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Commons Chamber

Volume 498: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2009

House of Commons

Wednesday 4 November 2009

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Northern Ireland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Saville Inquiry

That date is three days before one of the possible dates for a general election. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be impossible to publish the report during the final stages of a general election campaign? Is there anything that he can do to bring forward the publication of that already overdue report?

The House will understand that it is not for me to speculate on dates of general elections. I can, however, tell the House that I have again met the families and the soldiers, and I am grateful to hon. Members for facilitating those meetings. The families are deeply disappointed by yet another delay; it is agonising for them. The same is true for the soldiers and their families. This delay is causing very real distress, and it is clearly compounding an already very anxious situation.

Given that the publication date that Lord Saville has indicated is a possible, if not a likely, date for a general election announcement, is he aware of the toxicity and controversy that will undoubtedly follow his report in that context?

I had the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman in his constituency only a week ago, when I was also meeting the families. I am particularly concerned about the delay. With great respect to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the date of a general election is a matter for him. However, there should be no delay in publishing this report. I have urged Lord Saville, and made every effort available, to ensure that we publish it as quickly as possible.

As well as a statement when the Saville report is published, will there be a full debate in this Chamber in Government time on the report?

The report has taken more than 10 years to produce, and it has cost nearly £200 million, half of which has been spent on legal aid. The report has been crucial to the peace process, and we will study its findings carefully. I say that because I think that the House will want a debate on it, and the Government would want to grant it a debate on the report and its findings.

May I thank the Secretary of State for agreeing to meet a deputation of soldiers? That was very much appreciated. Will he express to Lord Saville our anger at the expense that he has run up, and at the ultimate discourtesy to this House and to the people involved that he has not yet published the report? Please will he express our anger at his incompetence?

The hon. Gentleman will know the concern that I have, for both the families and the soldiers who are part of the report. I am very concerned about the delay, and I very much hope that Lord Saville not only takes my representations seriously but finds the opportunity to read the Hansard of today’s questions, because it is extremely important that he understand the genuine concern across the whole House.

Paramilitary Activities

2. What recent assessment he has made of the extent of activities of dissident paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. (296667)

7. What recent assessment he has made of the level of activity of dissident republicans in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (296673)

I have today placed in the Library a copy of the Independent Monitoring Commission’s 22nd report on the activities of paramilitary groups, in which the IMC states:

“Dissident republican activity since the early summer of 2008 had been consistently more serious than at any time since we had started to report in April 2004.”

Speaking as a former Grenadier Guard who served in Northern Ireland, may I ask the Secretary of State to express his condolences to the families of the three Guardsmen and two military policemen killed yesterday in Helmand province? Does the Secretary of State recognise the contribution to the peace process made by the Grenadiers in Northern Ireland, including building the peace line? Finally, will he tell the House whether the upsurge in violence is due to new terrorist activity, or to the Provisional IRA under another name?

I heard at least three questions there, but one answer from the Secretary of State will suffice.

In answering the hon. Gentleman’s third question, may I associate myself firmly with the remarks made in his two previous ones? In response to his third question, I urge him to read the IMC report, which makes it clear that such activity cannot be attributed to the organised activities of those who may have represented paramilitary activity in the past. The report is extremely clear in laying the blame where it appropriately lies, particularly with the so-called RIRA and CIRA—Real IRA and Continuity IRA. Those groups are extremely dangerous, and a political solution is pressed as a matter of urgency.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the tragic death of Constable Stephen Carroll, allegedly by a 17-year-old, means that we should look carefully again at community policing and at how it helps to stop young people getting involved with proscribed organisations?

The hon. Gentleman will understand why I may not wish to speak about the particular individuals who have been charged with the murder of Constable Carroll, but I will say that the IMC report—I urge all hon. Members to read it—is very clear about where some of the recruitment, particularly of young males, is coming from and why it is happening. Within the report, there is also a proposal for a political intervention, which the IMC believes would be potent in having an effect on these people.

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the logic of the IMC today is consistent with advice that the Social and Democratic Labour party has been giving for over two years about the importance of devolving justice and policing as a way of disarming the dissident groups? Does he also acknowledge that we are concerned that the dissidents could be assisted by some of the consequences of the Ashdown review? Given the seriousness of the situation, why has only the leader of the Alliance party been given confidential security briefings and why is the Secretary of State asking the Alliance leader to go quiet on the shared future in the countdown to the devolution of justice and policing?

You might me rebuke me, Mr. Speaker, if I chose to answer all of those questions. I will none the less try to find an envelope that might succeed in answering the purport of the question. The report is very clear about the problem that we are facing in Northern Ireland today as a result of criminals calling themselves dissidents. It is very clear that there is a political solution and the report advocates that early devolution of policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly could provide a potent intervention. I urge that intervention on all those elected in Northern Ireland, regardless of party.

I welcome the views of the IMC and its conclusion that the time is right for the transfer of policing and justice powers to the devolved Assembly. I ask my right hon. Friend to reiterate in very strong terms the view of the IMC that the transference of those powers would, in its words,

“be a platform for co-operation against those trying to undermine the peace process.”

That is the best signal to send to the dissidents.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. It might be worth drawing the attention of the House to one of the remarks in the IMC’s report today, which is that the activities of these dissidents

“represent a challenging of the peace process by groups always violently opposed to it”,

but critically at the moment

“not an unravelling of that process.”

We have a duty to ensure that that peace process does not unravel.

Will the Secretary of State join me in condemning the attack by dissidents at the home of a police officer under a car that was driven off by his partner, although fortuitously no lives were lost as a result? Will he underline the need for police officers and their families to be particularly vigilant at this time, as even if they consider themselves to be living in safe areas, they need to remain alert? Will he indicate what steps he intends to take to meet the challenge set by the dissident republicans from their increase in activity over the past number of months?

I very much join the right hon. Gentleman in those remarks and I thank him for the role that he is playing in trying to drive forward progress on completion of devolution. I would none the less remind him that paragraph 5.1, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram) referred, is very clear in saying that

“the early devolution of policing and justice powers to the…Assembly…could provide a potent intervention… It would be because policing and justice would no longer be a point of contention across the political divide; rather, it would be a platform for co-operation against those trying to undermine the peace process.”

Will the Secretary of State pass on the congratulations of this House to the Police Service of Northern Ireland on the skill and vigilance that enabled it to defuse a massive bomb on the border? That occurred since the House last had Northern Ireland questions.

I am happy to pass on those remarks to the PSNI. I am sure that the House would warmly welcome the new Chief Constable, Matt Baggott, who has taken over control of the PSNI. The PSNI does an extremely brave job, as this report demonstrates, in extremely difficult and challenging circumstances.

May I associate myself with the remarks of the Secretary of State and the IMC report—that the devolution of criminal justice would indeed be “a potent intervention” that politicians could effect in dealing with dissident republican groups? Does he agree with me and those with whom I am associated in Northern Ireland that, in the long term, these groups will be countered only if we are able to pursue an agenda of shared futures?

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the importance of the shared future. There has been a lot of discussion about community confidence being built before devolution can take place. The report puts clearly before the House and the public of Northern Ireland that the real challenge to community confidence is the threat posed by dissidents. We have a choice, and we can act: early devolution would be a potent intervention, and I hope we will complete it soon.

Further to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (David Tredinnick), with Remembrance day approaching we should remember all those who were killed or injured serving the security forces, protecting our democracy and safeguarding our public. The latest IMC report published this morning contains some encouraging news, but also other deeply worrying information. The report states:

“The overall level of dissident activity was markedly higher than we have seen since we first met in late 2003. The seriousness, range and tempo of their activities all changed for the worse in these six months.”

The Secretary of State has had time to analyse the report. What are his conclusions, and what does he intend to do?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I would like to mark our thanks to the Opposition parties who have helped in supporting the financial package put forward by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to enable early devolution to take place. The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the part of the report relating to the security issue, which goes on to say that the challenges

“pose a major challenge to the law enforcement and other agencies on both sides of the border. Had it not been for the work of all these agencies North and South, more lives would have been lost.”

The report identifies a major challenge, and I hope that all parties in Northern Ireland rise to it.

On the conclusion that the report endorses the devolution of policing, the Opposition have always taken a responsible approach. We support the devolution of policing and justice, and we supported the Bill in March. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has confirmed our long-term commitment to the significant financial package proposed by the Government. We have always made clear that devolution should happen only when all parts of the community are supportive—

Order. I am increasingly unhappy about the length of the preamble before we reach the question. Can we please now have a question? I want to make progress.

Does the Secretary of State agree that it is down to all four parties in the coalition on the Executive to work together to finalise the details and the timing?

The hon. Gentleman is right: it is up to the four parties. But let us be clear: as the report highlights, this is perhaps a moment when whatever individual issues might still prevent parties from moving forward, they should now set aside their differences, find the points of common unity and purpose, and ensure that the dissidents do not become a major threat to people in Northern Ireland.

Loyalist Paramilitaries

3. What recent assessment he has made of the extent of the activities of loyalist paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland. (296668)

Although I welcome the positive leadership that has delivered major progress on decommissioning, some individual members of loyalist paramilitary organisations remain involved in criminality and punishment attacks.

I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. However, when does he believe that the loyalist paramilitaries will disband their command structures, and what is he doing to try to ensure that that happens?

It is important that those organisations take down their command structures and desist from criminality, and that the Ulster Defence Association in particular moves to complete the decommissioning process it has begun—certainly no later than February next year, when the powers run out. I am particularly concerned about the increase, reported today by the IMC, in the number of paramilitary-style attacks in loyalist areas this year: already more than double the number last year. These people must stop taking the law into their own hands, and let the police and the courts do their job.

Will the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s urgent intent not only that there will be full and immediate decommissioning by loyalist paramilitaries, but that PSNI and the Serious Organised Crime Agency will pursue their criminally acquired assets and those of other paramilitaries past and present?

It is essential that decommissioning be completed by February next year, as the special arrangements will not be extended. My hon. Friend is also right that those who, as part of paramilitary gangs or other groups, have acquired criminal assets, often running into millions of pounds, should have them taken back off them. I reassure him that SOCA, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the PSNI will pursue those people relentlessly and bring those assets back into the public domain.

When the Government extended the arms amnesty until 2010 a few months ago we supported the Government, very reluctantly. Will the Minister confirm yet again that he will not seek to introduce primary legislation to extend the amnesty? We certainly could not support any further extension, because after that date we shall see these people as nothing more than criminals.

Let me once again express my appreciation for the Opposition parties’ support for our approach to the decommissioning amnesty order. I believe that an unequivocal message went out from the House from all parties that there would be no tolerance of people who hold back on decommissioning, and no extension of the amnesty powers beyond February next year. Next February, the powers will run out for good. Those who still hold on to weapons must decommission them, and decommission them now.

Equality Commission

4. What discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive on proposals for the appointment of new commissioners to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. (296669)

The Secretary of State appointed four new equality commissioners in September this year, following a fair and open competition. Under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, responsibility for making such appointments lies solely with the Secretary of State. He wrote to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to notify them of the launch of the competition, and he informed them when the appointments were made.

Will the Minister warn the new commissioners about the unease that is felt about the commission, particularly among many Unionists, and will he ensure that it does not add to the compensation culture in Northern Ireland or fuel the already crippling burden of political correctness there?

How did I guess that the phrase “political correctness” might just creep into the hon. Gentleman’s supplementary question?

The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed this issue on a number of occasions, including occasions on which I have been at the Dispatch Box, and I think it fair to say that we do not agree on it. This is not about political correctness; it is about putting fairness, justice and equality at the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland. That is what the Good Friday agreement did when it established the Equality Commission. The hon. Gentleman should not underestimate the difference that the commission has made, and the distance that it has taken us in terms of the progress made in Northern Ireland.

Surely it is difficult for the Equality Commission to demonstrate fairness, and to be a paragon of fairness, when the composition of its own staff is so out of kilter with the community in Northern Ireland. There is a serious under-representation of Protestants. How can the commission go to local councils and other public bodies and ask for fairness and equality when it has itself failed to practise those virtues?

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the staff, but the commissioners themselves reflect communities across Northern Ireland. In appointing commissioners, the Secretary of State must have due regard to their community background, although there is of course an open competition. The appointments to which I referred in my first answer were made in a fair and open way, and the Equality Commission plays a very important role in the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Loyalist Decommissioning

The House will note the report from the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, which was placed in the Library last month and which records very significant acts of decommissioning by loyalist groups. The House will also know from my right hon. Friend the Minister of State that the decommissioning order will end unequivocally on 9 February next year.

