House of Commons
Monday 18 January 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
Premier League 4 Sport
There are 20 premier league 4 sport partnerships, which have led to 240 clubs being set up in schools, with associations to 75 community hub clubs. Data on the number of young people who took part in a premier league 4 sport session during its first term will be available by the end of this month.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate the premier league 4 sport partnerships, but how do schools manage to connect with the programme? We have a sporting college in my constituency, but I wonder how readily schools and other organisations know how to start a partnership with that excellent scheme.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I know that he does a lot of work on sport in his constituency and that he has excellent sports colleges in his constituency. The idea behind the programme is that the premier league, with all the power of its branding, can work with schools to give youngsters tasters in some of the sports in which they would not normally be involved, including Olympic and Paralympic sports such as badminton, volleyball, table tennis and judo.
Around 1,400 responses have been received to the Department’s consultation on this subject.
I am sure that my hon. Friend would agree that product placement is needed. Indeed, there is cross-party support for product placement, which provides an important revenue stream to ensure that we can have political programmes in our regions. However, would he agree that we need a European standard, because at the moment, we have children watching films from America that are uncensored in any way for product placement?
Indeed. The hon. Gentleman wisely helps me along from the Opposition Front Bench. However, many of the consultation responses are about ensuring that we put in place the right safeguards to protect children, in both the programming and the product categories that we allow.
The British Medical Association has said of product placement:
“Studies show that children are particularly susceptible to embedded brand messages and these operate at a subconscious level.”
We still await the Government’s response to the review launched last November, but can the Minister clarify what safeguards have been considered in the event of the status quo being retained?
The consultation, which closed a couple of weeks ago, mainly concerned itself with the programme categories that might be excluded—children’s programming is already excluded under the European directive—but it also looked at whether we should include family entertainment or other programming that children might watch, even though it might not be aimed at them, and whether we should include product categories, such as alcohol or foods that are high in fat, sugar or salt.
Competitive Sports (Schools)
There has been a steady rise in the number of young people taking up competitive sport since 2003, thanks to the large investment in both schools sport in general and competitive sport in particular, so that, for example, 100 per cent. of primary schools and 98 per cent. of secondary schools held sports days in the past academic year.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, but notwithstanding his comments, a recent report by the British Heart Foundation found that more than 1.5 million children are either overweight or obese. Given that, how do the Government propose to deal with the fact that less than a fifth of pupils in years 3 to 13 regularly take part in active sport between schools?
That is not strictly the case. If the hon. Gentleman looks closely at the figures, instead of the rather tendentious coverage of them given by one or two newspapers, he will find that whereas only one in four children did at least two hours of high-quality PE and sport each week in 2002, more than 90 per cent. of children do so now. When it comes to competitive sport between schools, 69 per cent. of pupils were involved in competitive sports within schools, on top of their regular PE, and 44 per cent. of schools were involved in inter-school activities. Each of those figures is higher than the year before, and each figure for the year before was higher than the year before that. There has been a year-on-year increase. However, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that the way to get school and pupil activity up is by continuing to invest in this area, which is something that his party is not committed to doing.
Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to join me in congratulating Iqbal Singh Bola, a British gold medallist in taekwondo who has lived in Slough since he was born in 1989? He provides an inspiration for other young people in sport. Will my right hon. Friend urge communities to recognise the contribution that excellence and winning in sport can make to fostering aspiration among young people?
Yes, I gladly congratulate my hon. Friend’s constituent. She makes a good point, because she has named a sport mentioned by some who are critical of the broad range of sports and physical activities now offered to children in schools. Not only traditional sports but less traditional ones are being offered, which means that some children who would not otherwise have become physically active or involved in sport are now doing so, like her constituent.
We already have what I would call two schools Olympics. They are the UK School Games, which give elite athletes from our schools a chance to compete annually, and National School Sport week, which involves every school in the country competing. I do not know what would be new about the Conservatives’ idea except that they would have a major row with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games for copyright reasons if they tried to use the Olympics name.
Sport (Integrity and Reputation)
It is the responsibility of sport’s national governing bodies to run their sports in a way that protects their integrity and reputation. Government will assist where appropriate and where it is necessary to safeguard those involved, not least participants and spectators. Recent measures include setting up the anti-doping agency to tackle the traffic and supply of doping substances and commissioning an independent report on sports betting integrity.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but he will be aware of what effect internet gambling could have on sport in years to come. The Government have set up the Sports Betting Integrity Panel. When can we expect its report so that we can find out exactly what is going on and protect the integrity of sportsmen and women?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I know that he is keen on sport and the integrity of sportsmen and women. We are dealing with the issue in a particular way because we want to ensure that those people who participate in sport know the dangers of betting issues. I commissioned a report by Rick Parry, which I hope will be delivered soon. There are issues relating to the work of the Gambling Commission to be ironed out, but we expect the panel’s report very soon. I think that most sport is clean, but the panel will set about ensuring that people who participate know the rules and the penalties if they do not operate properly and that sports have the right rules for dealing with integrity issues.
Given that bookmakers are usually the victims when there is any such cheating in sport, and given that the Government are trying to extricate themselves from a levy on horse racing, does the Minister agree that it would be completely wrong to have a sports levy?
The hon. Gentleman has been involved with such issues for some time; indeed, as a member of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, he has taken evidence on them. There must be a fair return to sport, and I am keen to ensure that. I would prefer it to be through a voluntary arrangement, but we must ensure that where the Government are involved—he is right that we want to extricate ourselves from the levy, but that is proving more difficult than we thought it might—there needs to be a balance between racing and betting. I hope that both parties can work together.
The financial independence of the BBC helps guarantee its editorial independence and, until recently, has been respected by all parties. The Labour party will do all that it can to ensure that financial and editorial independence are maintained and defended.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I am grateful that he has put on record our strong support for the BBC’s independence, and I hope that he shares my concern that the constant threat to BBC funding from Opposition parties serves only to undermine the BBC’s editorial independence and creative output.
I agree entirely. It would be helpful if my Conservative opposite number would take this opportunity to clarify his party’s policies, as it is not at all clear whether the Conservatives support the licence fee or, as Greg Dyke does—he chairs their media group but has not yet reported, rather to our surprise—funding by taxation.
Although, as the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) rightly pointed out, the Conservatives threaten the independence of the BBC, does the Secretary of State not accept that he and his party are just as guilty? Does not top-slicing mean that the BBC will constantly have to look over its shoulder to ensure that it does not offend the Government of the day, for fear that the top-slicing will be made even bigger, as happened in Ireland, for example? How does top-slicing defend the independence of the BBC?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is nothing in the charter that obviates the use of a fraction of the licence fee to help to fund digital switchover, as we are already doing. What would threaten the independence of the BBC would be to fund it through general taxation, which at least some of the Conservatives seem to be proposing. I do not believe that the public would want that, because they value the independence of the BBC very highly, and they would be worried by the prospect of a taxation-funded BBC, given the liability of Governments to interfere, editorially and financially.
Television Licence Fee
I regularly receive representations on the licence fee, but, for the reasons that we have just been discussing, we believe that it is an important guarantee of the BBC’s independence, and that Governments should therefore respect the multi-annual nature of the license fee agreement.
Well, here is another representation. Forty-nine executives at the BBC earn more than the Prime Minister. That means that the licence fee payments of all the constituents of Ribble Valley and neighbouring Chorley go on their salaries alone. If that were happening in any other institution, the “Today” programme would have done a hatchet job on it by now. Can we have a freeze on the licence fee until Auntie sorts herself out?
The hon. Gentleman needs to speak to those on his own Front Bench. That is indeed what they advocated last year, but their position changed in October. It changed again in November, and it has now changed back to the original one—[Hon. Members: “What is your policy?”] Our policy is as I have stated. There has been consensus on both sides of the House for decades that an important guarantor of the BBC’s independence is that Governments do not interfere with or—as some in the hon. Gentleman’s party have advocated—tear up the multi-annual licence fee agreement. If we were to go down that road, we would be threatening the very independence of the BBC. That is an important matter for the British people, because they value the BBC’s independence, which would be threatened by his party’s policies.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in any assessment of the level of the licence fee, it is well worth taking into account the recent report by Deloitte, which observed that the licence fee generated £7.2 billion, which is twice its value in terms of the BBC’s support of the independent sector and the wider creative economy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We can all make criticisms of individual decisions that the BBC may or may not have taken, but the licence fee costs about the equivalent of a pint of beer a week. It costs considerably less than the licence fee for German television, which carries adverts. Anyone who has ever suffered German television will agree with me that the BBC is far better, and delivers far better value for money than many of its competitors abroad.
