House of Commons
Wednesday 9 June 2010
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
Non-departmental Public Bodies
We are committed to cutting the number of public bodies to increase accountability and cut costs. In future, each public body will have to meet one of three tests—does it perform a technical function, does it need to be politically impartial or does it act independently to establish facts? The Prime Minister has written to Cabinet colleagues asking them to apply those tests rigorously to the public bodies within their area of responsibility. I will be meeting colleagues in the coming weeks to take the review forward, and I expect to publish the outcome in the autumn with a view to introducing a public bodies Bill later this year.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and I welcome him to the Dispatch Box. Given the Government’s clear policy on localism, will he ensure that the regional development agency quango, SEEDA—the South East England Development Agency—is rapidly dismantled and that its powers and decisions are handed back to the local authorities to which those powers have always properly belonged?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. It is very good to see him here. He is a close neighbour in Sussex and he makes a very good point. The Government will engage in discussions with local partners, including local authorities and local business organisations, to work out with them in respect of each RDA the best way forward. I suspect that he and I have the same sort of concerns about the way in which SEEDA has operated.
While the excellent Frenchay hospital near my constituency was downgraded by the previous Government despite a 50,000-strong petition of local residents opposing the move, it was reported last year that the salaries of NHS quango bosses have increased by up to 77% in the past three years. Does the Minister agree that this Government’s commitment to transparency and accountability will help to reduce that sort of cost to the taxpayer and will help to protect NHS front-line services?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on the very vigorous campaign that he has fought and continues to fight in the interests of his constituents to protect the work of the Frenchay hospital. I have visited the hospital and I know what good work it does. He is absolutely right that transparency is the friend of the citizen in exposing what the state spends its money on. It will enable communities, individuals and organisations to exercise and enforce much greater accountability. Money is going to be increasingly scarce in the years ahead, thanks to what we inherited from the Labour party, and it is going to be increasingly important that it is spent where it is needed, at the front line, on patients and on parents whose children are at school.
In addition to applying rigorously to existing public bodies and quangos the three tests that we have set out, we will ensure that public bodies do not come into existence unless they are absolutely necessary to meet one of those three tests. Bodies that spend public money and deliberate on policy should in general be accountable, through Ministers, to Parliament. That is a basic principle, and that is what we will enforce in future.
Many public bodies, such as the RDAs the Minister mentioned, but also the Bank of England, the BBC, the Judicial Appointments Commission and parliamentary boundary commissions, are independent of Government precisely because they have to be independent of Government. Will the Minister give the House a commitment that this will not just be a centralising exercise whereby bodies that ought to be independent are taken under direct control by Ministers?
I am disinclined to take lectures about centralising tendencies from someone who was a Minister in the last Government. I simply refer the hon. Gentleman to what I said. The tests that we will apply to quangos—to public bodies—will be rigorous and serious. If there is an overwhelming requirement for them to be independent politically, that will be one of the tests, but the presumption will be that public functions should be exercised by organisations accountable to Parliament.
May I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post? He may be aware that I chair the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, a non-departmental public body that has enjoyed cross-party support for its whole existence. Can he clarify the processes that are taking place? The Westminster Foundation for Democracy is already under a process of review as one of the arm’s length bodies independent from the Foreign Office. How does that mix with the process he has set out today?
I hope they will seamlessly meld together. I am not conscious of the particular review to which the hon. Lady refers, but this review will cover all public bodies that come under the responsibility of all Departments. I am confident that in my discussions about the review with the Foreign Secretary the Westminster Foundation will be considered in a proper way.
I welcome the Minister to his responsibilities. If he has a bonfire of the quangos, there are one or two I might add. There is one where newly appointed staff are increasing, its executives earn more than Ministers and MPs, and are appointing press officers and consultants, yet they do not even answer the telephone. Would the Minister be surprised and would he care to name that quango? Might it be the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who in marked contrast to the previous Prime Minister and his predecessor, long campaigned for Cabinet government to become a reality. I am delighted to tell him that I do not have to answer his question in the future; I can answer in the present, because in the last three weeks we have already taken enormous strides to create proper Cabinet government through the formation of a small number of effective decision-making Cabinet committees that will look across the whole range of Government business, make decisions collectively and not resort to the kind of sofa government that caused so many problems, for example, in the entry to the Iraq war.
I thank the Minister for his answer. The British constitution has sometimes been characterised as a time-limited elective dictatorship and the Prime Minister as an elected monarch. In an era of sofa government, the Cabinet was downgraded to cipher status. Is it not time for really radical change—perhaps with the Cabinet elected by Members of Parliament?
The trend towards elections is indeed one that the Government have in general sponsored, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware. Many Members have put themselves forward and are in the course of being elected for many important posts in the House. But the reality of Cabinet government does not depend on elections, it depends on whether the Prime Minister of the day and, indeed, in the coalition Government, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of the day are willing to see collegiate decision making rather than elective dictatorship. They are not only in this instance willing, but keen to do so. If I may point it out to the hon. Gentleman, one of the advantages of the new politics of coalition Government is that it enforces on us collective decision making, because we have to agree between the two parties in the coalition as well.
3. What assessment he has made of the effects on voluntary organisations of the Government's regulatory and administrative requirements.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): One of our priorities is to make it easier to run a voluntary organisation, so we are committed to clearing the thicket of bureaucracy that too often gets in the way of doing good and to setting up a joint task force with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to look at how we can reduce red tape for small organisations. (1343)
The requirements for people to obtain more than one Criminal Records Bureau check when working or volunteering with different community organisations is causing much duplication and expense, both to individuals and to community groups such as Crossroads Care Cheshire East in my constituency. Will the Minister consider reviewing the CRB check procedure and introducing one single registerable and transferrable check for each individual?
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House and wish her every success in following in some quite formidable footsteps. The point she makes is extremely important and that frustration has been expressed to me by a number of voluntary organisations. I hope that she will be pleased to know that, in the coalition agreement, the Government are committed to reviewing the criminal records and vetting and barring regime and I will make sure that the relevant Minister in the Home Office is aware of her concerns. She and I will be following that review very closely.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new and important role. Given statements made in recent days by the Prime Minister and others about deep and early cuts in public spending at the same time as statements about an extended role for voluntary organisations in the delivery of public services, I am sure that, as the Minister for the voluntary sector, he will want to move swiftly to reassure anyone who thinks that there is any suggestion that this means that the Government want to get public services on the cheap. He will want to rebut that suggestion very swiftly. Therefore, will he confirm to Members on both sides of the House who value greatly the work of voluntary organisations that he and other Ministers will uphold the compact with voluntary organisations and, in particular, the commitment to three-year funding as a minimum and to full recovery of costs for volunteering?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but it is a bit rich coming from a member of a Government one of whose last acts involved the breaching of the compact by the then Minister for the third sector. The compact is an important framework for the relationship between the state and the sector at a very important time in its development. We want the sector to work more closely with the state and the compact has an important part to play in making sure that that relationship works productively.
Emergency Planning College
The emergency planning college is in my hon. Friend’s constituency and does extraordinarily valuable work in training people to support this country’s resilience in all types of emergency. I have no current plans to visit the college but my hon. Friend is, I am sure, about to tell me why that is a missed opportunity.
May I take this opportunity to invite my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on his appointment, to visit the college? I know that he would be very welcome. Such a visit would act as a morale booster to the college. Will he extend its role to make sure that we can in future pre-empt tragedies such as we have seen in Cumbria and to ensure that all the emergency services are put through their paces at regular intervals to prepare for any such incidents in the future?
I welcome my hon. Friend back to the House and I thank her for her question. Clearly we need to be proud of the college, which is a national centre of excellence and has won awards, including, I believe, a best in the world award, for its work? I understand that it has been through a recent reorganisation. If it would welcome a ministerial visit, I would be happy to do so. [Interruption.]
Pay Rates (Civil Service)
For the grades below the senior civil service, these matters are delegated to individual departments and to non-departmental public bodies. Nevertheless, we will seek to improve and modernise civil service pay arrangements to ensure that they are fair and transparent, to enable us to retain and motivate staff and to offer best value for money to the taxpayer.
I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome him to his position. He will be aware that there are 230 separate bargaining units in the civil service and, at the moment, people doing exactly the same job can earn rates of pay that differ by up to 30 per cent., and more. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to bring about more equal and fairer pay structures within the civil service so that we have justice and to improve morale?
In the absence of any money—and as the former Chief Secretary pointed out, there is no money left—the opportunities to equalise pay in an upwards direction are pretty limited. We have said that as part of the efficiency and reform group work that we have set in train, we will carry out a review to see how we can simplify civil service pay, but this is a deeply complex area.
The terms of reference for Will Hutton’s review are being drawn up and finalised. As my hon. Friend says, the review will look at the multiple between the best-paid and least-paid employees in the public sector. We are decentralisers and localists, so we will not expect to exercise our writ across the whole of the wider public sector. We think transparency will play an important part in driving down the differentials.
In our first month in government we have already published a number of key data sets, including the Treasury COINS—combined online information system—database, MRSA and C. difficile weekly infection rates for each hospital, and details of the salaries of 172 civil servants who are paid more than the Prime Minister. The letter from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 29 May set out specific commitments to publishing further data on spending, contracts and the civil service during the rest of the year. We will also give the public a right to data so that people can obtain the Government-held data sets that they want.
The right hon. Gentleman is doing a great job and I hope he gets the support of my Front-Bench team in accelerating the programme of releasing public sector data, but does he accept that the Government cannot be selective about those data? They cannot print 172 civil servants’ salaries without telling me what Andy Coulson is paid.
All this will be divulged in due course. If I may, I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman. When he was a Minister in the Cabinet Office, he pursued the agenda of data transparency with admirable vigour, and I suspect he was somewhat frustrated by the lack of progress that it was possible for him to make. I look forward to working closely with him as we jointly pursue this agenda in the public interest.
