House of Commons
Monday 26 October 2009
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
business before questions
Committee of Selection
That Sir George Young be discharged from the Committee of Selection and Mr. Oliver Heald be added.—(Mr. McAvoy, on behalf of the Committee of Selection.)
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act
Mr. Speaker, may I say what a pleasure it is to be back and to serve under your chairmanship for the first time? It is interesting how much has occurred. I have given birth to a baby, and an awful lot has occurred in Parliament in that same period.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, but we have no plans to review section 24 before we know the outcome of directive 86/609 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which is currently being debated in the European Union.
Campaigners and politicians are rightly concerned by a 14 per cent. increase in the number of animal experiments licensed by the Home Office in 2008, yet section 24 denies them the information on which they can properly debate the direction of policy. Will the Government urgently review the operation of this democratically dubious legislation, despite any understandable concerns that they might have about animal rights extremism?
The situation is slightly more complex. There are two points in my hon. Friend’s question. One is about the total number of experiments. It is important to say that we do not have a percentage cap on the number of experiments that can take place, so more science can equal more experiments. We make an effort to ensure that most of those experiments are done on the least sentient animals, and that wherever there is an alternative, that has to be used.
On section 24, there was a review in 2004 prior to the Freedom of Information Act coming in. Another review was scheduled for 2006, but that was delayed because of a court action. That finished in 2008, at which point the draft European directive was published. It makes sense to align ourselves with that draft European directive, which borrows from the best practice in Britain, before we look at transposition, hopefully in the summer of next year.
Will the Minister acknowledge that despite Labour’s promise to cut the number of scientific procedures involving animals, levels have risen to numbers not seen for up to 20 years? Until we legislate appropriately for greater transparency in this area, how does she envisage implementing the Government’s promise?
I refer to my earlier point. It is a simple maths lesson, in a sense. If more science is proposed, more experiments are likely to come before the animals scientific procedures division to see whether it is acceptable to carry out those experiments. At all times the Home Office inspectorate looks very carefully at the suggestions put forward, ensuring that only experiments that can be done only on animals are agreed. If not, alternatives have to be used. We have also invested an awful lot of money in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research—NC3Rs—to reduce the use of animals in experiments, but more science in the global context is something that we should welcome, even if it sometimes leads to perverse outcomes, as in this case.
We are committed to providing the police with the equipment necessary to protect the public and to do their job safely. The police use of Taser in England and Wales has shown that it provides an effective option for police when dealing with violent or threatening situations.
The Minister will be aware that Tasers have been implicated in the deaths of more than 300 people in the United States, and that their use varies enormously in the UK with, for example, Tasers having been used 224 times last year in West Yorkshire, as opposed to 345 uses in South Yorkshire. Does he agree that it is important to introduce more sensible controls, and will he limit the use of Tasers to authorised firearms officers and exclude their use against children, 18 of whom were zapped in the UK last year?
The hon. Gentleman will know that Tasers have been used 4,818 times up to March 2009, and in none of those instances were serious injuries or deaths reported; nor was there evidence of public difficulty with Taser use. I understand that there may well have been reports of difficulties elsewhere, but that is not the experience in the United Kingdom. That is because we have issued proper and effective guidance to police forces, which allows strong regulation of the use of Tasers. I believe that goes far enough. There have been only 21 occasions when Tasers have been used on under-18s, and in all those cases, no incidents of injury have occurred.
Tasers are effective at incapacitating potentially violent individuals at a distance, but the vice-president, training, for Taser, Mr. Rick Gilbault, has recently advised that a Taser should not be aimed at the chest area when incapacitating an individual. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that those views will be reflected in any future guidance?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We have clear guidance on the use of Tasers, including an independent medical panel which moderates on their use and gives guidance accordingly. I will certainly draw colleagues’ attention to those views and to my hon. Friend’s comments.
Actually, no, because Tasers are used to reduce violence and the risk of injury, and to support officers in preventing violence against themselves or, on some occasions, by the Tasered person, through either self-harm or incidents that might lead to the harm of others. As I have said, there were 4,818 incidents up to March and not one single serious injury or death. We need to have guidance, but it is proportionate and designed to help to reduce serious violence.
Crime Reduction Grants
The £5 million small retailers capital grants fund will help secure small independent retail shops in areas that are at most risk of crime. There are no plans to extend the scheme, but other aspects of the retail crime action plan are helping to tackle retail crime in every area.
Is the Minister aware of the Federation of Small Businesses survey that found that crime against businesses costs small firms about £13,500 each? Although I am sure that the businesses within the 50 priority areas have taken up the opportunity with enthusiasm, I think it curious that they bear a remarkable similarity to a list of Labour local authorities. Why do not businesses in areas such as my constituency in Essex have the same opportunity to apply for help?
The criteria for the scheme were deprivation, crime rates and the proportion of the small retailers that we were most interested in helping. The criteria were agreed by the retail crime steering group, and the FSB is not only an active member, but it agreed with the criteria and the principle. I should point out that Chingford, which is part of the seat of the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), is not a Labour area.
It is very important that we support small businesses and prevent crime against them, but we have to back that up with a Forensic Science Service that can protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved. Why is the Minister overseeing a criminals charter through the closure of the Forensic Science Service laboratory in Chorley, leaving people to have to go from either Wetherby or Birmingham to parts of Cumbria to protect the public and ensure that crimes are solved? Will he reflect on it—
I commend my hon. Friend on the inventive way in which he got the Forensic Science Service into his question. However, I point out to him that, if we are to ensure that there is a service to support not only business but the whole community in the fight against crime, we must have an efficient and effective service. That is what the transformation programme is all about.
Following on from the previous question, the Minister still has not explained to us how on earth crime is going to be solved within four hours and crime scenes visited within four hours when laboratories at Chorley, Birmingham, and Chepstow in my constituency, are being closed down. What is the point of giving money to small businesses if crime is out of control because we do not have the forensic science laboratories to catch the perpetrators who are responsible?
It is essential that we have schemes, such as that which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to ensure that crime does not get out of control. However, he will know that the transformation programme took all those issues into consideration, and the model that the Forensic Science Service is moving to will ensure that it provides throughout the country the efficient and effective service for which he is looking.
Those who have leave to work in the United Kingdom at the time that they apply for an extension may carry on working until their new application is decided. Those who do not have leave to work in the UK when they apply for permission to work must wait until their application is decided. We have no plans to change that.
My advice surgeries are filled with people who are going to be granted the right to stay but are not allowed to work. If we take Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who is married to a British citizen and has an eight-year-old British son, we find that her only mistake was to fill in the wrong form at the Home Office. She has now received the sack, even though her employer, the council, acknowledges that she is an excellent care home worker. What do the Government have to say to people, such as Mrs. Pierre-Louis, who lose their jobs; and why is the policy implemented so harshly against such people?
If there is a particular case that my hon. Friend would like me to take up, I shall look into it. However, the application for the permit is due within three months of its ending, and on this matter we have set a target of achieving decisions on 75 per cent. of applications within four weeks. Mr. Speaker, I can report to you that we are achieving decisions on 94 per cent. of applications within four weeks.
How can any of us have any confidence that the UK Border Agency is fit for purpose? I had at my constituency surgery on Friday someone who lives in my constituency and who has been waiting for nine years for the UK Border Agency and its predecessors simply to process his first application for consideration as a refugee. Am I the only person in the House who has completely lost the will to live in respect of the UK Border Agency having any competence to deal with work permits, asylum applications or anything else? This is an organisation—
I hope that the hon. Gentleman has not lost the will to live. I do not know the details of that case, but my experience, having been in this job for more than a year, is that things are often not as they appear at first glance. We are dealing with the backlog very successfully now, and I point out that our decision rate is much quicker than it was 12 years ago. Resources are being put into place, decisions are being taken and cases are coming to light. I ask him to look into that case, and if he wants me to take it up, I will do so.
I agree strongly with the thrust of the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen), but does my hon. Friend the Minister agree that we should seek to ensure that all immigrant workers are paid the minimum wage, so that they are not treated as a pool of cheap migrant labour and so that existing trade union agreements are not undermined?
It is very important that this point is taken on board, because this country welcomes legal migrant workers; they contribute to our economy very significantly. In order to protect those people, they have the same rights as domestic workers. Illegal migrants, and legal migrants who are paid below the minimum wage, undermine confidence in the migration and minimum wage systems. The exploitation of any worker is not acceptable to this Government.
Over the weekend, we have heard some pretty controversial reported comments by a former adviser to the Government about their immigration policy. May I invite the Minister to put the record straight? What was the motivation behind the very rapid increase in immigration under this Government?