Since 1997, the national lottery has raised more than £3.3 billion for the heritage sector. The Heritage Lottery Fund spent almost £1 billion of lottery money in the last three years, equivalent to 26.2 per cent., 21.3 per cent. and 22.3 per cent. of total lottery income during those years.
That is all very well, but the Minister knows full well that, in 2008-09, the Heritage Lottery Fund distributed £88 million less than in 2005-06. One of the reasons for that, as she knows equally well, is that, consistently over the years, the Government have raided more than £3 billion to shore up their own pet projects. Is it not time, in the dying days of this Government, for them to support the Conservative policy of having a new national lottery independence Bill, which would stop the Government sticking their sticky fingers into lottery funds?
It may be “all very well”, but it is actually true that the percentage of the lottery fund that went to heritage during the three years that the hon. Gentleman asked about exceeds the percentage that the Conservatives would give under their proposals. The way in which we currently administer the lottery fund is in the interests of the country. Were the Conservative party’s proposals to be put in place, investments in community libraries and other good causes would go. Furthermore, the money that goes to heritage is only partly funded through the lottery fund. More than £660 million comes directly from my Department, and £130 million comes from the Big Lottery Fund. Under the Conservative party’s proposals, those amounts would be—
Does my right hon. Friend know that the university of Sunderland is exhibiting its glass in the Upper Waiting Hall? I hope that the ministerial team will visit the exhibition and congratulate the university on it. In what way is her Department supporting the brilliant work that is being done by universities such as Sunderland? It is internationally renowned and now, through the national lottery, has accepted responsibility for the National Glass Centre.
I will indeed to try to visit the exhibition by the university of Sunderland. Many of our universities have excellent museums, and I consider at regular intervals how they are to be funded and sustained to ensure that we maintain the excellence that many of those university museums promote.
As well as the consternation felt about the cut in the amount of lottery income going to heritage and at the absence of the draft Heritage Protection Bill, is the Minister aware of the consternation in the heritage sector at the original draft of planning policy statement 15, which the Royal Town Planning Institute called
“a charter for people who want to knock buildings down”?
Can she confirm that she is talking to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that the redraft offers historic buildings in this country the protection they need?
I am indeed in constant conversation with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government about their review of such planning guidance. I hope shortly to bring forward a statement—a cross-Government statement—about the importance of heritage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should try to reintroduce the lost Bill as soon as we possibly can, because it is an important Bill that would demonstrate our commitment to heritage. Until that comes about, however, I hope that my statement about the value of heritage and the work I do with colleagues across Government will reassure the heritage sector that we value its contributions.
As well as cutting the funding to heritage, does the Minister take note of the report of the Public Accounts Committee, which pointed out that the Department’s targets for broadening the audience were unrealistic, obsolete and set without clear evidence, and that free education visits to heritage sites had fallen by 20 per cent.? Is that not another damning indictment of her Department’s heritage policy?
At a recent speech, the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) quoted Harold Pinter as saying
“as important as what is said, is that which is left unsaid”.
I urge the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) to have regard to those words when he sets his questions. The PAC report was not about the heritage sector as a whole; it was about English Heritage. English Heritage contributes to the targets we set across the heritage sector as a whole. Those targets are important, because we want to see who participates and enjoys the vast array of heritage on offer in this country. We will continue with those targets, although we will have regard to the PAC recommendations on other matters that pertain to English Heritage alone.
A new remit for Channel 4 is being agreed as part of the Digital Economy Bill, which is currently in the other place. Its remit will be extended particularly to cover digital aspects, older children and young adults, as well as to the making and distribution of British films.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree with me that Channel 4 has made a magnificent contribution to public service broadcasting in this country for well over a quarter of a century? Will he take this opportunity to dismiss any advice to the contrary that he may be receiving and today rule out the privatisation of Channel 4?
I am very happy to agree that Channel 4 is overshadowed in its contribution to public service broadcasting only by the BBC. It is an outstanding institution—one that needs to continue to deliver public service in the public sector. The recent proposals by Policy Exchange, the Conservatives’ favourite think-tank, to privatise Channel 4 are, I agree with my hon. Friend, as absurd as their creative industries taskforce’s idea to get rid of the BBC licence fee.
Museums and Galleries (Admission)
The free admissions policy continues to be immensely successful. Visits to museums that previously charged have risen from 7.2 million when we first introduced the policy in 2001 to 16 million in 2008-09—an increase of 124 per cent. My Department, unlike the Conservative party, remains fully committed to maintaining free admission to all our national museums.
I totally agree with my right hon. Friend about the success of the policy of free admissions to galleries in London, but I would like a little of that generosity to flow out from London to support many of our regional galleries, particularly the national Fishing Heritage Centre in Grimsby, whose opening hours, I am sorry to say, the local Lib-Dem council is going to cut.
While I cannot account for the shameful actions of that Liberal Democrat council, I can assure my hon. Friend that there are museums outside London that also benefit from this policy, such as the national museums in Liverpool, which have had a 279 per cent. increase in visitor numbers, and the Manchester museum of science and industry, where there has been a 158 per cent. increase in attendance.
Like the Government, I am very happy to confirm that we fully support the policy of free admission to museums. Unlike the Government, however, we are prepared to be much more honest about the financial challenges ahead. Last week, the Secretary of State told the RSA that he was confident that he would be able to sustain funding for the arts and culture, yet at the same time he has cut funding for the Tate, the Science museum, the national museums of Liverpool, and the Wallace collection. So should the arts world believe what the Government say, or what they do?
First, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will allow me to draw attention to the apparent split in the Conservative party between the Front-Bench spokesperson and the Mayor of London, who consistently says publicly what some Opposition Front-Bench Members say privately about the policy of free admissions. May I also invite the hon. Gentleman to write to me with the details of these alleged cuts, because what I see from all the figures in front of me is that we have recently been able to find additional resources to enable the Tate to go forward with its further development, and that all other museums have enjoyed an increase in this comprehensive spending review?
I would be happy to do so, and also to send the Minister details of a leaked Treasury document saying that non-ring-fenced Departments would face funding cuts of 17 per cent. in order to meet Government spending requirements. We have announced policies to help the arts get through this difficult period, such as reforming the lottery, boosting philanthropy and cutting arts administration. Those are our policies; what are the Government’s?
The hon. Gentleman’s policies are akin simply to moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. Cutting the lottery fund from many of the very good causes to which it currently contributes in order to substitute for Government funding is no answer. Let me also say to him that we have yet to enter into discussions about the next comprehensive spending review, but he will be aware that we on this team secured a very good settlement last time, although there were cuts across Government. I have no doubt that we can in future persuade our colleagues about the importance of investment in arts and culture from the taxpayer, not through the lottery.
Holiday Lettings (Taxation)
I met my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in December to discuss the tourism industry’s concerns about the potential impact of the rule changes on the self-catering sector. I also helped to convene a meeting in December between representatives of the Tourism Alliance, the Financial Secretary and Treasury officials.
Well, I actually managed to speak to the Chancellor about this before Christmas in one of the Division Lobbies, when I told him how angry farmers in the north Yorkshire moors area are that some of their diversification projects have been holed below the waterline by these changes. If only 10 per cent. of the jobs in this sector go, that will amount to 2,400 jobs. Is it beyond the bounds of possibility to think of a way to give an exemption to genuine businesses, and not to throw the net around those private people who have holiday cottages, who were previously getting this exemption?
I would be delighted to hear from the hon. Gentleman if he has ideas as to how we can ensure that we implement this change, which is required because of European legislation, in a way that does not damage the particular sector that he mentions. I have been in constant discussion with people in the sector. They have put forward three proposals so far, none of which actually work—we have examined them in detail. If he or any other Conservative Member has any practical proposals to make that would enable us to meet our EU obligations and benefit the sector, I would be more than happy to listen to those and take them forward.