The Government are committed to making it easier for people to set up and run charities and to reduce the amount of regulation, monitoring and reporting that has been imposed on the sector. I am meeting the chair and chief executive of the Charity Commission next week to discuss this further.
We know how important gift aid is to the sector, and I will meet the Economic Secretary to the Treasury to discuss reform. We have said that we would like to reduce the bureaucratic burden associated with gift aid which falls on charities, and disproportionately on small charities. The Treasury-led gift aid forum is examining the case for reform and will report in September.
I, too, welcome the hon. Gentleman and the other Ministers to the Front Bench. In reviewing the regulation of charities, it is also important to maintain both the capacity and the capability of charities. Perhaps the Minister can therefore explain to the House the reasoning for ending the funding of the Futurebuilders programme, which was widely acclaimed in a recently published evaluation by Sheffield Hallam university, and which is building the capacity of precisely the organisations that the Government want to take more responsibility for delivering services?
We have not closed the funding for Futurebuilders. As the right hon. Lady well knows, Futurebuilders is effectively shut for business. It has spent the money. We have taken a decision to use the future income from the loan book to fund our programmes for training community organisers and a new community grants programme.
The programme has run its course, and we have taken a decision on where to recycle the income. We think that the future of loan finance delivery is through the big society bank, and we want to encourage the traditional banking industry to meet the sector’s debt needs. That is the future—not the Futurebuilders programme, which distorted the market, rather than built it.
I am very conscious of your admonition to be brief, Mr Speaker, so I shall just say to the hon. Gentleman that we have a rather more modest ambition, which is not to ask what the Cabinet can do for our Department, but what our Department can do for the Cabinet.
I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am actually the unofficial bag carrier to the Prime Minister; I do not even qualify as the official one. We have organised ourselves in a way that means that we have cut to the bare minimum the number of groups that we operate. We have a far tighter Cabinet Committee system than that which was operated under the previous Government, because, as I said to the hon. Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins), who asked an earlier question, we are absolutely determined that our Cabinet Committees be genuine decision-making bodies, not merely a dignified part of the constitution.
Efficiency and Reform Group
We are committed to proper engagement with public service staff and their representatives. Last week I had a good meeting with the Council of Civil Service Unions, and yesterday I attended a meeting of the TUC’s public service liaison group. We will invite the TUC and its member organisations, plus other representatives of public service employees, to meet regularly to discuss matters affecting the work force who deliver our vital public services, and to build on the work of the Public Service Forum, which I am committed to continuing and which will meet in July. There will be difficult issues to discuss, no doubt, but we are determined to air them through regular dialogue.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he look at the report that the Public and Commercial Services Union produced last year, showing that 20,000 tax collectors were sacked at a time when at least £40 billion of tax evasion and avoidance was going on in this country? Will he work with the unions to try to resolve that matter?
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but he will recollect the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury who said that there was no money left. We have to run the Government with less money than there was, and there will have to be cuts. We hope, to the maximum extent possible, that public spending can be cut without affecting jobs, but it is unreal to expect that that will be totally avoidable.
Early Intervention Programmes
I salute the hon. Gentleman’s pioneering work in that area, and he will know that the voluntary and community sector can be a very helpful provider of early intervention services that reduce the drivers of demand on the state. I shall be in contact with my colleagues in all relevant Departments about any future policy developments on early intervention, and about how the Office for Civil Society can contribute.
I welcome the Minister to his place. Will he meet me and a Treasury Minister to discuss how we can release the bonds on the voluntary and charitable sectors so that they can raise money in the City of London in order to pursue early intervention through social investment bonds? Will he agree to meet me?
I can certainly speak for myself and agree to meet the hon. Gentleman. He will know about the interesting work on social impact bonds, which bring in private capital for investment in early intervention and involve payment by results. That will be an important part of the future.
I am sure that that is the experience of most colleagues in the House—if they have been to visit social enterprises or community organisations and seen the extraordinary work that they can do and the different relationships that they can have with the people whom they are trying to help.
There was some very helpful co-operation there from a Government Back Bencher, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), and indeed, I pay tribute to the Minister on the Front Bench for responding in such a pithy and, I hope I can say, timely fashion. The House will be very grateful and will join me in thanking both the hon. Member for Wellingborough and, indeed, the Minister in his response from the Front Bench.
I ask the House to stand and to observe one minute’s silence in memory of those who lost their lives in west Cumbria a week ago today.
The House observed a one-minute silence.
The Prime Minister was asked—
As the people of Cumbria gather for memorial services to remember the shocking and tragic events of last week, it is right that our thoughts are with them and with the friends and families of all those who were killed or injured.
I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to the soldiers who have died in Afghanistan: from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Marine Anthony Hotine; from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, Lance Corporal Alan Cochran and Corporal Terry Webster; and a soldier from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery who died yesterday. They were all extremely talented and professional servicemen who gave their lives for the safety and security of people in our country. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude, and our thoughts should be with their families and with their friends.
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
May I associate myself with the words of the Prime Minister and offer my condolences to the families of those who were tragically killed in west Cumbria and of the servicemen who have died serving our country?
There have been reports in the newspapers that the Prime Minister wants a positive relationship with the Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and, indeed, wants to work with them in partnership. On that theme, will he put a measure before the House that allows a referendum this autumn for greater powers for the Welsh Assembly? Will he come clean with this House, and with the people of Wales, and say whether he is in favour of additional powers himself?
First, let me be as frank and as clear as I can be. We had a meeting of the joint ministerial council yesterday with representatives of all the devolved Assemblies and Governments. I want to have a genuine respect agenda between the UK Government and all those Administrations. We have always said—[Interruption.] I will tell you exactly what that means: there will be a referendum on extra powers for the Welsh Assembly. That referendum, we believe, should take place next year.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but if he wanted to have a referendum earlier, the last Secretary of State could have pushed it through earlier, and he did not. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that referendum will take place. It will be a matter for people in Wales to decide. They must determine their future. As for my view, as someone who spends a lot of time in Wales and has great respect for people in Wales, I always find that, yes, there is a debate about powers for the Assembly, but there is also debate among people in Wales wanting to know how we are going to make progress on housing, on health care, on schools, and on jobs—the real issues as well as just the institutional ones.
May I associate myself with the remarks that the Prime Minister rightly made about the dreadful shootings in Cumbria last week, and also pay tribute to the emergency services and to all those who are recovering from that appalling tragedy?
The Prime Minister will be aware that the national cancer reform strategy states that no cancer patient should have to travel for more than 45 minutes to receive radiotherapy treatment. Last December, we received a commitment from our local health trusts that there would be a new cancer unit for South Lakeland in Kendal. Will the Prime Minister agree to meet me and health campaigners and NHS officials soon to try to ensure that he, too, makes a commitment to the delivery of a cancer unit—
First, the hon. Gentleman will note from the coalition agreement, as I am glad to remind everyone, that we are protecting NHS spending. There will be real increases in NHS spending under this Government year on year. I absolutely understand the concerns that there are about wanting to keep services local to people. I know that is the case in Lakeland, and it is also the case with the West Cumberland hospital. I am very happy to ensure that there is a meeting between the Health Secretary and the hon. Gentleman to discuss the matter and ensure that we keep services local. A lot of the reconfigurations that took place under the previous Government caused an enormous amount of pain and unease in local areas and did not actually lead to improved services.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the four soldiers who have died in the service of our country in the past week: Marine Anthony Hotine from 40 Commando Royal Marines, Lance Corporal Alan Cochran and Corporal Terry Webster from 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment, and a soldier from 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery. They fought with bravery, and today we remember not just the sacrifice they made but the loved ones they leave behind.
I support what the Prime Minister said about Cumbria and join him in expressing our heartfelt sympathy to the family and friends of all those who were killed or injured. The police investigation is under way. Can he update us on the work that the Government are doing, and is he in a position yet to tell the House whether the Government have any plans to reconsider the regulations on guns? As the Home Secretary rightly said in her statement last week, we have to learn any lessons we can.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her words. It is right to reflect on this appalling tragedy and think about how best we can go forward. Specifically on gun laws, we need to be clear first about the full facts of the case. We also need to determine the type and scope of reviews that will take place after this tragedy. Of course the Home Office will look again at the gun laws in the light of the tragedy, and I can also announce today that the chief constable of Cumbria has already written to the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers asking him to support a peer review, to be conducted by national police experts on firearms licensing and police firearms response and tactics. Those reviews will become publicly available documents. We should not leap to conclusions, and I do not believe in knee-jerk legislation. We have in this country some of the tightest gun laws, but of course we should look again at them.
On the issue of what sort of review is right for people in west Cumbria, I will be meeting two of the west Cumbrian MPs whose constituencies are affected straight after Prime Minister’s questions in my office, and the right hon. and learned Lady would be very welcome to join us with the Home Secretary to discuss that matter. In the end, we must ensure that we do the right thing by the people of west Cumbria and that they are properly served by the things that we decide as a Government.
I fully support everything that the Prime Minister said in that answer, and may I say that I am sure that the visit that he and the Home Secretary made to Cumbria was very much appreciated?
Just before the general election, the Electoral Commission published a report showing that despite the efforts of electoral registration officers, there are still serious concerns about the number of people who are eligible to vote but who are not on the electoral register. Given that the Government are committed to major reform of constituency boundaries, will the Prime Minister undertake not to press forward with those changes on the basis of an electoral register that excludes 3.5 million people?
First, I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that it is important that people who are eligible to vote register to vote, and we want to see that sped up and improved. My right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister is taking forward that work. We also want to see individual voter registration, because there has been a great increase in fraud in recent years, but even as that work goes ahead it is important that we have reform so that we have equal-sized constituencies across our country. Those of us who support the first-past-the-post voting system want to make it more fair by ensuring that seats are the same size across our country. Where on earth is the unfairness in that?