If one takes a responsible and reasonable look at the statistics, one will see that it was an earlier Act that brought about significant increases in immigration in this country. The most significant milestone in the history of migration policy since the second world war, in my view, was the abolition of border controls in 1994. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I throw the question back at the hon. Gentleman: does he now support the border controls that we have put back into place?
I think a lot of people will notice that the Minister has made no attempt to answer my question. What Mr. Neather, the former adviser, said was that the policy of rapid expansion was done to put pressure on the right. Would it not be utterly disgraceful for any Government to decide immigration policy that was in the interests not of the country, but of a political party? Was that what happened?
I do not know to whom or to which reports the hon. Gentleman refers. If he wants to take the views of someone with a political motivation, that is up to him, but I repeat that the Government have reintroduced border controls—electronic borders—despite opposition from the hon. Gentleman.
Prevent is an essential aspect of the Contest counter-terrorism strategy designed to safeguard our country and its citizens. The Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism through a variety of initiatives focused on local communities. Delivery of the strategy, expenditure and impact, is monitored routinely to ensure value for money, and effectiveness.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but is not the great problem that there is no guarantee that that money is not finding its way into the hands of extremist groups? When is he going to have a proper audit of this expenditure to convince the House that it is going to the right place?
The hon. Gentleman asks a very important question about Prevent. I hope that he would accept, as should everyone in this House, that yes, we should have a strategy on pursuing terrorists, and yes, we should have a strategy on ensuring that we are prepared for terrorist attack, but that it would be strange indeed to have a strategy that did not concentrate on preventing young people, in particular, from being radicalised in the first place. Having developed the strategy, of course we have to ensure that the money is used effectively on behalf of the taxpayer and is not finding its way into the hands of extremists. There is absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. This money is carefully audited, not just by us but by the Department for Communities and Local Government, on a continual basis.
In 2005, Tony Blair announced that Hizb ut-Tahrir would be banned, which we support, but that never came to pass. Further, the Government should put a total ban on Hezbollah. Can the Secretary of State tell us why Ministers have been so slow to take action against these extremist groups?
Going back in history, the hon. Gentleman will find that it was a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who let these people in in the first place. Secondly, we are a functioning democracy that is very careful about the organisations we proscribe, which should be those that particularly and specifically refer to the use of violence to meet their aims. That level has not been reached. Organisations across the country—and Members of Parliament, actually—would look askance if we used the legislation to proscribe organisations that should not be proscribed under its terms. It is absolutely right that we do not give a gift to these radical organisations by using the proscribing legislation unwisely.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the defining characteristics of today’s terrorism is the constant search for new methods of inflicting terror, and that in response, therefore, we have to try to harness together the innovative tendencies inside Government and across the private and academic sectors? May I commend, through him, the work of Charles Farr and the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in identifying publicly, through the national security strategy and the science and technology strategy, the areas of research that they would like academia and the business community to pursue? Will my right hon. Friend continue to issue such guidance so that we can harness the whole community against terrorism?
My right hon. Friend played a very distinctive role in formulating the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. It was absolutely essential that we brought together the various strands from across the Government to concentrate on these issues, and Charles Farr is leading the operation magnificently. My right hon. Friend is right to point to an aspect that is not often referred to—the race against time to find new methods of technology to thwart the increasing ingenuity of those who seek to destroy our society.
When my right hon. Friend is monitoring the effectiveness of the Prevent programme, will he give his urgent attention to the need to push more resources into prisons, which are clearly a place where many young men are converted to violent ideologies? Will he also consider the criticism currently made of Prevent that it is spread far too widely in being aimed at an entire community with a particular religious belief instead of being focused on the people who are really the problem?
We are looking at prisons all the time; I work closely on that with my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I do not accept my hon. Friend’s second point. I am not saying that the Prevent strategy operates perfectly, but we can point to areas of the country where it has been extremely influential. It is not aimed at one particular group of people: it is aimed at helping Muslims within communities to argue effectively against those who seek to radicalise the whole community and at working with them to do that. Without that partnership, it would not work at all.
Does the Home Secretary agree that spying on innocent Muslims could destroy relationships within the community and between the community and the police? What steps has he taken to ensure that citizens’ rights to privacy are respected and that surveillance under Prevent is proportional to the threat?
Of course I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Prevent has absolutely nothing to do with spying on communities; spying on communities has absolutely nothing to do with Prevent, full stop. The article carried in one national newspaper, not picked up elsewhere, refers to two areas—Waltham Forest and Islington—which we are looking at very closely. We can find no evidence that there is any substance in those allegations.
I agree that if Prevent were used to spy on communities, it would be worthless. However, many people from those communities would come to this Dispatch Box and speak up for the policy if they could. Guidance, which is very strictly adhered to, ensures that there is the necessary proportionate response and that any use of Prevent is in accordance with the guidelines that we publish.
In 2007, the Government announced an increase of more than £100 million on Prevent and another £240 million on counter-terrorism policing, among an overall counter-terrorist, security and intelligence expenditure of £3.5 billion, which has rapidly increased. What are the Government doing to review the effectiveness of all that expenditure, as well as the Prevent programmes, some of which critics believe have been counter-productive?
We review the programme all the time, and various committees, including the Intelligence and Security Committee, call us to account. It is right that Opposition Front Benchers should also call us to account, but although many people attack Prevent as counter-productive, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who would be entitled on Privy Council terms to know exactly what is one under Prevent and the whole Contest counter-terrorism strategy, do not believe that.
Certainly Prevent would be counter-productive if the newspaper story that was carried in one national paper a couple of weeks ago were true. It is not—we can find no evidence of that. Misrepresenting Prevent and exaggerating issues under it is one thing, but we as calm and rational politicians should ensure that we keep to this important part of the strategy. Preventing young people from becoming radicalised is probably the most crucial part of our whole strategy.
Will the Home Secretary agree to meet me to discuss the Islington experience, since he has just referred to it in answer to a previous question? May I invite him to read the report produced by the Institute of Race Relations called “Spooked!—How not to prevent violent extremism”, by Arun Kundnani? It is an interesting report and will show him that other aspects of the Prevent agenda are effectively stigmatising an entire community.
The answer to the first question is yes—of course either I or a member of my ministerial team will meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter. Secondly, he points to one particular contribution to this debate, of which there are many. It is a valuable one, but it is not in isolation and many other reports have made points contrary to the ones in that report.
The policing Green Paper published last July introduced measures to reduce bureaucracy and free up police time, including scrapping a police time sheet, releasing 260,000 police hours, and axing the stop and account form, releasing an estimated 690,000 hours. Those measures and more help put more police on the beat. We will review the matter still further in the policing White Paper later this year.
Will the right hon. Gentleman thank Essex police for putting more beat bobbies in Castle Point? We need them to counter disgraceful behaviour by youths around a new school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties that has been placed on Canvey Island, which is causing residents and businesses absolute mayhem. Does he agree that EBD schools should be located very carefully within communities? This one should certainly have been moved to central Essex—
If there are concerns about any issue at any location, the first port of call should be to talk to the local beat officers, as part of our neighbourhood policing pledge, about what should happen at local level. I do not know the circumstances, but I would be happy to refer this exchange to the local chief constable for examination. However, the hon. Gentleman should raise the matter with the local forces, who are best placed to deal with it under the policing pledge.
At the weekend we changed the clocks, making it light at 6 o’clock in the morning and dark at 6 o’clock in the evening. Does my right hon. Friend believe that that is helpful or unhelpful to the criminal classes, and to police on the beat?
I think that ultimately the criminal classes will try to find ways to undertake crime, and the police will always find ways to stop them, whether it is dark or light. However, I shall refer my hon. Friend’s comments to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is the appropriate Department to regulate these matters.
I do not have those figures to hand, but I will certainly write to the hon. Gentleman. However, I will say this: no matter how many police are on the beat, they must be doing something right, because crime is down by 36 per cent. over the past 12 years. Indeed, the figures that came out last Thursday show that overall crime was down by 4 per cent. I hope he will recognise that the police are doing a good job, servicing the public very well, reducing crime and ensuring that the safety of the community is paramount.
Smart use of some technologies that are available to police is helping them to reduce time wasted in bureaucracy. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to evaluate the pilots that have been undertaken to improve services to the public, such as the use of palm devices in Thames Valley?
We are undertaking ongoing evaluation. My hon. Friend will know that some 18,000 hand-held devices have been put into the system over the past 12 months and we continually look at how we can reduce bureaucracy and get police focused on the front line. Indeed, very shortly we expect a further report from Jan Berry, the police adviser on these matters, which we will publish for the House and which I believe will set a further trend for the next 12 months and beyond of reducing bureaucracy still further.