The Secretary of State has made clear that the amnesty will end in February. That being so, what more can he do to encourage loyalist paramilitaries to participate in the decommissioning process so that it can be completed once and for all? Will he also make clear that those who break the law can expect the full rigour of the law to come down upon them, and that they will face due process?

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s second question is yes. As for his first question, we are making that requirement clear. That is why we are, I believe, making substantial progress on decommissioning, although we expect more. [Interruption.]

Order. There are still far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber. It is very unfair on the Member asking the question, and on the Minister answering it.

My party welcomes the progress made towards total decommissioning by loyalist paramilitaries. When that process has been completed, will the Secretary of State publish an inventory of the weapons decommissioned by both the IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries?

As the hon. Lady knows, as part of the process there will at the end of it be a full statement by the IICD.

Historical Inquiries

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of the report of the Consultative Group on the Past on the operation of the Historical Enquiries Team of the Police Service of Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (296672)

The Government have recently concluded a consultation on all the recommendations made by the Consultative Group on the Past and are currently considering the responses. Meanwhile, the Historical Enquiries Team is continuing to carry out its important work with great sensitivity and professionalism.

The primary task of a police unit to pursue criminal justice seems inimical to the mandate of the HET to resolve unanswered questions, which would surely be better handled by a legacy commission. Does the Minister believe that recent new money for the Province will be adequate to finance the HET and that it will not become bogged down in an expensive legal morass of Savillian proportions?

I reassure my hon. Friend first that the PSNI does a fine job in pursuing criminals and keeping Northern Ireland and its people safe. We have made no decisions yet in relation to the recommendation by the Consultative Group on the Past on a legacy commission, but I also reassure my hon. Friend that the HET is a very cost-effective way of dealing with the issue of unresolved murders. Substantial resources will be made available to the Northern Ireland Executive if policing and justice powers are devolved, but how that money is spent will, of course, be for the Justice Minister and Executive to determine.

I have already written to the Minister about the money being spent by the HET and the alleged inefficiencies in how it is being spent. What steps is he taking to ensure that the tens of millions of pounds currently being spent by the HET are spent in an effective and efficient manner?

I believe that that money is spent in an effective and efficient manner, and, indeed, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has paid great tribute to the HET for being both effective and independent. Many hundreds of cases that have been opened and dealt with by the HET have been resolved, so I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that it is inefficient in any way; it is doing a very important job very well.

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is still much work to be done before the needs of many of the innocent victims are met? A scurrilous rumour is going around that he intends to bin the report of the Consultative Group on the Past. Does he have any plans for making progress?

There is certainly absolutely no intention whatever to bin—as the hon. Gentleman puts it—the work of the Consultative Group on the Past. The work it has done has been very important. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State opened up a further consultation on its recommendations. That consultation is now completed. [Interruption.] We are considering the outcome of the 230 representations that were made as part of that consultation, and we will publish a summary of those responses in due course. [Interruption.]

Order. I hope that Members will have the courtesy to listen to the questions and then to the answers.

Local Government Reorganisation

8. What progress has been made on reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement. (296674)

The reorganisation programme is the responsibility of the Minister of Environment in Northern Ireland, who recently made a statement to the Assembly that plans to reduce the number of district councils from 26 to 11 are on track and that the new structures will be in place by May 2011.

I thank the Minister for that answer. As he will know, the new local councils are not yet in place, and I am grateful to him for confirming that the date of the local elections in Northern Ireland is May next year.

The hon. Lady will know that we delayed the elections that would have taken place this year to 2011. That is an absolutely final date so far as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are concerned, and I am pleased that the Minister of Environment has committed to put the necessary legislation in place so that that can happen.

On an issue that is the Minister’s responsibility, can he tell us whether he will bring forward legislation to allow councillors in the current set-up to retire without the need for costly unwanted by-elections as we come to the fag end of the current councils leading up to 2011?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point; we do not want a succession of by-elections between April next year and May 2011. I recently published a consultation document on a number of options to make sure that we deal with the issue and do not have all those by-elections to which he referred.


9. What recent assessment he has made of the progress of devolution of responsibility for criminal justice and policing to the Northern Ireland Assembly; and if he will make a statement. (296675)

It is for the parties in Northern Ireland to decide when to request transfer. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made a settlement of upwards of £800 million available to the parties if they reach agreement.

Is the Secretary of State satisfied that in no circumstances will intelligence-gathering be compromised under any possible devolution?

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our condolences to the families and friends of the five soldiers who died in Afghanistan yesterday—three soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and two soldiers from the Royal Military Police. The death of five brave soldiers in a single incident is a terrible and tragic loss, and I want to pay tribute, as the whole House will, to their professionalism, and to their courage and service. Our thoughts must also be with the five additional members of our armed forces who were seriously injured in the same incident yesterday. Evidence is now being assembled, but it appears that they were targeted because they were engaged in what our enemies fear most—they were mentoring and strengthening Afghan forces to make Afghanistan more secure. While we will step up and strengthen our security wherever we can, we will not stop doing what the Afghan Taliban fear most. The sacrifice of our military is great and our resolve must match it.

This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, and, in addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings today.

I am sure that everyone in this House will associate themselves with the comments made by my right hon. Friend, for those who have fallen in the line of duty in Afghanistan have done so not only on our behalf, but on behalf of the people of Afghanistan.

Many of my constituents have benefited from the Prime Minister’s abolition of prescription charges for cancer patients and many more still welcome his cast-iron guarantee to introduce one-week screening for suspected cancer patients, but we need to do more. What more will this Government do to ensure that we end the postcode lottery and to ensure that people, whatever their wealth and wherever they live, get the cancer medicines they deserve and need?

We will not only make promises to improve cancer care in the national health service, we will deliver on these promises. We will not only have a two-week maximum before people can see a consultant, we will move to a one-week maximum before people can actually have the diagnostic tests they need. However, I think that people should be warned about the national health service, because the shadow Health Secretary said yesterday—

Order. I do not think that we need to go into that today, Prime Minister. I call Mr. David Cameron.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the five brave servicemen who lost their lives, three of whom were from the Grenadier Guards and two of whom were from the Royal Military Police? We must honour their memories, we must care for their families and we must never forget their service. Our thoughts and prayers, as the Prime Minister rightly said, should be with those who, I understand, were badly wounded in what was clearly an horrific incident. Given that it apparently included an Afghan police officer, it does raise some very worrying questions. Can the Prime Minister tell us what inquiries will be made and when we can expect to know more about what happened in this very disturbing incident?

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s condolences to all those who are affected by this terrible and tragic incident. I did say, in my initial comments, that evidence is now being assembled on what happened in this terrible incident and that security will be stepped up, where that is necessary, but we cannot desist from the practice that is absolutely essential for the future of Afghanistan and the security of our country: training and mentoring the Afghan forces. That means that our troops will be working with the Afghan police and the Afghan army. Of course, we need to take all the necessary security measures, but it is an essential element of the whole coalition strategy that we train up the Afghan forces so that they themselves are able to take over the security of their country, and that we will continue to do. It is in line with the McChrystal report, and it is in line with the statements that have been made by President Obama, with NATO statements of the past few days and with what we have set out as our strategy for the future. So, yes, we will step up security, but we must not allow ourselves to give up what the Afghan Taliban fear most: that we will have a strong Afghan security force that is Afghan-based and is able to face them.

Clearly, as the Prime Minister says, the training and mentoring is absolutely essential. I have seen it in Afghanistan for myself and the work that is being done is incredibly impressive, but I think that the public will be concerned knowing as they do that British soldiers, including military police, are, even as we speak, living and working side by side with the Afghan national police across Helmand. They will want to know what immediate steps are being taken to ensure that we are safeguarding our forces after what happened yesterday.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have been working very closely with the Afghan army and the Afghan police for a number of years. We are stepping up the closeness of our operations. I myself visited a joint Afghan-British operation where both military police and the Army from Britain were working with Afghan soldiers and police forces. Obviously we will review the security arrangements for this, but I repeat that it is an essential element of our strategy that we are not seen as an occupying army but that we work with the Afghan army and are seen to be training the Afghan forces so that they can take over responsibility for the country. Although this has been a terrible and tragic incident, all our commanders on the ground will want to maintain the strategy, which is to work with the Afghan forces so that one day they can take responsibility for the security of their country.

Everyone will agree with what the Prime Minister said about working with the police, but clearly the attack raises questions about the infiltration of the Afghan police by criminals, drug dealers and militants. In evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Afghan police force was described as

“one of the most dysfunctional institutions in the country”,

with reports that the police were actively involved in criminal activities, including the drugs trade. We all agree on a more focused and targeted mission in Afghanistan, and at the heart of that mission, as the Prime Minister has just said, is training Afghans to take more responsibility for their security. Given that, what more can he say about the efforts to clean up an organisation—the Afghan national police—that is essential to the success of our strategy but still seems to be going so wrong?

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that while we are assembling evidence, the Taliban have claimed responsibility for this incident. It might be that the Taliban have used an Afghan police member or have infiltrated the Afghan police force, and that is what we have to look at. It is the Taliban who have claimed responsibility for this incident. There are about 98,000 police in Afghanistan, many of whom have been moved from one part of Afghanistan to another. There is an issue about their training, which we are addressing with a European effort to ensure that the police are properly trained. We will have to increase the number of police, but it is clear that we will have to increase the quality of police, too. I would not want to draw conclusions about all the Afghan police from one single incident, and what we know is that the Taliban have claimed responsibility for this.

Clearly what the Prime Minister says is right, although he has in the past said that the Afghan police are not seen as a fair part of the Afghan state and so progress needs to be made. Our armed forces will also need to have every confidence that stronger economic development and political effort will go in behind them. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is perhaps time, once again, to return to the idea of a single, strong co-ordinating figure—not just from the United Nations but someone who works across the coalition, including with the Afghan Government and NATO—to deliver this effort more effectively than anyone has done so far? Is it his understanding that that is being considered in Washington and should be part of the revised strategy that we hope that President Obama and his team will announce shortly?

Yes, we have been discussing that, and the possibility that we could have a co-ordinator who works more closely with the Afghan Government and with the allied forces. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that the first thing that we have to do is to ensure that this new Government, led by President Karzai, will adopt a set of policies that will deal with the problems that have worried not just the international community but people in Afghanistan. The first is that he should deal with corruption, and, whether he appoints an anti-corruption commission or commissioners, he will have to do far more than has been done in recent years. He will have to deal with the problem of the appointment of district and provincial governors as well as appointments at the centre. He will have to show that his new Cabinet is free of the stains of corruption. He has promised to do that and we will be looking for it in his inauguration address and in the measures that he wants to bring forward. The next, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, is to ensure economic and social improvement for the Afghan people, and that will need the co-ordination of allied efforts and those of the Afghan Government. Our efforts to move people from heroin to wheat production in Helmand have been successful, but the final element for the Afghan Government is the training of Afghan forces. The only way that we can look to a future where the numbers of our forces can come down while we still have security in Afghanistan is for an Afghan army, in particular, to be ready to take on the responsibility.

A day when we hear the news of such an appalling incident in Afghanistan is not one for obsessing about the internal workings of Parliament and the House of Commons, but is it not important that today we accept in full Sir Christopher Kelly’s report? Does the Prime Minister agree that, in accepting the report, it is important that we say that, from now and into the future, Members of Parliament should not vote on our pay, expenses, pensions, terms of service, resettlement or expenses packages? Is not that an essential part of restoring faith in Parliament and politics—and in this House of Commons, which all of us care about?

People want to know that the system will be different in future. It will be open, transparent and fair. It will not be managed by MPs themselves but by an independent body that will take responsibility for that. That is why it is right to refer the Kelly report for action and implementation not by ourselves but by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. That is the recommendation of the Kelly report, and that is what we should do. The vast majority of MPs are trying to do a decent job on behalf of their whole communities. At the same time, we must make sure that the public trust in the institution of Parliament is restored. That is why we should accept the Kelly recommendations and make sure that they are implemented as quickly as possible.

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what he thinks of the credibility of a party leader who has spent so much time and energy attacking him over the Lisbon treaty, only to reveal now that his cast-iron guarantee has turned out to be made of plywood?

Order. May I ask the Prime Minister to focus his response on the policy of the Government rather than that of the Opposition?

Yes, Mr. Speaker. The Government will work in concert with the other 26 countries of the European Union. We will work with them on the same policies to bring about economic recovery and to bring down unemployment in our country, and we will work for greater international co-ordination. We will not make iron-cast guarantees that are broken—[Interruption.]

May I first say that, after a shameful year for this Parliament, I agree that Sir Christopher Kelly’s report finally gives us the opportunity to start restoring people’s trust in the work of MPs here? That is why we must implement the report in full, without any further delay.