The danger is that if the Prime Minister presses on in the way he has indicated, he will be making the system less fair, not more fair. As he said, the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledged to the House this week that there is a problem with the register. The Electoral Commission study found not just the number of people who are not on the register, but who they are: a third of all black people, half of all young people, and half of all private sector tenants are not on the register, despite the work that has been undertaken by electoral registration officers. Those people will not be counted if the Prime Minister redraws constituency boundaries now. He says he wants equal constituencies, but does he accept that he cannot have equal constituencies based on an unequal register?
I have to say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she had 13 years to sort out the issue of voter registration. What is interesting about what happened over the last 13 years is that elections used to be determined by a few officials in the Home Office. We have now got the vast bureaucracy of the Electoral Commission. It spends millions of pounds every year, employs dozens of people, holds huge great reviews, spends vast amounts of money on advertising, but has not succeeded in its task.
We will press ahead to get people to register, but I have to ask the right hon. and learned Lady this again: what on earth is unfair about equal-sized seats? My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) has, I think, to look after about 110,000 constituents, but some Opposition Members have about half that. That is simply not fair.
The Prime Minister has shown that he is not listening to the argument that he cannot redraw the boundaries, which is his Government’s proposal, until the problem of the register is sorted out. He has shown that he is not listening to argument, but pressing on regardless. That is not the new politics; it is downright unfair.
May I move to another issue? [Interruption.]
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Before the election, the coalition parties talked about ending what they called the surveillance society. The coalition agreement said that the Government would further regulate the use of closed circuit television, but on Monday, the Home Secretary could not tell the House what that would mean in practice. Can the Prime Minister tell us now?
First, I am not surprised that the right hon. and learned Lady wanted to move on to another subject. Let me make one last point on the previous question—[Interruption.] I am sorry if it is painful, but it is important. She says that it is not right to redraw boundaries until we have sorted out the electoral register, but I have to point out that we fought the last election on redrawn boundaries, so I think we have a long way to go on that. There was, I have to say, just a whiff of special pleading.
On surveillance, let me be clear that I support CCTV cameras. I have them in my constituency and they are very effective, and when I worked at the Home Office many years ago I championed such schemes, but I think everyone understands that the level of surveillance has become very great in our country. As well as the issue of CCTV, there is the issue of how many different sorts of officials are allowed to enter people’s houses without permission. We will be bringing forward legislation to deal with that. I know that the Labour party has given up on civil liberties, and that the right hon. and learned Lady used to be head of what was the National Council for Civil Liberties—that was all a long time ago—but we on this side of the House think civil liberties are important.
May I ask the Prime Minister the question again, because I was asking not about people entering people’s houses, but about CCTV? Can I tell him what Theresa was saying to me on Friday? [Hon. Members: “Theresa?”] Not the Home Secretary, but Theresa from the Poets Corner estate in my constituency. That Theresa is the one who knows about living on an estate that needs CCTV. Let me tell the Prime Minister that such people do not want to be told by this Government that it is going to be made harder to get the CCTV that they need on their estates. I press him on this because it is about people feeling, and being, safe in their communities. Will he guarantee that he will not do anything to make it harder to get or to use CCTV?
The right hon. and learned Lady should understand that this is all about proportionality and making sure that we have a system that helps protect people while respecting civil liberties. It is extraordinary how the Labour party is becoming more and more authoritarian. Hearing the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) talk about immigration, it seems we have the new Alf Garnett of British politics. It is one of the biggest U-turns that any of us can remember: for 13 years, not a word about immigration or our borders, but now they are all in a race. Perhaps it is time to move on to another subject, and the right hon. and learned Lady can tell us what she thinks about immigration.
Is the Prime Minister aware of the closure of 12 branches of the Derbyshire building society and its head office in the village of Duffield in my constituency? Can he assure me that he and his Government will do all they can to help those constituents who will lose their jobs—nearly 250 of them—in this small, rural area? Will he please assure us that the Government will do all they can to help these constituents who are being dealt this cruel blow at this difficult time?
I understand why my hon. Friend wants to raise this issue. What has happened to the Derbyshire building society is desperately sad, and obviously the Government will stand ready to do all we can to retrain people who have lost their jobs and to ensure that they get the very best opportunities, and also to ensure that we go on having a strong financial services sector. As the Derbyshire building society reminds us, this is not just about the City of London; it is about the fact that millions of people in our country work in financial services, providing a good service, and we need to help them.
Q2. One of the projects that stands to be affected by the Government’s decision to put on hold £600 million of housing investment is the housing element of the redevelopment of the Longbridge site in my constituency, which is important not just to that area but to the economic recovery of Birmingham as a whole. Given that the project is supported by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition that runs Birmingham city council, will the Prime Minister tell me what priority he will attach to the regenerative effects of such housing projects? (1327)
Everyone wants regeneration to continue in Birmingham, and I pay tribute to Birmingham city council, which is jointly run, I have to say, by Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, who are continuing with the very good work that they do. We want that regeneration to continue. The problem with the previous Government’s housing commitments, particularly on social housing, is that they simply were not funded. One of the things that we and the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills have been able to do, in making £6 billion of cuts this year, is plough back some of that money into social housing schemes, which the last Government promised but never funded.
Did my right hon. Friend have the opportunity to reflect overnight on the noble Lord Myners’s candid and forthright remarks in the other place about the appalling financial legacy left by the Labour party? Does he share my view that Lord Myners’s remarks make it clear that the Office for Budget Responsibility should clearly be supported on both sides of the House, and if anything is to be regretted, is it not the fact that he said that after, rather than before, the election?
Give him a job!
That is a good idea, on that performance. It is great to welcome my hon. Friend back to the House of Commons. He is right that Lord Myners, who was hand-picked by the last Government to be a Treasury Minister, put his finger on the button when he said:
“There is nothing progressive about a Government who consistently spend more than they can raise in taxation, and certainly nothing progressive that endows generations to come with the liabilities incurred by the current generation.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 June 2010; Vol. 719, c. 625.]
Those words are absolutely right, but what a pity he did not say it when he was in office and had the chance to do something about it.
Q3. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for writing to me today to tell me that the decision on the Nissan grant will be fast-tracked. Waiting for this decision is causing huge economic uncertainty to the north-east economy. I hope that the Prime Minister can help me with a similar cause of concern to my constituents—the issue of whether the rebuilding of Hetton school will go ahead as planned. (1328)
First of all, having written the hon. Lady a letter, I can now go a bit further and confirm, with respect to the specific grant for Nissan that she raised last week, that the money will go ahead and the investment will be going in. Before Opposition Members jump to their feet, let me explain what the problem is with some of the grants. Before the last election, Lord Mandelson had a giant cheque book, which he went all round the country opening up, spending tens of billions of pounds, which he promised to 200 projects, two thirds of which were conveniently located in Labour marginal seats. Given that so much money was spent, it is only right for a responsible incoming Government to review those decisions one by one and make sure that the money is well spent. Fortunately for Lord Mandelson, someone else is now getting out their cheque book to pay for his memoirs.
Q4 . NHS managers in my Bromsgrove constituency tell me that they are being strangled by the level of bureaucracy. What action will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister take to make sure that hospitals will never be allowed again to put top-down targets before patient care? (1329)
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. We all know of cases where targets were getting in the way of proper clinical outcomes and clinical care. Too many people have experienced that in the health service, and our view is clear: if there is no clinical justification for targets, they will go. I can announce today that we will fulfil another important pledge—to have a public inquiry into the appalling events at the Mid Staffordshire hospital. I remember going to Stafford and meeting families, many of which had lost loved ones, some of whom went into hospital for a routine operation, but because the standards of hygiene and the management were not right and, frankly, because targets were being pursued rather than clinical outcomes, people died needlessly. This inquiry is important so that people in Staffordshire can tell their story.
Q5. “The Coalition: our programme for government” states:“We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.”May I ask the Prime Minister why he believes that defendants in rape cases are more deserving of anonymity than those accused of murder, domestic violence or sexual abuse of children? (1330)
I know that the right hon. Lady cares very deeply about this issue—the key issue of getting the conviction rate for rapists up—as do I. I know that she gave a good speech on the subject in an Adjournment debate. What I would say is that none of us should ignore the fact that somehow there is a problem with this. We know that a lot of people are falsely accused, whose careers and lives can be blighted—[Interruption.] Opposition Members shake their heads, but in some cases people have committed suicide. One of the proofs is that when the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), now leader of the Labour party, was in office, she commissioned a report into this issue by Baroness Stern, which found that 8 to 10% of reported rape cases could result in false allegations. Baroness Stern, who looked into the issue, said that defendant anonymity was often raised and that a
“full examination of the issues would be helpful to the debate”.
What we are promising is to bring proposals forward so that they can be debated. Let us not ignore the fact that there is a problem, because there is one, and let us see if we can work together to find the right outcome.
The people of Wootton Bassett in my constituency who, week by week, lead the nation in paying their respects to our fallen heroes seek no thanks or recognition for so doing. When the happy day comes when our soldiers are finally brought back from Afghanistan, however, I wonder whether the Prime Minister and his colleagues would consider repositioning the very fine war memorial from Camp Bastion to the High street in Wootton Bassett in commemoration of the way in which the local people carry out their service?
I think my hon. Friend makes an extremely good and positive suggestion. The whole country has seen the incredible devotion of people in Wootton Bassett, who, come rain or shine, are always out on the streets watching as that very sad procession goes by. I think it has stirred people in this country to see that, when it comes to this conflict, whatever we think of it, we all want to support our troops and their families. We all want to do what we can to recognise that. It is not just a Government thing; it is about the whole of our society wanting to recognise what these people do on our behalf. The people of Wootton Bassett are, in my view, right up there among the heroes.