Three independent reports have confirmed that our approach to tackling antisocial behaviour is working. The National Audit Office reported that two thirds of people stop committing antisocial behaviour after one intervention, rising to nine out of 10 ceasing after three interventions. The Home Office has recently commissioned a consortium of Aberystwyth university, Swansea university and an independent research organisation, Applied Research in Community Safety, to undertake an evaluation of the comparative effectiveness of ASB interventions. It is expected to report in the spring.
I have not heard of the Children’s Secretary doing any such thing. I agree absolutely with the Secretary of State for the Department for Children, Schools and Families that our action, reducing as it has the public perception of antisocial behaviour as a major problem by 19 per cent. in just four years, is working, and the whole Government support that view.
My right hon. Friend recently said that North East Lincolnshire council had to get its act together on tackling antisocial behaviour. What is he expecting the local authority, social landlords and the police in that area to do to get a grip on this subject?
A number of things, but what I said on 19 October is that just as the policing pledge gives a certain confidence to the public that they will get a standard of service wherever they live, given that there are 42 different police authorities—43 if we count the transport police—so we should also have a certain consistency of treatment right across the country on antisocial behaviour. My colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Communities and Local Government and I have asked the crime and reduction partnerships to ensure that that is the case over the coming months. With that and other measures, we can ensure that the public, no matter where they live, have an expectation of a certain level of service.
In December we met our targets to conclude 60 per cent. of new cases within six months. That means not only that decisions were taken early but that in a significant proportion of refusals, removal from the UK was effected within six months of application.
In 1997 it took on average 22 months merely to reach an initial decision. We can only speculate how much longer than that it was taking to remove those who were refused at that time.
Why are Members of Parliament routinely sent letters by the Border and Immigration Agency advising them that cases of individuals applying for asylum and indefinite leave to remain will not be resolved until July 2011? Is not that a sign of a failing and dysfunctional Department, or as we heard earlier, is that the policy of this Government—
It is important not to confuse asylum with immigration. The contrary is the case: the reason why the former Home Secretary, who is in his place, set that target was to ensure that Members of Parliament could be confident that their constituents’ cases were being dealt with. To be fair, as we have reported to the Home Affairs Committee, we are getting through the legacy backlog at a significant rate. The date is that by which we must have completed those cases; it does not mean that all the cases with which the hon. Gentleman is dealing will take that long.
The Minister has announced that, as a result of reorganisation in Liverpool, Croydon will be the only centre in the UK that will deal with walk-in asylum applications. That will have a profound effect on the borough of Croydon. Why has he made that decision? What assessment has he made of the impact on the borough of Croydon, and will he campaign for extra funding to address the inevitable pressure on services that will result?
I do not accept the premise of the question. We have been able to make the change because of the significant drop overall in the numbers of asylum applications, from 57,570 in 2002 to 23,210 in 2008. As we bring forward renewed applications with further information, we are requiring those people to have face-to-face interviews in Liverpool. I would imagine that the hon. Gentleman supports that policy. The impact on Croydon, which is provided with £30 million a year for children, will be minimal as a result of those background facts.
My hon. Friend will know from his own casework that many of the people in the legacy stream have been waiting for a considerable number of years, and their lives are on hold because there is nothing they can do to progress their current status. Is the July 2011 date a firm one, and can he bring forward some of the cases?
The Home Secretary has allocated extra resources to ensure that we can get through the legacy backlog even more quickly. As I said in answer to the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), that is very much an end date. Members will see cases coming to their advice surgeries as a result of the success that we are having in getting through those cases. I point hon. Members to the new tracker service, as introduced by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier).
It is now more than three years since the former Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), famously promised to make the asylum and immigration system fit for purpose. Since then, fewer than half the legacy cases have been concluded. The backlog of applications under the new asylum model increased by more than a third last year, and last week the existence of another, previously unknown, 40,000 non-asylum legacy cases was revealed. In a spirit of generosity, we do not expect the Minister to solve all those problems at once, but can he say which of the various disasters he is presiding over is his top priority this week?
The hon. Gentleman calls for the Government to manage the migration system, but he then opposes the very measures that we have introduced— such as the comprehensive electronic borders—to do so. The cases that he has mentioned—cases, not people—are being got through apace. As I have said, the record of this Government in deciding those cases shows that 60 per cent. are decided in six months, as opposed to 22 months in 1997. Who has got their priorities right?
Antisocial Behaviour Orders
The numbers of antisocial behaviour orders issued at all courts in England and Wales during 2006 and 2007 were 2,705 and 2,299 respectively. ASBO data for 2008-09 are not yet available.
It is absolutely right that ASBOs should be one of the many tools available to forces and courts to ensure that they tackle antisocial behaviour. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made it clear that ASBOs will continue to be, and should be, a major tool in helping to drive down antisocial behaviour still further. We want to make it simple for ASBOs to be exercised accordingly.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in 53 per cent. of cases where they were breached, those involved faced immediate custody. There is certainly a breach element, but, as the Home Secretary mentioned, we have accepted the fact that there are difficulties with breach. We intend to continue working to ensure that those ASBOs are completed: if the court exercises an ASBO it is important that it should be completed and that anyone breaching an ASBO should face immediate custody.
My right hon. Friend will realise that enforcement is vital to antisocial behaviour orders, so will he ask our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary whether he would consider writing to every chief constable and asking that every uniformed officer in their forces spend at least two hours performing high-profile policing duties in the community?
I think that many officers, including chief constables, already spend more than that amount of time doing community policing on the street. Neighbourhood and community policing are the focus of what the Government are trying to do, and I will give my hon. Friend the statistics to show that that is the case.
Will the Minister emphasise that community policing can reduce the need for and the incidence of ASBOs, not least in the Upton estate in Macclesfield? Is that not because the police are thereby establishing meaningful relationships with people, rather than being in a car and having no contact with them?
That is absolutely right, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will share my aspiration to strengthen and deepen community policing still further. It is absolutely right that the police are in contact with local people, that they identify their problems and draw up action plans with local councils to deal with them, and that ASBOs are used if necessary when solutions have failed, not as the first port of call.
Youth Offending (Wirral)
The Government have allocated £415,000 to Wirral since 2008 to fund intensive packages of activities to reduce youth offending.
A recent inspection of youth offending services in Wirral found that there was much more work to be done to reduce reoffending rates. Could my right hon. Friend tell me what work his Department is doing with the Ministry of Justice to see that that takes place?
There are a range of things. I refer my hon. Friend to the youth crime action plan in particular, whereby we are putting in place measures that include Friday and Saturday night activity on the streets, help and support for young people, and interventions for particularly difficult and challenging families. That is part of the resource that we have allocated to Wirral in the past 18 months. The programme is designed to prevent individuals from getting involved in crime in the first place, but we also need strong enforcement and action in the courts to help prevent them from going further once they come into contact with the system.
I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave him when he asked the same question in February this year.
In my county, the number of police officers on patrol has fallen by 30 per cent. When the Minister tried to solve the problem, did he go to the permanent secretary and say, “How do we solve the problem?” and did the permanent secretary reply, “Well, let’s just abolish the statistics”? Because that is what they have done: they have abolished the statistics, so nobody knows how many police are on patrol. [Interruption.] Yes is the answer.
Self-evidently, the hon. Gentleman and I will disagree on this matter. Whatever is happening overall, crime is down 36 per cent., including 4 per cent. last Thursday. Overall, the police are doing a good job driving down crime, in stark contrast to when the hon. Gentleman’s party was in office.
Data are unfortunately not collected centrally at a constituency level, but I can give my hon. Friend figures for Nottinghamshire as a whole in due course.
Luckily for the Minister, I got the figures last Friday from the chief superintendent. We have only 16 police officers covering the whole of the Bassetlaw and Newark division, and that is because all the rest are down in the city of Nottingham, which has had loads of murders. As it now has nothing like that number of murders, is it not time that the Government intervened to get the police authority to shift police back from the cities and into the rural areas and the mining communities where they are needed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. If he looks at the overall figures, he will see that there are 2,380 police officers in Nottingham, which is 57 more than in 1997, and that there are 243 police community support officers in post who were not there when the previous Government were in power. I accept what he says about the operational decisions by the chief constable, but I happen to think that Nottinghamshire police authority should hold the chief constable to account in regard to putting those priorities in place, and that is where my hon. Friend should raise those concerns.
Prisoner Release (Terrorism Offences)
The Government take their responsibilities to protect the public seriously. The police and relevant agencies take all necessary steps to manage the risk posed by those individuals.
I note the Government’s attempts to keep us all secure, but will the Minister comment on the fact that 40 people convicted of terrorism offences have been released into the community, and that a further 25 are set to be released? This is going to put huge burdens not only on our police and security services but on our hard-pressed probation service. How can we be convinced, given the tightness of resources, that the Government are doing their job?