I am afraid that this is yet another example of tourism being pushed to the back of the queue by this Government. The tourism industry is right to ask, “What have this Government done for us?” The tourism budget has been slashed, the sea change funding has all but dried up, the responsibility for English tourism has been thrown into confusion by the introduction of regional development agencies, nothing has been done to harness the opportunities provided by the Olympics, and now there has been a raid by the Treasury on furnished holiday lets. So I ask the Minister: what have this Government done for tourism? The Romans can at least point to the aqueducts and the roads. Let us hear from her how the industry is going to be helped.
The Government invest some £2 billion in support of our tourism industry, and the Conservatives, with their plans to cut public spending before we are properly out of the recession, would damage it far more than we would.
May I give a few examples? This Government introduced free admissions to our museums. Eight out of 10 of the most popular destinations for visitors in the UK are those museums, so we supported the tourism industry by making our museums more attractive. This Government introduced the sea change programme, which has enabled us to invest, through heritage funding and in other ways, to bring back—[Interruption.] May I say to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), who is speaking from a sedentary position, that that programme is funded and has been funded? I look forward to a commitment from those on the Conservative Benches that they will continue to fund it as we intend to do.
Sports (Young People)
The latest figures from Sport England’s active people survey show that more than 31 per cent. of 16 to 24-year-olds regularly participate in sport—the definition used is three 30-minute moderate-intensity sessions per week. I am pleased to say that that continues the upward trend of sports participation among this age group since 2006, and reflects the good progress that we have made in growing grass-roots community sport over that time.
One way to encourage young people to continue in sport after they leave school is to showcase our best sport as widely as possible in the media. Therefore, does the Minister agree that it would be a major mistake if a decision were taken to remove the rugby league challenge cup competition from terrestrial television?
May I congratulate my hon. Friend on putting his question as he did? He will know that we are consulting on the listed system for broadcasting, but he makes a good point about rugby league. I know that that is his favourite sport; it sits alongside his beloved Liverpool football club. It is important that we ensure that people participate in sport and that we use role models in particular sports to encourage young people to take part.
Domestic Film Industry
The UK Film Council annually receives about £25 million of grant funding and £30 million of lottery funding, which it invests in supporting British film. The Government will continue to provide film tax relief; we provided £100 million-worth of tax credit last year. The proposed merger between the UK Film Council and the British Film Institute will create a single streamlined body that will deliver even more for UK audiences and for the film sector.
I thank the Minister for his reply. It is reassuring that the British film industry appears to be in a reasonably healthy state. What is the Department doing through other bodies to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to engage in art and drama and, thus, have the potential to become the stars of the future?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He is a great champion of such access for people from ordinary backgrounds in his constituency. He is right that British film is undergoing a bumper year, with three quarters of fantastic figures so far and fabulous figures expected tomorrow thanks to 10 years of the kind of investment that I have been talking about. Last week, I visited the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, which cannot be beaten in the world as an elite institution that is bending over backwards to draw in pupils from the broadest possible social base and to support them.
We have received a number of representations on public libraries as part of our modernisation review consultation exercise, including some comments on libraries as a statutory service. We will consider these responses in detail when the consultation closes on 26 January and publish a policy statement incorporating responses to the consultation in the spring.
Does the Minister agree that there is always a risk that libraries will end up as something of a Cinderella service? Does she also agree that for those who have listened to this afternoon’s exchanges in questions, the idea that the Government will be able to maintain exactly the same spending on her Department after the general election, whoever wins, and that that will simply continue in a steady state, is wholly unrealistic? Is it not time for a collective grown-up debate about how we are going to make savings and reduce the public deficit while causing the minimum danger and damage to public services—
Funding for libraries is actually a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, which funds libraries through the local government settlement and local government grants. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that libraries can become a Cinderella service in many local authority areas, and it was because of that danger that I instituted this review. I want to ensure that we get a library service that is fit for purpose in the 21st century and that can be afforded by local authorities on a firm footing.
Local News Services
We intend to secure the future of local and regional news through new regional news consortia, starting with pilots in Wales, Scotland and the Tyne Tees and Border region. Last week, the Government announced the successful bidders that will go through to the next stage of the process. We do not agree with those who appear to believe that the market alone can secure the future of high quality regional news, which is greatly valued by both the public and Members of this House.
The first thing that I would say to my hon. Friend is that local newspapers and local newspaper groups have warmly welcomed the Government’s proposals for the new regional news consortia. Many local newspaper groups are involved in bidding for some of the pilots to which I have just referred. I have some sympathy with his point about the impact of local government free sheets and their advertising on local newspapers. He might have noticed that we announced in December, just before Christmas, that we would continue to require local authorities to advertise in paid-for newspapers. The Department for Communities and Local Government is undertaking a review of the publicity code for local authorities, in which we have made our opinions quite clear.
My Department is responsible for a range of policies to support culture, media and sport, which, taken together, had their best year ever last year. They now account for 10 per cent. of the United Kingdom’s gross domestic product, which is the highest proportion for the creative sectors, broadly speaking, of any country in the world.
I agree that there has been an unacceptable delay in implementing one particular part of the Act, which is why we have taken action. Just two or three weeks ago, we put out to consultation the necessary drafts to ensure that we can implement at least part of the Act and so that libraries can start to collect books that are published online as well as hardback books. I accept the criticism and hope that the speedy action that I have taken will rectify that position.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman recognises that the work of the Met Office is much broader and more comprehensive than simply the service that it provides to the BBC, although that is an important service. The BBC is required under its charter to review such contracts in terms of value for money for the licence fee payer. I am sure the Met Office, which is probably the best and most respected meteorological office anywhere in the world, in spite of recent criticisms of its long-term forecast for the winter, will have a strong chance of maintaining that contract.
I take pleasure in congratulating the citizens of Halifax and the hon. Member who represents them on mounting such a successful campaign, which has kept that library open. I remind all local authorities that as they plan a comprehensive and efficient library service, it is imperative that they consult local people. Our policy statement on the future of libraries will, I hope, help us to keep libraries at the heart of every community throughout the country.
Without knowing the detail—I will look into it on behalf of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham)—I imagine that that was a commercial decision made by BT, which is a strong argument in favour of the Government’s policy of securing high quality next generation broadband for the whole of our country, including rural areas such as Norfolk, through a small fixed-line levy—a policy that is opposed by his party.
My hon. Friend is right. Large numbers of young people who are doing something that is illegal need to be educated and informed that that behaviour is not okay and that it is against the law. When the Bill comes from another place to this place, there will be specific provisions and procedures to explain to them gently that they cannot continue to break the law.
The voluntary sector in arts and particularly dance activities is hugely important. There are some 50,000 voluntary organisations, and nearly 10 million people participate in some way in voluntary organisations in the arts and culture sector, so it is vital that we do all that we can to maintain and grow that sector. Dance is crucial not only for what it does for individuals’ health, but because it is an innovative and creative art form. We have invested more than £5 million in a dance strategy for young people. I urge the hon. Gentleman—
Those hon. Members who were present for the Special Olympics in Leicester in 2009 will be aware that it leaves a lasting legacy, but what can Ministers do to ensure long-term support and funding for Special Olympics Great Britain so that not just Leicester but the rest of the country can benefit?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work for the Special Olympics in Leicester. He is quite right: sport should be available to everybody and be inclusive of everybody. We are working with other Departments, including the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions, to see what we can do to fund the Special Olympics in all its formats.
I understand those concerns, and I am talking to the commercial radio industry all the time about the matter. The essence of the answer to the question is what is called an electronic programme guide, in which smaller commercial stations, which stay on FM, will appear by name on the dial of digital sets. An FM ghetto will not, therefore, be created, and stations will be accessible to consumers in the same way.
Stoke-on-Trent city council has gone ahead with proposals to close down the city’s gymnastics centre and Tunstall swimming pool at a time when the Government are trying to get more people involved in sport. Will my hon. Friend see that his officials urgently consider whether funding can be made available with a joint, holistic approach, so that the inequalities in a place such as Stoke-on-Trent can be reversed and we can get more people, not fewer, to participate in sport?