Q6. I am sure the Prime Minister is aware that a cross-party group of MPs worked extremely hard in the last Parliament to persuade the Government to adopt new measures to regulate houses in multiple occupation and to license private landlords. Can he reassure me that his Government will not seek to undermine that legislation, which is so important to my city centre community and others? (1331)
The hon. Lady has made a very good point. We all know of the problems of houses that are kept badly, and of past problems involving HMOs. I will ask the Minister for Housing to get in touch with her about his plans, so that we can ensure that we get this right.
The legacy of the former Government’s disastrous decision making in Iraq is still plain to see. Will the Prime Minister look at the existing Home Office guidance on the deporting of asylum seekers to Baghdad? A plane has left today. May I ask the Prime Minister to consider the matter again, personally and compassionately, to ensure that we have a firm immigration policy, but remain a bastion for people fleeing political persecution?
I will certainly look into my hon. Friend’s point. However, I think we should recognise that whatever view we took of the Iraq conflict—and I supported it—at least Iraq now has some chance of stability and democracy. We are actually seeing some progress there. This morning I had a meeting with General Petraeus, who brought me up to date on what he considers to be the latest situation.
It is important to remember that one of the reasons why our brave servicemen and women fought and died in Iraq was that they were trying to make it a more stable country, and a country to which people who had fled it would be able to return. Yes, of course I will look at the specific issue raised by my hon. Friend, but in general, while we are here to offer people asylum when they are fleeing torture and persecution, if we help to make their country safe they should be able to go home.
Q7. I thank the Prime Minister for his recent visit to west Cumbria. Will he give me a personal assurance that he will do everything in his power to help and support its people, who have suffered so grievously in recent times? (1332)
I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I know how hard he and other MPs in Cumbria have been working to bring people together after this appalling tragedy. They are, as someone has said, a very tough people in west Cumbria, but also very compassionate, very caring, and a very strong community. They have shown that in the way in which they have responded to these dreadful events.
As I said in answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham, we will meet after Question Time to discuss what should be done next. I think that that is important, and I think it important to recognise that west Cumbria is a part of the country that sometimes feels quite cut off.
Amazing work was done by West Cumberland hospital, which proved itself when facing the most appalling tragedy, and the terrible difficulties caused by the fact that so many people with such awful injuries were coming to the hospital at once. People are inclined to say that it is a bit too small to cope with such events, but it coped magnificently, and I think it proved that big is not always beautiful.
The last Government changed the rules so that anyone claiming asylum in this country must do so in person in my constituency. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is wrong to ask one local authority to shoulder what should be a national responsibility, and if so, will the Government review the decision?
I should be happy to consider that. I recall that it has been an issue in the past for constituencies surrounding Heathrow airport, and that mechanisms were introduced in an attempt to alleviate some of the burdens. I will ensure that Home Office Ministers get in touch with my hon. Friend so that we can deal with this problem.
Q8. The European Commission recently reported that European fish stocks were being fished at unsustainable levels, and that 30% were close to collapse. Will the Prime Minister negotiate with European colleagues to seek the abandonment of the common fisheries policy, and, if they do not agree, give notice of Britain’s withdrawal from the CFP? (1333)
That is a question that I am rather used to anticipating from those on the Conservative Benches. I think that even the most enthusiastic supporter of the European Union would recognise that the common fisheries policy has not been a success either in supporting our fishermen or in saving fish stocks. There are good lessons to be learned from other countries that have done better. I have to say though that that sometimes means some very drastic action in terms of closing some fishing areas altogether, but other countries have managed to do that and to regenerate their fishing stocks, so we will certainly take forward those negotiations on, I am sure, a coalition-wide basis.
Does the Prime Minister agree that we have heard a lot about fairness from Labour Members today, but there is nothing fair about the legacy that the Labour Government have left us: the £75 billion of debt interest that we will have to pay, which we could have spent on public services in all the constituencies represented in the House, including my constituency of Devizes?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point, which is that, if we do not take action to deal with the deficit, we will pay over £70 billion, not repaying the debt, but just on debt interest in five years’ time. Think about it like this: all the revenue gleaned from corporation tax—all the tax on every company making a profit in our country—does not even pay for half the debt interest bill. That is the mess that we have been left in, but this Government have the courage to deal with it.
Q9. The Prime Minister will agree that cross-border rail services are strategically important to the UK. Will he therefore honour the assurances given to me by the previous Government that east coast main line services will continue to stop at Motherwell and that there will be an increase in west coast main line services stopping at Motherwell? (1334)
Q10. The Prime Minister will know that I am a follower of my beloved England football team. I ask him to do a great thing for the people of England: cut through the bureaucracy and nonsense and fly the flag of England over Downing street for the duration of the World cup. (1335)
I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that I have had those conversations. There was some question that this was going to have a cost impact, but I have managed to cut through that and I can say that, at no additional cost to the taxpayer, the flag of St George will fly above Downing street during the World cup. I am sure that the whole House will want to wish Fabio Capello and all our team well—for the purposes of this, I am looking at all the Benches here. I am sure that everyone in the House, no matter what part of the UK they come from, will be cheering, “Come on England.”
Q13. I thank the Prime Minister for his kind words about the Cumbrian people. Can he say, in relation to his forthcoming gun review, whether he thinks that it is still worth the risk to allow guns used for sport to continue to be kept at home? Will that be considered in his review? (1338)
The hon. Gentleman is right that everything has to be considered, including the mental health of people and police visits to their homes, but we have, because of previous tragedies, very strict rules on what people who keep guns at home have to do in terms of very strict security. I remember sitting on the Home Affairs Committee and asking the ACPO representative responsible for the issue how much leakage there was from legally held guns into the illegal, black market. The answer was virtually none, so if we are looking for what the problem is, it is clearly that in our society we have a huge number of guns that we need to get rid of. Clearly, there was an appalling problem in this case, where, as I have said, a switch flicked in someone’s head. We cannot legislate against that, but let us look at every aspect and ensure that we have the robust laws that we need.
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
In March last year, the Healthcare Commission’s report on Mid Staffordshire and the appalling failures in patient care that it laid bare shocked us all. Three reports later, and I am announcing today what should have been announced then: a full public inquiry into how these events went undetected and unchallenged for so long. The inquiry will be held in public, including the evidence, the oral hearings and the final report. We can combat a culture of secrecy and restore public confidence only by ensuring the fullest openness and transparency in any investigation.
So why another inquiry? We know only too well every harrowing detail of what happened at Mid Staffordshire and the failings of the trust, but we are still little closer to understanding how that was allowed to happen by the wider system. The families of those patients who suffered so dreadfully deserve to know, and so too does every NHS patient in this country.
This was a failure of the trust first and foremost, but it was also a national failure of the regulatory and supervisory system, which should have secured the quality and safety of patient care. Why did it have to take a determined group of families to expose those failings and campaign tirelessly for answers? I pay tribute again to the work of Julie Bailey and Cure the NHS, rightly supported by Members in this House.
Why did the primary care trust and strategic health authority not see what was happening and intervene earlier? How was the trust able to gain foundation status while clinical standards were so poor? Why did the regulatory bodies not act sooner to investigate a trust whose mortality rates had been significantly higher than the average since 2003 and whose record in dealing with serious complaints was so poor? The public deserve answers.
The previous reports are clear that the following existed: a culture of fear in which staff did not feel able to report concerns; a culture of secrecy in which the trust board shut itself off from what was happening in its hospital and ignored its patients; and a culture of bullying, which prevented people from doing their jobs properly. Yet how these conditions developed has not been satisfactorily addressed. The 800-page report by Robert Francis QC, published in February, gave us a forensic account of the local failures in that hospital and the consequences for patients, but, like its predecessors, his report was limited by its narrow terms of reference.
I am pleased to say that Robert Francis has agreed to chair the new inquiry, and he will have the full statutory force of the Inquiries Act 2005 to compel witnesses to attend and speak under oath. Clearly these are complex issues, and Robert Francis has already said he wants to establish an expert panel that can help support him through this process. However, it is important for everyone that the inquiry be conducted thoroughly and swiftly, with the aim of providing its final report and conclusions by March 2011.
I also want to assure the House, however, that we will not wait to take earlier action where necessary. I can therefore announce today that we are going to give teeth to the current safeguards for whistleblowers in the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 by: reinforcing the NHS constitution to make clear the rights and responsibilities of NHS staff and their employers in respect of whistleblowing; seeking through negotiations with NHS trade unions to amend terms and conditions of service for NHS staff to include a contractual right to raise concerns in the public interest; issuing unequivocal guidance to NHS organisations that all their contracts of employment should cover staff whistleblowing rights; issuing new guidance to the NHS about supporting and taking action on concerns raised by staff in the public interest; and exploring with NHS staff further measures to provide a safe and independent authority to which they can turn when their own organisation is not listening or acting on concerns.
In the coming weeks we will introduce further far-reaching reforms of the NHS that go to the very heart of the failures at Mid Staffs. This is not about changes in processes or structures; it is about a wider shift in culture, putting patients at the heart of the NHS and focusing on the things that matter most to them. That includes putting the focus on safety. At Mid-Staffs, safety was not the priority. It was undermined by politically motivated process targets. The first Francis inquiry was crystal clear on that point. It said:
“This evidence satisfies me that there was an atmosphere in which front line staff and managers were led to believe that if the targets were not met they would be in danger of losing their jobs. There was an atmosphere which led to decisions being made under pressure about patients, decisions that had nothing to do with patient welfare. As will be seen, the pressure to meet the waiting target was sometimes detrimental to good care in A & E.”
We will scrap such process targets and replace them with a new focus on patients’ outcomes—the only outcomes that matter. We will empower patients with access to information, giving them the ability to hold their own records, to make informed choices and to interact more readily with clinicians. We will put power in patients’ hands. Ultimately, if patients had been informed and empowered, and if people had listened to them rather than obsessing about centrally mandated processes and targets, these scandalous failings could not have gone unchallenged for so long.