As will happen, there are occasions when people complete their sentences and are released back into the community. It is our job to ensure that we manage those individuals safely in the community. The hon. Gentleman will know that the probation services across the country, along with our colleagues in the Home Office, are determined to manage that risk effectively. We are doing so, and we have put in extra resources to manage it—in the prisons and the probation service—through the National Offender Management Service and the Home Office. Unfortunately, however, people do sometimes complete their sentences.
The Home Office puts public protection at the heart of its work to counter terrorism, cut crime, provide effective policing, secure our borders and protect personal identity.
Will the Home Secretary assure my constituent, Gary McKinnon, who has attracted considerable public interest, that he is carefully considering the compelling new medical evidence on the impact of the extradition proceedings on my constituent’s Asperger’s syndrome? Will he in any event defer the execution of the extradition order until after the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry on 10 November?
I have invited the hon. Gentleman to come and see me about this, because Gary McKinnon is his constituent. As he knows, we have stopped the clock ticking in regard to the representation to the European Court because new medical evidence has been provided. It is important that I stress that there are two issues on which Gary McKinnon’s legal advisers have argued. The first is that the Director of Public Prosecutions should have tried him in this country rather than in America. The High Court dismissed that in July and would not allow the matter to go to a judicial review. In the words of the most senior judge in the country, it would be
“manifestly unsatisfactory in the extreme”
for him to be tried anywhere other than in the United Kingdom. That is finished.
On the second issue, in respect of Mr. McKinnon’s human rights, of course I have to ensure that his article 3 human rights are being respected, and it is the new medical evidence that I will be looking at very carefully. I can assure the hon. Gentleman and his constituent that I will look at it very carefully before making my decision.
I believe that the legislation introduced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport some years ago on the back of a Labour private Member’s Bill has had an extraordinary effect. In fact, the personal experience of my constituents—and, indeed, my own personal experience—suggests that the problems that used to be associated with fireworks weeks and sometimes months before firework day have gone down to a very small number. My hon. Friend is right to suggest that antisocial behaviour legislation can be used in this respect, however. The powers are there to be used, and all my experience tells me that they are being used very effectively.
The reality is that the numbers fluctuate, but I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is that this is a very serious issue. That is why we are working with the industry, the trade unions and the police to do everything we can to tackle the problem of cash-in and vehicle crime. We are working to design out crime to make it more difficult for people to break into the vans and to ensure that banks are better equipped to deal with any incidents. We are working hard to resolve traffic problems, particularly around parking—leaving the vans parked away from the places they are delivering to. We are also working with colleagues in the Ministry of Justice to make sure that the sentencing fits the crime.
It is a very difficult balance. We have consulted the House and are grateful for the help of the Home Affairs Select Committee. We have criteria for the order in which we should deal with cases. I would ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind the fact that until 2007 just under a fifth of claims were duplicate claims from across the EU, and there is significant duplication, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, in the 40,000 cases across migration and asylum. I have an open mind on the criteria, however.
First, I do not accept the premise that an ASBO is a badge of honour. This phrase came from a Youth Justice Board study into a tiny number—124—of cases and has never been supported by any other evidence. If the hon. Gentleman spoke to the police, who are the people who know about this, they would point out that if young people wanted ASBOs as a badge of honour, why would they go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid them?
My hon. Friend mentions a “Ministry of Legal Affairs”, which sounds like something from “The Thick of It”. If he is talking about the Ministry of Justice, I can tell him that we work very closely with it. Unpaid fines are, of course, a matter for that Department and I know it is working very hard to ensure that they are paid. Indeed, it can point to statistics showing an incredible improvement over the last 10 years.
The administrative burden is not confined to drug crimes; it should be reduced to the absolute minimum for the police in all respects. We have had some incredible success on that in removing bureaucracy from the police’s shoulders. I recently made a speech saying that there is much further to go, which is why we asked Jan Berry, the former head of the Police Federation, to look at this for us and present a completely independent report to tell us where she thinks, from her vast personal knowledge and experience, we could do more to help. Her report is due very shortly.
I have not issued any guidance on the definition of that phrase. The police know what they are doing and how to tackle such demonstrations, and they do so very effectively. A combination of the right legislation introduced by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), the police treating the matter as an absolute priority and other measures have led to far fewer problems as a result of animal rights extremism. That is one form of domestic extremism, and if the police want to use such a term, I would not fall to the floor clutching my box of Kleenex. It sounds like a sensible way to describe such forms of extremism.
If the hon. Gentleman cares to contact me, I will consider that matter. I have not heard of the report he mentions, but we want to ensure that justice is done by Yvonne Fletcher. That has been our priority from the start, and that is why it was a major part of our discussions with Libya a few years ago.
Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) about the alphabet soup of agencies that appears to have decided to put everyone in the country who protests about anything on a list of suspects, does the Home Secretary agree that that is an example of mission creep? It has gone beyond the original intention of dealing with violent animal rights extremists, and everyone else in the country who protests is now being treated in that way.
I do not accept that, and I do not know why Liberal Democrat Members jump to that conclusion. The police are doing their job effectively. There was an issue around the G7 protest or the G20 protest—one of the protests—earlier this year that led the police to look again at some of their procedures. The result of those deliberations will be in the White Paper on policing, which will be published shortly.
My right hon. Friend has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to introduce a scheme to assist British citizens who are victims of terror abroad. May I ask him when the Government are likely to introduce a scheme and make some announcement? The victims of Bali, Mumbai and Sharm el-Sheikh and their families have waited far too long to get compensation for the brutal attacks, deaths and injuries that they have had to put up with over the past decade or so.
I commend my right hon. Friend for his work in this connection. As he will know, the Prime Minister and the Government are keen to introduce a scheme whereby those British people injured in terrorist attacks abroad have the same rights to compensation as they would have if they were injured in this country. Having said that, a number of problems need to be got round, and I hope that the committee that I chair will come to a conclusion on that soon.
The Office for National Statistics has said that the population of this country will increase by 10 million in the next 25 years. Are the Government happy that immigration will be on that level, or do they agree that they should do everything they can to ensure that it does not reach such a level?
The Office for National Statistics did not say that; it made it clear that it was not a forecast but a projection based on previous years. In the same release, it accepted that the projection could be, and is being, affected by Government policies on other matters.
We continue to take this important issue seriously. It is extremely difficult to establish the true number of people involved because of the nature of the crime, but we work with our colleagues internationally as well as with agencies in the United Kingdom, and we are trying hard to obtain an accurate figure.
The Government have no policy on what the birth or death rate in our population should be in 15 years’ time, but I can tell the House that our migration policy is already paying dividends in reducing net migration. The ONS reported that it had fallen to 45 per cent. of the projected increase, and that was partly a result of the measures that we have taken.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend read the eccentric report in The Guardian last week suggesting that there were no sex trafficking crimes, which will come as news to the gentlemen who have been banged up for that odious crime. Will he convene a public and transparent conference to discuss the issue? It cannot be right for academics and journalists to say that sex trafficking is non-existent in the United Kingdom.
As I have said, we are working hard to obtain the correct figure, but, as my right hon. Friend will know, that is extremely difficult. I find it regrettable when speculative articles are published in the media giving the erroneous impression that exercises such as Operation Pentameter did not lead to arrests and are not important in making the United Kingdom hostile to traffickers; once we have some figures, I shall return to my right hon. Friend to discuss his suggestion.
I apologise on behalf of the Secretary of State, who is unable to come to the House as he is dealing with departmental business overseas.
The Territorial Army makes a vital contribution to keeping our country safe, and 540 TA members are currently deployed on operations in Afghanistan. When we have forces in the front line putting their lives on the line for us, they must be the priority, and Afghanistan is the main effort for defence. It gets the first call on money, the first call on equipment, and the first call on training and support.
More than £3 billion has been drawn from the Treasury reserve to support operations this year, but we need to reprioritise the core defence budget as well. That means that tough choices need to be made. Recruitment to the Army has experienced a significant boost this year—over 1,000 more recruits are expected to complete training than did so last year—but those additional recruits need to be paid for. The Chief of the General Staff presented proposals to help bring the budget into balance, and, as extra money cannot be drawn from the Treasury reserve for the purpose, the Army proposed to reduce the amount spent on the Territorial Army this year, as well as taking other measures.
After discussion, the Secretary of State endorsed the approach taken by the Army. We did so while making it clear that we would not allow any risk to the Afghanistan campaign in the future to materialise. No TA soldier will be deployed on operations unless the Army is satisfied that he is properly trained and prepared, and pre-deployment training is emphatically not being cut.
Our initial proposal was to suspend the remainder of non-deployment TA training in this financial year, with a saving of £20 million; but, as a Government, we do listen. The Secretary of State has therefore decided on a small adjustment to our original proposals to ensure continuity for those not immediately being deployed to Afghanistan, and to help retention. All TA personnel will now receive at least one training night per month in the current financial year. This measure reduces the in-year savings by £2.5 million.