I want to add my expressions of sympathy and condolence to the families and friends of the three soldiers from the Grenadier Guards and the two from the Royal Military Police who tragically lost their lives yesterday afternoon, and of the five who were seriously injured. People will be shocked to the core by the fact that they have been working selflessly for the Afghan people and were killed by someone whom they thought that they could trust.

The truth is that without a legitimate and inclusive Government in Kabul and a new coherent international plan for Afghanistan, it will be increasingly difficult for our brave soldiers to do the job there that we are asking them to do. In the Prime Minister’s conversations with President Karzai, how much time is the right hon. Gentleman giving him to clean up his Government? What measures will he take if President Karzai fails to act?

President Karzai said yesterday at his press conference that he was going to operate a policy in which there would be a clean-up of politics in Afghanistan. We will now have to test him by his words. I think that the first thing that he can do, in his inauguration address, is to signal the changes that he will make in the way that he runs central Government, appoints governors, and deals with the problems with corruption—especially corruption relating to heroin and drugs. It is for President Karzai to show the international community that his Government can have credibility because of the actions that he is prepared to take.

I am grateful for those words, but the Prime Minister needs to be more precise. May I ask him again—[Interruption.] He needs to acknowledge first that our mission in Afghanistan is in trouble because we do not have a legitimate Government in Kabul, and we do not have a coherent international plan for Afghanistan. So I ask him again what exactly he will do if the legitimate and inclusive Government whom we so desperately need in Kabul do not emerge?

I have already made it clear that the additional troops that we are prepared to make available to Afghanistan are conditional on three things. The first is that the Afghan Government can show that they are willing to take the action necessary to gain the trust of the people of the country and for the security of the people of the country. The second thing is that the Americans and our coalition partners are prepared to engage in burden-sharing. The third thing is that President Karzai and his Government are prepared to make available Afghan forces to Helmand so that we can train Afghan forces for the future. We have made it very clear what our conditions are for the future. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will agree that these are necessary conditions. Of course, they include the improvement in governance, both local and national, in Afghanistan.

I pay tribute to the bravery of our soldiers. Is not the country entitled to know how long British military personnel will be in Afghanistan? Can this war be won?

I have said before that as we train Afghan security forces to get them to take over the task and the responsibilities of Afghanistan—I am saying what President Obama and the other leaders have said—we will be able gradually to bring our forces home. The measure of success in Afghanistan will be that British forces can come home because Afghan forces are able to deal with the security problems of the country themselves. That is what our strategy is about—to build up the Afghan army and security forces, to build up economic prosperity for the Afghan people, and to make sure that the structures of local as well as national Government reflect the will of the people.

Q2. The Government have today slashed the money available to pay for the freedom pass in London. What is the Prime Minister’s estimate of the council tax increase that will be needed to pay for this financial shortfall? (297504)

No Government have done more to provide help for transport, both in London and in the rest of the country. The hon. Gentleman should know that the national concessionary pensioner fare that we introduced is not just for London, but for the whole country. The Government have supported public transport, whether it be by rail or by road, and done more than any other Government for 50 years.

Q3. Why have countries like ours with good relations with Israel allowed the blockade on Gaza to continue for so long? It is denying Gazans the essentials for life, including reconstruction materials, and denying them a good living throughout this very cold winter. (297505)

I talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu a few days ago and I made it clear that not only the policy of Britain but the will of the international community is to make sure that supplies can enter Gaza so that the Palestinian people there can be sure that they will have a winter in which shortages do not exist. That is the will of the international community, it is what we are urging Israel to do, and while I believe that the Israelis are right to be worried about security and about terrorism, there is also a humanitarian duty to make sure that the people of Gaza are fed.

Q4. Island prisoners must be guarded when they need health care outside prison. By the end of this year, the local health budget will have been exceeded by more than £1 million. That could pay for an extra 15 nurses. Will the Prime Minister ensure that this inequity is corrected urgently? (297506)

I understand the hon. Gentleman asking for more resources for the health service in his area, but we are spending more on the national health service than ever before. Where issues arise from the treatment of prisoners, we will deal with them.

Q5. The Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, brought in the family tax credit, the working tax credit and pensioner tax credit. Can he give me, in the popular phrase, a cast-iron guarantee that this benefit will not be cut or means-tested, whereas the Conservatives would pull it to shreds? (297507)

We made promises that we would create a tax credit, and we have delivered on that promise. When we have made a commitment, we have actually done what we have said we will do; and, where we have made promises, we will continue to deliver on them, unlike some other people.

Q6. Is the Prime Minister aware that several police authorities, including Northumbria, are using Home Office guidance as a basis for cutting the pensions of police officers who have been forced to retire when they have been seriously injured on duty? On the principle that we should stand by those who risk their lives and face serious injury protecting us, whether in the armed forces or in the police, will he take a personal interest in the matter and investigate it? (297508)

I shall obviously look at the matter. When policemen or women retire, they receive their pension. I see no reason why their pension entitlement should be broken, if it is, indeed, an entitlement, and I shall look at what the right hon. Gentleman says.

Q7. Last Friday, the Youth Parliament met to debate in this Chamber, and the MYP for Milton Keynes, Sean Barnes, spoke strongly in favour of votes at 16, helping to persuade the Youth Parliament to make the issue its top campaigning priority. Will the Prime Minister respond to that clearly expressed demand by the democratically elected Youth Parliament and make sure that his Government implement a reduction in voting age and an extension of full democratic rights to 16-year-olds? (297509)

I think that bringing the Youth Parliament to this House was a tremendous innovation, and we should be very proud of it. While I do not always agree with your rulings, Mr. Speaker, your innovation in doing that was very important. I personally favour giving young people the vote at 16. It is a matter on which we should consult widely with the public, and then we should make a decision.

Q8. Colchester is the fastest growing borough in the country. Despite that, Tory-controlled Essex county council plans to shut two of the town’s seven secondary schools. It is now known that the council massaged the figures on projected pupil numbers. Does the Prime Minister therefore agree that the reorganisation proposals should be investigated by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator, particularly as Essex county council gave false information to the Department for Children, Schools and Families? (297510)

I shall look at the matter. Was it not the Leader of the Opposition who said, “If you want to know what a Conservative Government will look like, look at the Tory councils”? The Tory council in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency proves the point.

The Labour Government have made great strides in getting and keeping disabled people in work. What is my right hon. Friend’s reaction to the news that the Glencraft factory in my constituency could be forced out of business by the lack of support from the Scottish National party-Liberal council? If the factory closes, more than 30 disabled people in Aberdeen will lose their jobs.

When there was a Labour council, Glencraft got a huge amount of support from it. I have heard that the grants are being cut by the SNP-Liberal administration in the area. We will look at what we can do, but it is clearly important in a recession to help those people who are most in need of support, and that includes the disabled members of our community.

Q9. Does the Prime Minister agree that the Ministry of Defence should publish regular figures showing the number of soldiers who have lost limbs or suffered other life-changing injuries in Afghanistan? If he does, will he let me have those figures by the end of the week? (297511)

We give as much information as possible on what is happening in Afghanistan. We have 9,000 troops there, and we report to the House whenever there have been fatalities. I have reported today also that five soldiers have been seriously injured. Many of them will end up at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham for the best treatment that they could receive, and of course I am happy to give as much information as possible, consistent with what the Chief of the Defence Staff advises.

Q10. Derbyshire firm Baltex, which is based in my constituency, makes technical textiles and has twice received the Queen’s award for industry. Among its work, it reinforces hoses that go into new cars. The company tells me that sales of that particular product line have soared since the inception of the scrappage scheme. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the scrappage scheme in terms of jobs and sales UK-wide? (297512)

The car scrappage scheme, which was dismissed by so many people, has been a great success. So, too, has the help that we are giving to small businesses. Now 200,000 or more small businesses have received cash-flow help from the Treasury. We have taken action to help businesses to keep on employees and to train employees during this difficult recession. None of that would have been possible without the fiscal support that we were prepared to give; that is the difference between ourselves and the Conservative Opposition.

After 14 service personnel died aboard Nimrod XV230, the Ministry of Defence accepted responsibility and said that compensation would be “expedited”. Three years on, compensation has not been resolved. Do not these service families deserve better?

We have just had the final report. The Government, and all those responsible for the mistakes that were made in relation to Nimrod, have apologised. I shall look exactly at the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The report has now finalised the issues surrounding Nimrod, and I will write to him.

Q11. The hon. and gallant Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) and I may form an unlikely combination, but we are as one in endorsing the calls made by the Greenford branch of the Royal British Legion for reserved seats at Prime Minister’s Question Time for members of the armed forces. Would the Prime Minister agree to make representations to the Serjeant at Arms in order that we can achieve this? (297513)

We do want to recognise the commitment of our armed forces. Special arrangements are made in a number of different parts of our society. This is an interesting proposal that has been made on an all-party basis, and I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms and the Speaker will want to look at it. It seems to be something that we can support, but we will have to have consultations with all the different forces in the House.

Q12. Does the Prime Minister remember promising that Rosyth would not become a nuclear graveyard? Fifteen years later, not only are seven nuclear submarines still rotting in the dockyard, but the Prime Minister is considering the dockyard as a permanent location for those submarines. When will he live up to his promise? (297514)

No decision has been taken on this. I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that Rosyth dockyard is working as a result of the actions that we have taken. The aircraft carriers are coming to Rosyth to be built as a result of a decision that we have made. If other parties had been in power, there would be no Rosyth dockyard at all. We have taken the action that is necessary.

Q13. With quality child care being essential both to allow parents to work and for child development, and given the huge investment that the Government have made in the national child care strategy over the years, can my right hon. Friend help me to understand why some local councils, such as Kensington and Chelsea, are proposing to close their nursery schools? What can we do to block this retrograde step? (297516)

I hesitate to use the words “iron-cast guarantee”, but we have provided—[Interruption.] The words have become so devalued over the past few days. People will not forget that on Monday the Leader of the Opposition also made an iron-cast guarantee to the national health service; people will remember that as well. On nursery education, we are determined to ensure that three and four-year-olds have the best nursery education possible. We have increased the number of hours for nursery school, and we will continue to make sure that Sure Start provision is available in every constituency.

Q14. The Prime Minister promised in June that there would be a statement on the restoration of compensation for victims of pleural plaques. It is now November, so can he tell us why we have not yet received it? (297517)

We are meeting the Members of Parliament who have raised this issue with us, and we will come back to the House with a statement on exactly that.

Does the Prime Minister still have full confidence that the Afghan army and police will be prepared to lay down their own lives, and to slaughter those of their brother Afghans, in the service of foreign powers and in the service of a President who is corrupt and who has just rigged his own re-election?

The members of the Afghan army want a safe and secure Afghanistan, as do most of the people in Afghanistan. The members of the Afghan army who have been working with the British Army on Operation Panther’s Claw are members who were sent by President Karzai in increasing numbers to back up the work of the British forces. We want to work with the Afghan army and security service. We want to train them and mentor them, and I have heard our chiefs talking about the quality, in the main, of Afghan army members, which is something that we want to continue to increase and strengthen over the months to come.

As a former Science Minister myself, I am well aware that scientific advice can be politically inconvenient, but will the Prime Minister reassure the scientific community that when disagreements happen, he will engage in rational debate rather than shoot the messenger?

Scientific advice is valued by the Government in every area. On climate change, on foot and mouth, on dealing with swine flu and on nuclear matters as well as on drugs, we have very good scientists who have been advising us. From the drugs advisory committee, we accepted all but three of more than 30 recommendations. The issue was not the ability of the committee to give advice or the expertise of the members, it was that once Ministers have had to decide a position, after listening to advice on a wider range of social issues than simply the scientific advice, it does not make sense to send out mixed messages to the whole community about drugs. That is why the Home Secretary made his decision.

Speaker’s Statement

Before I call the Leader of the House, I have an announcement to make about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, it falls to me as Speaker to select a candidate for the chair of IPSA. The Act stipulates that the candidate must be recruited on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, and that the choice must be agreed by the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliament Standards Authority established under the Act.

Following an open competition carried out by an independent panel, I can today inform the House that I have selected, and the Committee has approved, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy as chair-designate of IPSA. His appointment must be confirmed by the House of Commons before he is formally appointed by the Queen. He will be paid a maximum of £100,000 a year. [Interruption.] Order. We are fortunate—[Interruption.] Order. We are fortunate to have such an eminent candidate for this important post. Sir Ian was chairman of the Healthcare Commission from its creation until 2009, and he is well known as the chairman of the public inquiry into paediatric cardiac surgery at Bristol Royal infirmary. He originally qualified as a lawyer, and he has a long and distinguished record of chairing and being a member of public bodies.