In closing, I want to say a word about the trust itself. It is so important that the hospital and the trust, which have been under such an intense spotlight, should be able to continue to improve services for the patients they serve and continue to rebuild the trust and the fractured confidence of their community. Staffing there has increased, with more than 140 more nurses recruited since March 2009. Processes are more open and transparent, and monthly board meetings are now being held in public. Results are improving: the hospital standardised mortality ratio there is now significantly lower, and the rate of healthcare associated infections has improved. The Care Quality Commission will, in the coming weeks, provide its considered view on that progress, when it publishes the findings of its “12 month on” review.
We cannot and should not underestimate the task still ahead, and the attention of the trust must not be unduly diverted. That is why I am clear that this further inquiry should not cover ground already covered in the first Francis inquiry, and that it should, as far as possible, ensure that it supports all those staff who are working so hard to bring about the necessary changes. When this inquiry has completed its work and I return to the House to present its report, I am confident that we will, for the first time in this tragic saga, be able to discuss conclusions rather than just questions. We will be able to show that we have finally faced up to the truths of this terrible episode and that we are taking every step to ensure that it is never allowed to happen again. That is a basic duty of any Government. For the people of Staffordshire—many of whose relatives suffered unbearably in the closing stages of their lives—and for the nation as a whole, this is the very least they are entitled to. I commend this statement to the House.
I begin by thanking the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr Lansley) for his statement, much of which I welcome. It will be hard for the people of Stafford and for the staff at the hospital to hear that their town and their hospital are in the news again today, and it is important to say at the outset—as the Secretary of State did—that this inquiry relates to historical events at the hospital and that the situation there has been improving ever since. I should like to put on record my own personal appreciation of the role played by the new chair and chief executive of Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust in improving standards at the hospital, rebuilding confidence and rebuilding the important relationships with the local community.
Events at the hospital between 2006 and 2008 represent one of the darkest chapters in our national health service. As the Francis report—which ran to two volumes and more than 900 pages—documented, there were appalling failures at every level, from basic care and human compassion on the wards to a failure in the duty of care at board level towards staff, patients and the whole community.
The NHS and its values are part of what makes our country great, but the NHS is not perfect. When things go wrong, it has a tendency to push people away and bring down the shutters. Yes, it is hard to deal with complaints when they affect matters of life and death, but it is only by holding up a mirror to the national health service that we will get an open, learning health service that learns from its mistakes and ensures that they are not repeated. That is why I took the decision to commission the original Francis report. It is also why, before the election, I signalled the need for a second-stage inquiry, to be held in public, into the actions of the supervisory and regulatory bodies, right up to the Department of Health. I therefore give the Secretary of State the assurance that this new inquiry will have the Opposition’s full co-operation, from the very top right the way down.
We published the draft terms of reference for that second-stage inquiry before the election. Will the Secretary of State therefore explain to the House what questions or areas it will consider that were not covered either by the Francis report or the draft terms of reference that we laid before this House and on which we sought comments from a wide range of organisations? Also, what is different about the inquiry that he has announced, compared with the one that we proposed?
How long will the new inquiry take, and how much will it cost? Will he give the House an assurance—as I think that he did in his statement—that he will ensure that it does not distract the trust from the overriding task of ensuring that the hospital continues to make the necessary improvements? Will he also make sure that the trust’s leadership can continue to focus on improving relations with the local community?
Will the right hon. Gentleman give me an assurance that the recommendations of the original Francis report will continue to be implemented in full while the new inquiry takes place? He will know that Robert Francis concluded in his original report that many people came forward who would not have done if the inquiry had been held under a different status. I gave Robert Francis the ability to come back to me to ask for further powers if they were necessary, but may I ask for the right hon. Gentleman’s assurance today that the status of the new inquiry will ensure that all the people who need to speak to it do come forward and give evidence?
On NHS targets, I was disappointed by the Secretary of State’s comments in his statement, and by those of the Prime Minister a few moments ago, as they appear to be prejudging the inquiry that they have set up today. Trusts up and down the country are implementing national standards safely. Indeed, targets are about patient safety: the four-hour A and E target is the basic minimum that every person in this country can expect when arriving at the door of the NHS.
The targets were implemented and brought in because some years ago, people were waiting for hours on end—almost whole days—in A and E departments. If the Secretary of State is resolved to remove that standard in the NHS, which many of the professional health bodies support, will he therefore give us an assurance that we will not see a rise in A and E waiting times? What mechanism will he implement to ensure that?
The trust’s board allowed staffing to fall to dangerously low levels, with 120 whole-time equivalents lacking from the wards. I put it to the Secretary of State that that was the main reason for the failures at the trust. I am sure that he will agree with me that not all the staff then working at the hospital are to blame, and that there are many good, decent, hard-working people at the hospital who will again find it hard to see their place of work back in the news today. There will also be many staff across the NHS who will feel that there is a daily focus on their failings but very little recognition of the outstanding professional standards that they show, or of the millions of acts of human kindness that take place in our NHS day in and day out.
In closing, may I ask the Secretary of State to give the House an assurance that he will always present a balanced picture and, in this case, be clear that these were isolated events at an isolated hospital?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for indicating that he supports this further inquiry, and that he and his colleagues will give it that support. They will know that for more than six years as shadow Secretary of State I always gave both a balanced and positive view of what the staff of the NHS achieve daily on our behalf. That extends to the staff at Stafford hospital, as I have made clear to them when I have visited them in the past. Indeed, I shall be visiting again tomorrow in order to make that even clearer—and I have asked Robert Francis to ensure that as he conducts his inquiry, he does whatever he can not to divert them from continuing to improve care for people in Staffordshire.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what the difference is between the inquiry that I am announcing today and what he said should happen in a second stage Francis report, and I must tell him that there are a number of very serious differences. First, this is an inquiry not under the National Health Service Act 2006 but under the Inquiries Act 2005, so there will be a presumption that hearings will be held in public, and that records of evidence and information given to the inquiry must be made available to the public.
In addition, there will be a power of compulsion in respect of witnesses and evidence. I simply do not accept his assertion that had there been a different legal basis for the earlier inquiry people would not have come forward to give evidence. Either they would have done so or, if they had not been willing to do so, they could have been compelled to do so; that power will be available now. This inquiry will have a power to take evidence on oath and a power under the 2005 Act to make recommendations, if Robert Francis so concludes, concerning not only NHS organisations, which are covered by the 2006 Act, but non-NHS organisations. The terms of reference make it clear that Robert Francis will be able to look more widely. The inquiry will examine, for example, the actions of the coroner and the Health and Safety Executive. Indeed, he will be able to make recommendations in relation to the General Medical Council. He would not have been empowered to do that in an inquiry simply under the 2006 Act.
Finally, may I deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s point about targets? The four-hour target is not a measure of outcome; it is not a measure of the result for patients. The result for patients is about their going to an emergency department and their disease, injury or illness being treated successfully. What happened at Stafford hospital provided evidence—we saw other such evidence in many other places—to suggest that the four-hour target was being pursued not in order to give the best possible care to patients, but in spite of what would be the best possible care for patients. Patients were being discharged when they should not have been, and patients were being transferred to inappropriate wards where there was no provision to look after them.
It is vital that we focus on the result for patients. Like me, the right hon. Gentleman knows that the length of wait in the emergency department is not an irrelevant fact for patients. We are therefore going to consider, constructively, how to scrap the four-hour target as it currently exists, and, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions, work on the basis of saying that what the clinical evidence makes clear directly contributes to delivering the best possible results for patients. We will start that process soon, in making that clear to the NHS. Our approach will go beyond the simple question of how long people wait in an emergency department; it will go to the outcomes being achieved in those departments. That is what putting quality at the heart of the NHS actually means; it means quality and results, not just processes.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his statement and for the announcement of an inquiry under the 2005 Act. I am also grateful to him and to the Prime Minister for their support for my constituents over the extremely difficult past year. The Secretary of State will recall that I have written to him on a number of matters in connection with this case, but I should like to raise just one now. Can he assure me that the resources needed both for the inquiry itself and for staff cover will be made available to the trust, so that staff can continue the vital work of restoring public confidence in Stafford hospital?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Although he has only recently arrived in this House to represent his constituents, I know from my personal experience of our conversations, our meetings and my visits to see him and others in Stafford just how diligently and consistently, and in what a compelling way, he has represented his constituents over the past year or so. In reply to his question, I can tell him that although I have made it clear to Robert Francis that we must do this swiftly—and, therefore, without incurring excessive costs—we must do it successfully and achieve a quality result in order to inform everything we need to do to improve the NHS. We need to go beyond the mere structures and the processes—we have seen all that—to find out why people in all those structures were not focusing on patient safety and quality of care, and how they can be better incentivised, encouraged and required to do that in future. I am sure that my hon. Friend knows that we are ensuring that the additional costs that the Mid Staffordshire trust has had to meet in the course of the first Francis inquiry and now, and in supporting the delivery of better care, are being met with additional resources from the strategic health authority.