Unlike the Opposition, we are committed to our spending review until 2011. We do not think that is it sensible, for economic reasons, to take money out of the economy now. We did not think that it was sensible last year, as the hon. Gentleman’s party advocated, and we do not think that it is sensible this year. I am pleased to say that our record support for arts and culture, which has helped this country’s creative sector become No. 1 in the world as a proportion of GDP, is a result of our investment; and I am confident that I can convince my Government colleagues that the very small amount of money that we spend in this country gives an absolutely fantastic return.
My hon. Friend is, for once, slightly wrong on the detail. The policy is that we move to digital in 2015, but not that analogue radio be switched off. Most big radio stations will move to digital, but smaller commercial and community radio stations will stay on FM and will be, as I have said, on the same dial as the big digital stations.
Is my hon. Friend aware that last summer Conservative-controlled Bradford city council excluded the wonderful Ilkley lido in my constituency from the free swimming initiative for young people and pensioners? Is he also aware that many of my constituents, having travelled from Keighley, were very disappointed to find that the lido was quite expensive?
I am concerned that the council in question signed up to that initiative for the over-60s and under-16s but excluded Ilkley. That was a big mistake, and the council should look at its swimming pool strategy. I shall work with my hon. Friend to try to put the situation right.
This morning, the Minister of State wrote to me about her unpopular decision to introduce car parking charges for the use of royal parks. Will she explain how the environmental objective of reducing the flow of traffic through those beautiful parks is helped by singling out a very small percentage of users—mainly local people—who go there specifically to walk?
Car park charges are being introduced in the two parks, so that there are car park charges in all the royal parks across the whole of the capital. If there is a charge, it can be said to act as a disincentive to the use of cars. Today, I will be going from the Chamber to a meeting with the leader of the hon. Gentleman’s local authority and other local authority leaders to discuss whether we can provide some sort of train to go across Richmond park, to make it easier for elderly people to enjoy all aspects of the park, right across the park.
The Minister for the Olympics was asked—
The £9.325 billion public sector funding package that I announced in March 2007 remains unchanged. The rigorous scrutiny includes significant savings—£390 million alone in 2008-09. I shall sacrifice the rest of my answer in the interests of pith.
The land values have certainly been reviewed. As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, negotiations are currently taking place between the Government, the Mayor and the board of the legacy company to determine on what terms and at what level debt should be reassigned.
Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there will be no further raids on lottery funds to sustain and keep up the budget for the Olympics?
Until 2012, the Olympics are a sixth good cause, as was the millennium in 2000. There will be no further take from the lottery, but the lottery is contributing in a very handsome way towards the creation of the Olympics, which will be one of the greatest events that people in the whole UK have ever known.
Around 250,000 Olympics devotees are desperate to volunteer in 2012, yet only 70,000 of them will be able to act as official volunteers. What steps will the right hon. Lady take to ensure that the existing budget provides meaningful and satisfying volunteering opportunities for the hundreds of thousands of sports fans who are not going to be part of the official volunteering team?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that thousands more people want to volunteer for the Olympics than there are specific opportunities in the Olympic park. We are looking across the UK to create what I hope will become the biggest participation and engagement programme ever. I also hope that one of the criteria that will attach to the selection of volunteers in the Olympic park will be experience of having volunteered in the community.
During a recent briefing, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games reported that one of its greatest operational challenges was Government Departments outside the Government Olympic Executive rowing back on their commitments in the current public expenditure round. Those Departments promised to deliver on those commitments at the time of the bid. Is the right hon. Lady in a position to tell us what action she has taken to prevent that, and can she place in the Library of the House a copy of all those commitments, across Government, with the budgets attached?
I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s remarks; those concerns have not been raised with me in those terms by LOCOG. Nineteen Government Departments are engaged in delivering the games and to my knowledge, through the Cabinet Committee and other forms of co-ordination, Government Departments are making every bit of their contributions. For instance, the Home Office is overseeing perhaps the most difficult job of all—security. The Olympics will be the biggest peacetime logistical exercise, and they could not happen without the wholehearted support of the Government; London 2012 has that.
London 2012 (UK Businesses)
The games are creating work and business opportunities for businesses large and small across the UK. The Olympic Delivery Authority has awarded more than £5 billion-worth of contracts to more than 1,000 suppliers. It has been our determined effort to make sure that businesses right around the country, including those in my hon. Friend’s region, benefit from this shot in the arm for UK plc at a time of downturn.
Through the ODA, some 43 suppliers from the north-west have sought contracts to supply the Olympic park. I will send to my hon. Friend, and place in the Library, a detailed list of the firms that have contributed, which are diverse and significant. The north-west is also benefiting from the commercial opportunities arising from the Olympics.
While I appreciate that this is a national games and that we want benefits across the country, will the Minister give some indication of the small businesses within a 5-mile radius of the Olympic village that will feel the benefit? Does she have data to hand so that she can give us that information at this stage, or perhaps in writing?
About 50 per cent. of all the businesses that have so far contributed to the supply of the Olympic park are within London. I am not able, at this point, to give the hon. Gentleman the precise detail that he wants, but I am happy to supply it. The ODA is about to issue another £1 billion-worth of contracts, and LOCOG £700 million-worth of contracts, so there are opportunities for businesses of all sizes not only in London but right across the UK.
Will my right hon. Friend write to me—and put a copy in the Library and send one to the Rotherham Advertiser—about how Rotherham workers can find jobs in construction and other related work that is going on, because there is a tremendous sense in South Yorkshire that they are not getting a fair crack of the whip?
I am very happy to do that, and I am happy to come to South Yorkshire again to set out the potential for its contribution to the Olympics. At every stage, we have sought to open up the tendering processes to create opportunities for the whole UK—and South Yorkshire is not usually slow in coming forward.
London 2012 (Multi-Media Coverage)
These will be the first games to be filmed wholly to high-definition standards. There will be access to information via additional channels and mobile devices, ensuring the games are accessible to everyone. The International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are responsible for global broadcast rights of the London 2012 games via many platforms, including multi-media platforms.
We all expect the games to be the most watched ever, but the introduction of multi-media coverage presents a huge logistical and technological challenge, particularly as it will come just after digital switchover. To what extent will an analogue signal still be available to those who want it?
The expectation is that the television switchover will have been completed by 2012, subject to any last-minute issues that might affect the coverage of the Olympics. In that sense, the analogue signal will no longer be available. However, much preparation is under way to ensure access to multi-media platforms, starting with ensuring the availability of spectrum. I thank Ofcom for the invaluable work that it has done, so early on, to ensure that that spectrum is available.
Yes, Crystal Palace sports centre is an official London 2012 pre-games training camp—no surprises there. Essentially, the onus is on Crystal Palace to market itself to the international teams to train at the venue. There are incentives, however, with £25,000 from LOCOG available for every national Olympic and Paralympic committee to encourage them to use official pre-games training camps. I hope to visit Crystal Palace again before the end of this month.
The Minister is very supportive of Crystal Palace. Given that it represents the internationalism of the 19th century, which, in some ways, is mirrored in the Olympics now, might we do well to co-ordinate the laying of a foundation stone for a new Crystal Palace with the timing of the Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee?
Olympic Delivery Authority
I am a member of the ODA’s employment and skills board, which is responsible for overseeing the creation of the skills and employment legacy. One of the most important aspects of the legacy is ensuring that local people and young people working in businesses as part of the supply chain have the opportunity to leave their Olympic-related job better trained and with an increased chance of staying in work.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of those trade unions that have been complaining about the lack of local people being trained—such training would be beneficial in the years to come. Will she meet the trade unions in question to find out what the problems are and to try to help to solve them?
I am surprised by my hon. Friend’s observation. The apprenticeship level to which we are committed for the Olympic park is in fact three and a half times the regional average, and every single supplier understands the obligation on them. Alan Ritchie, the general secretary of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, recently observed that the Olympics have one of the best regulated construction sites in Britain. Principles of co-operation have been signed between the ODA and the TUC. If there are any concerns, however, we will of course do everything that we can to address them.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that during last Thursday’s business questions there was strong and welcome agreement between the Leader of the House and her shadow that when the general election is held, the votes should be counted on the night and not the following day, unless that is absolutely unavoidable. Is it in order to ask you to express your definitive viewpoint on the matter?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his point of order and his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I hesitate to say that my opinion would, in any way, be considered to be definitive, but I am happy none the less to offer him and the House an opinion.