IPSA is charged with establishing a new and wholly independent system governing MPs’ allowances that can command the confidence of the public and of this House, and I am confident that Sir Ian will bring significant leadership skills to that task.

MPs’ Expenses and Allowances

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

Today the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under its chair Sir Christopher Kelly, has published its report setting out recommendations for a new framework for parliamentary allowances. People in this country need to be able to have full trust and confidence in their Parliament. What happened under the old allowance system has knocked that confidence.

We come into Parliament not to serve our own self-interest but to serve the public interest, but that is not the impression that the public have. We have all acknowledged that and have recognised that to ensure that we have a system in which everyone can have confidence, we need to take action. We have already made changes and the Kelly report is another important step on that path to restoring public confidence.

Before I turn to the Kelly report, I would like to remind the House of the action that we have already taken. To deal with the past, we are ensuring that any overpayments, including those which were simply a mistake, are paid back. That is the work that the Members Estimate Committee, which is chaired by you, Mr. Speaker, commissioned from Sir Thomas Legg. We have already taken action to change the current allowance system. In order to allow for the period while wholesale reform of our allowances is being considered, we introduced interim measures last May to pare back allowances as a result of a meeting of the party leaders and the Members Estimate Committee.

Amid the enormous attention paid to past problems, no one should overlook the fact that we have already decided to cap the monthly amount that can be claimed on mortgage or rent; to prevent a Member from changing the designation of their main or second home; to abolish the second home allowance for outer-London Members; and to stop claims for furniture, stop claims for cleaning and stop claims for gardening. Parliament has not sat back waiting for Kelly. The current allowance system is already very different from the one which allowed for the claims that have angered both the public and the House.

We have also recognised that for the future, it is no longer appropriate for us to set or administer our own allowance system. That is why in July we passed the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which sets up the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which will decide on our allowances and run the system, so just as we no longer vote on our own pay increases, we will not play a part in deciding or administering our allowances.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in March asked Sir Christopher Kelly, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to review the system of MPs allowances. I would like to thank Sir Christopher and his committee for the important work they have undertaken, and also to thank all those, including many hon. Members, who gave evidence to his committee. His report was published only this morning, but it is obviously right for the House to hear an early statement and to have the chance to air initial views.

MPs representing constituencies outside London need to be able to live in both their constituency and in Westminster because they need to work in both places. We do not want a Parliament where the only people who can come to Westminster as MPs are those who are wealthy enough to afford to pay for second homes out of their own pocket. Nor do we want to undermine the importance of MPs working in two places—the constituency and Westminster. Both are important. Nor do we want to have a situation where you cannot have your family with you if you are an MP. The Kelly report recognises that the allowances are there so that Parliament works properly on behalf of people in this country; the constituency link is sustained; Parliament is not barred to people on modest incomes; and so that Parliament is not barred to people with a young family. The Kelly report acknowledges this.

The Kelly report covers 138 pages and puts forward 60 recommendations. Among the key recommendations are two that I would like to draw to the attention of the House. First, on the recommendation that Members should not be able to claim for mortgage interest but only for rent or hotels, the committee recommends that those with existing mortgages should be able to continue to claim for one further Parliament. It recommends that Members should not be reimbursed for the employment of family members. Those who currently employ family members will be able to continue to do so for one further Parliament.

Turning to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the acting chief executive, Andrew MacDonald, has been appointed and has begun work, and you, Mr. Speaker, have just announced that Professor Sir Ian Kennedy has been selected as the new chair-designate of IPSA. I will put the motion to confirm his appointment to the House in the next few days. The other members of the authority will be appointed shortly.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has already started the work of setting up the new allowance regime for MPs. A new allowance regime will be in place to come into effect in the new Parliament, as recommended by Sir Christopher Kelly. In the light of this, the Government welcome and fully accept the Kelly report, which should be taken as a whole. It will be for IPSA to take it forward. This is the approach Kelly’s report itself recommends.

Until such time as IPSA takes the Kelly report forward, we will retain the current restricted allowance rules and every claim will of course be published and available for the public to see. Because we decided in July that in future we would play no part in deciding our allowance system and that it would be done independently, it does not make sense for us now to vote on the future shape of our allowance system. Instead that is the job of IPSA. After all, that is what we set it up to do. The Parliamentary Standards Act lays down that IPSA must consult MPs and others when drawing up the allowances regime. IPSA will set to work immediately and we expect, following such consultations, it to proceed as quickly as possible to put into effect the Kelly recommendations on allowances.

The events that lie behind the recommendations in the Kelly report have caused anger and dismay both in the public and among hon. Members. Our responsibility is to continue to take the action needed to sort the situation out and to make the changes that are necessary. The payback system is under way. The new restrictive allowance system will remain in place. Sir Christopher Kelly has recommended a new framework for our allowances, and IPSA is up and running and will set up the new allowance system and administer it. Sir Christopher Kelly’s report is another important step on the road to the public knowing that the allowance system has been put on to a proper independent footing and that we are getting on with our important task of serving our constituents and this country.

This House of Commons has yet to fully resolve this damaging episode. But with clear acknowledgement of the public anger, with the firm action already taken, with the Kelly report and the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, this will be resolved. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and may I take this opportunity to deplore the way in which Sir Christopher’s report was selectively leaked last week?

This report was commissioned because neither the House nor the Senior Salaries Review Body was able to come up with a sustainable solution to the vexed question of our allowances. On behalf of my party, I wish to thank Sir Christopher and his colleagues for producing a thorough report, whose conclusions we shall accept in full and take forward.

My brief questions fall into two parts—first on the process for implementing reform and, secondly, on the substance of some of the recommendations. On process, does the Leader of the House agree that now that the report has been published, our priority should be to ensure that these reforms are implemented as quickly as possible? Is not the position now very different to that when Sir Christopher began his review? Then he was going to produce the definitive response on which we would vote, and possibly resolve this by Christmas. But since June, as the Leader of the House said, the Parliamentary Standards Act has been put on the statute book, giving IPSA and not Kelly the final say on our allowances. So today’s report is not the end of the process—that rests with IPSA, which is not yet constituted. Does she agree that it is important, therefore, that the consultation on Sir Christopher’s report and the consultation that IPSA is obliged to carry out should happen at the same time? Does that not mean that IPSA should be up and running as soon as possible, taking Kelly as its text, and if we move quickly, might IPSA come to its conclusions on the Kelly report by February? Under that scenario, can she confirm that the interim arrangements might run until the new IPSA regime kicks in, possibly at the beginning of the next Parliament? Related to that, does she recognise that the continued uncertainty of the timetable for establishing IPSA is causing anxiety for many staff at the Department of Resources, who have to keep the show on the road without knowing their future? Finally, on process, does the Leader of the House recognise that some of the recommendations will require primary legislation, and when does she plan to introduce that?

Turning to the substance of the recommendations, I declare an interest in the employment of relatives. I believe that there is insufficient appreciation of the demanding jobs that all staff do, often at antisocial hours, and many colleagues on both sides of the House, and indeed their constituents, will attest to the invaluable service that family members can, and do, provide, as was confirmed by Sir Christopher this morning. However, does the right hon. and learned Lady accept, as I do, that in a modern Parliament the current arrangements no longer carry public confidence? Does she agree that we need to accept Sir Christopher’s recommendations while considering closely his proposed transitional period to ensure that the House does not fall foul of employment law?

On communications, we welcome Sir Christopher’s endorsement of our proposal to scrap the communications allowance, and I welcome what he said on MPs who retain outside interests. I also welcome the recommendation to enable IPSA to look at pay, pensions and allowances, enabling the full spectrum of MPs’ remuneration to be considered in the round. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it was the fragmented approach of the past that is partly to blame for the mess that we are in today?

On accommodation, again we support Sir Christopher’s recommendations. The public have lost confidence in the current regime, and it has to change. As Sir Christopher says, IPSA will need to look closely at the proposals in the report. There are legitimate concerns with aspects of it, particularly the rules surrounding those who are expected to get back to their constituencies at night. Does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that Sir Christopher’s proposals on rent will need to be monitored by IPSA to ensure that the overall package is not more expensive than it is now? Does his package meet the Prime Minister’s test on reducing the cost to the taxpayer?

Finally, the issue before us has dogged the House for the past 12 months. The public are waiting for action. Sir Christopher provides the basis for an enduring settlement that is fair to the taxpayer and Members of the House—existing and potential—who need the resources to do the job properly without relying on private means. Is it not now paramount that we make urgent progress in what remains of this Parliament, so that we can return to our core tasks of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and fighting for our constituents, and so that we can bequeath to our successors in the next Parliament the opportunity of a fresh start?

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for his comments, and I agree with him in deploring the leak.

The right hon. Gentleman raised the point about getting on as quickly as possible with the implementation of the Kelly report, and he is right of course that when Sir Christopher Kelly started his work, the idea was that he would produce a report and that it would come back to the House to be implemented. After he started his work, we decided to set up IPSA, to which his report will now go for implementation. I confirm to the House that IPSA is already up and running. We expect it, of course, to take Kelly as its text, and the current interim regime of allowances will continue and subsist until such time as the whole regime is taken over by IPSA.

On the question about proposals for changes in the legislation on the structure of IPSA, obviously if a new Act of Parliament is brought forward and a new authority set up, it would start its work and Parliament can keep the legislative framework under review. However, I do not think that we should be addressing the question of legislating to change the IPSA structure. The important thing is for it to be getting on with its work.

The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the important thing is not to take the proposals piecemeal and for the House not to pick out any one proposal, but that we should simply send the whole package to IPSA. However, he commented on the employment of relatives and accommodation. It is right to recognise, as Sir Christopher Kelly did, that a great deal of hard work is done by the spouses employed by Members of Parliament, which is much valued by constituents. Sir Christopher’s proposal for a change in the system should absolutely not cause a cloud to hang over the heads of those who have done, and continue to do, good work in the public interest, and of course IPSA will not want to fall foul of employment law.

On accommodation, it is of course right that IPSA will need to look at the detailed implementation issues that will arise in moving from mortgages to rents or hotels. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we will need to look at how IPSA gets it right. It will of course need to keep an eye on cost, and cost will depend on implementation.

Sir Christopher Kelly deserves our congratulations and thanks. The report is comprehensive and thorough. There will of course be issues of detailed implementation, but does the Leader of the House agree that we would not expect IPSA to disregard any part of what Sir Christopher calls

“a package, not…a menu of options”?

Should not those colleagues who have expressed difficulties with some parts of the report recognise that we have a unique and privileged position—a position that we apply for every four or five years? The terms of that contract have changed. Those who do not like it have a choice as to whether they reapply.

The Leader of the House has rightly pointed out what has been done recently. It is only fair also to set out the criticism in Sir Christopher’s report of what he describes as

“a series of piecemeal attempts at reform, some of which were announced while we were deliberating. These attempts have, at best, lacked coherence.”

We have made some progress, but we should recognise that criticism.

Some of the recommendations cannot be implemented without changes in either Standing Orders or primary legislation. Despite what the Leader of the House said in response to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), can she assure me that those will be considered as a matter of urgency?

It is clear that IPSA will deal with the detailed arrangements. Nobody doubts that, but may I renew the call for an opportunity for all right hon. and hon. Members—not just the lucky few who catch your eye this afternoon, Mr. Speaker—not to vote or amend the recommendations, but to debate them? When I called for such a debate last week, the Leader of the House said that

“the hon. Gentleman should make up his mind: does he really think it right that this House should pick over the question of our allowances when we have already decided to make that the responsibility of an independent authority? He cannot be on both sides of the argument”.—[Official Report, 29 October 2009; Vol. 498, c. 446.]

I am clear: Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals should be implemented in full without equivocation. In the light of her widely reported comments over the weekend, can she say the same, or is she trying, for whatever reason, to be on both sides?

After a disastrous and shaming year for Parliament, Sir Christopher Kelly has taken us back to where we should have been in the beginning when he says:

“Members of Parliament have the right to be reimbursed for unavoidable costs where they are incurred wholly, exclusively, and necessarily in the performance of their parliamentary duties, but not otherwise.”

Is that not precisely correct?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the report should be seen as a package, not a menu of options, as Sir Christopher Kelly recommends. I also agree that Sir Christopher Kelly himself acknowledges the progress that the House has already made to improve the system, but nonetheless says that taking a piecemeal approach has meant that this progress has lacked coherence. That is why it is important that the Christopher Kelly proposals go to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority as a whole, rather than being dealt with piecemeal.

Obviously the further issues that Sir Christopher Kelly deals with—for example, the structure of the Standards and Privileges Committee and various structural issues to do with IPSA, which are not to do with the allowances regime package, which needs to be dealt with as a whole—are ones that we will need to consider.