May I, on behalf of constituents whose families were affected by what happened at Mid Staffs, welcome the continued focus that the new coalition Government are placing on making progress on this issue and on ensuring that what happened before never happens again at Stafford hospital? I pay tribute to the work done by my former colleague David Kidney, who, along with the action group, called for a full public inquiry into this matter; that needs to be put on the record. Will the Secretary of State give me assurances about the make-up of the panel, and perhaps give consideration to making trade union representatives members of it? We need to ensure that all people affected in the provision of care can be properly represented and can be part of that panel in the further inquiry.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her support for the further inquiry. I should say, first, that I share her view that David Kidney sought to get to the bottom of what happened at his local hospital, and pressed for a further, and public, inquiry. The shadow Secretary of State must know that at the beginning of last September Robert Francis came to him in the midst of his first inquiry to raise the issue of the legal base for that inquiry and the question of whether it should be brought under the Inquiries Act. He wanted the terms of reference to be extended sufficiently widely to ensure that at that stage he could have looked beyond the question of what happened, to the question of why the primary care trust, the strategic health authority, the NHS in general, and other organisations, did not intervene earlier and in a better way. On 10 September last year, the then Secretary of State did not agree that that should happen, but had he done so the first Francis inquiry could have achieved much earlier what the second will now have to do.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, which was well overdue because the previous Government declined to do what he has agreed to do. I also thank the Prime Minister—a former candidate for Stafford—who took a very active part in this extremely important decision, for which both my constituents and those in Stafford will be deeply grateful. The Secretary of State has rightly dealt with the question of oaths and of compulsion of witnesses. Will he also indicate that expenses relating to the provision of legal representation for witnesses will also be made available? In addition to dealing with issues relating to whistleblowers and targets, will the whole question of self-assessment by hospitals and hospital trusts be considered? Will the inquiry examine those matters? A similar inquiry in 1984 led to a great improvement in the national circumstances relating to hospitals. The same hospital was involved in the legionnaires disease inquiry that Baroness Thatcher incorporated. I again thank the Secretary of State for making this decision, which will be greatly welcomed in my constituency.
If I may, Mr Speaker, I shall content myself with saying that my hon. Friend made it clear from the outset that an Inquiries Act inquiry was the right idea. He said that more than a year ago, and had we gone down that route then, we would have been much further towards getting to the whole truth now. Matters relating to the Inquiries Act and the panel membership are ones that will now be determined by Robert Francis. I have published the terms of reference to which he will be working, and under the Inquiries Act issues such as legal representation and its funding are determined under those.
My constituents who were affected will also be following very carefully what happens in this public inquiry, and I associate myself with what has been said about David Kidney, who worked extremely hard and effectively on this horrific issue.
I am concerned that the horrific failure at this hospital is being used as a hook in a most appalling way for the proposals to scrap targets, which the Conservatives have talked about for a long time. In any system there will always be people who try to manipulate it; in a culture of fear and bullying, as there was in this hospital, that is exactly when systems will be manipulated. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore take into account as wide a spectrum of advice as possible when he is considering the new outcome proposals, to ensure that whatever system he brings in is not also open to abuse and manipulation?
One of the hon. Gentleman’s friends says that we should take action on the basis of the first Francis inquiry, and we will, and the hon. Gentleman says that we should not take action on targets. The first Francis report made it clear that targets compromise patient care, so we do need to take action.
The hon. Gentleman asked a further question. Robert Francis and I have had two discussions and the terms of reference are very clear. He is looking beyond the structures and processes to how the culture of bullying, fear and secrecy came to pass, what effect it had and how we can move beyond that. The report will be very important, if it is successful, not just for the people of Staffordshire but right across the country in showing how we can move from a top-down, secretive, bullying culture to one that is absolutely open, transparent, focused on patient safety and entirely responsive to the needs of patients.
One of the tragedies is that concerns were being raised about Stafford hospital as long as five years ago but little or no notice was taken of them. A constituent of mine, Barbara Allatt, was until recently a student nurse who helped to expose the appalling neglect of elderly patients at the hospital trust, but rather than her concerns being acted on, she was instead needlessly thrown off her training course. In his statement, the Secretary of State outlined new whistleblowing rights for future staff. Will those rights be extended retrospectively so that staff who spoke out previously, and in doing so put their job at risk, will not be punished again?
Of course, by definition, contractual rights cannot be retrospectively applied, but let me make it clear that I will be issuing guidance in terms that I have set out to the House in my statement today—albeit that we might need to do more. That guidance is entirely intended to move the NHS to an open culture that encourages staff to raise concerns. As I said to the Patients Association yesterday, we must have a culture of challenge inside the NHS under which the offence is not to make a mistake, as mistakes are human, but to seek to cover up or ignore a mistake. That is what happens in the best organisations and it must be what happens throughout the NHS.
The hon. Gentleman will forgive me: I know that the chief executive, the chair, the nursing director and others have moved on, but I do not know the precise answer and I will write to him about that. In relation to any individuals, I think it is proper that, having asked Robert Francis to conduct a further inquiry that takes account of all that he discovered in the first report and that covers the same period of time—2005 to 2009—he is free to make recommendations that will bear upon people working inside the trust and in organisations, and upon how they discharge those responsibilities.
I thank my right hon. Friend for announcing the inquiry, which will be welcomed by many of my constituents and others. I urge the Department of Health always to listen to the relatives of patients, because relatives were saying that this was a problem far earlier than anyone else. Will the Secretary of State, please, always listen to what relatives and patients say?
I am glad that my hon. Friend raises this point, because I know from the four occasions on which I have visited Stafford and talked to members of the Cure the NHS group just what a desperate struggle they had to be listened to. We should therefore be clear not only about changing the culture inside the NHS, so that patients’ issues and complaints are treated seriously from the outset in an open and transparent way, but that the patient voice should be strengthened in the NHS. Even people who are literally self-appointed voices for patients should not be dismissed and pushed to the margins. We have to be prepared to listen to patients however their views are brought forward.
The Secretary of State was unclear about his proposals for waiting times. Will he clarify this issue? He seems to be saying that he will do away with waiting times but then introduce a new system. Will the new waiting time be four hours, five hours, six hours, 10 hours or 12 hours?
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand. I was very clear in saying that I am going to abolish the four-hour accident and emergency target. I will issue guidance to the NHS shortly, the purpose of which is to amend the four-hour A and E target, alongside others, to ensure that we deliver better quality. That is not just about the time spent waiting in an emergency department; it is about the quality of the service provided and it is based on clinical evidence.
The report highlights that there was a breakdown of care at almost every level, from basic nursing care up to high levels of communication. Does the Secretary of State agree that when the patient becomes the absolute focus of every level of care delivery, from basic levels of nursing care right up to top levels of management, it will be more difficult for such a culture to grow in terms of process delivery? Will he guarantee that the report will look at putting back into hospitals the approach of making the patient the most important person and of putting the patient at the centre of every element of care that is delivered?
Yes; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I have made it clear that that is the first priority for our Department in how we are going to improve the NHS. As a nurse, my hon. Friend will know that what she describes is absolutely how many people across the NHS want to conduct their professional relationships. They have been so frustrated, demoralised and demotivated by not being able to deliver care in the way that they wish—focusing on the needs and expectations of patients.
Is not the important issue that the terrible events in Mid Staffordshire are not purely a local issue, terrible though they are for Mid Staffordshire? It is vital that lessons are learned for application right across the NHS. What were the commissioners doing? Where were the regulators? What price professional accountability? Why was all that allowed to happen over so long? Perhaps the most difficult question of all is this: why was it not the first time that this had happened in the NHS?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why we have to move from all those questions to some serious answers—so that we can have the reform that the NHS so badly needs. I know and he knows that this is about not just a different set of structures, but a change of culture and a focus in the NHS on patients and results for patients to the exclusion of other bureaucratic impositions. There is such immense bureaucracy—PCTs, SHAs and regulators—that everything should have worked perfectly, but it did not. Why? Because in all of that, the underlying pressures in the service were not focused on results for patients. We have to drive towards that conclusion.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. Only yesterday, I wrote to him regarding a constituent in South Derbyshire who had gone through a four-hour wait and was then admitted, to make sure that the four-hour rule was not broken, and had to stay in a ward for six hours and see even more people when he could have been on a bus going home much earlier. There are lessons to be learned across the whole country, and I look forward to the report coming through.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We will take not only the clear evidence from the first Francis report, but evidence from many other places, including that from many of the leading clinical professions that the way in which the four-hour target has been administered has undermined the quality of patient care. We will focus on quality and help the NHS to deliver what it knows is the right quality.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to his post and thank him for his two visits to Malvern over the past few years to support the new community hospital that will open in October.
My right hon. Friend mentioned the West Midlands strategic health authority. In the past six months, the authority has required our local Worcestershire NHS to divest itself of its community hospitals. At the moment, the authority is proposing to abolish the mental health trust and put it and the community hospitals into a new trust. Secondly, it has asked NHS Worcestershire to cluster with neighbouring NHS organisations. What are my right hon. Friend’s proposals to stop all those reorganisations and focus on patient outcomes?
The inquiry will look at both the West Midlands SHA and its predecessor bodies. My hon. Friend will know from what I said a couple of weeks ago that proposals for such reconfigurations in the national health service must now answer to the clinical evidence—the clinical base. They must answer to patients—current and prospective patient choice—and to the referral intentions and commissioning intentions of general practitioners exercising responsibility for commissioning. That will change the nature of such decisions from a top-down, unaccountable process to one that is much more locally accountable and effective.
The excellent new Secretary of State for Health was right to praise the men and women of the health service, but when things go wrong there needs to be an early-warning system. Does he agree that standardised mortality rates are an indication that something might be going wrong, and that such indicators should be used more often to investigate hospitals?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. First, the Francis inquiry will go on to understand why one of those hospital SMRs, from 2003, indicated the nature of a potential problem. The SMRs are not a sufficient measure of quality across the board. The National Quality Board has already undertaken some work on how we can ensure that hospital SMRs are consistent and meaningful, and beyond that how we can identify the early-warning signs and act on them. As one of the things we derive from that, I shall be working with the quality board and across the NHS to ensure that we act on warning signs, including looking at potential risks either across the system or in relation to individual trusts.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I draw your attention to today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph? It announces a planning policy change on so-called garden grabbing. May I ask you to investigate the circumstances of this case, which appear to be of selective leaking and spin, and will you report to the House your views on that and your views in general on announcements being made to journalists before they are made to Members of the House?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I hope he will not be shocked, and the House will not be horrified, to learn that I have not yet read The Daily Telegraph today. However, I am mindful of the fact that there has been a written ministerial statement on the subject by the Government, so I do not think it would be correct or accurate to characterise the situation as one in which the House has not been informed of Government policy. I am happy to look at the piece in question. I will reflect on it. If I have anything further to add that the House needs to hear, the House will hear it, but otherwise I am inclined to leave the matter there.