For my own part, I am a passionate believer in instant, not slow motion, democracy. It seems to me that it is in the interests of the House and the country that the count should take place on the night, and there are two overwhelmingly compelling reasons why: first, I believe that there could be a threat to the security of the ballot if the count is delayed; and, secondly, it seems to me that on the day the election takes place, it should be possible for the count also to take place so that we get the result speedily. Frankly, it should not be beyond the wit and sagacity of humankind—or indeed of local authorities—to ensure that that happens. I politely suggest to the House that what is required is not a passive acceptance of the particular views of individual local authority chief executives, but rather an assertion of leadership nationally and politically, at a local level, to achieve what I sense the House is uniting in wishing to see.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr. Mark Field presented a Bill to make provision for the control of pedicabs; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 March, and to be printed (Bill 33).
Crime and Security Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill builds on an unrivalled record that, since 1997, has seen the first sustained fall in crime for more than 100 years. Overall crime is down by 36 per cent., violent crime by 41 per cent., burglary by 54 per cent. and vehicle crime by 57 per cent. Since 2000, the reoffending rate for both adults and juveniles has fallen by more than 20 per cent. That is a tremendous achievement by our police forces and other agencies across the country. The Bill will build on those achievements by strengthening our efforts to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour among young people. It will bring greater protection to the victims of domestic violence, cut police bureaucracy and establish a new framework for the retention of DNA records.
The DNA database has actually been a contributory factor to the astonishing reductions in crime achieved in this country, but I give the hon. Gentleman full notice that he will have plenty of chances to intervene when I get to that part of my speech.
The Bill will make it an offence not to take reasonable precautions to prevent an air weapon from coming into the hands of children, thus sending a strong message about the need to improve safety.
Because of tragic circumstances, we have campaigned on that issue in Stoke-on-Trent. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that clause 42, which requires reasonable safeguards, can ensure that there is safe storage of airguns, to prevent further tragic accidents?
I do think that we can do that through the Bill, although it is not concerned only with guns in storage. We aim for greater safety as they are being transported and used as well, and of course the definition of “reasonable precautions” will vary in accordance with the circumstances involved. We can ensure that air weapons are properly locked away, which is an important point that my hon. Friend has raised for many years.
The Home Secretary will know of the many tragic incidents that we have had in Scotland as a result of airguns, and the repeated calls from the Scottish Government to have the issue devolved so that we can put in place the licensing of airguns to help address the problem. The Labour party agreed, through the Calman commission, that that should happen. Can we not devolve the responsibility for airguns, so that we can deal with the problem in Scotland?
We have agreed to devolve this issue, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland reported recently. The mechanics of doing that are a subject for the usual channels, but we very much agree on the matter.
By introducing a compulsory licensing scheme for wheel-clamping businesses, which will allow us to set limits on the fines that they can impose, the Bill will outlaw rogue operators who extort vast sums from drivers and bring the entire sector into disrepute. It will also make it an offence to possess a mobile phone within a prison without authorisation.
I do give that assurance, although as my hon. Friend will be aware, it seems from the amendments that you did not select, Mr. Speaker, that both Opposition parties intend to vote against Second Reading. We have to get the Bill through to enable those measures to come into force.
I wish also to announce a new provision that we intend to introduce in Committee. The House will be aware of the long-standing arrangements under the criminal injuries compensation scheme to compensate victims of violent crime, including terrorism. However, that scheme offers compensation only to victims of crimes committed in Great Britain. Although a number of other countries have their own compensation schemes, there are many parts of the world where, should a British citizen become a victim of terrorism, they would have no access to compensation. Sadly, many recent British victims of terrorist attacks abroad have been injured or killed because they are westerners, and there has been a particular increase in such attacks since 9/11. Whether those attacks are targeted at individuals or are more indiscriminate, terrorism is intended as a political statement and an attack on society as a whole and, as such, it has ramifications far beyond those who are directly affected. We will therefore introduce a new victims of overseas terrorism compensation scheme, which will broadly mirror the domestic criminal injuries compensation scheme. In accordance with the long-standing general principle that the Government and Parliament do not legislate retrospectively, the new scheme will apply only to designated terrorist incidents that take place from today. However, we recognise that victims of overseas attacks in recent years continue to face hardship because of disabilities arising from the injuries they sustained.
I am now going to get a bit noisier. On another overseas matter, it has been suggested by Government spokesmen that they may use this Bill as an opportunity to adjust the law on universal jurisdiction—I refer to the case of Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister of Israel. Do the Government intend to use the Bill to adjust the law on universal jurisdiction or will they use some other means to do so? If it is the latter, what other means will they use?
I cannot answer that question at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and others are looking into the situation—the unacceptable situation in respect of Tzipi Livni—and will come to the House with proposals in due course.
As I said, in accordance with the long-standing general principle, we will not apply the measure retrospectively, but we recognise that we need something for past victims of terrorism. Subject to the passage of the Bill, we will provide assistance to eligible victims of overseas terrorist attacks since 2002 and will announce further details in due course.
Prior to the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, police and local authorities could do very little about behaviour that stopped short of being criminal but that was profoundly disruptive and the cause of intense distress. Following that groundbreaking piece of legislation and the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the police and local authorities have the powers they need to tackle antisocial behaviour. Problem behaviour usually ceases after one intervention, whether that is an acceptable behaviour contract or a simple letter from the police, and 93 per cent. of such behaviour ends after three interventions. However, the police alone cannot tackle the root causes of antisocial behaviour, and police powers, although necessary, are insufficient.
We now need to consider what further action to take to tackle the very small number of persistent young offenders. Although young people are far more likely to be the victims rather than the perpetrators of antisocial behaviour, those who are persistently involved in antisocial behaviour often graduate to petty crime or gang activity. Their disruptive behaviour is usually indicative of more deep-rooted problems, such as instability at home or chronic disaffection at school.
Family intervention projects have proved phenomenally successful in addressing the problems of the most chaotic and dysfunctional families involved in persistent antisocial behaviour. An independent study of the first 700 families to take part in a family intervention project shows dramatic reductions not only in antisocial behaviour, but in drug and alcohol problems, domestic violence and mental health problems. There have also been better educational outcomes for the children involved.
As the Prime Minister announced in September, we will roll out that project to cover 56,000 families by 2015. Parenting orders have also been of immense importance for parents who are either struggling to stop their child’s problem behaviour or who are adamant in their refusal to take any responsibility for their child’s actions.
The Home Secretary will recall the case in Leicestershire, when he criticised the lack of speed with which the police dealt with a complaint of antisocial behaviour. Is he satisfied that once such matters are brought to the attention of the police, there is sufficient contact between them and the local authority, at a high enough level, to ensure that they act swiftly to deal with any outstanding issues of that kind?
My right hon. Friend raises the tragic case of Fiona Pilkington and her children. It is clear that in the two and half years since that happened, dramatic improvements have been made by Leicestershire police, but the coroner pointed out the failures at the time.
On the second point, I am not yet confident that all police forces in all police authority areas are giving the necessary priority to this issue. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and I have asked the crime reduction partnerships to ensure that by March we have a version of the policing pledge applicable to antisocial behaviour, so that people—wherever they live—can depend on a minimum standard of response and diligence on this issue. That is the right way to ensure that we have consistent standards across the country.
Although local authorities and youth offending teams have been able to issue parenting orders since 2004, they have not been used widely enough, despite their proven effectiveness. Under the proposals set out in this Bill, when the courts issue an antisocial behaviour order against a young person, they will be required to consider that child’s parenting needs. If that antisocial behaviour order is breached, a parenting order will be automatically triggered. The requirements imposed on parents by the courts will vary, from requiring them to address their drug or alcohol problems, or attend intensive parenting classes, to supervising their child at certain times of the day or night.
In addition, this Bill will address gang violence among young people. Although the numbers involved in violent gangs are very small, the damage they do to their communities, not to mention their own lives, is immense. The Policing and Crime Act 2009 gives police and local authorities new powers to issue injunctions to prevent gang violence. In bringing forward that legislation, we considered carefully whether such injunctions should also be extended to under-18s. Our conclusion at the time was that we needed to explore in more detail, along with the Youth Justice Board and other key partners, how such legislation would address the issues that were specific to children and young people. In particular, we needed to ensure that as well as offering greater protection to communities, such injunctions would also divert young people from long-term involvement in crime.