On allowances, we should all be on the side of ensuring that the House can do its job. It will help the House to be able to do its job when Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals go to IPSA. It is not a question of our returning to the work that we need to do; the truth is that we have never stopped scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and doing the work of the House. We need to return to a situation in which the public have confidence that that is the case.

On a day when we mourn the loss of five of our servicemen, with many others seriously wounded, does that not put into perspective the question of allowances in our time? Is it not a fact that Sir Christopher Kelly is trying to end not just one year of frustration about allowances, but 30 years in which they have bedevilled the House? May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to Sir Christopher Kelly’s suggestion that IPSA and the Senior Salaries Review Body look at the pay structures of Members of Parliament, so that in the longer term we can marry pay structures with allowances in such a way that the dreadful allowances system is abolished for all time and we can get back to discussing Afghanistan, the middle east, violence in Northern Ireland, the peace process, Iran and all the other issues, including the economy? Those are the matters that should occupy the House’s attention.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: that is the paramount role of the House. We should be dealing with issues of concern to our constituents and the country as a whole, as well as international issues, not spending a huge amount of time dealing with our allowances, important though they are to enable us to discharge our obligations on behalf of our constituents.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will administer our pay and pensions, which will be decided by the Senior Salaries Review Body. We have already decided not to vote on our pay in future. Sir Christopher Kelly suggests that perhaps that role too should be co-ordinated with the responsibility of IPSA, which is certainly something that we can consider for the future. However, the fundamental point is that we will no longer be voting on our allowances, just as we already no longer vote on our pay.

First, may I welcome the publication of Sir Christopher’s report and the statement by the Leader of the House? I very much approve of the approach that she is taking to this matter. If any parliamentary procedures are required to implement what she laid out in her statement, she can be assured that my colleagues will be happy to support her.

As the fundamental systemic problem has arisen from the fact that Members of Parliament have been setting both their pay and conditions, and the standards of their expenses and allowances, it would be entirely wrong for Members of Parliament to attempt in any way to unpick Sir Christopher’s report. In that context, will the Leader of the House ensure that there will be Government support for all of Sir Christopher’s recommendations?

There was one issue on which Sir Christopher did not feel it appropriate to make a comment—namely the pay, expenses and allowances of Members who do not take their seats in this House. In the new circumstances, will the Leader of the House ensure that the House has the opportunity to vote on that issue?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s comments and the support that he has given to the efforts that the House has taken as a whole to sort the situation out. He is right to recognise that, fundamentally, the problems have arisen because we have attempted self-regulation. Even with the best will in the world, the public do not have confidence that we should regulate our own affairs in that respect any more.

I know that there is discussion about the situation in Northern Ireland. That will have to be a discussion across all the parties, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will be engaged in it.

My right hon. and learned Friend should know that the majority of people throughout the country would endorse her remarks, as well as those of the Kelly report, about family members of MPs, whose work and dedication has been very much in the interests of the taxpayer and our constituents. In that context, does she recognise that those employees have rights too? Will she ensure that their particular circumstances are drawn to the attention of the new standards authority, so that it can look properly at what the employment package involves for those who now face uncertainty about their employment prospects?

Under the Parliamentary Standards Act, that issue will be the responsibility of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which will of course have to comply with and respect employment rights. I should like to draw the attention of the House to what Sir Christopher Kelly said about family members who work for Members of Parliament. He said:

“Despite the publicity that a small number of cases have received, the Committee has no evidence of abuse occurring on a significant scale through the employment of family members. On the contrary, the Committee has heard evidence that many MPs’ family members work hard and offer good value for money for taxpayers”.

If the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is to be truly independent, is it not important that it regards Kelly as its agenda, and not its prescription? Before the authority considers these matters, would it not be right for the House to have a “take note” debate on Kelly?

No, I do not think that we should have a “take note” debate. It might be possible in the future to keep under consideration whether there should be a further debate, but I do not think that we want to get into a situation where we have a vote on the different aspects of Kelly. We have had an opportunity for Members to try to catch the Speaker’s eye today. If there is a need for further discussions about this, we will have to consider that. The fact of the matter is that we are trying to move away from the House’s preoccupation with our own allowances. Many hon. Members—more than 80, I think; myself included—gave evidence to the Kelly inquiry, and he drew up his recommendations and report with that in mind. The matter will now go to IPSA, which, under the Act, has the responsibility to consult Members of this House as well as others.

It has been the habit of a lifetime for us to spend a lot of time in the House debating our pay. We have now broken ourselves of that habit, and it was important that we did so. It has also been the habit of a lifetime for us to discuss our allowances, but we know that, every time we do that, we adopt a piecemeal approach and it causes dismay among our constituents, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Sir Stuart Bell) said, are asking why we are not discussing their jobs and their prospects. We have now set this independent system up, and that is how the matter is to be taken forward. I do not rule out the prospect of a debate in the future, but I hope that—in so far as it is in my power to do so—I may rule out the idea that the House will take Kelly and have a series of votes on all the different bits of it. That would be very undesirable.

We have all made a speech saying that we want nothing to do with the setting of our own pay and allowances, and that we would like those things to be determined by an independent body. When that independent body comes along and determines them, we will logically have no alternative but to accept that. If we do so, that and the other changes that we are making will finally give us a realistic chance of digging ourselves out of the dreadful mess into which the House has got itself.

I very much welcome the Kelly recommendations—moving Westminster, as they do, towards the higher standard now operating in the Scottish Parliament. At the all-party talks on these issues, much hope was invested by everyone in all the parties that IPSA would deal with pay, allowances and expenses, so it must surely be for IPSA to take the Kelly report forward, and not for MPs to cherry-pick what they like from what they do not like.

Indeed. When we set up IPSA, and when we were discussing the Parliamentary Standards Act, our imperative was expeditiously to set up an authority with the specific remit of dealing with parliamentary allowances. The Justice Secretary, who took the legislation through the House of Commons, acknowledged at the time that, once IPSA was up and running, it might be able to take on a further remit—for example, that of pay. We are already safeguarded to some extent on pay, however, in that we have already decided not to vote on it. That matter could become statutorily embodied in IPSA in the future, but the most important thing is that the whole Kelly package on allowances falls to be considered by the authority and implemented for the next Parliament.

Does Kelly say anything about the generous pay-offs to MPs who leave, then subsequently rejoin, the Government?

There have already been changes in that, so that when a Minister leaves and subsequently rejoins the Government, the payment that they received on leaving is abated proportionately. That has therefore already been dealt with, which I am sure will meet with his approval.

I would like to thank the Leader of the House for her statement today, and also for her comments before today’s statement. In relation to what Sir Christopher has said about the employment of spouses, was she surprised by his recommendation? In particular, was she surprised that, on page 58, he is in fact encouraging wife-swapping?

Sir Christopher Kelly sets out his argument in full in relation to the employment of those working for Members of Parliament. He takes up a debate that was already running strongly in the public domain, and it is not a question of our being surprised. This is a question of the whole package going to IPSA.

Does the Leader of the House recognise that, while many of us say that we must fully accept the Kelly recommendations, not all of us believe that they are as comprehensive or thorough as some have said? Indeed, they will invite the creation of some new anomalies and discrepancies that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will certainly have to address. Does she recognise that some of us are concerned that five years is too long a period for last orders in respect of certain classes of claims for certain classes of MP? There is a serious risk that the next Parliament will end up being a Parliament of double standards, because different standards will apply to the claims and expenses of different MPs. That is a very bad precedent for a legislative assembly to set.

I do not think that it is unusual, when changing from an old system to a new one, to have transitional arrangements, when hon. Members—or anyone else—have already entered into arrangements. The transitional arrangements should therefore apply. There is nothing unusual about that, and I think that people will understand it.

The Leader of the House said in her statement that the House of Commons had to “fully resolve this damaging episode”, but does she agree that it cannot be fully resolved until the issue of flipping homes for the avoidance of capital gains tax has been investigated?

The avoidance of capital gains tax is a matter for the Revenue and Customs; it is its responsibility. As for the designation between main and second homes, that has already been addressed at the meeting, chaired by the Speaker, that was attended by all the party leaders, the Members Estimate Committee and the Chair of the Committee on Members’ Allowances. At that meeting, it was agreed—and subsequently taken through by the Members Estimate Committee and put into effect—that there was to be no change in designation between a main and second home. Since May, there has been no possibility of that change being made. Even before then, if a proper, accurate description was not given to the Revenue about a second home, that would be a matter for the Revenue to look into so that it could deal with the tax issues.

In joining hon. Members in thanking Sir Christopher and his colleagues, may I ask the Leader of the House please to reconsider her answer to the question on a “take note” debate? There are various issues that many people would like to discuss. Two that I can think of are, first, whether allowances could be set for a Parliament and not changed each year, as the report has recommended, and, secondly, whether Sir Christopher and his colleagues have given sufficient attention to the needs of MPs who have young children, because it seems to me that their lives might not be quite so easy under his recommendations as they should be.

I will listen to, and reflect on, what hon. Members say about wanting a debate, but we all need to ask what the purpose of such a debate would be. We have all agreed that, if it was a “take note” debate, there would be no vote on it. Would its purpose be for hon. Members to make comments in the Chamber to IPSA, to enable it to understand hon. Members’ position in the way that they want? If that is the purpose, that can be done either on the Floor of the House in a debate or by writing to IPSA. Bearing in mind the point we are at now, we must reflect quite carefully: we have had the Kelly report and IPSA is going to do its work. We should perhaps try to work according to an element of self-denying ordinance—as soon as I say it, I realise it might be beyond our ability—whereby having legislated for an independent authority, we actually allow it to get on with its work.

Food Labelling (Nutrition and Health)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require simple, uniform nutritional labelling on the front of packaged foods; and for connected purposes.

A very broad coalition of support for action is forming, following the extensive research commissioned by the Food Standards Agency and published earlier this year, which found that consumers were confused by the various different labelling formats on the front of packaging and wanted a single simplified system. The labelling approach found to be easiest for customers to understand is a combination of traffic light colours, high, medium, low text and percentage guideline daily amount—GDA—information. The FSA is now formally consulting stakeholders on its findings.

A wide range of retailers have already acted in response to consumer demand for simple at-a-glance information to help busy people to choose to be healthy. The Co-op, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Budgens and Londis, Booths and Boots are all using traffic light labelling on their products. The Co-op says:

“The health and wellbeing of our customers is important to us, which is why we use traffic lights as a way to convey information and help customers to make choices about the food that they eat”.

ASDA and Marks & Spencer use a combination system. ASDA says:

“An overwhelming majority of our shoppers have told us this is the style of labelling they want to see, so that’s exactly what we’re going to give them”.

Marks & Spencer said:

“We aim to provide our customers with clear information—any details you might want or need to be able to make an informed choice about what you’re eating”.

An increasing number of manufacturers are using traffic lights in response to customer demand for simple information. It is very clear from their public statements about labelling that they see a benefit in the marketplace from listening and responding to customers’ requirements.

The traffic light system came under fire from some sources when it was first being considered because of fears that it would mislead customers rather than allow them to distinguish between products, but as the system matures, many manufacturers are using clear, simple labelling to address the fat, sugar and salt content of their food, knowing that customers are finding it easy to make a choice based on quantifiable and easily comparable information.

There is also a clear awareness that customers want to be able to control the contents of what they eat, and that giving them the information is essential to allow them to do that. If retailers want customers to buy their goods, they have to give customers what they want. McCain, for example, has redesigned its packaging to include both the FSA traffic light and the GDA, as recently recommended, saying:

“Product reformation... means that most of our products are green and amber. McCain Rustic Oven chips have four green lights and have attracted younger users to the category.”

The company is working to ensure that its products meet customers’ needs. Sainsbury’s uses the multiple traffic lights as a tool for redevelopment of its products, with whole categories reformulated to reduce the number of red traffic lights on the front of packs—giving customers what customers want. Marks & Spencer are promoting its improvements to its recipes with banners across the shops, announcing on its website that

“in the past two years we’ve removed over 400 tonnes of salt from our food.”

It is saying that because that is what its customers want.

Yo Sushi, East Midlands Trains, National Express, Virgin Trains and are all using the FSA traffic light labelling system. The news might look good for customers, with such a wide range of suppliers responding to the need for a simple front-of-package labelling, but, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before customers—busy people, shopping in a busy environment—can make quick decisions about what is best for them.

The Which? “Hungry for change” healthier choices progress report 2009 comments that

“the retailers and manufacturers who are already using the traffic light scheme have reported that it is having a positive impact, both in terms of enabling consumers to make more informed choices, but also by encouraging reformulation of recipes to produce more products with fewer reds, increasing the range of healthier food products on offer to consumers.”