I realise that the reductions in normal activity are disappointing for TA members, but I believe that they will understand the reasons behind those reductions and the exceptional circumstances in which they are being applied. Tough choices cannot be made without consequences, so let me be clear. The media and the Opposition have been calling for more focus on current operations, but they cannot will the ends and then oppose the means. These measures are sensible, proportionate and will ensure that we make Afghanistan the main effort, and I hope they will be supported on both sides of the House.
I would like to ask three simple questions. First, the Government have previously told us that they
“always finance our military commitments overseas out of the reserve.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2009; Vol. 487, c. 1083.]
Then the Secretary of State said last week:
“We are adjusting the core defence budget to reprioritise Afghanistan”.—[Official Report, 15 October 2009; Vol. 497, c. 469.]
Some of us are surprised that it was not already the No.1 priority, but if it is fully funded from the reserve, as the Government say, why are they cutting the core TA budget by £43 million?
Secondly, we know that, due to the recession and the major recruitment drive in the past year, there are more recruits in the regular Army than there is money to train them, and the Government have now demanded savings from other parts of the Army. Why did the Government not plan to fund their own target numbers for recruitment, especially in the middle of a war?
Thirdly, do the Government really understand the ethos of volunteering or the effect their plans could have on future available numbers? For many, the TA is a habit; break the habit, break the TA. Pre-deployment training is only of use if we have the numbers to start with. Is it not the case that pre-deployment training is meant to augment, not supplant, routine TA training, so routine training is just as important as pre-deployment training? Whether or not an individual is deploying on operations, regular and routine training is required to ensure medium and long-term readiness in the TA for any future deployments to Afghanistan, or elsewhere.
These proposals are a shambles. They must be reversed.
The hon. Gentleman knows full well how the reserve operates. Most of the cost of operations is met from the Treasury reserve, but the defence budget still meets some of the cost. Where activity would take place regardless of operations, the defence budget meets the cost even if the activity directly supports operational capability. That was the case under the last Government, and it is the case under this Government.
The reality is that we face increased pressures this year, including due to increased numbers coming into the Army, which we welcome, as well as less income from estates disposal and as a result of exchange rate fluctuations. Reading between the lines of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution, I think that he actually welcomes the minor adjustment we have announced today. It is one that has been called for from those on the Opposition Benches. I also have to say that it ill behoves the Opposition—whom, let us remember, are not proposing one additional penny of expenditure within the defence budget—to urge us to prioritise efforts in Afghanistan and then to cry foul as soon as that leads to difficult decisions. That is dishonest and disingenuous, and it ill serves our TA. [Interruption.]
The financial problems of the Ministry of Defence are well known to us all, but of all the possible ways of trying to plug the gap, doing so through the Territorial Army must surely be the worst possible candidate. In financial terms, this amounts to a very small saving. The damage that could be done, however, is disproportionate to any saving that could be made.
An increasing burden has been put on the Territorial Army in recent years. If it were not for its efforts and the skills it brings from civilian life, we would have struggled in our operation in Afghanistan in recent times. It is carrying a far bigger burden than it has ever been used to bearing in the past. The Government’s judgment is very wide of the mark, and they would do very well to reflect on Napoleon’s maxim that “the moral is to the physical as three to one”, in which case this decision will do far more damage to the morale and preparedness of the TA in years to come than is worth the tiny amount they are going to penny pinch from it. I think the Government would do well to reflect on this, and find other ways of making these very meagre cuts to plug their very big black hole.
I absolutely agree with the underlying assertion of the hon. Gentleman’s question, which is that the role of the TA is critical to meeting our future defence capabilities, and, indeed, our existing defence capabilities. As I said earlier, 544 members of the TA are currently serving in Afghanistan, and doing an incredible job on our behalf.
I reiterate that in the changes we are making, no pre-deployment training will be cut from the reserves. Having listened to the arguments that have been put forward, we are also ensuring that through this small adjustment, we can make sure that during this financial year there is an ongoing relationship between members of the TA and the activities they undertake.
I am not known to be hostile to the Government on defence, but I am very concerned about the Territorial Army, knowing its importance. Three hon. Members signed an early-day motion that is very modest in its aspirations, not over-the-top. What I would ask, despite having heard the explanation, is whether, even at this stage, such a small amount of money, which must be minuscule compared with the overall defence budget, can be looked at seriously again. Does this not send the wrong message? Are we not talking about the most effective element of our entire defence budget? Surely some other area could be plundered if necessary in the short term, instead of sending that erroneous, potentially damaging message—
I have great respect for my right hon. Friend, who has enormous experience in these areas. We have listened to the concerns and arguments that have been put forward, which is why we have made this minor adjustment—in response to those. However, on the overall argument, if we are to reprioritise our efforts to the front line in Afghanistan, there are no easy options in arriving at that conclusion. That is why we have taken the decisions we have. Nevertheless, we have listened to the arguments that have been put forward, and I think that when my right hon. Friend looks at the detail of what we are proposing, he will find some reassurance.
First, this is a savings measure for this year. Secondly, people within the TA and those who aspire to join it understand the overall operational environment within which we are working, and the fact that we need to focus our efforts on Afghanistan. Thirdly, I do not believe that this will adversely hit recruitment to the Territorial Army.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s adjustment. I fully agree with his requirement to prioritise, and I have full confidence in the Chief of the General Staff, General Richards. May I also therefore explain the problem that I have? If prioritisation is to be carried out and Afghanistan is essentially a conflict where we have to win the people—not just a conventional war against an army—then our greatest resource is people. I therefore believe that it would be right to keep his decisions under careful review. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George), I would not like us to get into an intransigent position whereby we have taken a decision from which we cannot back off, and then discover that it is having an effect on that reservoir of people on whom the armed forces defends, which includes the Territorial Army. I ask my hon. Friend please to keep the situation under review.
I agree with the underlying thrust of what my right hon. Friend is saying. There has been—I choose my words carefully—much debate in the public and media environment in recent months about Ministers taking advice from the military, and he is right to underline the fact that this proposal was put forward by the Chief of the General Staff and that we have, upon consideration, agreed with it. Nevertheless, on his point about careful review, we have not adopted an intransigent position, as evidenced by the adjustment we are making this afternoon. As with all decisions, we will keep this under active review.
We are looking forward to seeing the Minister at 5 o’clock. May I urge him to ask the Chief of the General Staff, in his next conversation with him, whether he is aware of the sacrifices that the families of Territorials make, and whether he would consider imposing such a percentage cut on the income of regular families in this way? Could I also ask—
May I say to the hon. Gentleman, who takes an enormous interest in these matters, that I am looking forward to the meeting at 5 pm, which I asked for in order to engage with the all-party group? We can go into some of the detail of this at that stage. I understand the concern being put forward on behalf of families, but I reiterate that if we are to prioritise and focus our efforts on Afghanistan, that inevitably entails difficult decisions.
Does my hon. Friend accept that the announcement of the £20 million reduction that was made has already caused a great deal of demoralisation within the TA? Does he further accept that today’s announcement, although welcome, does not go far enough to overcome that demoralisation?
I met my right hon. Friend before the summer recess to discuss his specific concerns. The original proposals, to which he referred, were driven by changes in communications technology, which led to an overall improvement in the capability of the TA. Nevertheless, in respect of these changes, we have listened to the arguments that have been put forward by many Members, himself included, and we have made this adjustment.
The TA in Scotland will be affected in exactly the same way as the TA across the country. Non-pre-deployment training is being affected, but the adjustment that I am announcing today goes some way to addressing that concern. The TA, both in Scotland and across the United Kingdom, makes an enormous contribution to the safety and security of our country.
Given that the cuts were proposed by General Sir Richard Dannatt, has my hon. Friend announced the first Tory U-turn? Will he accept my reassurance that he will have our full support if he is to keep this policy under constant review?
I welcome the announcement that the Minister has made. It is a small step in the right direction—I hope that by the end of the evening a few more steps in the right direction will have been taken. No member of the TA is to be deployed unless they have passed through the reserves training and mobilisation centre at Chilwell. That is currently a testing organisation, but as a result of this change, the RTMC will become a training organisation before deployment. The Minister may have inadvertently misled the House, because at the moment some TA soldiers are being deployed at risk. I simply want his assurance that no more will be deployed at risk as a result of this decision.
I welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman has welcomed this change. I know that it was a suggestion that he put forward last week, and that is evidence that, as a Government, we listen to the views expressed. However, I wish to be clear and specific about pre-deployment training. The advice provided through the chain of command from the service chiefs is that this will not impact on pre-deployment training and no TA soldier is being deployed at risk.
