House of Commons
Thursday 18 June 2009
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
The Clerk at the Table having informed the House of the unavoidable absence of the Speaker from this day’s sitting, the Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Standing Order No. 3).
Oral Answers to Questions
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South-West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The Electoral Commission informs me that, although it collects turnout figures after each election, it has not undertaken research on the impact on turnout of different electoral systems. However, the commission does provide information to electors, through its public awareness campaigns, on the way in which different electoral systems work, and on how they may cast their vote.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer. I have always felt that the Electoral Commission should look in more detail at the different electoral systems, particularly as we have so many in the United Kingdom as a whole. What was the turnout when electronic voting was used, and with postal voting?
The Electoral Commission is certainly prepared to carry out the research that the hon. Gentleman has in mind if the Government ask it to do so. I am afraid that I do not have figures on turnout using electronic voting and postal voting, but the number of people who vote by post has increased significantly since 2000, and now roughly 15 per cent. of those who exercise their vote do so by postal means.
Is it not a fact that we have elected two Jew-hating racists to represent us in the European Parliament—we have done so in the form of British National party electors—even though in Yorkshire the BNP got fewer votes than it did in 2004? What is the reason? In the 2004 European Parliament elections, there was an all-postal ballot and almost twice as many people voted. I understand that there are some fiddles in postal voting, but we must look much more seriously at encouraging all-postal ballots, because that is the best way to prevent the fascists from being elected to represent our nation.
The Electoral Commission certainly supports a thorough modernisation of electoral processes in this country and has made recommendations to the Government, but the electoral systems that we employ in this country are very much a matter for this House, not the Electoral Commission.
Is it not a fact that people vote in large numbers when these two circumstances apply: first, they think that the body that is being elected matters to them; and, secondly, they think that their vote will actually make a difference—that their vote counts? Are not those the issues that we, not the Electoral Commission, ought to consider so that we make our electoral system fit for purpose?
There are, of course, a number of issues that affect voter turnout at all elections. It might interest the House to know that the probable figure for turnout at the European elections this year was 34 per cent., which was down on the figure of 38.5 per cent. five years previously. However, a number of issues affect voter turnout, and the hon. Gentleman is quite right that, although some are for the Electoral Commission to consider, many are for this House and the political parties in it.
May I suggest to my hon. Friend that it would be useful for the Electoral Commission to carry out a full investigation into, and produce a report on, the recent European elections? Most of us believe that the prospect of voting for a list puts people off voting, but that people do like to vote for an individual elected representative. As the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) just said, a system that allows an extremist party to be elected with a small number of votes is not a system that we should encourage.
The Electoral Commission is carrying out a survey of the effectiveness of the recent elections to the European Parliament, and I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that a number of factors have to be taken into account. However, the electoral system that we put in place for future European Parliaments, or for any election in the United Kingdom, is a matter for this House, not for the Electoral Commission.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Surface Water Drainage Charges
I estimate that surface water charges by area will cost the Church of England at least £5 million and a further £10 million for highways drainage contributions. The effect of these cost increases on individual parish churches and cathedrals will vary, but I assure the hon. Lady that every church will face an increase.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that answer. Does he agree that there should be a moratorium on the imposition of those charges until a complete impact assessment has been made? Will he support the early-day motion to that effect which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends? Will he also look at the formula that Yorkshire Water, which serves my constituency, has come up with? It causes the least damage where the introduction of those charges applies.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We will certainly look at any proposal or scheme seeking to ensure that the least possible damage is done to churches as a result of water charges. We have heard some encouraging noises from Ofwat and the Government, but we hope for something more tangible and, from the Church’s point of view, for a broad, permanent exemption. That is what we are seeking to achieve with Ofwat.
The Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I am a member, is undertaking a review of Ofwat’s charging policies, and we had the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), before us yesterday. He made it quite clear that Ofwat has not only a brief but a duty to ensure that charging systems are fair and avoid creating hardship. May I suggest to the Second Church Estates Commissioner, that the Church Commissioners make strong representations to ensure that Ofwat delivers on what he described as encouraging noises?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that we have had discussions with Government and Ofwat representatives. Those discussions are continuing. Our difficulty appears to be that water companies, with the possible exception of the Yorkshire water authority, are charging churches and other voluntary bodies as if they were big businesses. We are seeking to argue that that cannot be morally or ethically right and that it is not a balanced approach. The Government respond, but whether they do so sufficiently and significantly is another matter.
May I, too, urge the hon. Gentleman to make strenuous representations on this matter with both Ofwat and Ministers? As he has just said, the issue involves not only the churches but other voluntary bodies such as scouting organisations. Such bodies are very important to our national life, are not big businesses and cannot afford the charges. If the charges go ahead and they are not able to operate, that will diminish our national life.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. She will be happy to know that at yesterday’s annual general meeting of the Church Commissioners, I raised that specific point. I said that it was encouraging that the Church, through the Synod and the Archbishops Council, was working with scouting and other organisations. The Archbishops Council has led the way in this matter on behalf of the Church, along with the Church Commissioners, but the House has to give, as I think it has done, a strong message to Ofwat in addition to all the other representations that have been made.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said, but urge him to redouble his efforts. As he may be aware, I have seen and corresponded with the chief executive of Ofwat. Although charming and courteous, he has not delivered as he should have. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is extraordinary that the body set up to protect the public is creating this appalling problem? Will he once again approach the chief executive and the appropriate Ministers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Among other things, Ofwat is misdirecting itself on these issues. It seems to be suggesting that the new charging regime is an ecologically sound policy. Let me say that the Church takes environmental issues seriously, and that we do not necessarily accept that argument. I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement in Hansard on 5 February at column 972, in which I asked the Government to intervene robustly on behalf of the churches and other organisations. I will be happy to repeat that request to the Government.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South-West Devon, representing the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
The Electoral Commission informs me that it believes that giving people the option of voting in person in advance of polling day would improve access to the electoral process. In May 2009, the chair of the Electoral Commission wrote to the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills), reiterating the commission’s view on early voting in the context of a wider strategy for the future of elections. It also responded to the Government’s 2008 consultation on weekend voting.
Two weeks ago, voter apathy and electoral disengagement hit an all-time low; turnout plummeted to 16 per cent. in my region of Yorkshire. I recently met the Minister of State, to discuss my plans to introduce early voting in the UK. There was early voting in the recent American election, in which voters flocked to the polls over a two-week period. Clearly, one day’s access to the polls is not enough in today’s society. Will the Electoral Commission therefore discuss plans to introduce early voting?
The Electoral Commission informs me that it is not opposed in principle to moving polling day to the weekend. However, it does not support such a change at present because there is a lack of compelling evidence to show that such an arrangement would be more convenient or accessible for electors, and increase turnout. As has been said, there are a number of reasons voters do not turn up to vote at elections, many of which relate to the political parties and our conduct in the House. All of us—not only the Electoral Commission—should consider how to increase voter turnout in this country.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
We do not collect the figures, but I know that a significant number of churches—mainly rural ones—are coping successfully with bats, as they have done for centuries. Cleaning and protecting contents costs volunteers time and money; in some cases even that is not enough, and the bats cause damage and create hygiene problems.
Before I get swamped with letters about this, let me make it clear to all those outside the House that I like bats, I love seeing bats flying and I want bat populations to flourish. However, there is a serious issue about the damage that is being done by bats, particularly to historic and beautiful old churches and other buildings. Could the Church Commissioners get together with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, English Nature, Natural England and English Heritage to come up with a holistic approach? Bats do not have to live in belfries; they can go and live elsewhere. They are natural animals; they do not need us to produce churches for them. This needs sorting out, because it is costing parishes a great deal of money and damaging our historic structures.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is a great authority on bats. I can share with the House the fact that he is also a great authority on newts—but the Church Commissioners are not responsible for newts, although they may be responsible for bats in the belfry. He mentioned DEFRA, English Heritage and Natural England, but he omitted to mention the Bat Conservation Trust. We are working with all those organisations to strike a sensible balance. I will be pleased to feed in the points that he makes, which are very pertinent to these discussions. In the past, we have had a good deal of success in accommodating bats, but the fact that we continue to raise the issue in this House reflects the fact that it is a problem in churches up and down the land.
Public Accounts Commission
The Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission was asked—
When the commission took evidence on the National Audit Office resource estimate on 17 March 2009, the NAO told us that it hoped to be able to surrender some of the contingency included in the revised budget for the repair and refurbishment of its headquarters, and it has confirmed that that remains the position.
I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful answer. The NAO estimate for 2009-10 is 3 per cent. above that of the previous year at a time of negative inflation. Clearly, it aspires to achieve cost reductions across its range of activities. When will it be made clear to this House that those cost savings might begin to be reflected in the total support that the NAO seeks from Parliament?
For every £1 of taxpayers’ money that the NAO spends, it saves £9 for the taxpayer. Considerable extra work has been given to the NAO by the Public Accounts Commission. My hon. Friend is asking about the contingency fund and expenditure on the NAO’s new headquarters. It tells me that it is seeking to achieve a £1 million underspend against a revised project budget, and the project will be delivered on time in November. It is a success story that we should be proud of.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Economic Downturn (Assistance)
Despite the economic downturn, the commissioners plan to maintain the level of their distributions in cash terms this year and into next year.
Will my hon. Friend assure me that when the commissioners look at expenditure in cash terms there will be a keen prioritisation and selection of expenditure categories, because that is going to be vital? Will the selection of those priorities will reflect the needs of the 21st century Church?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Supporting the Church’s ministry, particularly in areas of need and opportunity, is the priority that the Church sets itself. We want to spend our sums wisely. This summer we are holding a series of conferences with our beneficiaries, and that detailed engagement will help us to assess the priorities to which he refers; we then seek to help the growth of the Church.
Electoral Commission Committee
The hon. Member for South-West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—
European Parliamentary Elections
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I welcome him to his new responsibilities, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who spoke earlier.
Will the hon. Gentleman pass on to the Commission a specific request that two matters be looked at? First, did the facility work for people who are European Union citizens and are allowed to vote here but have to fill in a form to make it clear that they are going to use their vote only in this country rather than in their country of origin, and how many people used it and so on? The second matter is how accessible the venues for voting are generally. I still take the view that they are often in hidden-away places that long-standing locals might know, not places where most of the public go in the course of their daily business.
The Electoral Commission is extremely keen to increase voter turnout at all elections, and the hon. Gentleman’s point will certainly be taken into account. The commission would like me to inform hon. Members that it is keen to hear from many sources about the conduct of the elections that have just taken place, including Members of Parliament. If anyone has particular representations to make, they will be warmly received by the Electoral Commission, and I will certainly ensure that his comments are passed on to it.
The Solicitor-General was asked—
The Crown Prosecution Service records count defendants proceeded against for offences of theft and handling, but they do not separately identify the premises where the offence takes place, so we cannot tell the hon. Lady about theft from shops, which I believe she is interested in. I can, however, tell her the overall number of people prosecuted for theft, which is reasonably constant at around 140,000 to 150,000 a year, but the conviction rate has risen considerably over the period in which she has an interest.