It continues:

“It is positive that a lot of products now carry nutrition information on front-of-pack as well as back-of-pack, and that many retailers and manufacturers are using the FSA’s multiple traffic light labelling scheme. However, many are still not using the scheme, including two of the major retailers… and some of the main manufacturers despite research showing that it is the best approach. Until there is a consistent UK-wide scheme used across all products based on what works best, there will continue to be confusion”.

It is really crucial that we get this right.

Experts reckon that about a quarter of all cancer deaths are caused by unhealthy diets and obesity. Strokes could drop by 13 per cent. if people reduced their daily salt intake by 3 grams. Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for more than 200,000 deaths every year. Poor diets contribute significantly to the onset of heart disease, with diets that are high in fat, salt and sugar and low in fruit and vegetables accounting for 30 per cent. of all coronary heart disease deaths.

The British Heart Foundation has a very good example that supports the necessity to provide dietary information at point of sale. It reports that the snacks most often found in vending machines in leisure centres have an average caloric content of 203; it would take a seven-year-old 88 minutes of swimming in the leisure centre pool to burn off that many calories. It has been estimated that 20,000 premature deaths each year could be avoided by reducing daily salt intake to 6 grams; 3,500 more by reduction of fat in foods; and a further 3,500 by reduction of sugar to the recommended guideline daily amounts. So it is not surprising that people want to be in control of what they eat.

Over the summer, I carried out an extensive consultation with my constituents on the issue of front-of-package labelling and what they wanted to see. Overwhelmingly, people wanted simple at-a-glance information that was standard across all manufacturers so that they could choose easily between products—wherever and whatever they were buying.

The FSA has identified the single simple system that is best understood by consumers and it has some really heavyweight backers. The British Medical Association says that

“improved consistent labelling will help customers buy healthy food and will help them follow their doctor’s advice”.

The British Heart Foundation supports the FSA’s approach to front-of-package signpost labelling as it offers instant help to customers at the point of sale. The British Dietetic Association says that

“it is important that one clear front-of-pack scheme is adopted so that manufacturers can enable consumers to make choices with confidence.”

Diabetes UK says that

“it is vital that people with diabetes and those seeking to reduce the risk of developing the condition get information about foods to help make the right choices about what to eat. Providing information in different formats is likely to be a little better than giving no information at all, so it’s really important that the food industry is consistent.”

The National Heart Forum says:

“We know that consumers want a single authoritative nutritional labelling scheme they can rely on, whatever brand and wherever they shop”.

The Royal College of General Practitioners

“strongly supports this easily understandable and usable tool to identify which foods constitute healthy choices”.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the UK Public Health Association, the National Consumer Council, Netmums, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, the Stroke Association and Which?, together with huge numbers of our constituents, want simple uniform nutritional labelling on the front of packaged foods.

We in the House should do everything in our power to make it happen.

Question put and agreed to.


That Helen Southworth, Shona McIsaac, Mrs. Janet Dean, Joan Walley, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Christine Russell, Mr. Mike Hall, Ms Sally Keeble, Charlotte Atkins, Mr. Kevin Barron, Ann Coffey and Derek Twigg present the Bill.

Helen Southworth accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 158).

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

[Relevant documents: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, Session 2007-08, on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, HC 551-I and–II, and the Government response, Cm 7690. Tenth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2007-08, on Constitutional Renewal: Draft Bill and White Paper, HC 499, and the Government response, Cm 7688. The letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Justice dated 26 October 2009.]

[2nd Allotted Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]

Clause 33

Time limit for human rights actions against Northern Ireland Ministers etc

I beg to move amendment 90, page 16, line 28, leave out lines 28 to 30 and insert—

‘(2F) In subsection (2D) “rule” has the same meaning as it has in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”.’.

I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following: Government amendment 91.

Government new clause 43—Time limit for human rights actions against Scottish Ministers etc.

May I say what a pleasure it is be here, Sir Michael, and to speak to amendments 90 and 91 and new clause 43 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary?

Clause 33 deals with human rights claims brought against Northern Ireland Ministers and Departments. Clause 34 deals with claims brought against Welsh Ministers. The original clauses 33 and 34 define the rules that could impose a stricter limit of less than a year by reference to section 7(9) of the Human Rights Act 1998. However, after further discussion with the devolved Administrations and further consideration of the issue, we now think that it would be better to adopt a different approach to the definition and to link the meaning of “rule” more directly to section 7(5). That will make it clear that the rules under which a case can be brought will be identical as between the two regimes, and there is a direct reference to the specific provision in the Human Rights Act that gives rise to the time limit.

We have therefore tabled amendments 90 and 91 to clauses 33 and 34 to provide that “rule” should have the same meaning as is given to the same word in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act, thereby providing a link with the rules, which, for the purpose of that section, also impose a stricter time limit, and ensuring that the relevant time limits under the Human Rights Act and the devolution settlements keep pace with each other.

New clause 43 deals with human rights claims brought against Scottish Ministers. I will now explain why that did not form part of the Bill. As Members will be aware, the provision arises out of the consequences of the House of Lords judgment in the Somerville case, which were more pressing in Scotland as Scottish Ministers are responsible for prisons—unlike Ministers in other devolved Administrations. Unlike other jurisdictions in the UK, there is no time limit in judicial review proceedings to act as an alternative, shorter, time limit to the one year. The Somerville case prompted a large number of claims concerning the segregation of prisoners in Scotland, so it was important to achieve clarity on the matter as rapidly as possible.

As part of the agreement reached, after full discussion, with the Scottish Executive, an order was approved by this Parliament before the recess under section 30(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 to provide the Scottish Parliament with the competence to amend the Scotland Act to insert a one-year time bar for claims against Scottish Ministers. That was subject to the same power to extend the time limit in the interests of fairness and to any rule that might impose a shorter time limit. It was agreed that once the Scottish Parliament had amended the Scotland Act, the provisions of that legislation would be remade in UK legislation and the previous position on legislative competence would be restored to provide for a consistent approach across the United Kingdom.

When the order under section 30 of the Scotland Act was debated, there was cross-party agreement that that was a necessary measure. The views of the Calman commission were formally sought in advance, and it agreed with our approach. It should also be noted that the section 30(2) order, which was the first piece of the legislative solution, was passed unopposed in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments. Emergency legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament, but it did not receive Royal Assent until 23 July, after the Bill had been introduced. It therefore was not possible to include provision for Scotland on the Bill’s introduction.

New clause 43 imports the provision made in the Act of the Scottish Parliament, which inserted a one-year time limit to convention-based claims brought against Scottish Ministers under the Scotland Act. It also extends that provision to such claims brought anywhere in the United Kingdom, ensuring that the protection afforded in all three clauses is United Kingdom-wide. As in the amended clauses 33 and 34, the time limit is subject to a power available to the courts to extend it on equitable grounds, and it is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in the proceedings in question. As in clauses 33 and 34, the Scottish amendment provides that that “rule” should have the same meaning as is given to the same word in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act.

The amendment dealing with claims against Scottish Ministers will, in line with the terms of the agreement made with Scottish Ministers, preserve the effect of the provisions of the Act of the Scottish Parliament, but repeal that Act and the provision that gave the Scottish Parliament the power to make it, thereby restoring the previous position on legislative competence and maintaining a consistent approach across the United Kingdom.

The amendments are part of an important package of measures to bring actions against the devolved Administrations under the devolution Acts broadly in line with the time limit set out in the Human Rights Act. I hope therefore that the Committee will accept amendments 90 and 91 and new clause 43.

I support Government new clause 43 and hope that this is the end of a protracted and difficult saga for Scottish Ministers in respect of human rights legislation.

The Minister’s account of the history of the saga is right: it is based on the House of Lords judgment back in 2007, commonly referred to as the Somerville case, which meant that there was no one-year time bar for human rights claims against Scottish Ministers under the Scotland Act. The judgment resulted in a number of claims for compensation and legal fees against Scottish Ministers, who were frustrated that they could not legislate to reverse the position, given that the Scotland Act was reserved to this House.

The Scottish public faced the prospect of millions upon millions of pounds going into the pockets of Scottish criminals and convicts instead of into front-line services and improving the Scottish prison stock. The judgment would probably have meant that 20,000 prisoners previously thought to have been time-barred would have been eligible to claim under the anomaly. Therefore, it was important to put the matter right.

Unfortunately, progress was not as speedy as the Minister suggests: it took many lengthy negotiations and protracted conversations before we got to the happy stage where we could get the legislation through. The Minister is again right that an order was passed in the House that allowed the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the Scotland Act. As soon as that was decreed, the Scottish Parliament moved quickly to enact emergency legislation.

The order passed in this House enabled the Scottish Parliament to pass amendments to the Scotland Act to introduce a bar of one year or less. Will the hon. Gentleman advise the Committee on whether the Scottish Parliament has in fact legislated for a bar of one year, or for a bar of less than a year?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In fact, the House passed an order through delegated legislation that allowed the Scottish Parliament, under section 100 of the Scotland Act, competence to legislate on the issue. Following that, the Scottish Parliament enacted emergency legislation, which amended the Scotland Act by imposing a one-year ban. As the Minister has said, on 23 July the legislation received Royal Assent as the Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009. Under the Act, the one-year time limit will apply to all proceedings raised on or after 2 November this year. The amendment supersedes all current legislation passed by both the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, and it has parity across the United Kingdom.

I also welcome the other Government amendments, which will introduce parity across all the devolved institutions throughout the United Kingdom. My only hope is that, now that we have reached the happy stage at which everything seems to have been resolved, we shall see an end to this whole sorry saga.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that this is an immensely complex legal issue? Does he also recognise that both sides, the Scottish Government and Whitehall, have gone to great trouble to try to reach a consensus? These things are not always quick and easy, but we have moved with all due speed.

May I remind the hon. Gentleman that all Executives are sometimes subject to delays? As I speak, we have still not received from the Scottish Government a crucial document—the legislative consent motion—which we have been expecting. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that delays on all sides are inevitable in this process?

Perhaps I have been a little less generous than I should have been. Of course I understand that a protracted process has been necessary to take us to our present position. Nevertheless, this has been going on since devolution started back in 1999. It has been going on for a long, long time, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility to suggest that things might have been done a little more quickly.

We accept that there are problems with the legislative consent motion, but I know that my colleagues in the Scottish Government are trying to deal with them. Perhaps, again, I have been a little unfair to the Minister. I think that we are all grateful for the fact that the matter has now been resolved, and I am aware of his involvement in its resolution. I know that there have been lengthy, fruitful and productive discussions with our Scottish Government colleagues. I am glad that, regardless of the history, the background and the pain and grief that have been suffered, we have reached the happy stage at which a solution has been found, and in that respect I am happy with the amendment.

I do not intend to oppose the amendments and new clause. I entirely understand the route by which they have been arrived at. It is good news that, albeit following a bit of delay, an agreement has been reached between the Scottish Parliament and the Government in fairly short order. However, I want to enter a few words of caution.

The decision of the House of Lords in Somerville etc. v. Scottish Ministers correctly stated that there were two alternative statutory routes for the vindication of convention rights in Scotland, the Human Rights Act and the Scotland Act, and that there was a discrepancy between the two. That discrepancy has now been dealt with.

My first concern is whether there may yet be any challenge to the compatibility of the new provision in the Scotland Act with convention rights. I suspect that there will not be, but it is a possibility none the less. My second concern is that the arguments that may have been used to add weight to the claim for compatibility between the two statutory routes are based on some fairly crude assessments of the potential liability under human rights legislation in respect of prisons in Scotland. I do not believe that the liability that was described was a real liability, and it worries me that far too often criticism of human rights legislation is couched in terms of the claims that might be made rather than the outcome of cases that are actually heard. There is, I think, an important distinction between the two.

The hon. Gentleman has made an extremely important point about human rights legislation. I agree that we must be very careful about demonising the impact and consequences of such legislation. The facts are often entirely different from the way in which they are portrayed in the media, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing that to our attention. The mischief in this case, however, was caused not so much by the size of the potential liability as by its uncertainty. All Administrations need certainty and clarity. If there is a mischief in regard to which people have a legitimate claim against the state, it is important for that mischief to be identified and dealt with as quickly as possible, rather than being left uncertain for long periods. The Human Rights Act provides a clearly specified time limit, as indeed does judicial review. Those times are relatively short in comparison with the apparently lengthy processes that were opened up by Somerville.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has made a valuable point.