Having spent some time with the TA as part of the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I am sure that my hon. Friend would wish to join in the tributes to the outstanding work that they have done. Does he accept that for people who have repeatedly been out to Afghanistan and Iraq this will look like a very poor return for their enormous service on the front line?
I do pay tribute—I did so earlier—to the incredible work that the TA does on our behalf. Members of the TA who have deployed to Afghanistan—indeed, this applies to the 544 deployed there at the moment—will understand the necessity to prioritise towards our efforts there. For that reason, the measure will provide some support. We have also listened and made the adjustment that is being put forward this afternoon.
The Minister says that no TA soldiers will be deployed to Afghanistan unless they have been on pre-deployment training. Does he accept that a large number of TA soldiers may choose to walk away because of these spending cuts, so there will be fewer soldiers to go on pre-deployment training in any case?
I do not believe that that is the case, and the hon. Gentleman under-represents the commitment and enthusiasm of members of the TA. I do not believe that they will walk away. Nevertheless, with the small adjustment that we are making today, we have made it clear that we have recognised the need for some ongoing, month-by-month, paid training for reservists, even if they are not deploying to Afghanistan. I believe that that will be welcomed in the reserves.
I am sorry for the Minister, who has become an apologist for a crass decision. The problem that we face is, as he quite rightly states, that we have to make tough and hard decisions. However, we should not make the wrong decision—and that is what we have seen. Will he reflect on what he has heard today, go back to the Secretary of State and put the budget back in place? Otherwise, we will have nobody left in the TA.
I know that my hon. Friend has an enormous commitment to the Territorial Army. Nevertheless, with respect, I do not agree with his assertion. There are no easy options in managing the defence budget. Let us consider the challenges that we are facing this year: a significant uplift in recruits to the regular Army, reduced income from estate disposal and exchange rate fluctuations. I can honestly say to my hon. Friend that there are no easy options.
Members of the armed forces are aware that one does not blame one’s subordinates for one’s own mistakes. May I say to the Minister, who is a likeable cove, that it is unworthy of him to blame the Army and the Chief of the General Staff for the fact that he has had to come up with these cuts? Does he accept that the sole responsibility for these decisions lies with Ministers, who were responsible for underfunding the Afghan campaign and the armed forces as a whole?
It simply is not accurate to say that we have underfunded the Afghan campaign. The expenditure from the reserve has risen from £700 million three years ago to more than £3 billion today. I am certainly not blaming the military for this decision—I was simply asserting that it is a fact that in the debate about how decisions are made, Ministers listened to the advice of the service chiefs, and this decision is in line with that advice. Nevertheless, the responsibility for the decision is mine and that of the Secretary of State.
May I impress on the Minister how angry and disillusioned members of the Territorial Army are? They were reassured that they were members of one Army, and now they are being treated as second-class citizens. Their pre-deployment training might not be in doubt, but how does the Minister expect them to turn up with the right levels of fitness and skills to take part in that pre-deployment training for Afghanistan?
I do understand the concerns; I have a TA regiment in my constituency. I endorse and agree with the hon. Lady’s view on one Army and the critical role that the TA plays, but she is under-acknowledging the change that we are making today, which I believe will be widely welcomed by members of the TA.
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)
I am pleased to bring back to this House the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, after it has been considered for some time in the other place and in the Public Bill Committee.
I begin by moving new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and amendments 6, 7 and—
I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker, and I apologise.
I beg to move,
That the Order of 23 June 2009 (Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords] (Programme) be varied as follows:
1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.
2. Proceedings on consideration and Third Reading shall be concluded in two days.
3. Proceedings on consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.
4. Each part of the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.
Proceedings Time for Conclusion of Proceedings New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules elating to Part 6; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 9; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 5; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 7; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 8. The moment of interruption.
Time for Conclusion of Proceedings
New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules elating to Part 6; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 9; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 5; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 7; new Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 8.
The moment of interruption.
Proceedings Time for conclusion of proceedings New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 1; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 2; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 3; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 4; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules; remaining proceedings on consideration. 6.00 pm
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 1; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 2; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 3; New Clauses, amendments to Clauses, new Schedules and amendments to Schedules relating to Part 4; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules; remaining proceedings on consideration.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on the second day.
I pay tribute to the work of the Committee and all its members, who have done sterling work on a Bill that was already extremely good when it entered the other place. It is now an even better Bill and I hope that as a result of our deliberations today, it will become if not perfect then as near to perfect as we can make it.
Marine and Coastal Access Bill [Lords]
[ist allocated day]
[Relevant documents: Report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Marine Bill, Session 2007-08, HC 552-I and –II, and the Government response, Cm 7422. Ninth Report from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Session 2007-08, on the Draft Marine Bill: Coastal Access Provision, HC 656-I, and the Government response, Cm 7422.]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 2
Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies
‘(1) The authority for an IFC district may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, enter into an agreement with an eligible body authorising the eligible body to perform any function of the IFC authority—
(a) either in relation to the district or in relation to specified parts of that district;
(b) subject to paragraph (a), either generally or in specified cases.
“Specified” means specified in the agreement.
(2) For the purposes of this section and sections [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]]—
(a) any reference to a function of an IFC authority includes a reference to a function exercisable by a person authorised, appointed or employed by the IFC authority;
(b) any reference to an agreement is to an agreement under this section.
(3) The Secretary of State’s approval may be given—
(a) in relation to a particular agreement or in relation to a description of agreements;
(b) unconditionally or subject to conditions specified in the approval.
(4) An agreement under this section may not authorise an eligible body to perform any of the following functions—
(a) any function whose performance by the body would be incompatible with the purposes for which the body was established;
(b) functions under section 171 (accounts).
(5) An agreement under this section does not prevent the IFC authority from performing a function to which the agreement relates.
(6) The maximum period for which an agreement under this section may authorise an eligible body to perform a function is 20 years.’.—(Huw Irranca-Davies.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 3—Eligible bodies.
Government new clause 4—Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].
Government new clause 5—Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers.
Government new clause 6—Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies].
Government amendments 6 to 8
Amendment 27, in clause 184, page 117, line 27, at end insert—
‘(2A) The provisions in sections [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies], [Eligible bodies], [Variation, review and cancellation of agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]], [Agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]: particular powers] and [Supplementary provisions with respect to agreements under section [Power to enter into agreements with eligible bodies]] shall apply to Welsh Ministers in relation to Wales.’.
I shall speak to new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, and amendments 6 to 8.
Part 6 will replace sea fisheries committees with inshore fisheries and conservation authorities—IFCAs—in England. These will have a duty to manage sea fisheries sustainably, balancing socio-economic benefits with protection of the marine environment. They will have more money and strengthened powers, while retaining local involvement in decision making. Under the current Bill model, IFCAs will lead on marine species management in the inshore area, including in estuaries. The Environment Agency will lead on protection for salmon, trout, other migratory species and freshwater fish in estuaries and as far out as the 6 nautical mile limit.
As many hon. Members are aware, in January we launched a consultation on options for the number of future inshore fisheries and conservation districts. Following that consultation, I am happy to confirm that 10 IFC districts will be established, and the new IFCAs will be established with full powers and duties in April 2011. The Department will carry out more detailed consultation in 2010 to establish the exact landward and seaward boundaries of the new districts. I know that that announcement will be welcomed by all Members of the House.
During a useful Commons Committee discussion on part 6, concerns were raised by a number of Members that the Bill as drafted did not provide sufficient flexibility to ensure the most joined-up inshore fisheries management, particularly in areas such as estuaries. In Committee, considerable pressure was exerted on us to amend the Bill so that IFCA functions can be delegated to the Environment Agency in particular, so that marine fisheries in estuaries could be managed in the most efficient way.
To address this, we have tabled new clauses 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and amendments 6, 7 and 8, which provide the option for IFCA functions to be delegated to the Environment Agency and to neighbouring IFCAs. An order-making power is provided to add to the list of eligible bodies so as to enable delegation to be made to other, named public bodies. Bodies can also be removed from the list.
That is a good point. The Bill is future-proofed, in that the Secretary of State, with the agreement of an IFCA and partners on the ground, could agree in future to delegate to another body. That could be the MMO, another IFCA or the Environment Agency. It could be another body which, at this moment, I cannot imagine. We have future-proofed the Bill, but we have also made it clear that the Secretary of State can waive that delegation power. The purpose of the measures is to give that flexibility, recognising, as has been the focus of the Bill, that there will be local solutions on the ground. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.
I have no quarrel with or opposition to what is proposed, because it seems a sensible redistribution of functions to bodies best able to perform them. However, I should like my hon. Friend’s assurance that fishing, which has been excessively heavily burdened with regulations, will not be burdened with further regulations as a result of this reorganisation.