The Crime and Security Bill will therefore set out how gang injunctions can be applied to 14 to 17-year-olds. As with such injunctions for over-18s, they can be used to prevent the young person from going to a particular place, from meeting with other gang members or from using dogs as weapons to intimidate their community. But critically, they will direct young people towards targeted support that will help to address any underlying issues—problems at home or school, drug or alcohol abuse—that may be contributing to their unacceptable behaviour.
One of the most important elements of this Bill is the greater protection it will give to victims of domestic violence. Although incidents of domestic violence have fallen by 64 per cent. since 1997, and the conviction rate is rising, it still accounts for 14 per cent. of all violent crime and its impact continues to ruin the lives of women and children. Having been apprehended by the police, but released, a perpetrator of domestic violence has little to stop him returning to the family home. The victim then faces a stark choice between enduring further abuse or leaving their home altogether, which is why domestic violence remains a significant cause of homelessness among women. Domestic violence protection orders will give the police powers to ban the attacker from the home of their victim for up to 28 days, providing vital respite for victims to consider their options. Thus it will not be the victim who is forced to leave her home—as is too often the case at the moment—but the perpetrator.
Breaching a domestic violence protection order would be like breaching an injunction—we used to use injunctions for those purposes until a Court of Appeal ruling a few years ago—and we envisage that the punishments would be the same. The similarity with an injunction should guide the committee.
I am not equipped to go into the fine detail about that—unlike my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, who will be equipped to do just that in Committee—but as hon. Members from both sides of the House will realise, we thought that there were effective tools to use in those cases, but they were found to be ineffective because of those Court of Appeal rulings. Since those rulings were made three or four years ago, we have been looking seriously at replacing those tools with domestic violence protection orders.
I have given way once. Let us move on.
Over the past few years, we have made huge efforts to cut police bureaucracy. Thirty-six data collection requirements have been either removed or significantly reduced. Scrapping activity-based costing alone has saved around 260,000 hours of police time. The foot-long stop-and-account form has gone, saving another 690,000 hours. The Bill will advance that agenda by significantly reducing the length of the stop-and-search form. Under current legislation, when the police stop and search a suspect, they have to record the person’s name—or a description, if the person refuses to give their name—the details of any vehicle stopped and whether any injury or damage to property has been caused, even though the question is not applicable in the vast majority of cases. Under the proposals outlined in the Bill, the police will still be required to record the date, time and place of the stop. Officers will also continue to record the ethnicity of the person involved. It will still be possible to monitor the police’s use of stop-and-search both locally and nationally, and to hold them to account accordingly, but without the added burden of the unnecessary and time-consuming requirements of the current form.
I am most grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Of course we welcome the proposals to reduce bureaucracy and the work that has been done by Jan Berry on behalf of the Home Office. However, I wonder whether he recalls that I wrote to both him and his predecessor about the Staffordshire example, whereby the local police force reduced the bureaucracy involved in the recording of information, and asked that that good practice be transmitted to other police authorities. We do not have to wait for legislation to make a move on that, do we?
So says an MP from Staffordshire. The Staffordshire example is a good example that is being rolled out across the country. However, my right hon. Friend will know that it sometimes takes an interminable amount of time to get best practice spread out among 43 different police forces. However, even despite the best practice in Staffordshire, I still think that we should use this opportunity to reduce bureaucracy through legislation, as we did with those two other over-long forms.
Can the Home Secretary clarify one point? My understanding is that under the current rules if a vehicle with a number of occupants is stopped and searched, the police officer has to fill in a separate form for each occupant and a separate form for the motor vehicle. What will the situation be now?
If a motor vehicle is involved, a separate form for that vehicle will have to be filled out by the officer. The problem at the moment is that even if a vehicle is not involved, the police officer has to fill out a form that is applicable to one being involved. Whether we are talking about doing all four occupants in the car at one hit is another matter, but we must seek to reduce the bureaucracy to a bare minimum.
One major feature of the Bill is the proposed new framework for the retention of DNA records. No one in the House can doubt that the development of DNA profiling has had a profound impact on the police’s ability to bring to justice the perpetrators of some of the most horrific crimes. That was underlined yet again when Paul Hutchinson was convicted just before Christmas of the 1983 murder of 16-year-old Colette Aram, the subject of the first ever appeal on the television programme “Crimewatch”. Hutchinson was traced only because DNA had been taken from one of his relatives, who had been convicted of a minor offence in 2008.
In my constituency, where a young woman was brutally murdered more than a decade ago, the DNA record allowed a person who probably would have gone free to be brought to justice and put inside. I know that my right hon. Friend is only just beginning, but we have not heard any data in the House for the past two years about the number of crimes cleared up due to such records. The number for the first 10 years was well over 250,000. Does he have more up-to-date figures?
I do, and I will give my right hon. Friend exact figures. I believe that it is about 400,000 now, but I will update the House and ensure that— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) says from a sedentary position that it is going down. Crime is going down. The total number of detected crimes in which DNA match was available decreased by 11 per cent. between 2003-04 and 2008-09. Over the same five-year period, police-recorded crime fell by 17.1 per cent. That is why the number of DNA matches is going down.
But is the number not also going down for an even more obvious reason? There was a stock of crime that was not cleared up. When the DNA of people who commit further crime is related back to the stock, it clears up those crimes. Under normal procedures, one would expect that, over time, the number of crimes cleared up due to the keeping of historical data in the data bank would decline. It seems obvious.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are now discussing something on which I thought all parties in the House agreed: the benefits of DNA. DNA was a British discovery, by the way. We have not even got to discussing how long information is kept, and already we are seeing signs of opposition from those on the Conservative Benches.
No one in the House disputes the importance of keeping the DNA of guilty people; it is the indefinite keeping of innocent people’s DNA that is at issue. However, I wanted to make a particular point. Much of the unhappiness about keeping the DNA of innocent people would be avoided if there were a clearer, consistent national system for the removal of innocent people’s DNA from the database. At present, it varies from one police authority to another, and the unfairness breeds discontent.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, which is why the Bill contains provisions, which I will discuss in a moment, to deal with that. She is also right that the issue at the moment is the benefit of DNA to the police and other authorities in detecting and deterring crime.
The Home Secretary knows that nobody disputes the value of DNA in solving cold cases as well as current crimes, but there is one figure that I would like him to confirm or deny. It relates to the holding of the DNA of innocent people—people who have not been found guilty and were released after arrest. Just over a year ago, the Prime Minister attributed the clearing up of 114 murders to such DNA. In other words, as a result of holding the DNA of previously innocent people, the police cleared up 114 murders. Is that correct, and if so, will the Home Secretary provide a list of them?
The right hon. Gentleman says—this is the third time that I have heard it—that no one is disputing the advantage of DNA. I am stuck at this part of my speech because so many people have disputed it. We hear from a sedentary position that the numbers are coming down. The combination of the right hon. Gentleman’s question and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) means that I should provide some statistics to the House, because the statistics are interesting. I do not happen to have in my speech the one for which the right hon. Gentleman asked, but I have some others that he will find of interest.
I mentioned Paul Hutchinson. We can also take the case of Matthew Fagan. In 2006, he was sacked from a London company. In January 2007, he returned to the offices at the weekend to steal computers and was disturbed by a former colleague, Cathy Marlow, whom he brutally murdered. A significant factor in Matthew Fagan’s conviction was that DNA retrieved from under Cathy Marlow’s fingernails matched his profile, which was on the database because he had previously been arrested but not convicted for a disorder offence.
There was also the case of Abdirahman Ali Gudaal, arrested in July 2006 for robbery, but not convicted. His DNA was sampled and his record retained. In June this year, he was found guilty of the brutal rape and kidnap of a woman in Coventry, his DNA having matched samples found at the crime scene. Those are two examples of people who had been arrested but not convicted, and who subsequently committed brutal crimes, who would not have been brought to book without the DNA database.