And I am grateful to the Minister for his intervention. Such arguments often go without adequate rebuttal, but those of us with an interest in ensuring that human rights are properly upheld in this country believe that there is a huge mythology that it right for us occasionally to address and, where appropriate, argue against. Having looked at some of publicity surrounding the case and some of the claims made in support of the need for compatibility, I am not sure whether I entirely recognise the contingencies being described. Perhaps I should be more explicit. I am concerned about whether the retrospectivity in the new arrangements will find favour if challenged under human rights legislation. That aside, however, I think it sensible for there to be a clear co-ordination between the two statutory routes, and I see no reason not to support the amendments and new clause.

I welcome the Government’s approach to the introduction of time limits for human rights action against Northern Ireland, Welsh and Scottish Ministers. I will not rehearse all the arguments, but I think that this is a sensible provision, and, as the Minister will know, it has been welcomed by the Northern Ireland Executive. Although the Somerville judgment did not deal with claims under the legislation governing the devolved arrangements in Northern Ireland—or, indeed, legislation relating to Wales—the problems that arose in Scotland could arise there.

We also welcome these provisions. I welcome the provisions already in the Bill, and I was pleased to see that, albeit belatedly, the Government had tabled the new clause. I do not blame the Minister for the delay; I appreciate what he said about the complexity of the issue, and I agree that it is not surprising that it has taken some time to present measures to deal with it.

I must tell the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) once again—I am making a habit of this, and I shall have to be careful about it—that he was absolutely right in all that he said. The potential cost to the taxpayer—and the actual cost so far—of the mistake that was made in allowing an anomaly to arise have been considerable, but let us hope that that flow of taxpayers’ money will now be stemmed.

I am still concerned about one thing, however. I do not know whether the Minister will be able to answer my question, and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire may wish to intervene It appears that there is now a different time limit for the bringing of an action where there is potential delictual liability—or, indeed, an action in a personal injury case—to that for bringing an action under human rights legislation.

The following situation could therefore arise under the terms of the Bill. Somebody who has been injured would have a right to bring a case under human rights legislation on which there would be a time limit of one year, but they would also have a right to bring a normal personal injury case or a case under the normal Scots law of delict—which is when someone has had an injury caused to them by someone else—and that would have a normal time limit of three years, or in some cases six or seven years. A person could therefore bring an action under the normal law of delict but by the time they discovered they were not going to succeed in that action it would be too late to bring an action under human rights legislation. The opposite situation could also arise: they might bring forward a human rights case and then discover that they had run out of time under the normal law of delict or personal injury law. I am taking a long time to explain this in order for the Minister to have a chance to consider the matter.

I just want to see if I can set the hon. Lady’s mind at rest on this. This measure affects all convention-based claims, not other claims; the Scottish law of delict, for example, is a matter for Scots law. This relates to convention-based claims, which is why this House is dealing with it; it is a matter of UK law and our compatibility with the convention.

I thank the Minister for that answer, which is perfectly in order, and I appreciate that that is as far as he can go in discussing this Bill and his responsibilities. I am merely putting down a marker that there could be a further anomaly here which somebody somewhere within the Scottish or UK Governments might wish to look at before an injustice occurs as a result of it—let me put it no more strongly than that. I am glad that the Minister has taken the point on board, and I am sure his colleagues will look into it. As the Minister has said, this matter is complex and addressing it has taken quite some time, and I do not blame him for that. Not for the first time, however, these mistakes and injustices have arisen because of the way in which devolution has been implemented and as a result of matters not having been properly thought through in advance.

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady in the middle of her flow, but she is straying into very dangerous territory and I want to help her protect herself from herself. May I remind her that this came about as a result of a judgment in the House of Lords? Courts sometimes interpret laws in ways that parliamentarians wish they had not, but that is a crucial part of the separation of powers in this country. It is a crucial protection for the people of this country that sometimes courts take decisions that are awkward or difficult for Governments and politicians of all classes, and when they do so, we have to respond, which is precisely what we are doing. This is not a result of a flaw in the legislation; it is a result of an interpretation of the courts. This happens, and it will go on happening regardless of what the hon. Lady may think.

I am grateful for the Minister’s protection, and I fully appreciate, and agree with, what he says about decisions taken by the courts as, of course, I also support the doctrine of the separation of powers. Let me explain what is of concern to me, however. I acknowledge that the Minister had nothing to do with the discussions a decade ago on the legislation that became the Scotland Act 1998 and other devolution measures, but those of us who were sitting on the Conservative Benches warned time and again that these anomalies would arise. In this case, it has cost the taxpayer several million pounds. Let us hope that further anomalies do not arise as a result of devolution not having been properly thought through in these areas. We warned about this a decade ago, and I am still warning now.

The hon. Lady was articulating a powerful point before she was interrupted in full flow by the Minister. She is entirely correct that this is all to do with an anomaly. The Somerville case was successful because it identified that anomaly and was able to progress and make a case on the basis of flawed work in respect of the Scotland Act. Like me, the hon. Lady spends many hours in Delegated Legislation Committees trying to clear up some of the mess caused by that Act, so it is disingenuous to try to suggest that it was a perfect document.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with my point. Like me, he spends many hours in Delegated Legislation Committees correcting the anomalies of the devolution legislation, and I and many of my colleagues—and many of his colleagues, and also many of the Minister’s colleagues—spent weeks and months in this Chamber raising these matters when we dealt with the Scotland Act. I am merely saying that we were right then and the Government were too complacent.

I shall be brief, as I do not want to protract proceedings unduly. I am sure the whole House has noted that a curious alliance and amity is developing between the two parties that opposed devolution, and that did so for completely different reasons, in reliving those old arguments. Most of the people of the United Kingdom, including most of the people in Scotland, think devolution has been a great success. It is just worth the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire reflecting on the fact that the House of Lords decided on Somerville by the narrowest of majorities—by three to two. Therefore, the suggestion that this was somehow inherent in the legislation is manifestly nonsense.

The Minister shows great faith in his Government, but neither the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire nor I share it. The Minister is right that there is an alliance of sorts; it is an alliance of those who care about the Scottish legal system and the protection of Scots law and its principles. I have not said anything different from what I said when we discussed these matters and the Scotland Act was passed a decade ago; I have not changed my position at all. I have always argued that the United Kingdom can work perfectly well and properly with different legal systems, as it has done for centuries.

I declare an interest: I am a Scots lawyer by profession. Because of that and the fact that I am also conversant in the practice of English law, I have always argued that it is perfectly possible to have a United Kingdom that functions properly for all its citizens throughout our entire country under different legal systems—indeed, as the Minister has said, under a devolved system, which we now have and which we all want to work properly. In order for it to work properly, however, it is incumbent on the Government to consider the pitfalls that might lie ahead and to consider possible anomalies that might arise, and to protect the legal system, the people, the principles of justice and, indeed, the taxpayer from the consequences of those anomalies.

I appreciate that the Minister has today brought forward the right legislation to do that. I still agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that it is unfortunate that it has taken so long, but at least we have it today and we welcome it.

Amendment 90 agreed to.

Clause 33, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 34

Time limit for human rights actions against Welsh Ministers etc

Amendment made: 91, page 17, line 12, leave out lines 12 to 14 and insert—

‘(3C) In subsection (3A) “rule” has the same meaning as it has in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”.’.— (Mr. Wills.)

Clause 34, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 43

Time limit for human rights actions against Scottish Ministers etc

‘(1) In section 100 of the Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) the following (as inserted by the Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009 (asp 11)) are omitted—

(a) subsections (3A) to (3E);

(b) in subsection (4), the words “Subject to subsection (3D),”.

(2) The Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009 (asp 11) is repealed.

(3) Omit paragraph 4A of Schedule 4 to the Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46).

(4) The Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of Schedule 4) Order 2009 is revoked.

(5) Subsections (1) to (4) above do not apply to any proceedings brought before this section comes into force.

(6) After subsection (3) of section 100 of the Scotland Act 1998 (c. 46) insert—

“(3A) Subsection (3B) applies to any proceedings brought by virtue of this Act against the Scottish Ministers or a member of the Scottish Executive in a court or tribunal on the ground that an act of the Scottish Ministers or a member of the Scottish Executive is incompatible with the Convention rights.

(3B) Proceedings to which this subsection applies must be brought before the end of—

(a) the period of one year beginning with the date on which the act complained of took place, or

(b) such longer period as the court or tribunal considers equitable having regard to all the circumstances,

but that is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in relation to the procedure in question.

(3C) Subsection (3B) does not apply to proceedings brought by the Lord Advocate, the Advocate General, the Attorney General, the Attorney General for Northern Ireland or the Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

(3D) In subsections (3A) and (3B) “act” does not include the making of any legislation but it does include any other act or failure to act (including a failure to make legislation).

(3E) In subsection (3B) “rule” has the same meaning as it has in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act 1998.”

(7) In subsection (4) of that section at the beginning insert “Subject to subsection (3D),”.

(8) Subsections (6) and (7) above apply to any proceedings brought after this section comes into force (including proceedings in respect of an act taking place before this section comes into force).’.— (Mr. Wills.)

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 35

Judicial appointments etc

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I wish to ask the Minister exactly what the words “pared down” mean. That was the Government’s description of what they have done to the proposals included in the draft Bill in this respect. In this instance, “pared down” appears to mean omitted in their entirety, rather than anything that could satisfactorily be described using that term. I am curious to learn exactly why the Government have thought again.

In 2007, a clear commitment was given that the Government would surrender some Executive power, and judicial appointments was one of the 12 areas explicitly mentioned. The 2008 draft Bill made some explicit proposals in this area: it proposed that the Lord Chancellor’s role be reduced by removing his power to reject or require reconsideration of selections made by the Judicial Appointments Commission for all judicial offices below the High Court; it proposed to remove the requirements for the Lord Chief Justice to consult the Lord Chancellor or obtain his agreement before exercising functions such as deploying judiciary to certain leadership posts; it proposed to place new duties on the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the JAC and the selection panels to ensure that selection processes are fair, transparent, efficient, flexible, proportionate and effective and to have regard to the JAC’s need to act independently; and it proposed to place new duties on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to encourage diversity in judicial appointments.

The only thing that has remained from that list is the removal of the Prime Minister from the process, but as I suspect the Prime Minister has never actively intervened in this process, other than on the express advice of the Lord Chancellor, that is, in effect, a cosmetic change. The only argument that I could advance that the Government may have for dropping these changes is the opposition from the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, which expressed a view that to introduce reforms at this stage might create an imbalance in the proposals contained in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

That might be an argument, were it not for the fact that the Government have already rejected the Joint Committee’s views. The Government response to the Committee’s report clearly stated that they do

“not accept the overall view of the Committee”.

However, the response also stated that the Government

“remains committed to nearly all the proposals seen by the Joint Committee”.

That commitment seems to have lasted barely a year before this paring down, which is, in effect, the removal of most of the changes to the Executive power of the Government in this area of judicial appointments. I simply seek an explanation from the Government as to why they have changed their view. Why have they decided not to proceed with that which they promised?

I will come to the burden of what the hon. Gentleman has been saying, but it may help the Committee if I briefly set out the purpose of this clause and, if I may, discuss the substance of it, which is schedule 5.

Order. The Minister is correct. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) was moving his discussion from the clause into the schedule. As long as we all understand that we are discussing the two things at the same time, that is fine.

Thank you very much, Sir Michael. If the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome wants to ask individual questions on schedule 5, I hope that he will intervene on me as we go.

I just want to be clear, Sir Michael, whether we are dealing with schedule 5 stand part at the same time, in which case I have one other point to make. I am in your hands, Sir.

It was the hon. Gentleman who led us astray in the first place by moving his discussion from the clause into the schedule. He could deal with any other points he has to make through interventions on the Minister, but in fact we are dealing with the two things together, if he is happy with that.

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could make the final point that he wishes to make and the Minister could reply after that.

Thank you for getting us out of a procedural conundrum in respect of exactly who should be speaking, Sir Michael. The point that I wish to raise on schedule 5—this may assist the Minister in collecting his thoughts—relates to the Government’s response on the order-making power to exempt positions from the JAC’s remit. In response to the Joint Committee’s report, the Government said:

“The Government remains convinced that the most appropriate way to resolve this issue is an order making power”,

but they went on to say that the Government

“no longer believes this Bill is the appropriate vehicle for such a change, and in the meantime will explore further non-statutory options available.”

I would like to know precisely what that means. What are those “non-statutory options” that the Minister is exploring? When does he expect to bring forward more detailed proposals? What will they encompass?