I am most grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for that full answer. Will she support my private Member’s Bill, which will be considered tomorrow, in which I call for more cases to appear before the courts when there are persistent offenders or when the goods taken from a shop are of high value? The credit crunch has led to a higher incidence of shoplifting and shop theft, and I know that the Government are concerned about that. If a first-time offender is involved or goods of only a small value are stolen, I can understand the value of a fixed penalty notice, but the thrust of my Bill is to allow the cases that would best benefit from coming before a court to do so. That would allow for restorative justice, and for the offender to get some treatment if it is—
I have a sense that the hon. Lady and I are growing old with her asking me questions about shoplifting and me trying to answer them even though we do not have the figures that she perpetually seeks. She knows that appropriate use of penalty notices is a constant concern within Government, and we keep it under review. She makes a powerful point about the impact of the credit crunch, which has to come into all our considerations. She knows that the decision whether to prosecute has a public interest component, and I am reasonably satisfied that all those factors are kept under review and applied consistently and conscientiously.
On the specific question whether I will support the hon. Lady’s Bill tomorrow, I am afraid that I will be in Redcar.
Has not the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) got an important point? The problem with fixed penalty notices, particularly for shoplifting, is that the person involved does not have contact with the prosecution authorities or the courts. The underlying reasons for the offending behaviour are never recognised, so they are not dealt with. It seems to me, and I think to a lot of people, that if we are stop those who shoplift because they have a drugs habit or extreme social difficulties, it is better that they are placed before a court, which can take appropriate action. Fixed penalty notices get in the way of that.
It does depend on what kind of offender is before the authorities. Where there is a clear need that has a criminogenic component—drugs, drink or whatever it is—I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is appropriate that that be tackled. Otherwise, there is no getting to the root of the problem. It is intended that penalty notices should be used when those factors are not present.
There is a scale as to when diversionary penalties of one kind or another are intended to be used—knowing the hon. Gentleman’s responsibilities, I am sure that he has seen it—with a penalty notice for disorder right at the bottom. Where particular causes become obvious, there are such things as conditional cautions right at the top of the scale, which then leads quickly into court. I agree in principle that the hon. Gentleman is right, but we need to ensure that PNDs are used against the right people. They are a useful tool for the police, as they can deal on the spot with a minor offence that does not show any signs of the causes that he mentions, and as such they have considerable use, but in principle he is quite right.
The Crown Prosecution Service has recently started a series of visits to police force and CPS areas. The visits are being undertaken by a joint team with the police to assist the implementation of recent guidance, assess current performance area by area and provide guidance on improving performance and sharing good practice.
I thank the Solicitor-General for that reply. In February, I received a reply from a Justice Minister claiming that 59 per cent. of cases prosecuted as rape result in a conviction for rape or another offence. However, my hon. and learned Friend knows that that hides massive differences between police areas. In Dorset, fewer than one in 60 women secured a conviction for an attack when they reported rape, but in Cleveland, the area that my hon. and learned Friend represents, almost one in every five rapes reported to the police results in a conviction. Why does that difference exist, and what can we do to ensure that every area of the country meets and exceeds the standards that Cleveland has achieved, so that women who are raped can get justice?
I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s diligent work on rape, about which she shares a powerful interest with me. There are two sorts of figures. She cited the figure of around 59 per cent., which relates to those going from charge to conviction, once there has been a charge. The much lower figures, especially those that the Fawcett Society puts forward, are from complaint to charge; there is a much higher drop-out rate before cases get to court. There are disparities between Cleveland and other areas. I am proud of Cleveland, though even Sean Price, the chief constable—pleased though he is to top the poll, as it were, for conviction rates for rape—feels that he has further to go before he is performing adequately. None the less, he is to be complimented.
My hon. Friend is right that the figures suggest that less attention is paid to that highly important offence in some areas. Of course, the figures have flaws because complaints and outcomes are likely to be separated by years, so they will not cover the same cases. However, one cannot disguise the fact that the figures are inevitably indicative of a difference in prioritising. The rape support group—the Home Office component of the partnership team, which also comprises the CPS—will talk to police forces specifically about that. To put it bluntly and crudely, the idea is to find out what is working well in one police area, take it to another where they are not doing so well and persuade them that they must implement it to attain much better results. However, having said that—
May I support the campaign of the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on this serious offence? In addition to disparities in various police regions in the United Kingdom, are not conviction rates in the UK significantly lower than those of many of our European counterparts? Does the Solicitor-General know the reason for that? Has any thorough research been conducted to ascertain what lessons we can learn from Europe to try to improve conviction rates in this country?
I am thankful for the hon. Gentleman’s support and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) will be, too. It is important to do the work that he mentions. The differences that exist are evidence that there is nothing magic about getting a better conviction rate for rape. If one police force can do it and another cannot, the way forward is accessible. There are huge definitional differences between us and some European countries. The numbers of people who are prosecuted vary, too. I will not get this precisely right, but I point out that in Italy, essentially only stranger rape is prosecuted. It is relatively straightforward to get a conviction for that, whereas the difficulty here is rape that happens within a relationship, in which consent is the issue. That is much more difficult.
I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on this subject. I welcome the planned visits and very much hope that an early visit will be made to the CPS in Derbyshire, where one of my constituents suffered the appalling fate of having a case that had got to court dropped, apparently because of failures by the local CPS to communicate effectively with social services about key papers, with the entire range of cases against her assailant subsequently dismissed. Will my hon. and learned Friend ensure that that visit is given particular attention?
I am thankful for my hon. Friend’s concern and support on this topic. I do not know about that case in Derbyshire, which sounds as if it may be a cause for concern. If he tells me about it, I will look into it and draw it to the attention of the CPS, so that it can investigate further and, if there is a need, accelerate the time ofits visit.
Fraud (Small Businesses)
Reducing the harm caused by fraud to individuals and businesses is a key priority for the Serious Fraud Office, although it investigates serious and complex fraud whomever it is aimed at. Last month Richard Alderman, the director of the SFO, met representatives of Transparency International and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, as it is now called, to discuss how the SFO could help small and medium-sized enterprises in that respect.
I am obviously grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply, but is she aware that a Federation of Small Businesses survey showed that online crime and fraud costs small businesses £800 a year on average and that more than half of smaller businesses report that they have been victims of crime in the past 12 months? That is a serious cost to smaller businesses, which are very important to the economy of our country. What additional measures does she believe can be implemented to reduce the current level of crime, which is so bedevilling small business, and electronic crime in particular?
I do know about the FSB survey to which the hon. Gentleman refers—it is from February 2009, so it is quite up to date—which indicates exactly what he said. The FSB is working with the National Fraud Authority, and there are a number of agencies involved in the issue of fraud. Indeed, the National Fraud Authority, which used to be called the National Fraud Strategic Authority, is intended to have exactly that overview. [Interruption.] I am assured that NFA does not mean “No further action”; it means “National Fraud Authority”, and I am cheered by that reassurance. The FSB is on its programme board and stakeholder group, as is the British Retail Consortium and the British Chambers of Commerce. I can therefore give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that the interests of small and medium-sized enterprises are directly acknowledged by the relevant authority and taken on board day to day.
Given that the SFO case load has increased by a third in the past 12 months and that it now faces budget cuts, could the Solicitor-General please identify the financial extent of those cuts and say whether they are likely to hinder the SFO’s ability to protect SMEs from fraud?
I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the specific details of the budget cuts, if that is what he would like. The SFO is going from strength to strength under the new direction of Richard Alderman. It is indeed contending with a rising case load, but it is coping with it well. The SFO has introduced a number of efficiencies and ways of distinguishing cases that can realistically go the whole distance from those that can be cut off short, so that a solution other than a conviction can be sought, such as a civil outcome. The SFO is genuinely trying to crisp up its act, and I am confident that progress is being made.
Since Mr. Alderman became the director of the SFO, he has overseen a comprehensive transformation of that body. It has a new structure, a new focus, a new approach to work and improved processes, which have already produced a number of improvements in prosecutions. We are confident that there will be more to follow as the changes bed in.
I thank the Solicitor-General for that answer. Will she tell us a little more about what the Serious Fraud Office is doing for the victims of fraud and about how those people are receiving justice? Following on from the previous question, will she also say briefly whether she believes it has enough resources?
The SFO has a high regard for the importance of looking after witnesses in fraud cases. Indeed, I have taken a personal interest in this. The Crown Prosecution Service does a good deal in this regard now, and its performance rate on the dropping of cases at the door of the court because of the non-appearance of witnesses, and so on, has got much better because of the attention it pays to victims and witnesses. The SFO deals with a completely different kind of case, of course, but it none the less well understands the need to ensure that witnesses and victims are supported. I have met two small business men who were the victims of fraud and who felt that, when their cases came to court two years ago, they were not treated as well as they could have been. We have learned lessons from that, as well. I do not think that the resources question that my hon. Friend has raised will take away from the effort that is now going to be put more fully into protecting victims and witnesses.
There seems to be an increasing tendency for fraudsters to pick on vulnerable people. Will my hon. and learned Friend tell us what measures she has in hand to ensure that sentences take into account the fact that a vulnerable person has been picked on, in addition to consideration of the crime itself?
The personal damage that fraud can cause, particularly to vulnerable people, is recognised. Historically, it has perhaps been seen as a crime that attacks victims slightly less than other crime, but being defrauded is very undermining and can sometimes tip people into as poor a state as they would find themselves in if they had been seriously assaulted. We are pursuing the protection of vulnerable victims, and when such vulnerability exists, the Crown will draw it to the attention of the judge. Guidelines on sentencing usually allow for aggravation to follow from the fact that a victim is particularly vulnerable, and that can increase the sentence.
The Government introduced a draft Bribery Bill on 25 March this year, which built on a report published by the Law Commission last November. The Bill is currently being considered by a Joint Committee, which will report next month. My noble and learned Friend the Attorney-General will appear before the Committee on 25 June.
Does the Solicitor-General share my concern that the Bill makes negligently failing to prevent bribery an offence? As I understand it, that means that, for the first time, an omission can be prosecuted. Does she not agree that that will have a profound impact on English law?
I do not think that it is an entirely new principle. This is not about omission; it is about negligently failing to take steps to prevent bribery. There are businesses that are in pole position to see when bribery is going on, and if they choose to turn away, or if they do not have sufficient procedures in place to prevent it, it is probably a poor response to say that they have a valid defence. Of course they should be under an obligation to prevent bribery from damaging themselves and others, and they should be punished if they do not do so.
Crown Prosecution Service
The merger of the RCPO and the CPS will generate efficiency savings as we combine the strengths of the two organisations, with the aim of delivering an enhanced prosecution service. We anticipate making savings through a range of means, including some headcount reduction over time. At present, however, the management is assuring staff that their employment is secure and that any future reductions will be achieved through natural wastage, as it is called, and as part of ongoing efficiency planning.