Identity Documents Bill
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am very pleased to introduce the first piece of legislation that the new Administration are putting before Parliament. It signals a profound change in the way in which Government will interact with the people they serve.
The national identity card scheme represents the worst of government. It is intrusive and bullying, ineffective and expensive. It is an assault on individual liberty which does not promise a greater good. The Bill is, therefore, partly symbolic. It sends a message that the Government are going to do business in a different way. We are the servants of the people, not their masters, and every action that we take must be considered in that context.
Of course our first duty is to keep people safe. That truism cannot be repeated often enough. We will do whatever it takes to honour that covenant. Sometimes, respecting the rights of the few while protecting the many will be a delicate balancing act. Not on this occasion. We have no hesitation in making the national identity card scheme an unfortunate footnote in history. There it should remain—a reminder of a less happy time when the Government allowed hubris to trump civil liberties.
Last month, the coalition set out its plans to abolish ID cards and the national identity register. The register contains the biographic and biometric fingerprint data of cardholders. In bringing forward this stand-alone Bill, we are now seeking swift approval to enable us to abolish both.
The Government are of course also bringing forward a freedom Bill, and will launch a consultation on the laws that the British people want to see repealed. So the Identity Documents Bill is just our first measure as we begin to restore the balance between national security and civil liberties—the crucial, delicate balance which was so carelessly abandoned during Labour’s years in office.
I opposed identity cards from the very beginning and I have not changed my views, but will the Home Secretary bear in mind that in 1996 the Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, announced that the Conservative Government intended to bring in an identity card scheme? It was described as voluntary—whatever that meant. It was not possible to do so for obvious reasons: because of what happened in 1997.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of what was done in 1996 by a former Conservative Home Secretary and what was proposed. That Conservative Government did indeed look at the possibility. We have looked at the idea brought forward by the Labour Government and we do not think that it is right. We take a different view, which is that we should abolish the identity card scheme. The hon. Gentleman referred to his opposition and indeed a number of Labour Members objected to the proposals of their Front-Bench colleagues.
No. I shall come to that point later. There are biometric residency permits for foreign nationals and they are completely separate from the identity card scheme. They were rolled into the ID scheme only because the Labour Government were trying desperately to bolster it; they claimed that the residency permits were somehow part of the ID card scheme, which they are not. Those biometric residency permits will continue to exist.
As one of the Labour Members who opposed identity cards from the beginning, I am delighted that the Bill is one of the first pieces of legislation that the new Government are putting through. Will the Home Secretary say something about people who went ahead and rather stupidly bought an identity card? Does she feel that they should be recompensed or does she think they should have listened to those of us on both sides of the House who said, “This is the wrong scheme and you shouldn’t be doing that”?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She does indeed have an honourable record of maintaining opposition to identity cards. I will make reference to this point later, but I can tell her now that we will not be offering refunds to all those who chose to get an identity card. [Hon. Members: “Outrageous!”] Labour Front Benchers shout “Outrageous”, but we made it clear that we were opposed to identity cards. The Liberal Democrat party made it absolutely clear that it was opposed to identity cards. People knew well before the election what would happen if a Conservative Government were elected.
Does the Home Secretary recall that the Labour party’s manifesto in 2005 had a commitment to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme? Does she recollect that it was the Labour party that won that general election? In what way was it illegitimate—or, indeed, “stupid”, to quote my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey)—for people then to buy a card that was legitimate and had been set out in the manifesto of the winning party?
I must make a confession; I did not study the 2005 Labour party manifesto in any great detail because I was too busy promoting the 2005 Conservative party manifesto—[Interruption.] I am not trying to rewrite history; the right hon. Gentleman and his party won the 2005 election and introduced the identity card scheme. Let us remember; the scheme was not introduced in the very early stages of the Government’s term, but we made it clear from an early stage that if the Conservative party came into government, ID cards would be scrapped. That was clear to people, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—
No, I said that I was going to make some progress. I have been quite generous already in taking interventions.
Much of the Identity Cards Act 2006 will be undone but the Bill will re-enact certain provisions in the 2006 Act that do not relate solely to ID cards. Those provisions on offences and passport verification make available powers in relation to the detection and prevention of fraud, and the consular fees provision makes it possible to issue passports at subsidised rates. It will remain an offence to carry an identity document that a person knows or believes to be false or to hold a genuine document that relates to someone else, or that has been improperly obtained. Also it will remain illegal to possess equipment for falsifying documents. Under the Bill, ID cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On the passing of the Bill, I will not issue any more cards. Following Royal Assent, cards will remain valid for just one more month.
Will the Home Secretary give way? I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for doing so. [Laughter.]
I have not said that that is the case from today. I have a rather greater belief in the value of Parliament than the last Labour Government showed. Any provisions will come into force only once the Bill has been approved by Parliament and has received Royal Assent. It is after Royal Assent that cards will remain valid for one more month only. I will be writing to all those who already have a card to inform them of the change, so the right hon. Gentleman can look forward in due course to receiving a letter from me. Let us get this in proportion: fewer than 15,000 people already have a card.
I am sorry for intervening again, but as the House will appreciate, the subject is rather close to my heart. I understand entirely that the document will not be useable for travel purposes once the Bill has received Royal Assent, but I understood the right hon. Lady to say that it would not be valid in offering any proof of identity. Just before that, she said that it would be illegal. I am trying to ascertain whether using this document, which has my fingerprints and photo and is more authentic than my passport, would make me a criminal were I to use it for other purposes, such as opening a bank account.
I followed the right hon. Gentleman’s argument quite carefully and perhaps I can reprise what I actually said earlier. Under the Bill, the cards will be invalidated. Holders will not be able to use them either to prove their identity or as a travel document in Europe. On Royal Assent, they will remain valid for only one more month. I did not use the word “illegal”, except in relation to those who possess equipment for falsifying documents. I trust that, as a former Home Secretary, the right hon. Gentleman is not intending to hold equipment for the falsification of documents.
For the record, the right hon. Gentleman nodded at that point.
The post of Identity Commissioner will be abolished. The public panels and experts groups that were established by the Identity and Passport Service have already been disbanded, and 60 temporary staff in Durham have already been released early.
I am very grateful. The Home Secretary has just announced that 67 people in my constituency were made redundant last week because the Government are not continuing identity cards. What efforts will her Government make to get jobs for those people who lost them this week, and for those who are likely to lose their jobs because the Government are not going ahead with the second generation biometric passports?
If I can just correct a slight inaccuracy of terminology in the way in which the hon. Lady referred to the job losses in Durham, the people concerned were temporary staff on short-term contracts and they have been released early from those contracts. There are implications to abolishing the previous Labour Government’s scheme but, as the hon. Lady may know, we as a Government have considerable proposals for helping people who are unemployed to get into work. Our single work programme, which will replace the previous Government’s proposals for helping people into work, will give people much more focused individual help on getting them into the workplace and ensuring that they are retrained and given the skills that they need.
No, I am going to make some progress.
The Bill also places a duty on me to destroy all information recorded in the national identity register within two months of Royal Assent. Photographs and fingerprint biometrics will be securely destroyed. This will not be a literal bonfire of the last Government's vanities, but it will none the less be deeply satisfying. The national identity register will then cease to exist entirely.
The Government will always defend the security and integrity of the British passport, in order to safeguard the free movement of its citizens abroad and protect our borders from illegal immigration.
That will be for me to judge in due course.
We will continue to work to ensure the free movement of citizens abroad. We are halting work on fingerprint passports—the so-called second generation biometric passports—because we believe, in common with the USA, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, that we can maintain the integrity of our passports by other security measures. Already a combination of physical and electronic security features makes the British passport very hard to counterfeit and forge. A new design with improved physical security features will be issued from 5 October, and we are considering ways to strengthen further the electronic security features.
In November 2008 the previous Administration began issuing to non-EEA nationals the biometric residency permits mentioned in an intervention. I want to reiterate the point that I made in response to that intervention. For purely political reasons those permits were referred to by the previous Government as identity cards for foreign nationals. Let no one in the House be in any doubt. They are not ID cards, and they will continue.
We anticipate that the net cost of the Bill will amount to about £5 million this year, which includes termination of contracts, writing off equipment, contacting cardholders and others to inform them that the project is over, exit costs for staff who cannot be redeployed elsewhere, and payments to contractors for secure destruction of identity information. I regret that another unavoidable cost is maintaining the ability to issue new cards before our statutory obligation to do so is removed. This is yet another example of why we want to act as quickly as possible.
The good news, however, is that the taxpayer, as I said in answer to a previous intervention, will be saved some £86 million over the next four years. Moreover, the public will not be hit with the roughly £800 million of ongoing costs over the next 10 years. To put that in perspective, that is a millennium dome’s worth of savings. At any time it is utterly wrong for Government to waste taxpayers’ money on a folly. In the current climate, it is obscene.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), she said that the staff were on short-term contracts. I should remind her that she, too, is on a short-term contract, as are all of us. How does she intend to use the provisions of the Bill in relation to the Consular Fees Act 1980?
I shall disappoint the hon. Gentleman by saying that I will not give him a precise answer in response to that point. We are ensuring that we still have those abilities in the Act to allow discounts on applications for passports under the consular fees permission in the Bill. The Bill enables us to retain the ability to do that, should we at some stage choose to do so, but I shall not give the hon. Gentleman a more detailed answer at present. I am sure he can make his points known during the debate if he chooses to catch the Speaker’s eye.
No. I shall go a little further in my speech. I return to the subject of savings. The Bill is not just about saving money. [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I be the first to congratulate you on your appointment as Chairman of Ways and Means? I look forward to many debates in the Chamber under your wise rule in the Chair.