My hon. Friend, who is a stalwart advocate of the fisheries not only in Grimsby, in his constituency, but throughout the UK, is right to raise the issue of fisheries’ regulation, but I assure him that the proposed changes would provide flexibility to ensure that the best organisation had responsibility for forward fisheries management locally and regionally. The proposed changes would not add any bureaucracy or regulation, and he can report those assurances not only to his constituents, but to sea fishermen throughout the UK.
Do the Government’s proposed changes risk causing an unintended consequence? Sea fisheries committees already co-operate informally across borders, and they can assist each other, for example, with monitoring and enforcement measures. No formal agreements exist, but would the proposed changes require IFCAs to introduce such agreements?
No. The Bill includes a provision to formalise agreements on working across estuaries or water areas, but existing voluntary arrangements and the ability to work together across areas, including on enforcement and so on, will continue. The proposed changes would not hamper that arrangement, and we would not want that to happen. However, they are designed to respond to the concerns, rightly raised in Committee, that the demarcation of IFCAs and the Environment Agency represented a somewhat rigid approach to who was responsible, not least in upper estuary areas. The sole purpose of the proposed changes is to introduce flexibility; it is certainly not to override the effective existing partnerships with sea fisheries committees and others.
The Bill already provides for MMO functions to be delegated to relevant bodies, including IFCAs, and our proposed changes would provide for a similar model of delegation for IFCA functions. I shall turn to the key elements of that delegation. First, the delegation of functions would occur from an IFCA to an “eligible body” in relation to any specified areas of an IFC district. Secondly, any delegation would require the Secretary of State’s approval, and it would be carried out only where there was agreement between the IFCA and the relevant body. That is important, because, to take up the hon. Gentleman’s point, I should say that through that mechanism we are looking for collaboration and partnership, not an imposed solution. Any delegation would have to be by agreement and on the approval of the Secretary of State.
Thirdly, “eligible bodies” could include any neighbouring IFCA, given the example of working in partnership, and the Environment Agency. Fourthly, the Secretary of State could also, by order, add additional eligible public bodies that had a purpose or function that was connected to the inshore marine area. Finally, the proposed changes include a requirement for the Secretary of State to review all those agreements at least every five years, and to cancel agreements if appropriate in the light of such reviews. None the less, under the terms of the Secretary of State’s original approval, it would be possible to waive that requirement.
Let me make it clear, however, that we do not have specific expectations about when the option of delegation will be applied; that is not for us to decide in the Chamber. If the proposed changes are accepted, the issue will be looked at in detail by IFCAs and the Environment Agency. However, the proposed changes would provide useful additional flexibility, as the Committee asked for, and would future-proof the Bill. For example, they would allow one IFCA to exercise management right across an estuary, even if a local authority boundary split the estuary; and, they would allow for the Environment Agency to manage all fisheries in upper estuaries where marine species are insignificant.
I hope that the proposed changes provide reassurance that the Bill will allow fisheries management to be carried out as flexibly and efficiently as possible in inshore areas and, in particular, in estuaries. That issue exercised many Committee members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy) and for Reading, West (Martin Salter), who are in the Chamber, and others. The proposed changes would benefit the users of the inshore marine area and the regulators.
If an IFCA delegated a responsibility to another body, such as the Environment Agency, and subsequently wanted to take back that power, would it have to wait for the review that the Minister mentioned, or would it be able to do so with the Secretary of State’s permission?
No, we would not want to have to wait five years for a review. It would be within the Secretary of State’s power to revisit the decision, and if the arrangement were redundant or were not working, or if there were a local desire for a different configuration of fisheries management, that could be reviewed at that time. That flexibility exists. The five-year review offers the opportunity to consider how all the arrangements are working. With those comments, I commend Government new clauses 2 to 6 and Government amendments 6 to 8 to the House, and I look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams), if he is lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
It is a great pleasure to have the Bill back on the Floor of the House. I hope that the constructive relationship that we have established across the House is maintained as we work towards introducing important legislation governing the future of our marine environment.
New clauses 2 to 6 and amendments 6 and 8 relate to the delegation of functions by IFCAs to other eligible bodies. When this issue was raised in Committee, not least by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), the Minister committed to bringing something back on Report. The amendments will ensure that IFCAs are able to delegate elements of inshore fisheries management to other bodies. We believe that power over fisheries management needs to be returned to as local a level as possible. Fishermen, scientists and conservationists who work at the local level know how to manage our marine environment best and should be trusted with managing its future. We therefore see an important role for IFCAs in the future of fisheries management, but it is imperative that they represent the diverse range of interests that often play a role in our fisheries. The old sea fisheries committees that IFCAs will replace have, on occasion, been accused of being unrepresentative, especially of interests such as recreational angling. IFCAs must have a new, more representative membership.
IFCAs will not always be best placed to carry out certain functions, some of which could be managed by other organisations or by agencies that have more relevant knowledge or are simply better placed to perform them. It is important that IFCAs are flexible and are able to delegate their functions where necessary or sensible, and we therefore support the proposed measures. It is crucial that the relationships between the Environment Agency and IFCAs, Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation are clear in the Bill.
In Committee, we spoke about wanting to avoid a turf war. I apologise again for suggesting that it might be a surf war, and I promise not to suggest that IFCAs should be fit for porpoise; I shall try to keep the puns to an absolute minimum. How those organisations relate to each other is vital. Ultimately, it should be up to IFCAs—not, as the Minister says, to the Government or Government agencies—to decide how to devolve relevant powers to as local or relevant a level as possible. It should also be for IFCAs to decide where the correct balance of those powers lies. We are broadly supportive of the measures, and we look forward with interest to hearing what the amendment of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) reflects about the Welsh dimension to this issue.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to reflect on the Committee stage of the Bill. The debate has been very constructive across parties, and I congratulate both the Ministers who served on the Committee on the manner in which they discharged their duties. I look forward to hearing further constructive debate today.
Turning to the Government amendments, I welcome the Minister’s confirmation the establishment of 10 IFCAs. As he knows, I have been campaigning for that for some time to reflect the significant local engagement through the sea fisheries committees. That is such good quality and value that it would have been a great disappointment had the Government decided to go for the original proposal in the Bradley report, which was significantly to reduce the number of IFCAs compared with the current range of sea fisheries committees. I should declare an interest in the sense that two sea fisheries committees operate in my constituency—in west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly, with the latter having a distinct and important role in protecting not only marine conservation but a sustainable fishing industry in its own area, apart from that around mainland Cornwall.
I would be grateful if the Minister would expand a little more on the make-up of the IFCAs, to which the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon) referred. Who will sit on them, and how will marine conservation and commercial interests be balanced when they are first established? Given my intervention, the Minister will recognise that there are already good, well-established working relationships, certainly between the sea fisheries committees and, I would argue, between those committees and the Environment Agency. Many of those relationships work well because they are informal. He assured me that the amendments will not in any way curtail or discourage the informal arrangements that have already been established, and would no doubt continue to be established, between the eligible bodies, including the Environment Agency.
However, it is important that the value of those arrangements, particularly in monitoring enforcement, should not be overlooked. For example, the vessel that is used in Cornwall, the Saint Piran, often undertakes work for the Devon sea fisheries committee, and goes to the Isles of Scilly as well. In fact, this summer the Secretary of State joined me on board the Saint Piran and saw its excellent work. The work of that vessel is largely governed by an informal arrangement between the sea fisheries committees. It would be a great pity if those informal agreements and arrangements were undermined by the terms of the amendments. I look forward to further reassurance from the Minister on that.
Broadly speaking, the amendments assume that we are talking about agreements, not disagreements; indeed, they are about aiding and encouraging formal agreements between the eligible bodies. However, they do not foresee the possibility that there may be disagreements between bodies in areas that border each other, such as the upper estuaries, which the Minister described. Can he point me to elements of the amendments that might help to resolve any disagreements that arose? Similarly, he referred to the five-year review and the 20-year length of the agreements as set out in new clause 2. It would be helpful if the Minister explained a little more about why the Government have resolved to use those particular lengths of time. What would happen if a dispute between organisations that had established formal agreement occurred long before the five-year review period was up?
I have asked some probing questions to seek clarification from the Minister on measures that the Government have brought forward entirely properly, the spirit of which I strongly support. I look forward to his response.
I support the Government’s new clauses and consequential amendments, and I thank the Minister for responding positively in Committee on 7 July to my amendment 51, which had the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy), the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) and for St. Ives (Andrew George), and the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who is sometimes my fishing partner.