In a recent debate, the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on this issue, described such cases, including the tragic case of Sally Anne Bowman, as “anecdotal”. They are, of course, the personal tragedies that make this legislation necessary, and the response of the hon. Gentleman’s party is woefully inadequate.
In developing this framework, we have sought to balance several important issues: first, human rights considerations. The House will be aware of the judgment by the European Court of Human Rights.
I am afraid that the Home Secretary did not answer my question. Of course the individual cases that he mentions are incredibly important; indeed, I shall refer to some of them if I am lucky enough to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, and deal with them—[Interruption.] I shall do so despite the heckling from the Home Secretary’s colleague. The simple fact is that the Home Secretary has not answered my question about the Prime Minister’s assertion that 114 murders were solved as a result of previously innocent people’s DNA being checked. Is that figure right or wrong? If it is right, may we have a list of those cases?
I told the right hon. Gentleman that I would provide the House with statistics, and I have given two examples. Actually, even if there were only one example of a vicious murderer or rapist being brought to book in this way, I know that many Conservative Members would believe that this was worth doing—[Interruption.] Hon. Members are asking me to give names. I will provide the information that the right hon. Gentleman wants, but I have already given the House two very dramatic cases that would not have been solved under the policy being put forward by the Liberal Democrats, which we now know means that no one who is innocent and not convicted could remain on the DNA database.
The position of the Conservatives, as set out in the amendment that you quite rightly did not select, Mr. Speaker, is:
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Crime and Security Bill because the retention of the DNA of innocent citizens, which is the centrepiece of the Bill, is unacceptable.”
Yet their policy is to retain the DNA of innocent people. At least the Lib Dems, whose policy on this was overturned at their conference, say that we should not keep anyone’s records. At least their policy is clear. The Conservatives’ policy is actually contrary to their own amendment. They think that people who have been arrested for, but not convicted of, less serious charges should not remain on the DNA database, but that those who have been arrested for, but not convicted of, serious offences should remain on it. The most recent research shows that there is no difference between the two in regard to what is known as the hazard curve, and to the propensity of those people to be arrested again.
So far as I am aware, only one country is currently looking at that possibility: the United Arab Emirates. For reasons of sheer practicality, no Government of any persuasion in this country would introduce such a scheme. That does not in any way suggest that the Opposition are right to—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) can chatter away on the Front Bench, but the simple fact is that their policy is to have innocent people on the DNA database, despite declaring that it is wrong to do so. Their problem is that there is absolutely no research to show that those people are more or less likely to be re-arrested than those who are arrested but not convicted on less serious charges.
I am slightly mystified by the position that the Home Secretary has taken. He just told the House that he thought it was crucial for the clearing up of crimes that this innocent DNA should be held on the DNA database. Will he kindly explain to us, then, why he does not have a consistent policy—it probably would get through the ECHR—of having every single person in the country giving their DNA?
First, I do not think that that would be proportionate. Secondly, we do not have compulsory vaccinations in this country for similar reasons. The thought of having to hold someone down to take a swab from the inside of their cheek because they were reluctant to give one is something that no serious politician could suggest. However—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Ashford says from a sedentary position that we do that all the time. I do not know which policies he has been looking at, but we do not hold anyone down to take human material from them. We would not do that, just as other countries would not propose having a compulsory system.
What Conservative Members have to explain is the huge disparity and contradiction in their argument. Either there should be a DNA database that has people who are arrested but not convicted on it for a period of time; or, the logic is followed of the argument that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) has made—that people are innocent until proven guilty. If that is the case, the Conservatives’ policy—God forbid—should be the same as that of the Liberal Democrats, not the halfway house they are in at the moment.
And anything further I can take up on the train later, no doubt. The right hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way and I have two points for him. First, the policy he is mocking is, of course, the policy introduced by the Labour Government in Scotland at the time, so he should take that up with them. Secondly, I would not want him to mislead the House, inadvertently or otherwise, so will he return to his earlier point about the hazard curve, which he says is effectively flat? He says that there is no difference in respect of the likelihood of committing a crime in the future between someone who is innocent of any crime and someone who has committed a crime, yet the Home Office itself has published paper after paper after paper showing that that is not true.
I accept that there is not a great wealth of research in this area, but it will grow in all parts of the world. The latest research we have is being independently peer-reviewed as we speak. It suggests that the Jill Dando Institute research on which we based our original proposals—which showed a difference in the hazard curve, or the propensity to be re-arrested, between those arrested but not convicted for serious offences and those arrested but not convicted for less serious offences—is wrong. In fact, the Jill Dando Institute itself said—unfortunately, nine months after it produced the research—that it was flawed. The latest research shows that there is absolutely no difference between the two, which is a very important factor. As to the Scottish scheme, I shall come on to that in a few moments.
Let me return to what I was saying about human rights considerations. This House is, of course, aware of the judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights on 8 December 2008, which ruled that although holding DNA records of those who had no conviction could well be proportionate in some cases, it was unlawful to hold those records indefinitely. This Bill responds to that judgment.
Secondly, we must consider what the most recent evidence in this developing field of research tells us. The research we published, along with our proposals in November 2009, shows that there is a link between previous arrests and future arrests. It also shows that, as time passes, that link diminishes so that after six years—not two, three or four, but six—the probability of re-arrest is no higher than for the rest of the population.
Thirdly, we must consider concerns about privacy. Many people find the idea of someone retaining their genetic material disturbing, which is why, although not required to do so by the European Court judgment, this Bill will require all DNA samples—the actual genetic material—to be destroyed after six months. What is retained by the database is the unique 20-digit code that forms the DNA profile.
Fourthly, we must be mindful of the public’s very reasonable expectation that the police will harness this enormous scientific advance to protect them from the most horrific crimes, and ensure justice for victims and their families. Under the framework proposed by the Bill, the DNA profiles of all those convicted of crimes, and all juveniles convicted of serious offences, will be held indefinitely, and the police will be given the powers to take DNA samples from people who were convicted of serious violent and sexual offences in the past, before DNA was routinely taken, and from those who have committed such offences and are returning from overseas. The DNA profiles of those who are arrested but not convicted will be retained for six years, in line with the findings of the best available research. I will talk more about that soon.
There is one important exception to the six-year rule. As national security investigations, including counter-terrorism cases, can go on for many years, setting a six-year time frame would potentially be damaging in these circumstances. We therefore propose to allow the retention of DNA profiles beyond the six-year point in these exceptional cases, which have been known to be live for as long as 25 years.
Under the framework set out in the Bill, the records of under-18s convicted of serious crimes will be held indefinitely. However, for those convicted of minor offences, if it is a first conviction, the record will be kept for five years, and only if it is a second conviction will that record be held indefinitely. We make this distinction because it is right that the criminal justice system distinguish between adults and children. For under-18s who are arrested for, but not convicted of, both serious crimes and minor offences, their records will be retained for three years. The records of 16 to 17-year-olds—those entering the peak offending years—will, however, be retained for six years where they have been arrested for, but not convicted of, a serious offence.
My point is that we should hold it for longer for 16 to 17-year-olds, who, as the hon. Gentleman recognises, are entering the peak offending years.
Currently, those seeking to have their DNA profile removed from the database may apply to the chief constable, who is, however, under no obligation to fulfil this request. The Bill will place a legal duty on the chief constable to remove the DNA records in circumstances where the arrest was unlawful, the taking of the biometric data was unlawful, the arrest was based on mistaken identity, or where there were other circumstances relating to the arrest or the alleged offender that would make it appropriate to destroy the material.
What I am saying is that the current arrangements—which are as my hon. Friend describes, whereby the power is completely with the chief constable, even in cases involving mistaken identity or unlawful action—will change, in that we will set out in law the circumstances in which DNA must not be retained. In those circumstances, it will be removed if the individual requests that—some individuals may want their DNA to be kept on the database—but not in other circumstances, perhaps, because we cannot be absolutely prescriptive here, and we will need to define this. The matter will be discussed further in Committee, no doubt. As the Bill proceeds through the House, we will also need to pay attention to the question of whether there should be another authority to go to on appeal.
The Home Secretary said earlier that the DNA of an innocent person investigated for a possible terrorist offence could be held for a much longer period—up to 25 years, I think he said. On whose authority will such decisions be taken?