The trade unions, the Public and Commercial Services Union and the FDA, might well have been reassured by the CPS that they will be fully consulted about the implementation of the merger, but what reassurance can my hon. and learned Friend give to the skilled, dedicated staff in the RCPO and the CPS that they will not ultimately become casualties of the Treasury’s remorseless fixation with driving down headcount?
Actually, we had this merger in mind at some stage, irrespective of the remorselessness of the Treasury, because we thought it would enhance the prosecution service we give to the public. The history of the RCPO’s roots demonstrates why that element of prosecution was not included in the remit of the CPS, but that is now indeed history, and it will be optimally beneficial for the public for the two agencies to work together. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making it clear that this is a merger and not a takeover by the larger organisation, the CPS, of the smaller one. Management have assured staff that they will all have a job on transfer, which applies to both components, and have stressed the large amount of work that the RCPO will bring into the CPS in any event. All the RCPO contracts will be transferred to the CPS and the existing terms and conditions will be kept at the point of transfer. As I said in my original answer, any further reductions are currently—optimistically, but, I think, rightly—likely to be achieved through what is called “natural wastage”, which is not a very nice term, but means retirement.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Parliamentary Standards Bodies
The Justice Secretary and I have had significant discussions about a Bill to create the Parliamentary Standards Authority. As well as having discussions within Government, we are consulting all parties represented in the House, and the Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges has attended those meetings.
Last week, the Prime Minister announced that the Government’s democratic council—whatever that is—wanted the immediate creation of the Parliamentary Standards Authority, which would have wide-ranging powers over the House, including those of disciplining and fining Members of Parliament. Since that task has been very well discharged by the Committee on Standards and Privileges for some years, why do the Government want to transfer it to an external, unelected, unaccountable quango, which would in itself turn the clock back several hundred years as regards the powers of this House—a move that would be heartily welcomed by King Charles I?
It was not just the Prime Minister, but all the party leaders who agreed to my right hon. Friend’s proposal to put the setting and administration of our allowances on an independent footing. We should all recognise that a public perception has emerged that we arrange the allowances in our own interests rather than in the interest of our doing our job, that we then administer these allowances within the House of Commons and lean on officials to exercise their judgment in our interests. We need to address that perception so that people can have confidence in the high standards of the House of Commons. The proposal to overcome that perception, which has been subject to wide-ranging discussions and on which we will have further such discussions, is to create an independent Parliamentary Standards Authority so that we can no longer vote on our own allowances, which will be set independently; the functions of the Fees Office will be transferred to that authority. That is the remit of the Parliamentary Standards Authority; rather than questions of conduct in this House, it is all about putting our allowances on a proper, transparent footing with fair and firm rules that will allow us to get on with our job and give the public confidence that the allowance system is being run independently.
The Leader of the House, and, indeed, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) have had the pleasure of giving extensive evidence before Sir Christopher Kelly’s Committee over the last couple of days. Given that Committee’s interest in this matter, would it not be sensible if the draft legislation for the Parliamentary Standards Authority were sent as soon as ready to it for its early consideration so that it can give advice to the House before we set in statute something with which it might profoundly disagree?
The Justice Secretary will meet Sir Christopher Kelly this afternoon, but it might be helpful for Members to see the Parliamentary Standards Authority as the hardware and the inquiry into allowances conducted by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and its recommendations for a new allowance system as the software. If, as I hope, we can legislate for and set up the new independent authority before the House rises for the summer, if Sir Christopher Kelly is able to report in, say, October—obviously when he reports is a matter for him, because he is independent and arranges his timetable and inquiries according to his wishes and those of his committee—and if the Parliamentary Standards Authority can begin work in November, it will then be able to deal with Sir Christopher’s proposals on allowances.
We need to make absolutely sure that we get the system right. I hope that no one will think that we can simply carry on as we were after this crisis. There has been a profound undermining of public confidence, and the best way we can handle that is to say “We are not doing this ourselves any more. The allowances are being set independently. What we are doing is getting on with our job of representing our constituents and holding the Executive to account.”
Will the Leader of the House explain what role, if any, the commission headed by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) will have in relation to the Parliamentary Standards Authority—and, by the way, when will that commission report?
The Prime Minister has said that he thinks it would be helpful if a parliamentary Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase addressed a number of issues relating to the way in which the House operates. We must address the knock that confidence in our Parliament has taken by dealing with the allowance system, but that will also give us an opportunity to look more widely at a number of issues that have been on the agenda and should now be dealt with. We intend to table a motion shortly to establish a Committee that will be able to consider direct representations from the public through e-petitioning—the Procedure Committee has already done a good deal of work on that—as well as how the House itself could decide what constitutes non-Government business, and time-limited Select Committees.
Does the Leader of the House recognise the important principle that except when a serious criminal offence has been committed, the ultimate court of appeal to decide whether a Member is allowed to continue to sit in the House must be the voters? There have historically been a number of occasions on which a Member of Parliament whom the authorities do not like—a rebellionus Member—has been returned at the insistence of the voters.
The right hon. Gentleman has just enunciated a fundamental constitutional principle. We are accountable, because we are accountable to the electors at every general election. If the electors do not want to send a Member back to the House, they do not have to do so. In addition, we are accountable individually to the collective of the House. The House has wide-ranging powers to chuck out any Member at its discretion, and that will cause a by-election. We need to consider whether or not we have used those powers in the way in which the public expect us to.
I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been producing rather long answers. I shall try to shorten them, but I thought that we were not going to use up the time. I shall try to get into less expansive mode.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask the Leader of the House briefly and unequivocally to confirm that, while the Parliamentary Standards Authority will deal with the financial matters about which she talked—we all accept that—it will not become an appointed quango with jurisdiction over Members of Parliament? That would be intolerable and unacceptable to any right-thinking Member of Parliament.
I think the answer to that is yes. The jurisdiction will be in respect of considering and paying Members’ allowances. Once we have a Parliamentary Standards Authority, if there is a general consensus that we want it to do more we can discuss that, and if there is a consensus we can ensure that it happens. However, that is not a matter for the initial Parliamentary Standards Authority Bill.
Procedure Committee/Modernisation Committee
I am sure that the whole House agrees that the starting point for the further modernisation of the House should be the reforms to deal with the loss of confidence caused by the expenses scandal. We will shortly put proposals to the House to establish the new Parliamentary Reform Committee that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced last week and to which the Leader of the House has just referred.
The Modernisation Committee has not met for many, many, many months. The Procedure Committee is doing good work and could easily take over the role, functions and responsibilities of the Modernisation Committee. It is chaired by a Back-Bench Member of the House, as are all other Select Committees. Does the Deputy Leader of the House accept that the Committee announced by the Prime Minister should consist of those who have experience of the Modernisation Committee? I have been on the Modernisation Committee since it was formed, chaired the Procedure Committee for two Parliaments and have been in this place for some time. It would be helpful if the Leader of the House or her deputy indicated who is to be appointed to this Committee. Why has the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) been selected? He is a member of the governing party. Would not it be better for an Opposition Member to lead the Committee?
The Modernisation Committee has not met because five of its members, from all parties represented on the Committee, have indicated their desire to leave it. It is up to the parties, through the usual channels, to re-nominate members so that the Modernisation Committee can continue. On chairing the Committee, the Modernisation Committee was aimed at taking forward the Government’s modernisation agenda, so it made sense for the Leader of the House to chair it. Notwithstanding those points, there are many Members, of whom the hon. Gentleman is one, with great experience in these matters. I am sure that they would be welcome members of the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. It is of course up to the parties to decide on nominations.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment. My understanding is that the Modernisation Committee was established to drive forward modernisation at a time when there did not seem to be a broad consensus in the House on that objective. Now that there does appear to be a consensus on modernisation and on strengthening the role of the Commons, may I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at ways of simplifying the various Committees that have been set up? There is a danger that many Committees will have difficulties getting members to sit on them to drive forward the agenda. Would not it be better if the agenda were driven by one Committee rather than a plethora of Committees that might not meet very often in some cases?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments on my appointment. The Modernisation and Procedure Committees have secured some considerable achievements, but my hon. Friend is right, which is probably why the Prime Minister has accepted that the new Parliamentary Reform Committee should run for a defined period. It can take forward some of the excellent work done by the other two Committees. The Modernisation Committee has a piece of work to finish and will do so shortly. Following the interest shown in this topic, I hope that hon. Members will carry forward the excellent work of the two Committees and will volunteer to sit on the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. Clearly we can look at simplification later in the year.
I congratulate the deputy Leader of the House on her appointment and look forward to working with her as closely as I did with her predecessor on the best practice and business of the House.
On Committees, will the hon. Lady inform us whether the Government have any intention of establishing a Select Committee on science. There is a huge amount of pressure to set up such a Committee, not least from the Minister for Science, the noble Lord Drayson. What is the Government’s position on setting up a Select Committee to consider science policy?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Next Thursday we will be considering House business and our aim is to bring forward proposals for the Committee structure he has talked about. We are mindful of the fact that the previous Select Committee on Science and Technology was very popular, and I am sure it would be very welcome in all parts of the House if we were to table a motion to re-establish it.
May I join other Members in welcoming my hon. Friend to her new post? Speaking as a member of both the Modernisation Committee and the Procedure Committee, I urge on her the need for us to be prepared to take forward the work that will be done by the Parliamentary Reform Committee, which, as she said, will meet only for a defined period. I urge her to recognise that the work of the Modernisation Committee and the Procedure Committee significantly overlap and could easily be merged into the Procedure Committee, so ensuring that co-ordinated progress is made.
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. This was a question that my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), found himself answering on many occasions at the Dispatch Box, so we really must consider the question put today, and make progress.
I welcome the fact that the energy of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) will be applied to parliamentary reform, but could we not have achieved the same objective by his taking over the chairmanship of the Modernisation Committee?
That is a difficult one for me to answer. The Modernisation Committee, which I have been reading a lot about in the past few days, has registered some great achievements, as has the Procedure Committee; we are very much looking forward to the Procedure Committee’s report on written questions. This is a new initiative, however, and it is very welcome; I do not want anybody to think that we do not very much welcome the new Parliamentary Reform Committee. It is an idea for its time, and the time is now.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Demonstrations (Parliament Square)
Parliament square is a world heritage site, but it currently looks a bit like a rather dated set for an episode of “Steptoe and Son”. Will the House of Commons Commission, together with the Leader of the House and the Home Office—and whomever—sort out this situation? I yield to nobody in my defence of people’s right to demonstrate outside Parliament, and in fact I deprecate the Criminal Justice Act that brought in some sort of strange exclusion zone to limit demonstrations outside Parliament. However, those demonstrations cannot go on for ever, and we should be able to strike a balance so that people may demonstrate and the world heritage site looks as it is meant to look.
The Serjeant at Arms has made representations to the Metropolitan police to the effect that access to this House is essential for the working of the House. Beyond that, the policing of Parliament square is a matter for the Metropolitan police, and by extension the Mayor of London and the Home Office. I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he would do better to raise these matters in Home Office questions, as they are not a matter for the House of Commons Commission.