It is good that the Government have listened and recognised a clear flaw in the original concept of IFCAs—that they would have had responsibility right up to the tidal limit, even though they are primarily about sea fishery interests for recreational angling and for commercial and conservational purposes. It was always somewhat absurd to suggest that the River Thames at Teddington should be patrolled by the local sea Fisheries committee. We would never have seen a boat from a sea committee or an IFCA on the tidal Thames there, the tidal Severn at Gloucester or, I am sure, the tidal Trent at Collingham, just outside Nottingham. I am pleased that our representations have been listened to.
The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on a potential problem, which is defining exactly where estuaries finish and the sea begins or vice versa. Does he have a clear definition in his mind that would identify clearly where all types of estuary start and finish, and where the responsibilities of the organisation in charge of them should therefore lie? Perhaps the Minister should respond to that point.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, for whose support in Committee on this matter I was grateful. The reason why it is not possible to draw a defined line on the map, and why we must have definitions of the upstream limits of commercial fishing interests, is that those limits vary from estuary to estuary. On the River Humber, for example, the commercial fishing interest is many miles upstream, whereas on many other estuaries, particularly on the south coast, it is barely upstream at all. The decision has to be made on a case-by-case basis. Our debate in Committee was excellent and instructive about how Parliament can apply its collective knowledge to that difficult and not easily surmountable problem.
I obviously support the Government’s proposals, as they are based on the points that we raised in Committee. The power to delegate to the Environment Agency is the obvious route forward, and there could be other delegations if appropriate. I say to the hon. Member for Leominster (Bill Wiggin) that it is slightly bonkers to query a delegation to the EA on freshwater fishery management, given that it is the agency responsible for that. We are not likely to delegate the matter to the United Nations or anybody else. That might explain why he is no longer the Opposition spokesman.
I am happy to attack any Member, as the hon. Gentleman well knows. Far more importantly, I am happy to play my part in ensuring that what started life as an excellent Bill will be an absolutely brilliant one.
By way of digression, Sam Coates’s comments in The Times today suggested that the amount of parliamentary time given over to the Bill was a complete waste, as it was dull and boring. I would suggest that correspondents take another look at Charles Clover’s film and book, “The End of the Line”. They should consider the fact that 99.4 per cent. of the world’s oceans are vulnerable to commercial exploitation and that by 2050, unless action is taken on the conservation measures that are in the new clauses and the Bill, we will see a wholesale collapse of fisheries stocks across the planet. This is groundbreaking legislation and today’s debate is one small step to ensuring that this excellent legislation is improved still further, and I am delighted that the Minister has felt able to respond to our concerns.
I shall make only a brief contribution. I have served on the Bill in all its forms for about 18 months and I must say that I am extremely pleased that the Government have introduced new clause 2. In four years of being a Member of Parliament, I have never been so over-excited as I am now about this clause. I agree with the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) that it would be ridiculous if he and I were pike, perch or chub fishing on Teddington weir and a marine fishery officer’s boat came sailing past to check our licences. The measure is common sense—we have had an outbreak of common sense in this place—and Sam Coates of The Times, far from criticising it, should be celebrating it in his column tomorrow.
The inshore fleet in the Thames estuary has acted responsibly, building conservation for many decades, and I have been representing their interests and approaching the Minister about this matter for some time. Will he confirm when he sums up that Essex and Kent fisherman will have representation on IFCAs to protect their fishing and conservation interests? Will he also confirm that the fishing interest on IFCAs will be balanced with other interests, not marginalised?
I, too, have taken great pleasure in being part of the Bill, because it is hugely important to protect the marine environment on which so many of our people depend for their employment and which makes an important contribution to biodiversity locally, nationally and internationally.
I rise briefly to speak to amendment 27, which is in my name. Having said that, I welcome Government new clauses 2, 3 and 6, which are based on the amendment that the hon. Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) tabled in Committee. The Minister at that time gave a commitment to look at the aims and purposes of that proposal and to see whether it could be worked into the Bill.
If the new clause had been tabled in the form of the proposal made by the hon. Member for Reading, West, we might have sought to amend it following certain things that have been brought to my attention. The current proposals mention allowing IFCAs to enter into agreements with other bodies to allow the latter to take on some of the duties and powers of the former, but only with the permission and agreement of the Secretary of State. The Welsh Assembly Government have made it known that they want to take on the role of the IFCA for Wales, and it seems inappropriate for them to have to seek the permission of the Secretary of State to enter into such agreements.
We are talking about the very important species that live some of their time in the oceans and some of their time in fresh water—diadromous fish. They are particularly vulnerable, because they can be badly affected by over-fishing as they approach our shores. However, they can also be badly affected because their spawning grounds could be detrimentally affected by practices farther up the rivers. Therefore, my amendment goes to the heart of the matter in giving the Welsh Assembly Government the powers to allow Welsh IFCAs to enter into agreements to transfer responsibilities and duties that the Secretary of State has in relation to IFCAs in England. It is a simple amendment, but it would clarify the devolved powers that the Welsh Assembly wishes to take on.
I thank hon. Members for the spirit in which we have begun this debate. It is reminiscent of the approach that has been taken throughout this Bill—constructive engagement and an attempt to improve the Bill. I welcome the support that we have heard for these amendments, especially from the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Benyon). He and others, including the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George), made the valid point that IFCAs need to be representative. That will be achieved. IFCAs are a mutation of the role of the sea fisheries committees, and they will have added duties and responsibilities—everyone agrees that that is the right approach—but they will need to be properly representative.
Clause 151 provides that the membership of IFCAs will include the Marine Management Organisation, the Environment Agency and Natural England, which will each have a statutory seat. Those seats will be set out in the order establishing each IFCA, in order to maintain some flexibility. Around a third of seats will be allocated to local authority members, under clause 151(1)(a), and the constituent upper and single-tier local authorities in each IFC district will be set out in the order establishing each individual IFCA. The balance of seats will be appointed by the MMO and will include members
“acquainted with the needs and opinions of the fishing community of the district”.
I want to see all the varied interests of the fishing industry properly represented.
We do not want the IFCAs to be unwieldy. As the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) knows, we love committees in Wales, but it is good to have them doing something instead of just existing, and IFCAs will need to be very effective and efficient. Also represented on the IFCAs should be
“persons with knowledge of, or expertise in, marine environmental matters.”
The new IFCAs have been welcomed by a wide range of stakeholders. They will have a clear duty to ensure that the exploitation of sea fisheries resources is carried out sustainably, and they will have a greater focus than the sea fisheries committees on the impact of fishing activity on wider marine eco-systems. That is part and parcel of the Bill. Significantly, IFCAs will have a new duty to protect the marine environment and promote its recovery from the effects of exploitation.
I thank the Minister for that clarification. He will be aware of representations from the Angling Trust, which broadly welcomes this Bill, that the current composition of sea fisheries committees has left the recreational angling sector very poorly represented. Will that wrong be put right? In addition, the current system allows local authority representatives to name substitutes, if someone cannot make a meeting. It is important that that right is extended to other stakeholders, who will have an active role to play in the new IFCAs.
I confirm that what we all want—and what the Bill is designed to do—is to ensure that those interests represented on the IFCAs are genuinely representative. Where there is a strong recreational sea-angling fraternity—or sorority—in an area, it will want to have its say as well. Having that local determination and representing genuinely local interests is key, including in Newlyn, for example, where there are significantly different types of fisheries. Whether those involved are commercial or recreational anglers, they need to be able to have their say.
The balance of members appointed by the MMO to each IFCA will reflect the economic, social and environmental needs of that IFCA. Members will therefore be appointed according to the relevant expertise that they bring, which is the right way to proceed. The detail of the appointment process will be drafted in guidance, which will be helpful to members and which we will consult on in 2010. That will help to ensure that the membership of each IFCA has the right representation and knowledge across all the relevant sectors, exactly as I have been saying. Given the level of sea angling in the inshore area, however, we expect sea anglers to continue to be represented on IFCAs.
The Minister has mentioned Newlyn. He will be aware that there are conflicts between different fishing sectors operating within the 6-mile zone, and also out to the 12-mile zone, although we are primarily talking about the 6-mile zone. He has referred to clause 151, and although I do not expect him to prescribe the answers today, will he acknowledge that there are conflicts among recreational sea anglers, as well as among different inshore fishing sectors? That, too, needs to be resolved through the process that he is describing.
I agree. There are, and will continue to be, different priorities in different parts of the fishing fraternity. However, one of the benefits of the consultation will be that those interests are genuinely represented in that process. That does not mean that there will not be difficult challenges that will require people to sit down and agree the priorities in their IFCA area. However, the important thing is first to ensure that the membership is properly representative and then to argue that out. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the worst possible way forward would be for a Minister to prescribe exactly who should be on or to say arbitrarily, “We’ll make sure that we have one recreational sea angler, one rod-and-line angler,” and so on. That is not the way, because things will differ among the 10 IFCA areas.