition that we should ban tobacco vending machines in the public areas of licensed premises. Why are the Government resisting that suggestion?
On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, I do not wish to make a party political point—[Interruption.] I normally do, but not on this occasion. I remember the time of “The Health of the Nation” in the early 1990s, and progress was made in reducing smoking, but there was a real acceleration in 1997, with the introduction of smoking cessation courses and nicotine patches being made available to people. When tackling an issue of this magnitude, it gets harder and harder the lower we seek to go. The cut that I mentioned in the number of people smoking is a real and appreciable difference that will bring real health benefits to the people concerned and the national health service for years to come.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, I shall discuss vending machines shortly. If I pick up the drift of his question, he wants us to go even further than is proposed in the Bill. I hope that he will discuss with his colleagues the possible effect of that on small businesses, but let us have the debate.
People ask about the evidence. A study published in 2008 by Cancer Research UK reviewed two decades’ worth of research on the influence that point-of-sale displays have on smoking among young people. The collective conclusion of these studies is that point-of-sale displays not only encourage children who already smoke to make impulse purchases of cigarettes, but encourage children who have never smoked to take up the habit.
Research by leading academics at Stanford university’s school of medicine, published in 2004, showed that removing point-of-sale displays and advertising could reduce the likelihood of smoking among children and young people by as much as 50 per cent., even when other factors, such as parental smoking, are taken into account. Point-of-sale displays in the US are much more prominent than they are in the UK, but even if this legislation had only a 10th of the impact that it is estimated to have had in the US, it would still mean that 3,000 fewer children would become smokers each year—[Interruption.] I hear the muttering from the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). If he is talking of the nanny state and saying that it is not worth doing, then shame on him.
Will the Secretary of State give us his forecast of how many people might not become smokers if the point-of-sale measure goes through? What other measures is his Department considering in order to have even more success in reducing smoking?