Will the hon. Gentleman join me in congratulating the Tamil community on the dignified way in which it conducted its protest, and on the fact that it vacated Parliament square yesterday? Although there are long-term issues to consider, as the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has said, the fact that that demonstration is no longer there shows that by working with the police, organisations can get the right to protest and show that they are able to conduct themselves with dignity.
I am grateful that this gives me the opportunity to confirm that the Tamil demonstration is now over. I believe that there is to be a further large-scale demonstration in central London, but the protest in Parliament square is over, and the authorisation for it was, I understand, due to expire in a few days’ time in any case.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
As I mentioned in an earlier reply, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Committee to be set up for a defined short period to look at issues of reform, such as making Select Committee processes more democratic, scheduling for more and better time for non-Government business, and engaging the public in topics for debate such as petitions.
The political process may need Whips to give shape and direction to efficient policy implementation, but the parliamentary system allows the Executive to take liberties with democracy, generating an atavistic herd instinct that strangles independent thought and objectivity. Does my hon. Friend agree that an ordered party is best obtained by persuasion rather than patronage, and by consent rather than compulsion? If we are serious about reform, we must abandon the coercion and inducements available to Whips, starting with having more powerful Select Committees chosen by this House.
I will try not to take that too personally; until very recently I was my hon. Friend’s Whip. I very much hope that he believes that the relationship I had with him when I was a Whip allowed him to be independent-minded and to decide for himself. Compulsion and the other things he mentioned are not facets of the Whips Office; Labour Members are independent-minded and the Whips Office just works to try to get the Government business through.
At the moment, programming seems to be decided by what are euphemistically called “the usual channels”: the Government and Opposition Whips getting together. Will the Government adopt the practice, used in the Scottish Parliament, of conducting a business committee on which all parties are represented? That would mean that decisions on programming could be taken much more transparently.
Business of the House
Before I inform the House of the business for next week, may I add my personal tribute, as Leader of the House, to Speaker Martin? Yesterday, nearly all the tributes to him mentioned his kindness, and it is very important to recognise that he kept order in the House not by pushing people down, but by supporting and encouraging people. Kindness is very much underrated in modern politics, but it is highly rated by Members of this House. A nudge of encouragement can be of great importance, particularly to a new Member. Members never had to fear the Chair when Speaker Martin was in it; they needed only to look to the Chair for advice and support. I hope that whoever succeeds him tries to match that.
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 22 June—The House will meet to elect a Speaker.
Tuesday 23 June—Second Reading of the Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 24 June—Opposition day [14th allotted day]. There will be a full day’s debate entitled “Iraq Inquiry” on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 25 June—The House will be asked to approve various motions, including the establishment of a London Regional Committee and Regional Grand Committees; a motion relating to Members’ pensions; and motions relating to Select Committees.
Friday 26 June—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 29 June will include:
Monday 29 June—Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill.
Tuesday 30 June—Opposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.
Wednesday 1 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Political Parties and Elections Bill, followed by motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2009, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Saving Gateway Accounts Bill.
Thursday 2 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day], subject to be confirmed by the Liaison Committee.
At 6 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Friday 3 July—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business, and may I echo what she said about Mr. Speaker? As a recent addition to the House of Commons Commission, I must say that I found the way in which he chaired and administered it to be far better than the public reputation he was afforded by the press.
Further to the answer given just a moment ago by the Deputy Leader of the House, I think everyone would welcome some urgent clarification from the Leader of the House on the business of the House motions that she announced for next Thursday. On 10 June, the Prime Minister said in his statement on constitutional reform that “a special parliamentary commission” will be established, comprising Members from both sides of the House, to advise on necessary reforms of the procedures of the Commons. He seems to want to set up a new committee very much on a whim when there are already structures in the House for considering these issues. It is pretty disgraceful that the Prime Minister should choose to interfere to gain a headline when no consultation whatever has taken place.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady therefore take this opportunity to confirm whether it is now her intention to abolish the Modernisation Committee? Will this new commission or committee replace it? If so, what is the difference between this new commission or committee and the Procedure Committee, which also deals with the “necessary reforms” of the procedures of this House? Will she confirm that the real difference is not in the functions of the two committees, but in the simple fact that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) would chair the new one, and not my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight)?
We were taken by surprise yesterday when Mr. Speaker reported that a new cross-party committee would now be inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), and even more surprised that that announcement was said to follow from a discussion with only the Government Chief Whip. We were pleased that the Government appear to have backtracked on their attempt to maintain a majority hold over that committee, but given that I have had nothing more than an unacceptable holding response from the right hon. and learned Lady to my letter of 27 April on this matter, will she now tell the House who will be on this committee, when it is likely to report and what is its exact remit? Will it look, for example, at the issue of privilege that we on the Opposition Benches think should be examined in detail and in parallel by the Committee on Standards and Privileges? In a previous answer to one of my questions, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she could not see any objection to that happening.
Will the right hon. and learned Lady take this opportunity to inform the House when the Government will move the writ for the by-election in Norwich, North? I remind her that the previous Member for that constituency was appointed to the Chiltern Hundreds some days ago and that the writ for the by-election in Crewe and Nantwich was moved much faster.
The House will note that we have chosen to have our Opposition day debate on Iraq and the inquiry, and I hope that the Leader of the House appreciates how strongly we—and many Labour Members—feel that the Iraq inquiry should be much more public and far broader in composition.
May we also have a debate on the way in which some parking enforcement companies are extorting money on utterly vicious grounds from members of the public? Several cases have come to my attention in which, because of unclear signs in a car park, people have been unwittingly entrapped and their cars clamped. I have to report that the Co-op appears to be one of the most unjust practitioners—
Will the House have the chance to call them to account and seek a broader change in the law?
May we have a debate on levels of numeracy in Government? This subject may be closer to the heart of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is barracking from his seat. Yesterday, we had the unedifying sight of a Prime Minister denying the truth about his own cuts in public spending that are in the Chancellor’s most recent Budget. Last week, the Leader of the House was—it is fair to say—ticked off by the UK Statistics Authority for using figures on the gender pay gap that it said would be “misleading” and would
“undermine public confidence in official statistics”.
This is not the first time that the Government have been criticised for manipulating figures, but judging by the confusion of Ministers over spending, perhaps it is not so much a case of intentional distortion and more an indication of their deficiencies in basic maths.
Finally, may we agree across the Floor of the House that, when it comes to electing a Speaker on Monday, each Member should do so from the best possible principles for Parliament, and their choice should be on that basis and not for any narrow or party reasons?
The hon. Gentleman raises the question of the special parliamentary committee. It is important to take the opportunity of the need to rebuild confidence in Parliament, not just to sort out the question of our allowances but to see whether we can make further progress in improving our procedures. We can take the opportunity to allow the public direct access by putting issues on the parliamentary agenda through e-petitions; to strengthen the work of Select Committees; and to allow a wider say in decisions on non-Government business.
The important thing to focus on is the job that needs to be done and on establishing a committee of short-term duration simply to get on with that job. We can either focus on process or on outcome. If we can reach an agreement, we can move forward. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have done a lot of work on these matters over the years and they have not found the opportunity to move forward. I think that this is that opportunity, so, instead of complaining about the process, let us all work together to ensure that we achieve some outcome.
The hon. Gentleman asked why the matter should not be dealt with by the Procedure Committee. The Procedure Committee does very important work and I refer to what my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House said about its important forthcoming report on the answering of written questions. The new committee will have a wider remit than the Procedure Committee, but I am sure that it will draw on the expertise and work of the Committee and of some of its members, including, possibly, its leading member, the Chair.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Speaker’s Committee on the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the search of parliamentary premises. In a resolution of the House some months ago, the House decided that there needed to be a Speaker’s Committee to consider that matter, but that it would not start its work until after any investigation by the criminal justice system had been completed. Now that that investigation has been completed, the Committee needs to get on with its work. The announcement of who will be on the Committee will be a matter for the new Speaker. I hope that the Committee will be able to get on with its work. Once it is established, the terms of reference of the House resolution said that it could consider a number of basic issues and those relating to them.
In relation to the Iraq debate, the Prime Minister—
The hon. Gentleman should refer to the resolution of the House that established the Speaker’s Committee. It will work within that remit and deal with related issues.
The Iraq inquiry was the subject of the Prime Minister’s statement to the House on Monday and there will be a debate on the subject next week, which will no doubt focus on the issues that the Prime Minister dealt with and was questioned on, which concerned the composition of the committee and its way of working.
We might well need to have a topical debate on the subject of parking enforcement. It may seem a minor issue, but quite a lot of money changes hands. If someone comes out of a shop with a couple of kids and a buggy and finds their car immobilised, leaving them stranded, it can be very difficult indeed. Perhaps we ought to consider that. The subject involves a number of different Departments, and the fact that responsibility has fallen between the Department for Transport and the Department for Communities and Local Government has been a problem. Perhaps we might consider that.
In a rather patronising and condescending way, I am sorry to say, the hon. Gentleman cast aspersions on my numeracy. I shall address his point about the UK Statistics Authority. He is referring to the gender pay gap. Previously, the gender pay gap has been reported as two figures. The first is the average gap between the pay of full-time men and full-time women at work. The second is the gap between part-time employees and full-time male employees. One thing that I have said to the Office for National Statistics is that part-time women employees are not a separate breed of second-class citizens. If they are lowly paid, they ought to be considered in the context of the statistics as a whole. We should compare the average pay per hour of men with the average pay per hour of women. I reject any suggestion that it is a question of trying to manipulate the figures. It is about the figures properly representing the valuable contribution that women make to the work force and about stopping pay discrimination, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman regrets asking that question.
The right hon. and learned Lady referred to the tributes paid to the Speaker yesterday. I think that all the tributes remarked on his generosity of spirit in personal terms, and I can only go along with that; that generosity of spirit was obvious to everyone who knew him. I welcomed Mr. Speaker pointing out in his statement yesterday the lack of leadership and wrong-headed thinking that led to the House rejecting the sensible proposals for reform of our expenses system last year. It was important that he made that point.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) mentioned the Committee, proposed by Mr. Speaker, which is to look at the issue of the police search of Members’ offices. I have to say that the right hon. and learned Lady has got herself into a bit of a mess on that. If she remembers, we on the Opposition Benches proposed that there should be no Government majority on that Committee, and that it should be chaired by an Opposition Member. That was rejected by her and her party, and in a whipped vote the Labour party pushed through a motion on 8 December that precluded that option. If the Government have backtracked on that, which is extremely helpful, she needs to put a new motion before the House, because she is bound by a resolution of 8 December that does not allow the Committee to have the composition that it is apparently now to have. Will she put such a motion on the Order Paper next week, so that we can vote on it?