Schedule 5 removes magistrates from the JAC’s remit by deleting them from schedule 14 to the 2005 Act. Presumably there is a good reason for that. The 2008 draft Bill also proposed an extremely broad order-making power allowing the Lord Chancellor to amend any part of schedule 14 to the 2005 Act to exempt candidates to certain offices from being selected by the JAC. I think that procedure was intended to allow redeployment, rather than appointment, and to facilitate matters within the field of judicial appointments. It would have been a sweeping power and, as such, it was not entirely surprising that it met with opposition from the JAC itself, the Lord Chief Justice, the House of Lords Constitution Committee and the Joint Committee. Although that proposal has now been dropped, we face the threat or promise of arriving at the same result by alternative means. We are entitled to know from the Minister exactly what those alternative means are and what the Government’s intention is.

As has been discussed, clause 35 gives effect to schedule 5, which makes amendments relating to judicial appointments and other matters. I hope that my brief run through what the schedule contains will help the Committee in deciding on this matter.

What the Government have sought to do throughout their constitutional reform agenda is to recalibrate to ensure that we have the right relationships between the citizen, the Executive, the legislature—Parliament—and the judiciary. So, for example, the founding of a Supreme Court was a profound constitutional change, which symbolises and entrenches legally, the separation of powers between the state and the judiciary. However, there are also smaller steps that we must take to achieve the goals of this reform programme, and although they are smaller, they are not necessarily nugatory.

Clause 35, and the provisions in schedule 5, to which it gives effect, both help to limit the role of the Executive and reinforce the independence of the judiciary. They also make a number of other minor changes to streamline the judicial appointments process. The Government remain committed to nearly all the proposals seen by the Joint Committee on the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill and we will continue to review and develop them separately from the forthcoming Bill, along with its judicial partners.

The Minister has mentioned that some minor amendments to this Bill are being proposed to try to streamline the judicial appointments process. Can he tell the Committee what assessment is being made of the effect that these streamlining measures will have on attempts to reduce the unfortunate delay that there still is in the appointment of judges, which is causing such problems in our court system?

I am happy to set out our thinking. It would give me a little more help in addressing the hon. Gentleman’s particular concerns if he could be a little more specific about the problems to which he is referring. If he could list them, I will be happy to address them.

As the Minister might recall, this was an issue that I raised with the Lord Chancellor on Second Reading. I have in fact written to him to set out specific examples of where there are some holes in the number of judges in certain circuits across the country. Clause 35 and schedule 5 will, on the face of it, reduce the time that the medical assessment of a potential candidate will take, but they do not set out in any practical terms how that will affect the time from application to appointment. Can the Minister give us some idea of how much of an effect that process will have?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and if he will bear with me, I shall come to that point as I proceed through all the advantages of the schedule. Obviously, if he has written to the Lord Chancellor, I am sure that he will receive a full and completely adequate reply in a timely fashion.

Paragraphs 2, 3, 4 and 9 of schedule 5 remove the Prime Minister from the appointment process of the president, deputy president and judges of the Supreme Court. Paragraph 2 amends section 26 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, with the effect that when presented with a candidate chosen by a selection commission recommendations for appointment will now be made by the Lord Chancellor instead of by the Prime Minister. Instead of notifying a selection to the Prime Minister, the Lord Chancellor is to make a recommendation for appointment. Paragraphs 3, 4 and 9 make various consequential amendments to the 2005 Act.

Although we accept that the Executive need to retain a limited role in the appointment of the justices of the Supreme Court, so that there is a direct line of accountability to Parliament for such appointments, the Government believe that, as with all other judicial appointments, the Lord Chancellor has the necessary authority to fulfil this role. Involving the Prime Minister in addition to the Lord Chancellor at a point twice removed from the work done by the independent selection commission that is convened to recommend appointments to the Lord Chancellor in the first place only serves to perpetuate an erroneous perception that the appointment process is not as independent from the Executive as it should be. For that reason, the Government believe that even though the Prime Minister’s role in recommending the final nomination to the Queen is a limited one, removing that role is very much in line with the Government’s long-standing reform agenda of reducing the role of the Executive, where appropriate, wherever possible.

Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the schedule transfer responsibility for obtaining medical assessments of selected candidates for judicial office from the Judicial Appointments Commission to the Lord Chancellor. That is supported by the commission because it sees the process of medical assessment as part of the final appointment process, rather than the initial selection process. In addition, there was consensus in consultation that this aspect of the appointment process should be quicker—and so there is general agreement with the burden of the appraisal made by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr. Timpson), which is that it has taken too long.

The hon. Gentleman is nodding. There is general agreement that this needs to be quicker, and the proposal helps to streamline the process by reinforcing an administrative move to a system of self-certification rather than a medical assessment by a doctor in every case—only in those cases where the self-certification reveals a cause for concern will candidates be asked to undergo a medical assessment. The proposal should speed up and streamline the process. No systems are perfect and obviously if further problems remain, we will address them. I hope that provides some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman.

The Joint Committee was in favour of the proposal, but questioned whether it could be achieved without the need for legislation. The Government view is that legislation is needed to provide absolute clarity. Sections 96 and 97 of the 2005 Act provide for medical assessments of those who have been selected for appointments to be conducted by the Judicial Appointments Commission. Paragraph 5 of the schedule makes amendments to the provisions in section 96 of that Act relating to medical assessments. Sub-paragraph (3) adds new subsections (2A) and (2B) to section 96 to enable the Lord Chancellor to request a person who has been selected for appointment by the Judicial Appointments Commission to provide information about his or her physical or mental condition. The Lord Chancellor may specify a period in which the information has to be supplied.

Sub-paragraph (4) amends section 96(3). The amendment made to that section provides that the Lord Chancellor may also request a candidate to undergo a medical assessment and for a report of that assessment to be made available to the Lord Chancellor. The provisions replace section 96(3) under which the Lord Chancellor may direct the Judicial Appointments Commission to make arrangements for any assessment of the health of those who have been selected for appointment.

Sub-paragraph (5) modifies section 94(4) and sub-paragraph (6) inserts new subsections (4A) and (4B). These provide that the Lord Chancellor may, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, notify the Judicial Appointments Commission that he or she is not proceeding with an appointment if the circumstances specified in new subsection (4A) apply. These circumstances are if the candidate does not comply with a request to provide information under the new subsection (2B) or to undergo a medical assessment under proposed new subsection (3)(a), or if the Lord Chancellor is not satisfied on the basis of a medical report under proposed new subsection (3)(b) that it would be appropriate to proceed with the appointment.

Sub-paragraph (7) amends section 96(5) to make it clear that if a candidate is rejected, any other selection for the same appointment or recommendation is to be disregarded and that the candidate must not be selected again pursuant to that request for the same appointment or recommendation. Sub-paragraphs 8 and 9 are transitional provisions that ensure that the new procedures apply only to requests to undergo medical assessments made after the relevant provisions of the Bill have come into force.

Paragraph 6 is a consequential amendment in relation to Scotland and Northern Ireland. It ensures that where reference was made in section 97(1)(e) to the duty to consult the relevant head of judiciary under section 96(4)(a), the reference in section 97(1)(e) now refers to the duty to consult the relevant head of judiciary set out in section 96(4B).

Paragraphs 7 and 10 provide for the removal of magistrates from schedule 14 to the 2005 Act. Schedule 14 to that Act lists the offices that comprise the statutory recruitment and selection remit of the Judicial Appointments Commission. Magistrates were included in schedule 14 under the title of justices of the peace as it was originally intended that recruiting and selecting for the role should be a part of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s remit.

The current system has the considerable advantage of providing invaluable local input into the process of recruiting and selecting local people to deliver local justice. Advisory committees are composed of local magistrates and at least one third of local lay persons. This helps to ensure that the recruitment and selection of magistrates is firmly grounded in the communities in which they serve. I hope that the whole House will agree that that is a desirable outcome. Agreement has been reached between the Lord Chancellor, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Lord Chief Justice and the Magistrates’ Association that the Judicial Appointments Commission will not in future take responsibility for the recruitment and selection of magistrates.

Paragraph 10 of schedule 5 to the Bill removes magistrates from schedule 14 of the 2005 Act. The recruitment and selection function will therefore remain for the foreseeable future with local advisory committees, where it is performed effectively and with a high degree of independence by dedicated volunteers drawn from among magistrates and members of the local community.

Paragraph 7 of schedule 5 amends section 118 of the 2005 Act to ensure that even though magistrates have been removed from schedule 14, they will remain within the scope of the disciplinary powers exercised by the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor. This could have been done by making an order under section 118, but in this instance the Government feel that primary legislation is the most efficient way to make the necessary changes. It most closely reflects the current arrangements, under which the disciplinary scheme applies to magistrates by means of primary legislation.

Paragraph 8 of schedule 5 clarifies that confidential information obtained during the appointment or disciplinary process can be shared with the police for specified purposes relating to the prevention or investigation of crime, including for the purposes of criminal proceedings. Current sections of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 covering the disclosure of confidential information do not explicitly allow such information to be provided. We do not consider the proposal to be controversial: it is considered that any indication that a criminal offence had been committed could be disclosed to the police without the need for an explicit gateway, but without a legislative change the Ministry of Justice could be left open to the possibility of litigation that would be costly in terms of both time and money. We therefore want to make it completely clear that confidential information could be disclosed to the police.

We are confident that sharing confidential information for the purpose of preventing a crime, or for the purposes of a criminal investigation or procedures, will be compatible with the principles of data protection. The Data Protection Act does not stand in the way of such disclosures, so they would either be compatible with data protection principles or fall under the exemption to the Act that relates to the prevention or detection of crime, or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders.

The proposal was raised in the White Paper, welcomed by the Joint Committee, and also supported by the JAC. It will bring the judicial appointments process into line with the process in other organisations.

Paragraph 1 of schedule 5 corrects a typographical error. I was perhaps harsh with the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Epping Forest (Mrs. Laing) for alleging that the Government had allowed an anomaly to creep into the devolution legislation. They were wrong about that, but I hold my hand up to the typographical error.

The error came about because the original section 21(4) was substituted by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which also inserted section 21(4A). The amendments came into force on 3 April 2006, and this has been the first legislative opportunity to correct the error. The correction is uncontroversial and has no adverse impact, but I apologise to the Committee for the fact that it was allowed to creep in in the way that it did.

I turn now to the question asked by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about why we dropped certain provisions. We did not drop them: the way that I would phrase it—and I hope that he will agree that this is an accurate reflection of what happened—is that we listened. We consulted extensively on this Bill, and we listened carefully to what hon. Members, the Joint Committee and other people said.

We took to heart what the Joint Committee said about making changes to a process that in effect has been in operation for only a short period. We remain committed to nearly all the proposals put to the Joint Committee, but we take the point that it might be sensible to allow the changes already in place to bed down before we decide exactly how to take them forward.

We will continue to develop the entire judicial appointments process in partnership with our judicial partners separately from the Bill. We recognise that there is more work to do, and I think that the judiciary agree. We do not regard this as a closed chapter, but merely as an onward step in the process.

I think that we can take it from what the Minister has said that, when the Government told the Joint Committee that they did not accept the recommendation, what they meant was that they did accept it and that they would remove the promises to remove certain areas of judicial appointments from Executive control. Are those promises are now shelved sine die, or does he have firm proposals to bring them back at an early date?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is using the very wide margin of appreciation afforded to Opposition Members to interpret what I said. That is not what I said: I said that we listened to the concerns and agreed that the right thing to do was to allow time to see how the proposals already in place bedded down.

I also said that we are committed to nearly all the proposals originally put forward. To that extent, we do not accept the Committee’s recommendation that we should not proceed with the changes. We think that they have merit, but also that we should allow more time to see precisely how we should take them forward.

The promises are not postponed sine die. The Government have shown that we are serious about constitutional reform in all areas. Many people consider that we have achieved a quite revolution in bringing about a programme of constitutional reform. I am completely confident that it will stand the test of time. We will continue with the reform programme; nothing is postponed sine die.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 35 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 36

Salary protection for members of tribunals

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I have a couple of very brief questions about clause 36. They also relate to Government new clause 23, which is a very similar provision relating to Northern Ireland. I therefore hope, Sir Michael, that it will not disturb our proceedings too greatly if we do not repeat these questions later.

First, why have the specific offices mentioned in the clause been chosen? Do any similar offices exist for which the Government have not felt it necessary to provide this protection?

Secondly, what is the position of the lay members of tribunals? Chairmen have salaried posts, but do lay members have the same protection? I was approached over the summer by a lay member of an employment tribunal who was extremely concerned that there appeared to be arbitrary changes in what he was expected to do as a tribunal member, the conditions under which he was expected to work and the remuneration that he could expect in terms of appropriate expenses. To what extent does the protection offered to what are quasi-judicial tribunal appointments extend to the lay members who sit alongside them? Lay members provide a very important resource to the country in helping to arbitrate sometimes extremely difficult issues.