That system will be set out in the Bill; there will be no discretion for chief constables on that. What I am saying is that we need to keep the DNA records of those arrested but not convicted for terrorist charges for longer.
The Conservative Party has made unfavourable comparisons between the retention framework that we are proposing in this Bill and the model that has been adopted in Scotland. The Conservatives believe that that system should be enshrined in this Bill, but they are profoundly wrong. The Scottish model, like our proposals, accepts that those who are arrested for an offence, even if they are not convicted, are more likely to be convicted of an offence on a future occasion, but it differs on three significant points. First, it only retains DNA records of those who are arrested for but not convicted of serious crimes. It does not take into account the most recent research—I mentioned it in response to an intervention—which shows that the seriousness of the offence for which someone is initially arrested but not convicted has no bearing on the likelihood of re-arrest. Indeed, the Scottish model was based on no research whatsoever.
In 2008-09 alone, 79 matches were drawn from the DNA database for cases of rape, murder or manslaughter from people who had been arrested but not convicted of an offence. This is an important point. In 36 of those cases—nearly half of them—the DNA match was vital in securing a conviction. In respect of those 36 cases, 13 of the perpetrators were on the database because they had been arrested for but not convicted of a serious crime. That means that 23 perpetrators were on the database because they had been arrested for but not convicted of a minor offence. So if we were to apply the Scottish model, as the Conservative party urges us to do, it is highly likely that in this year alone these 23 victims of the most serious crimes and their families would have been denied justice—23 killers and rapists would have remained free to kill and rape again. It is unlikely that the cases I referred to earlier of Cathy Marlow’s killer, Matthew Fagan, or the rapist Abdirahman Ali Gudaal would have been detected through DNA evidence, because both were arrested but not convicted for less serious crimes. This is at the heart of this debate.
The Home Secretary will of course recall that it was the Labour Executive, in conjunction with the Liberals, who got this Scottish system through the Scottish Parliament. Is he saying today that the Scottish Parliament should simply copy and introduce his proposals just because he feels that this is the right thing to do?
I hear the hon. Gentleman’s plea of not guilty, which I accept. I am not trying to impose our system on Scotland; I am saying that the argument being made by the Conservatives, which is that the Scottish model is the one we should adopt, is profoundly wrong.
May I ask the Home Secretary to respond to a letter written by his colleague, Lord Bach, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, on 5 July 2009? He said the following in relation to research carried out on the Scottish system by Professor James Fraser:
“He did not uncover any evidence to suggest that this approach to retention has caused any detriment to the detection of serious crime in Scotland”.
Is the Ministry of Justice wrong?
I am not going to respond to a quote taken out of context from a letter. We are all trying to find reasons why the Scottish model should not be considered sacrosanct, so here are the facts. Twenty-three rapists and murderers would be free if this country adopted what the Conservative party is asking us to adopt. Conservative Members can shake their heads as much as they want, but those are the facts.
The second issue relating to the comparison with the Scottish model is that that model also proposes that the records of those not convicted should be initially retained for three years, as opposed to six. However, at the end of that period the Scottish courts have the power to extend the retention period for successive increments of two years at a time. Those, like the Conservative Opposition, who have argued for the Scottish model to be adopted here have done so on the basis that they oppose the indefinite retention of DNA records of those who have committed no crime—the “innocent”, to cite their amendment. However, in advocating this model, they are in fact arguing in favour of a system that can retain the DNA records of innocent people indefinitely.
Finally, under Scottish legislation, it is not just the DNA profile that is retained, but the DNA sample—the actual genetic material. For all those convicted, it is retained for at least 20 years. For those arrested but not convicted of serious offences, it is retained initially for three years, but potentially for longer should the courts exercise their power to extend the retention period. Under our proposals, as I have mentioned, this material must be destroyed within six months.
I make no criticism of the model adopted in Scotland—[Laughter.] I have made only mild criticisms of it. We have separate legal systems and, on this sensitive issue, I shall not proselytise on what is in the best interests of the Scottish people. I am here to talk about what is in the best interests of England and Wales. I believe that the framework we propose is proportionate, led by the best available evidence and guided by public opinion and the professional judgment of the police.
I know that my right hon. Friend is trying to be fair to the present Government of Scotland, which is now an SNP minority Government. A plea of mitigation from some of us in Scotland is that we would rather see the system he is introducing. For example, the murder of a dear and close cousin of mine has been, as yet, unsolved for 20 years. I would like to see a system where criminals can be screened, so that we might find the perpetrator. I ask my right hon. Friend please to consider giving advice to our colleagues in Scotland to think again and to bring in a system like the one that he is proposing.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland makes the same point, as do many people in Scotland. My point is that the Government at the time was a Labour-Lib Dem coalition and there was no research to go on. The introduction of the three-year limit was not based on any research, because the research did not exist. The research now suggests that the hazard curve does not run out in three years—people do not become as likely as the rest of the population to be arrested again if they are arrested but not convicted—but after six years, and we believe that that is a conservative estimate.
I also think that it is wrong to keep the genetic material. For that reason, and for all the other reasons I have mentioned, the Opposition are absolutely wrong to seek to adopt the Scottish model under this Bill.
Why is it, then, that we have received a briefing from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which will be aware of the research to which my friend has alluded, advising us that if my friend’s proposals go through,
“the Government is likely to be in breach of Article 8 of the Convention and be acting unlawfully”?
How come the commission has got it wrong?
Do not ask me why the commission has sent letters to Members suggesting that. Of course, there are profound misunderstandings on this point. There are profound misunderstandings among those who sit on the Opposition Benches. Let me give one example of such a misunderstanding from the hon. Member for Ashford, who stated a while ago—he has not repeated it since, so perhaps he now understands—that Scotland had a better success rate than England. He said that he had read the statistics from the 2006 national DNA database annual report, which showed that the Scottish DNA database had a 68 per cent. success rate while that in England and Wales had only a 52 per cent. success rate. I trust that he has since found out that he was not comparing like with like. In Scotland at that time, they were able to compare the matches with the crime scene and the crime scene with the individuals. In England, we had only half the story in 2005. Now we have the whole story. The annual report for 2009 will show that the success rate in England and Wales is 13 per cent. higher than that in Scotland.
There are an awful lot of misperceptions about this, and all I know is that this Parliament must make up its own mind. It will be bombarded with evidence from all sides and with evidence and pleas from the victims of crime. I believe that on the basis of the evidence and research that is now available, we should certainly not adopt the Scottish model, and should adopt the measures set out in this Bill.
May I come to the defence of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)? A few weeks ago he produced some interesting research about the postcode lottery. Depending on where people lived, they had their DNA removed from the database or they did not. Surely the proposal alluded to by Peter Neyroud—that one body should look at the issue of retention, rather than 43 chief constables—may well be more attractive. He would still be able to produce his guidelines, but there would be one set of certain facts and criteria, rather than 43 chief constables’.
No, I am not giving way again. [Interruption.] The peroration is over. This can hardly be called a peroration.
Along with measures to curb antisocial behaviour and gang involvement among young people, and to cut police bureaucracy and grant greater protection to victims of domestic violence, the Bill will bring greater protection and peace of mind to the public and make our streets safer. I commend the Bill to the House.
As a typical Bill at the tail-end of a Parliament, this had all the potential to be a doggy-bag of a Bill, with a combination of leftovers from what the Government have been doing right across the Parliament, a last-gasp attempt to win support from some frustrated groups ahead of the general election—the kind of Bill that should be relatively uncontroversial and which, given the Government’s record, would probably turn out to be pretty meaningless as well. But as always, the Government have left one big sting in the tail. For that reason, we will not stand by and allow the Bill to pass through Parliament before the election.
It is nice to have a debate on a real point of principle. That is what we will debate this afternoon. Unless the Home Secretary finally accepts that his proposals on the DNA database are opposed across the House and unless he accepts that things will have to be different, we cannot support what he is doing. His remarks, if anything, have further confused rather than clarified both his position and the debate.
Not only is it a last-gasp Bill, but the Home Secretary could not bring himself to brief the House on some of its provisions. There was not a word on wheel-clamping, and when I intervened kindly to assist the Home Secretary to comment on wheel-clamping, I was uncharacteristically and uncharitably slapped down.