In another place last week, during proceedings on the Political Parties and Elections Bill, there was an extremely important vote on an amendment in the name of Lord Campbell-Savours. That amendment will be strongly supported in this House by Liberal Democrat Members—and a great number of Labour Members, too, as was indicated by the fact that the Government could not manage to get a Labour majority in the House of Lords on the matter. May we have confirmation that there will be ample time to debate that amendment in this House, and that there will be no attempt by the Government to reverse the decision made in another place on non-domiciled tax exiles providing funding for political parties?
The Prime Minister yesterday appeared to have a problem understanding how limited his reforms of the banking sector have been, but he was put right in no uncertain terms by the Governor of the Bank of England last night. Given that the Prime Minister does not appear to know what he is doing on banking reform, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem to know either, while the Governor of the Bank of England clearly does know, may we have a debate so that we Members of the House can put our ideas on how the banking sector should be regulated in future?
Lastly, when the Lord High Everything took control of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, and it was then abolished, one part of the collateral damage was the presumed demise of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills. Before it had that title, the Committee did a superb job in this House as the Select Committee on Science and Technology. In fact, it did a particularly superb job when I was a member of it. There are many people, both in the House and outside, who feel that having a Committee that is committed to the interests of science and technology is no bad thing, including the learned societies led by the Royal Society of Chemistry. When the right hon. and learned Lady brings forward her proposals on Select Committees next Thursday, will she ensure that we re-establish a properly constituted Select Committee on Science and Technology, with a cross-cutting brief, to ensure that those interests are properly represented in this House?
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the work on expenses. It might help if I remind the House that today there has been progress on transparency, with all expenses claims having gone on the House of Commons website. Shortly, we will bring a Bill before Parliament to create an independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. There is also a reassessment under way of all the past four years’ claims, which is being carried out by Sir Thomas Legg and independent accountants. Every single claim will be looked at, and any money that was paid outwith the rules will have to be paid back. We will be able to strengthen parliamentary processes as a result of the work of the Committee that is to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We will get the results of the independent Kelly committee on our allowances, and then the Parliamentary Standards Authority will start work. We have had a major problem, but all the work to solve it is under way.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Committee examining matters in relation to search and seizure and the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). There will be no need for a further resolution of the House, because the resolution of 8 December provided:
“That the committee consist of seven members appointed by the Speaker reflecting the composition of the House.”
Actually, having read that again, I see what the hon. Gentleman means. If we need to do anything, we can do that next Thursday, but that is not a commitment; it is just a maybe.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned cleaning up donations. Important work has been done over the years to ensure that donations to political parties are clean and transparent. We do not want anyone to have influence over politics in this country that is gained from money coming from abroad. We will, of course, review the Lords amendments.
The hon. Gentleman talked about banking regulation, which can be addressed during today’s topical debate on the economy. It is important that we work internationally so that we have the highest standards of regulation for our financial services industry, which is international. We need international guidelines so that we can reach international high standards, and Europe plays an important role in that. Obviously, the structure will have to be operationalised at a national level with each nation ensuring that its national machinery works to high international standards. The Chancellor has made it clear that regulation will be toughened. We want to ensure that the Financial Services Authority and the Bank of England have clear responsibilities, and there will be further work to get this right.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the staff and community who have been responsible for the opening of a spectacular new children’s centre in Blackthorn in my constituency? When the Child Poverty Bill is considered in Committee—I hope that she will upgrade its Second Reading date of Monday 29 June from provisional to absolutely fixed—will she ensure that there is an evidence session so that the Government’s measures on combating child poverty and the work of children’s centres, which the Opposition criticise, can be clearly set out and may feed into the construction of the Bill?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be evidence sessions. Tackling child poverty is about not only income levels—from work and benefits—but, importantly, the support services that enable children to get on better in their lives. Children’s centres have made a major contribution to equality in this country. There are now more than 3,000 centres, but we want to ensure that there is one in every single neighbourhood. Important discussions about that will take place alongside consideration of the new Child Poverty Bill.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Foreign Secretary to make a statement next week on British prisoners kept abroad without trial? Failing that, will she ensure that I get a reply to my letter of 21 May to the Foreign Secretary concerning Mr. William Keating, who has been kept in prison without any trial in the Central African Republic since early February? His family are incredibly concerned about what is happening to him.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend look into the way in which disabled facilities grants are operated by local authorities? There is an ultimatum that occupational therapists must visit and carry out an evaluation within six months and that the work be done within a year, but it is being stretched by local authorities. There is an additional worry that ring-fenced money is being used for other purposes. Will she mount an investigation into the situation and consider holding a debate?
If the Leader of the House listened to the “Today” programme this morning, she will have heard the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs giving an interview about climate change projections, on which he is to make a statement after business questions. Although that was deplorable—it is doubly deplorable in the Secretary of State’s case, because he is usually meticulous in upholding the traditions of the House, rather than breaching them in such a way—what really worries me is that it was clear that the BBC had accessed the document, or received briefing on its substance, yet hon. Members will have to face it blind when we hear the statement.
Can we establish a system whereby when Ministers insult the House by giving interviews outside, they release the documents to which they have referred so that all of us may see them in advance of a statement? Alternatively, although perhaps this is a lesser thing, should not all hon. Members, in much the same way as Front Benchers, have access an hour beforehand to documents on which statements are made, as long as we do so in the privacy of the Library? The calibre of debate would be improved if more people could read the relevant documents prior to statements, and that would genuinely improve the scrutiny of documents and legislation in the House.
I am not sure whether that suggestion has been made before, but it is a good one. It is not just Front Benchers who need a moment to marshal their thoughts so that they can question Ministers properly; Back Benchers on both sides of the House need that too. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that the content of the statement was put out on the “Today” programme before the matter came before the House. It is an important principle that the first people who get a chance to question a Minister about a substantive policy statement should be Members of the House, not journalists, so I will get a transcript of the interview on the “Today” programme and look at the content of the statement.
I have a registered interest in this question. Has my right hon. and learned Friend had time to read a letter dated 12 June that she received from the executive secretary of the Royal Society, and the chief executives of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Institute of Biology, calling for the reformation of a science and technology Select Committee? Will she give the contents of the letter great consideration, given that this is now a cross-party request?
May we please have a debate next week in Government time on the continuing crisis in Burma? Given that the brutal military dictatorship in that country practises egregious human rights abuses, including extra-judicial killings, rape as a weapon of war, compulsory relocation, forced labour, and the use of child soldiers on a scale proportionately greater than in any other country of the world, would it not be good to have a debate in which the Government could explain what action they will take multilaterally to try to bring that regime to book and to give the people of Burma the freedom and justice that we have so long enjoyed and they have so long been denied?
Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the Bill to set up the parliamentary standards committee will be published in draft and subject to full pre-legislative scrutiny? I am sure that she agrees that it is better that we do not legislate in haste and repent at leisure.
There is not an intention to publish the Bill in draft and subject it to full pre-legislative scrutiny. It is important that we have a narrow Bill on which there can be complete consensus. If we then want to expand on the Bill’s provisions, we can do so following consideration of draft clauses and further discussion. The narrow point is that just as we are no longer going to set and vote on our own pay—we have agreed a system so that we do not have to do that—we should not in future set our allowances or administer the system that pays those allowances. To be honest, if we subject a draft Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny, the public will feel that we have not got the point and we have put the matter into the long grass. I know that it is usually good to spend an awfully long time thinking about things, but if there is a straightforward, narrow and practical proposition, we should just get on with it.
First, I thank the Leader of the House for considering carefully the issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and the hon. Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) raised about the resurrection of the Science and Technology Committee. When the machinery of government changes took place in 2007, perhaps she was unaware of the strength of feeling not only inside the House but outside it about the need to scrutinise science, engineering and technology effectively. Despite the valiant efforts over the past two years of my Committee’s members, to whom I pay tribute, in reality, if a very large Committee—and the Select Committee covering the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will be even larger—is not able to get to grips with science and technology not only in government but throughout all the Departments, it will be a huge mistake. I hope that on Thursday, when she brings forward her recommendations, she will bear that in mind and recognise that organisations such as the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering et al are incredibly interested in supporting the Government in their drive to put science at the heart of Government policy.
I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will join me in congratulating the Metropolitan police on its recent successes in reducing violent crime. Could she find time in the next week or so for a debate to discuss the ways in which those successes have been achieved and how to promulgate them more widely?
The Leader of the House knows that there are urgent ongoing discussions about the imposition on Members of a statutory code of conduct. In the light of recent breaches of the ministerial code, is it not right that we should discuss a similar approach to the ministerial code?
May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan), on the tributes that they paid to the Speaker? Some of us could not make a tribute to him, but we loved him dearly, and will miss him as Speaker. I still feel very strongly about the campaign that was waged against him by Quentin Letts and other people in the press.
May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend not to leave out universities from the debate about how we scrutinise science and technology? Under the present arrangements, it looks as if it will be very difficult to give that important sector, in terms of both our communities and our economy, the proper attention that it deserves.
It is very important not only that the work of my hon. Friend’s Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, which he chairs so ably, is carried through into further and higher education, but that we have a proper Select Committee with responsibility for science and innovation which relates to the business Department and trade and industry. I take his points on board, and will consider them before we come back to the House.
Will the Leader of the House think again about the business for next Thursday? On reflection, would not it be better to abandon plans for a parliamentary reform committee and, instead, abolish the Modernisation Committee and refer all issues of outstanding concern to the Procedure Committee? That would then give us time on Thursday to debate the Procedure Committee’s excellent report on e-petitions, which, if implemented, really would reconnect the public with Parliament.
I pay tribute to the work that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have done on e-petitions, and hope that it will be taken forward. However, his Committee’s terms of reference do not allow it to address the question of how non-Government business is allocated—at least, I do not think that it does. It is important for us not to make an argument about process, when we are trying to deliver on what is probably a consensus on improving how the House conducts its business. We should move on to the many demands for the Government to cede some of their control and their right to dictate Government and non-Government business. Many Members have argued for that. Should we not all work together to bring that into practice, rather than argue about which Committee does so?
As someone who does not in any way renounce the 2003 vote on the Iraq war or blame the former Prime Minister, but justifies the vote, in all the circumstances at the time, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, regarding Wednesday’s debate, whether the Government will reflect further on the committee of inquiry on the Iraq war? I, for one, do not believe that its proceedings should be totally in private. There is undoubtedly an argument that some of the evidence should be taken in private, but not the entirety. The inquiry’s credibility is very much at stake, so I do hope that Ministers at the most senior level will have given further consideration to the matter by Wednesday’s debate.
Further to the question from the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) about the imminent Bill to set up a Parliamentary Standards Authority, I must note there will be disappointment at the Bill not being published in draft. If the Government proceed with a Bill, will the Leader of the House at least give an undertaking that any controversial aspects will not be subject to a guillotine, and may even be taken on the Floor of the House?
I think that it would be good idea if all the Bill’s stages were taken on the Floor of the House—and although there has been no formal publication of the draft Bill, a Bill in draft is being developed. If any Members would like to have a look at what might be in it, they should just come to my room and I shall show it to them. I do not want to go through the palaver of the publication of a draft Bill, but it is no secret that a Bill is being drafted, it has some clauses in it, and the more people who feed their contribution in before it is brought to the House on Second Reading, the better.
May we have a debate or a statement on the position of British citizens who are the victims of crime abroad and wish to claim compensation? My constituent Luke Laurent was subjected to a vicious stabbing and attack in Cyprus, and has been trying for the past year to claim compensation. After the Tampere discussions and Hague 2, it should be much easier for British citizens to claim compensation in EU countries. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at the matter to see whether we can have a debate or statement on this important issue?
All of us have constituents who have studied hard for years only to leave education this summer with very uncertain job prospects. Graduate unemployment is projected to double, and some estimates are that the number of jobless under-25-year-olds could rise to more than 1 million, so may we have a debate on youth unemployment and what the Government are doing to tackle the problem?
Members could raise the issue later this afternoon in the debate about the economy. It is absolutely at the centre of the Government’s concerns that we should protect people from unemployment and from being thrown out of work, which is a tragedy for every individual. It is even worse when that individual is a young person who left full-time education full of hope, only to feel that they have been thrown on the scrap heap before they have even begun. To avoid that, we have injected billions of pounds of extra funds into jobcentres and are providing apprenticeships, training guarantees and internships. We are definitely working to address those issues, and there will, no doubt, be more discussion this afternoon in the debate about the economy.
I am not sure whether the Leader of the House is aware of this, but the courageous Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, will visit the United Kingdom—and, in fact, the House of Commons—next Tuesday. Would it not be possible—and I ask her please not to tell me to put a question next Tuesday to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—for a Foreign Office Minister to make a statement, indicating the contact that the Government have with South Africa, the African Union and Zimbabwe’s other neighbouring states to monitor the progress towards better forms of democracy in that country, so that we might help the people with meaningful aid, as we are currently unable to? Would she ask for a statement to be made on the Floor of the House?
I shall ask the Foreign Secretary to consider whether, on the occasion of Morgan Tsvangirai’s visit, there could be a written ministerial statement setting out the Government’s extensive international and bilateral contact in support of the Zimbabwean people, and the extensive aid development programme going into that country.
May we have a debate on the proposed changes to how furnished lettings are treated for tax purposes? Many of my constituents rent out property, and for tax purposes they are considered to be trading. The proposed changes will alter that, at enormous cost to some people, especially farmers. As the recession continues to bite, is it right that the changes are being brought in now?
If the point was about farmers, the hon. Gentleman could raise it in this afternoon’s general debate on farming. Otherwise, I shall bring his points to the attention of Treasury Ministers and work out the most appropriate way of dealing with the concerns that he has raised.
May we have a debate about the treatment of prisoners on remand—who, of course, have not been found guilty of any offence? I should like to raise the case of my constituent Mr. Mohammed Mudhir, who was subject to extraordinarily inhumane treatment in Armley jail. A few weeks ago, the inquest jury talked of systematic failures, a culture of complacency and a lack of training. Mr. Mudhir’s family have been wronged; he committed suicide as a result of the incredible catalogue of failures that he suffered in custody. Will the right hon. and learned Lady allow a debate in the House about this important matter?
Some corporate groups force solvent companies into liquidation because of their pension liabilities, and then repurchase the assets for pennies in the pound. Business men enriched by such shameful behaviour then use their wealth to cosy up to those in power. May we please have a debate on the implementation of the Pensions Act 2004, so that we can ensure that pensioners are not ruined by the behaviour of companies such as the Caparo group, which is owned by the Prime Minister’s close confidant Lord Paul of Marylebone?
It is for the Chair rather than me as Leader of the House to say so, but I really think that it is too easy to use business questions to take a pot shot at, and make allegations about, people who are unable to respond. If the hon. Gentleman had given me notice I might have been able to give a substantive response. He has not, so I cannot challenge what he has said. Will he please, however, regard it as challenged, even though I do not know what he is talking about? I shall raise with the Treasury the point about solvent companies being pushed into liquidation.
Order. It so happens that I did know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. There was a debate, and during it I made a ruling about the use of the name of a Member of the other place; I hoped that the matter might have rested at that.
Following the brilliant speech in the other place by Lord Campbell-Savours last night, the measures taken by this House to protect the security of MPs’ and election candidates’ home addresses were finally endorsed and passed the last hurdle. There will be no more questions on that subject from me. May I instead ask for a debate in Government time on the unpredictability of future conflicts? That would enable the Government and the Opposition to say why it is important to keep a strategic nuclear deterrent between 2025 and 2055—unlike the Liberal Democrats, who seem to think that because we are fighting counter-insurgencies now, there could be no nuclear threat to this country half a century into the future.
I draw the right hon. and learned Lady’s attention to early-day motion 640.
[That this House notes with concern the findings of a University College London study into the prevalence of abuse by family carers of people with dementia that as many as half of carers reporting some abusive behaviour; further notes the finding of the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People 2007 that as many as 342,000 people aged over 66 years are victims of abuse in the community, often committed by family members; welcomes the Government's review of its current safeguarding vulnerable people guidance, No Secrets; is concerned that the review concentrates on abuse by paid carers; believes that guidance issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 does not carry the same status as legislation; calls on the Government to introduce legislation that provides a statutory basis for the construction and work of adult protection committees (APCs); and imposes a duty on agencies to collaborate, share information, actively participate at a senior level in APCs and work together to establish a right to access the adult at risk without hindrance or coercion and provide powers to protect the welfare of a person found to be the victim of abuse.]
It states the case for placing on a statutory basis issues of elder abuse and the protection of vulnerable adults.
Furthermore, I should like to mention early-day motion 1296, which deals with the case of Margaret Haywood, who—scandalously—was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for blowing the whistle on the poor treatment and neglect of older people in another institution. May we have a debate on those two issues? The House has legislated to protect children and punish those who commit domestic violence. Is it not time to make sure that these other vulnerable people in our society get the same sort of protection?
Obviously, we need tough, enforceable measures in criminal law and a proper regulatory framework to protect those in residential care. The number of people over 85 is set to double in the next two decades, so the issue is of growing importance. Last week we had a debate on carers, and Health questions will be taken next week. A number of hon. Members have raised the point; it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. We will look further for an opportunity to take the issue forward.
May we have a debate on the procedure used for early-day motions? There are now 1,700 of them on the Order Paper, and there is no evidence that they are ever read by Ministers or officials. Unlike what happens with petitions, there is never a ministerial response to them unless they are specifically raised in business questions. Outside groups, however, set great store by them.
Could we not have a system whereby an early-day motion that attracted sufficient signatures got at least a ministerial response? If an early-day motion attracted a large number of signatures, there could be the possibility of a debate on it. I do not think that there is a recorded instance of any of those 1,700 early-day motions ever getting debated, unless one happens to be adopted by the Opposition as a basis for a debate in Opposition time.
The setting up of a business committee is to be considered by the Committee that we hope to establish, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). If the House is minded to move control of non-Government business from the Leader of the House to such a Committee, the question of enabling early-day motions with a certain number of signatures to be debated on the Floor of the House on a substantive motion will be very much a possibility. The Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend could look into the idea and come up with proposals promptly.
I hope that the Leader of the House accepts that scrutiny of legislation on Report is House business, not Government business. Obviously, I welcome the establishment of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Within its remit should be the issue of how we as a House handle the scrutiny of legislation on Report. It would be ridiculous to set up that Committee and have an election for the speakership that involved consideration of reforms to scrutiny on Report, while Bills such as the Health Bill—and the right hon. and learned Lady’s own Equality Bill—come back during that time and yet again receive what is felt, regardless of what the Government think, to be inadequate scrutiny by the House. Will she clearly specify how she proposes to do things differently in respect of the Equality Bill this time, as an example of how we want the scrutiny of all legislation on Report to be?
Timetabling on Report is an attempt to make sure that all aspects of the Bill receive scrutiny, and that the House does not spend so much time on a couple of clauses that some are not scrutinised. However, I readily acknowledge that that has not always been the result. We want to be flexible so that if issues arise in Committee and Government amendments can be brought forward, that should be done. However, we should not find ourselves in a situation where those amendments are not properly scrutinised. There is a lot of justification for the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and they can be within the remit of the Committee that I hope will be established, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. However, I would say that the Report stage of a Government Bill is Government business, however we look at it.
Tomorrow the House will further consider the commendable provisions in the Autism Bill, which deserve full support. However, may we have a debate about autism in the context of the criminal justice system? My constituent Gary McKinnon, the computer hacker, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, yet the Home Secretary—or at least the previous Home Secretary—chose to disregard the impact of his condition and approved his extradition to the United States.
I am sure that all aspects in relation to that individual would have been taken into account when considering an extradition process. As for the work on autism, the Government believe that the strategy across the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health goes even further than the points raised in the Autism Bill, although that Bill offers a welcome opportunity for further discussion.
The “Digital Britain” report caused great concern in the highlands in relation to radio, because it proposes that all national broadcast radio stations should move from analogue to DAB by 2015 and that all car radios are to be converted. However, the presence of DAB in the highlands and islands is almost non-existent. I hope that if the Government are switching from analogue to DAB they will ensure that everywhere in the country that can currently get the analogue radio signal will get DAB. May we have an urgent debate so that those issues can be raised?
Earlier this week we had a statement in the House, and precisely those issues were raised. The whole approach of the Government is that just as it is expected that everywhere in the UK where people live there should be a supply of water and electricity, there should also be broadband working to a high degree, and digital inclusion. I am therefore sure that the hon. Gentleman’s points have already been taken on board.
While the Foreign Secretary is, as he has made clear, working very closely with other countries to ensure that the will of the Iranian people is recognised, it is important to say that this is a matter for the Iranian people and the Iranian electoral authorities. Obviously, however, we want to be absolutely sure that everyone has the right to demonstrate and no one suffers as a result of the demonstrations.
Following the revelation in today’s Guardian that Tony Blair approved policy guidance to British intelligence officers on interviewing detainees overseas that probably led to Britain being in breach of our international obligations under the UN convention against torture, may we have a debate on how this House scrutinises such policy guidance? Could the Leader of the House ensure that such a debate is led by the Secretary of State for Justice—not least because he was Foreign Secretary at the time when that guidance was approved and, along with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), must surely also have been responsible for approving such policy guidance for our intelligence services?
UK Climate Projections
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of new projections for the UK’s future climate. A summary will be placed in the Vote Office and full details can be found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website.
The House knows that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face. The world’s climate is already changing: the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990, including every year between 2001 and 2006. In the UK the 2003 heat wave led to over 2,000 excess deaths, and yet average temperatures that year were just 2° higher than normal. In 2006 the south-east experienced a severe drought. Eight million people in the region are dependent on rivers for their water supply. In 2007 we saw widespread flooding across the country, and a storm surge came within 10 cm of overtopping the defences at Great Yarmouth.
The projections we are publishing today—more than 4,000 maps on the website—give us a clear sense of what we might be able to expect over the next 100 years. They represent the best science we have on how our climate is likely to change; and they are a call to action. I want to thank the scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre and many others for bringing home to us how these changes in our climate—with a greater likelihood of heat waves, flooding, drought, and coastal erosion—will affect our society, and how important it is that we reach a deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December. We are, of course, already taking significant steps to cut our emissions. With the Climate Change Act 2008, we became the first country in the world to set legally binding carbon budgets.
Across the UK, the projections show a range of climate changes up until the end of the century based on three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways: high, medium and low. Broadly speaking, the world’s emissions are currently closest to the medium pathway, although there is still a risk that we could be heading for the high one. While we cannot be absolutely sure what will happen in future, and there are uncertainties—these projections are not a long-range weather forecast—they do show the probabilities of potential changes for the UK, and that is a future that we must avoid.
The projections based on the medium emissions scenario show that by the 2080s—within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren—we could face an increase in average summer temperatures of between 2° and 6° C in the south-east, with a central estimate of 4°. They show a decrease in average summer rainfall of 22 per cent. in Yorkshire and Humber and in the south-east, which is already short of water, and an increase of 16 per cent. in average winter rainfall in the north-west, with increases in the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to a higher risk of flooding. They also show a rise in the sea level for London of 36 cm. Temperatures would rise even more under the high emissions pathway, which could mean peak summer temperatures in London regularly reaching over 40°.
Those results are sobering, and we know that those changes will affect every aspect of our daily lives. The first clear message is that only by cutting emissions through a global deal in Copenhagen can we avoid some of the extreme changes that the projections describe. Moreover, even if we achieve our international target to limit global temperature rise to 2°, we will still have to live with some level of change. That is because it will take 30 years for past emissions to work through the system, so the next three decades of climate change are already set. By 2040, what was exceptional in the summer of 2003 will have become normal.
The second message of these projections is therefore that we must plan to adapt to changes that are now unavoidable—and this is a job for all of us. That is why we have more than doubled spending on flood and coastal protection since 1997, and we are on course to provide better protection for about 160,000 more homes across England. We are taking action to tackle water scarcity and improve water efficiency. For the first time, all Government Departments are producing their own adaptation plans, which they will publish by next spring.
The NHS now has a heat wave plan to protect vulnerable people from hot weather. The Department for Transport has reviewed its design guidance for roads, looking at drainage capacity and new road surfaces. With the Department for Communities and Local Government, we are already working with more than 50 local authorities that have made adapting to climate change a priority in their local area agreements.
All local authorities will in future have to consider adaptation when taking planning decisions, and from today all major Government investment will have to take into account risks from climate change.
In the Climate Change Act 2008, we took the power to require public bodies to adapt and to report on the steps they are taking. Today I am launching a consultation paper proposing the first 100 organisations, including Network Rail, the National Grid, Ofwat and the Environment Agency, that will be required to tell us what they are doing. I am placing copies of that consultation paper in the Library of the House.
The economic case for acting now is very strong, as the Stern review made clear. By investing in flood defence, for example, we estimate that we can reduce the annual cost of flooding by 80 to 90 per cent. in the years to come. There may also be some economic opportunities, for tourism and agriculture, for businesses developing adaptation technologies and for jobs in new infrastructure projects.
Climate change is going to transform the way we live. These projections show us both the future we need to avoid and the future we need to plan for. As well as cutting emissions, we have to start making changes today. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and for his courtesy in briefing me this morning.
This week, a report on global climate change impacts in the United States showed that climate change is already affecting water, energy, transport, agriculture, ecosystems and health. Those impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase. These new Met Office projections reinforce the US report and make the scale of the challenges facing our own country startlingly clear.
Does the Environment Secretary agree that these data again tell us that it would be a serious mistake to suggest that climate change will have only benign impacts in the UK, or that we will somehow be insulated from the worst effects? Some people claim that even if global temperatures are rising, it is a cyclical event. Is that not a dangerously flawed and even complacent view? Will he confirm that the temperature of the planet is already at its highest, and that the rate of change is accelerating?
Given the gravity of these assessments, we agree with the Environment Secretary about the importance of the forthcoming Copenhagen summit. There clearly needs to be co-operation on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures at international level, but is it not essential that for Britain to be seen as a world leader, we cannot just go to Copenhagen and ask other countries to sign up to an agreement without being seen to be delivering at home? Over the past decade, the UK’s carbon emissions have flatlined, and he himself has admitted that the Government will not meet their 2010 reductions target.
The Secretary of State says that the Government are taking significant steps to cut emissions, but effective measures require more than setting targets. Practical steps to decarbonise the UK’s economy are now essential. Will the Government adopt the Conservative party’s low-carbon economy proposals, including an immediate upgrade in the energy efficiency of homes and a smart electricity grid so that we can consume energy more intelligently?
We need to adapt in this country for temperature changes that we will not be able to avoid. Is it not the case that that aspect of the climate change agenda has been too much overlooked, despite the significant known risks of increased flooding and coastal erosion, the implications for our road and rail network and critical infrastructure, the loss of wildlife habitat and the impact on health? Can the Environment Secretary confirm that the cross-Government programme to assess the costs and savings involved in adaptation will not even begin to be developed until 2011? When will the climate change adaptation sub-committee meet?
The greatest climate change risk facing the UK is flooding. The floods of two years ago were a reminder that what we are talking about today can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Can the Government explain why one in four major flood defence projects have been delayed since then, and why the majority of the recommendations of the Pitt report on the 2007 floods have not yet been implemented?
The impact of rising temperatures on our natural environment, agriculture and water resources will be significant, and it could be severe. We are already facing biodiversity loss and water shortages in many areas. Is it not time to consider a radical new approach to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources? Do we not need a regulatory framework that incentivises the conservation of water? To help wildlife adapt and find new habitats, do we not need to think beyond traditional protected areas and start to create new green spaces?
The new plans are a welcome update to the last climate change scenarios, which were produced in 2002, but have these projections not been delayed on several occasions? The national flood risk assessment, which has been informed by the data, has also been delayed by several months. Does the Environment Secretary recognise the need to balance the regular provision of information, to keep people updated with the latest projections, with the need to provide a degree of certainty for those making long-term plans and investment decisions, at least to the greatest extent possible?
One of the authors of the US report said this week:
“The most important thing…is that the impacts of climate change are not something your children might theoretically see 50 years from now.”
Is not the message of the Met Office’s projections not only that action to reduce carbon emissions is essential to avoid very serious climate change events in future, but that we need to begin preparing now for significant changes in the environment that we can no longer avoid?
I agree wholeheartedly with what the hon. Gentleman said about the message that the projections give us. If there are those in society who somehow think that climate change is not happening and we do not need to worry, and that we can pull up the bed covers and hope it will all go away, they are profoundly mistaken. That is why I believe the publication of the projections today will have an impact, and a lot of people will have cause to think about what the future may hold if we do not change it.
With respect, it is not true to say that the UK is not delivering on its own commitments. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are one of the few countries that will not just meet its Kyoto commitments but do more than that. Frankly, when one looks around the world, one finds a lot of countries where that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned smart meters, and there is a plan to roll them out over 10 years. As he knows, we as a nation are investing a significant amount in renewable energy, and we are producing more electricity from offshore wind than any other country on the planet. The consultation on coal, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was responsible, set out proposals that will give us the toughest regime for any future coal-fired electricity generation of any country in the world.
On the adaptation sub-committee, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that Sir John Krebs has been appointed to chair it, and I hope to make an announcement very soon about the other members. It is not the case that the programme is not going to start until 2011. A cross-Government programme is already under way, but the national risk assessment must be pulled together by that date.
With respect, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman’s assessment of the progress that we have made in implementing the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. What he said is not Sir Michael’s view, and he is in a better position to make judgments than either the hon. Gentleman or I. We have made a lot of progress, and I shall shortly report to the House with a further update on what has happened since I last reported in December.
The hon. Gentleman made an important point about new green spaces. He drew attention to the sites of special scientific interest that we currently have. They reflect what is special now, but a changing climate may alter that. One thing that will have to adapt over time is the system we have in place to safeguard what is special. We must recognise that climate change will have an impact on that.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I want to be straight with the House and say that there is a balance to be struck. As he will know, this is cutting-edge science and an enormous amount of work has gone into producing the projections. Those involved should not apologise for one second for taking the time required to get them right. However, he is correct to say it is important that we get the information out. The 2002 projections were for then, and the new ones give us a much better assessment of the probability of the change. He knows, as does the whole House, that there is no absolute certainty, but I think we have struck the right balance. It will be for everyone who sees the projections to make their own judgment about the message that they send us, which is pretty clear, and the action that we need to take to adapt.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on an impressive, timely and comprehensive statement. May I urge him and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to resist the temptation to cover the superb wild uplands of Wales and other beautiful parts of this country with thousands of wind generators, not one of which would be built without a direct or indirect subsidy from the British taxpayer? Will he get on with the much more sensible and much cleaner way of generating energy—a new nuclear power station programme?
There are places in the country where it would not be appropriate to put wind turbines, including some of our most beautiful landscapes. However, the biggest obstacle to more onshore generation of electricity from wind power is planning permission, followed by issues to do with the grid connection. It has therefore been easier to get agreement offshore. In the end, we cannot pick and choose because we will need all such means of generating energy. The Government, with some foresight, said a little while ago that nuclear needed to be part of the mix, as well as cleaner coal, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced recently, and renewables. We must also not forget that we can do much to reduce our consumption of energy. That is why the home insulation programme, on which we are leading, is an important contribution to the progress that we all support.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for today’s early briefing, and I welcome the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change back to the House after his paternity leave and send him best wishes for his new responsibilities.
We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and ask him to pass on our thanks to the Met Office scientists, who have done a fantastic amount of work. They have produced what is probably one of the most significant pieces of scientific work to influence the debate for decades. We owe them great respect—they are hugely well regarded.
We are also grateful to the Government for being honest about the conclusion, which the science backs, that we will experience a 2° rise in temperature. According to assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that might mean that between two and three species are at further risk of extinction. We must face up to the biodiversity implications.
Does the Secretary of State accept that the statement predicts the fastest and most dramatic change in our environment that has ever been witnessed in such a short time? Today’s projections probably mark a watershed in how we consider the future. We now have the evidence at home as well as abroad to show that we must change the way we do things in this country and plan our future differently.
I have some questions about the specifics. Does he accept that we must rethink food production in this country so that we are more self-sufficient in different parts of the country, avoiding the areas that have been most at risk from flooding and might be at more risk in future? Will we not have to rethink how we ensure access to clean water at all times, when more storms and unexpected global events are likely, with the consequent risk to the water supply? Will we not need to think carefully about our housing and planning? We will have more people to accommodate and many more houses to build, but we need to be much more careful about where we build them, given what we know about the risks in Gloucestershire, parts of Yorkshire, places on the east coast and, indeed, along the Thames estuary.
I have a different view about energy policy from that of the right hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells). Does the Secretary of State accept that we need to boost, not reduce, the opportunity for renewables as a result of the report because climate change means that we need to reduce emissions and move to other more dependable supplies? In London and the south-east, does the report imply that the Thames barrier may not be enough and that we need to start planning much earlier for further protection?
Does the Secretary of State accept that we need the same accuracy of prediction continentally and globally as we now have nationally and that we should work at Copenhagen and elsewhere on that basis?
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what he has told us today, based on the science, means that the Government may have to rethink some of their policies for the best of reasons—for example, the third runway at Heathrow, the plan for coal-fired power stations and the general balance of the energy mix? None of us can afford to avoid the implications of today’s announcement, and we must all realise that Britain and the world need to act pretty quickly or we will risk not only future generations but this generation’s ability to maintain a planet on which we can continue the sort of life that not only we but people abroad need and expect.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words about the Met Office scientists, who have worked so hard to give us the benefit of the projections. He is right to talk about the fundamental changes that we could face. We cannot absolutely predict the future, but we can try to plan for it. That is the message that we must take from the report.
The changes outlined in the report will unquestionably affect the way we produce our food. I spoke earlier about trying to garner the water that we have got. Bluetongue is a disease that travelled up Africa, swept through Europe and arrived in the UK. That is an example of a change in climate affecting our farming industry. We found a way of dealing with that—we funded a vaccination programme, which farmers strongly supported.
Of course, the changes will affect the provision of water. That is why the water companies have to think 25 years ahead in their plans about how many houses they might serve, what the population will be and so on. It is also why we changed planning policy statement 25—the guidance on housing and planning—to provide that the Environment Agency, which has most expertise in the risks of flooding, must be consulted. It is encouraging to see that many planning applications against which the Environment Agency advised have not been approved. That shows that the change that we have made to the system is working.
I agree that we need to boost renewables. The current assessment of the Thames barrier is that it will see us to 2070. The important point about the projections is that, because they give us the probabilities, all a sun hat manufacturer needs to know is that the weather will be warmer, while those responsible for protecting London from flooding want to know what the 10 per cent. probability at the upper range is so that they can plan accordingly. The Thames barrier is a result of adaptation after the 1953 storm surge, which killed 300 people.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need such projections and information to be available globally. Anyone who examines what the scientists have to say to us cannot fail to understand the importance of responding, reducing emissions and adapting.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the excellent scientific work that lies behind it. I note that he referred to the potential for some economic opportunities for tourism and agriculture arising from climate change. I have also heard it argued that there are potential benefits in the reduced incidence of winter illness as a result of climate change. Will my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to ensure that we and the public are not seduced by such small and doubtful potential benefits, and to emphasise that they are totally dwarfed by potentially devastating effects on vulnerable communities throughout the world and substantial infrastructure costs for us in Britain?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We must tell the truth about the range of consequences that may flow. It would therefore be wrong not to refer to the opportunities that might emerge. We should want to take advantage of adaptation technologies and more efficient use of water so that we have the kit to fit to our houses to use water much more efficiently in future. However, my hon. Friend is right that the overwhelming message of the projections is that we do not want to end up in the sort of future predicted for 2070, 2080 and 2090. Whether we will is in our hands and those of other nations as we determine the emission reductions to which we are prepared to commit in Copenhagen in December.
The projections, especially those at the high end of the time scale, suggest that, for example, temperatures on the London underground might reach 47 °, although I think we might have got there already when travelling on the Northern line at 8 am. That raises important questions about the usability of major parts of transport infrastructure if the projections become reality. The Secretary of State has talked about the need for adaptation in a wide range of activity. What steps will the Government take to set up some form of adaptation fund to provide the long-term investment? The short-term political cycle of a Parliament that lasts four or five years, particularly when we face the economic pressures of the current situation, means that it is all too easy to postpone the necessary investment until another Parliament. Eventually, we could run out of time and not be able to afford the investments if the temperature projections reach the upper limits.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. The fact is that whoever is in government will have to deal with that issue, because that is the future that we are heading for. However, to be honest, I am not persuaded that a separate adaptation fund is the right approach, for this simple reason. If someone were designing a new school, would they say, “Right, I’ll build it this way, like we’ve always done, but if a fund comes along, I shall change it, because you’ve given some extra finance”? Some of the changes are not very profound. Take highways, for instance. Let us say that someone building a new motorway wants to have drains of a certain capacity, but then decides to have slightly larger drains. That will not necessarily add hugely to the cost, but it does mean that as those concerned—whether they be businesses, councils or anybody else—think about how they are going to build, design and operate something, they will take those considerations into account. The message is that adaptation is not separate, new and special; rather, we have to build it into what we do every day.
I really do welcome today’s statement, given that its timing quite deliberately coincides with my presentation afterwards of a Bill to introduce climate change health warnings in all car adverts. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend about the central role that water companies will have to play in our future. Is he happy with the regulatory regime, which obviously places the supply of good, clean, potable water at its core, but which may also militate somewhat against water companies branching out into renewable energy? I am thinking of a recent analysis by National Grid which showed that we could produce some 50 per cent. of our gas from biogas by 2020. However, the regime under Ofwat is perhaps not quite good enough to help water companies to achieve that target.
Water companies already produce quite a bit of energy from anaerobic digestion, in order to power their works. With the publication of the draft Flood and Water Management Bill and the document that went with it, we are consulting people on what more we should do on water efficiency, which the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is currently scrutinising, under the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack). Should what we do mirror what we have been doing on energy efficiency? I would be very interested to hear what people have to say about that. However, my hon. Friend is right: if the current regulatory structure does not fit what we now know we need to do, we will need to revise what we are doing in the light of the new evidence. That seems a pretty sensible thing to do when we have new evidence, and the new projections are certainly that.
Spine-chilling projections are one thing, but may I ask the Secretary of State about his performance in meeting existing targets for emission reductions? Am I right in thinking that the Government have a legally binding commitment to source 15 per cent. of all energy consumed—not just electricity—from renewable sources by 2020, even though that is widely regarded as unattainable? Could he tell the House what legal sanctions and penalties will apply to Ministers, Departments and civil servants who sign up to targets that are legally binding in international law, but then fail to meet them? If the answer is none, does that not contrast with how the Government treat businesses, which have to sign up to and meet, by force of legal sanction, fines and even imprisonment, targets set by the Government?
It is for the courts to determine what that means in practice if people seek to bring a legal case. Indeed, there was a judicial review recently in relation to the fuel poverty targets that we set. The issues were played out in the courts and a judgment was delivered.
The target for renewable energy is challenging—there is no running away from that—but we are putting in place the policies that we need to get there. We have seen significant change in recent years, through the renewables obligation and the further measures that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is setting out and will be getting on with.
My right hon. Friend has rightly referred to the need for international agreement among Governments. However, does he agree that there is also a need for, in effect, an international movement of civil society, involving citizens and peoples, just as we saw with Make Poverty History and similar campaigns, to try to build up the pressure, particularly on the more recalcitrant Governments, to get the agreements that are so urgently needed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The truth is that pressure from below helps Governments to move. We need politics that is a combination of leadership and those pressures. Indeed, the Climate Change Act was the result of two forces at work. One was the Big Ask campaign, which was a movement from below that said, “We should have a climate change Act in the UK,” and the other was political leadership from the Government, who said, “Yeah, that’s what we’re going to do.” The Bill was drafted and the Act is now on the statute book. That shows what we can do. Frankly, if we had asked someone 10 years ago what they thought the chances were that we would get a climate change Act, they would have said, “Well, I don’t think it’ll happen in Britain.” However, it did happen, for precisely the reason my hon. Friend described.
Agriculture has a large part to play, through improved land management, increasing carbon sequestration and mitigating flooding by improving the permeability of the land, yet the Government have reduced research into agriculture over the years. Tomorrow I will visit Aberystwyth, where a lot of good work is being done along those lines. What plans do the Government have to increase the amount of money that they commit to agricultural research?
If the hon. Gentleman looks at the funding that goes in from DEFRA or the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council—in the end, it does not matter where the funding comes from; it is all public money going into research—he will see that the amount has increased. I draw his attention to the LINK programme in particular, which funds a range of practical projects that are near market and tries to turn our research understanding into practical applications that farmers can use. As we learn about what works, it is important that we have a way of translating it into action on farms. In truth, the way research projects have been conducted in the past has perhaps not paid enough attention to that onward transmission of the knowledge, because in the end, the purpose of the research, if we find something better than what we are doing at the moment, is to get people to use it.
I, too, strongly welcome the publication of these stark but important projections today and my right hon. Friend’s statement in support of them. Does he accept that they will mean the almost complete decarbonisation of our energy economy at an early stage and that success at Copenhagen, which I fervently hope for, will increase our targets in that respect, as a result of our arrangements for climate budgets? Will he commit his Department to move further on the circular metabolism of resources in our economy, and in particular on the use of waste as a recovered resource and a vehicle for decarbonising energy, through heat gain from biogas?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the need to decarbonise and to change the way we think about waste. Let us take a practical example: aluminium cans. Why would we want to chuck them away into landfill? We know that if we recycle them, we can get £550 a tonne for them. It takes about 90 per cent. less energy to produce another can, as opposed to making one out of virgin material. That is a practical example of why it makes sense to think about waste in a different way. If we are talking about the right policies, the landfill levy has been very effective in moving us from 8 per cent. of domestic household waste recycled 12 or so years ago to just over 36 per cent., which is what we have now reached, although we need to go a lot further.
Kettering is located in one of the driest regions of England—the Anglian Water region—yet, under Government plans, it faces an increase of about a third in the number of houses by 2021. Given the variations in rainfall that the Secretary of State mentioned in his statement, is it not time to reconsider proposals for a national water grid, perhaps using Britain’s canal network, as well as, unfortunately, a rapid increase in Britain’s reservoir capacity?
Anglian Water is indeed serving an area of the country where there is particular difficulty. The long-term plans that it and other water companies will have to bring forward will be the means by which they consider all the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. The difficulty with a grid is what might have to be built in addition, as well as the energy involved in pumping huge amounts of water around the country. This goes back to what my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) said earlier. The projections give us better information that will enable those making planning decisions to take into account all the consequences, including ensuring that there is enough water. It is clear that we will have to use water much more efficiently in future. Just under a third of homes now have a water meter, and we all know that, in the water-stressed areas of the country, there will have to be near-universal application before 2030.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. He will be aware of the intergovernmental panel on climate change’s last, rather out-of-date forecast that remaining at just 2° would involve a figure of 450 parts per million. The latest projections would require a reduction from business as usual of 17 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions globally by 2020. It would be possible to achieve only a 5 gigatonne reduction within the developed nations, which means that a reduction of 12 gigatonnes would have to be achieved by developing nations, with all the perceived injustice that that would entail. Of those 12 gigatonnes, it would be possible to achieve five through plans involving forestry. What funds will be required to produce the offsets from the developed to the developing nations to meet that target?