If an overwhelming case could be made that ID cards would keep us safe without intruding on civil liberties, we would find the funding. But that is not the case. First, if databases are compromised, so too is security. The Labour Government’s track record on this was appalling. We all remember the moment the House was told that HMRC had lost data for 25 million people, including their dates of birth, addresses, bank accounts and national insurance numbers, and that was just one example of many. We recognise that some data storage is essential, but these events do not point in the direction of a massive expansion of the surveillance state, which ID cards would necessarily involve.
Moreover, ID cards would not make us safer or beat benefit fraud. Benefit fraud usually involves people lying about their personal circumstances rather than their identity. Turkish and Spanish ID cards stopped neither the Istanbul bombers in 2003 nor the Madrid bombers in 2004; nor did German ID cards prevent terrorists plotting 9/11 in Hamburg. As Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, said after the 7/7 attacks here in London:
that ID cards—
“would have made a difference. I’ve never argued . . . that ID cards would prevent any particular act.”
The point that I am making is a simple one. The last Labour Government claimed that this would be—[Interruption.] A shadow Minister on the Front Bench says, “No. we didn’t.” As I had not said what I was going to say the Government had claimed, I suggest that she is being a little premature, or perhaps she is learning the ways of opposition rather earlier than some of her colleagues.
Many claims were made at various times about what the Government said. One of them was that the purpose of ID cards was to keep this country safe. The examples that I gave show that ID cards do not keep this country safe and are an intrusion into civil liberties. The imposition of an enormously expensive system, which will be a target for computer hackers, might result in greater identity fraud and would not make us safer, cannot be justified.
There is one other objection to such an extension of the state’s surveillance powers, and it is one that Labour never understood: it is unBritish. We are a freedom-loving people, and we recognise that intrusive government does not enhance our well-being or safety. In 2004 the Mayor of London promised to eat his ID card in front of
“whatever emanation of the state has demanded that I produce it.”
I will not endorse civil disobedience, but Boris Johnson was expressing in his own inimitable way a discomfort even stronger than the discomfort to be had from eating an ID card. It is a discomfort born of a very healthy and British revulsion towards bossy, interfering, prying, wasteful and bullying Government. The coalition Government are determined to do things differently.
I pay tribute to all those who have campaigned so vigorously for the abolition of ID cards. They include N02ID, Liberty, and the parties that make up the coalition Government. I am also grateful that Members in other parts of the House, including Labour Members, as indicated earlier, have had the integrity to speak out and vote against the issue and, in the case of Labour Members, against those on their Front Bench. Indeed, Labour Members may even find that voting for the abolition of ID cards curries favour with the next leader of their party although, with the notable exception of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), none of the leadership candidates appears to have taken an interest in civil liberties.
Let me read to the House what the hon. Lady said during her impassioned speech against the Identity Cards Bill in 2005:
“As the evening has worn on, the Government Whips have subjected several of my colleagues to their usual rough-hew methods of persuasion. However, I say to colleagues in the closing minutes of the debate that voting against the Bill would be far from betraying our Government or going against Labour principles, because we would be doing the Government a great service. The more the public hear of the Bill, the less they like it, so the sooner it is stopped in its tracks, the better.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2005; Vol. 435, c. 1248-9.]
I could not agree more.
I urge Members in all parts of the House to vote with their conscience, and to show their constituents that they stand for freedom, sound expenditure and common sense. The case for ID cards has not been made and will not be. It is an extension of state power that we cannot, in any sense, afford. I commend the Bill to the House.
I feel honoured, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to be the subject of your first pronouncements from the Chair. It will be a pleasure to serve under you.
We on the Labour Benches will not vote against the Bill on Second Reading. Although we do not think the general election was in any way a referendum on ID cards, we accept that the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have a mandate to abandon the measure. We believe that the 15,000 cards already in use should continue to be a legitimate form of identity, and that those citizens who have purchased them should not be treated in the unfair and arrogant way that the Home Secretary proposed: it is arrogant to punish the public because the Government believe that the public were duty bound to presume a Conservative victory at the general election. That is constitutional nonsense and I have never heard anything so arrogant from a political party in my life.
We think a version of the national identity register must continue to exist in some form, and that second generation biometric passports need to go ahead. However, we will pursue those arguments in Committee and at other stages of the Bill’s passage.
In recent times, my party has been consistently in favour of an identity card scheme, the Liberal Democrats have been consistently opposed and the Conservatives have been inconsistent to the point of perversity. The Bill before us to abandon a voluntary identity card scheme, which the right hon. Lady says is intrusive, bullying and unBritish, was in the first semi-Conservative—I suppose we could call it—Queen’s Speech for almost 14 years.
The irony is that the previous Queen’s Speech under a Tory Administration, in November 1996, included a Bill to introduce a voluntary ID card scheme, following extensive public consultation by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, who said that the potential benefits fell into two categories. It is worth repeating them to the House. This was a Conservative Government, proposing a Bill at the Queen’s Speech—[Interruption.] “Fifteen years ago,” says the Minister for Immigration. We will get on to what has changed in the almost 15 years since 1996, and how the problems that led that Conservative Government to put forward an “unBritish, bullying and intrusive” Bill have actually worsened in the ensuing period. However, Michael Howard summed up the benefits succinctly, noting first, the
“direct benefits to the individual holder (e.g. through use of an identity card as a travel card or to provide reliable proof of identity including for commercial transactions)”;
“the wider benefits to all citizens, (e.g. by reducing the level of certain crimes or by providing more efficient or less costly provision of state services).”
That description of the benefits is as accurate today as it was then. The consultation under the Conservative Government found that 64% of the public supported ID cards, with 36% opposed, and the last Tory Government to be elected to power in their own right—perhaps the last in more ways than one—proceeded to include the measure in the Gracious Speech.
I, too, very much welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Does my right hon. Friend understand the concerns of my constituents, who have been in touch having bought that voluntary ID card precisely for the reasons that he just gave? They saw it as an opportunity to get proof of identity without going down the route of obtaining a passport and to have something in their pocket? Does he also understand their concerns in writing to me and asking me to vote against this measure because they want either to get some recompense for the card that they have bought, or, if hon. Members will pardon the pun, to passport it for use in another way?
My hon. Friend should write and tell them that the Government believe—this Government, who believe in the big society and in listening to people—that the scheme into which they bought, which Parliament approved at every stage and which was in the 2005 manifesto of the party that was elected to government, is somehow illegitimate. His constituents should realise that it was their mistake in not presuming a victory for the Tory party at the recent general election. That seems to be the reason.
That description of the benefits to which I referred is accurate, and the consultation carried out by the previous Conservative Government showed overwhelming public support. The Labour Government resuscitated the proposals and subjected them to a fresh, six-month public consultation and further scrutiny in the form of a draft Bill in 2003. The Select Committee on Home Affairs held a simultaneous inquiry, and the outcome of all that was, again, overwhelming public support.
I am trying desperately to understand the right hon. Gentleman’s position. He still seems to be for ID cards, but he will not oppose the Bill this evening. What is the Labour party’s position on ID cards? Can we expect to see them in a future Labour party manifesto?
That is to be determined by the party. However, we cannot suggest that we did not lose the election; we cannot simply oppose every measure that the Government propose. We have to ensure that we consider the will of the people. I do not doubt that the mandate of the two parties in government allows them to introduce the measure before us, but they are absolutely wrong to cancel the national identity register, to say that they will not go ahead with second-generation biometric passports and, most of all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) said, to take such an arrogant and dismissive approach to the British public.
The Home Secretary said that ID cards would be made a footnote to history, so let us carry on with the history. The Conservative Government proposed ID cards and undertook public consultation; Labour resuscitated the proposal; the Home Affairs Committee supported it; public scrutiny supported it; and the draft Bill gained overwhelming support.
I should at this point mention the strange episode of the ten-minute Bill in January 2002, when the then Member for Broxtowe, now sadly no longer a Member, proposed leave to introduce an identity card Bill. The House will know that on a ten-minute Bill only the die-hard supporters of a proposition will turn up to vote, but among that bunch of ID card zealots, those people who wanted an “unBritish, intrusive and anti-democratic” scheme, we find the former shadow Home Secretary, now the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), the current Leader of the House, and a whole bunch of their Conservative colleagues.
To listen to the Home Secretary speak today, one would never believe that she once walked through the Aye Lobby in support of ID cards. I have to reveal that she did. Members should listen to her speech today, or read it again in Hansard, and then recall that the Home Secretary supported Second Reading of the Identity Cards Bill on 20 December 2004; and she was not a Tory rebel: she voted with her party in support of that Bill, whose measures she now seeks to repeal. The Conservatives continued to give their support. Indeed, they supported it under the leadership of Michael Howard at the 2005 general election.
The right hon. Lady now says that people were foolish to go out and buy ID cards, but both main parties at that general election supported ID cards, so the proposition that they should be removed is quite extraordinary. The Conservatives continued to give their support right into the 2005 general election, when Labour’s winning manifesto pledged
“to provide citizens with a…secure identity card to protect them…from identity theft and clamp down on illegal working and fraudulent use of public services.”
Why does the Home Secretary now believe that it was an infringement of civil liberties, the cause of the end of civilisation as we know it, when she voted for that precise scheme in 2004?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and welcome you, Mr Deputy Speaker, to your position. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that only a few days ago the head of the TUC, Brendan Barber, said that the scheme would have been an expensive folly and an unwelcome intrusion into people’s private liberties and lives? Does he also know that the TUC head said that he welcomed and supported this Government’s proposals to get rid of ID cards? Given Labour’s current financial circumstances, is it wise to ignore paymasters in that way?
The TUC is a lot of things, but it is not a paymaster. I was not aware that Brendan Barber had said that, but if that is his view he is perfectly entitled to express it. I am setting out the views of the current Home Secretary and the Conservative party on Second Reading on 20 December 2004 of the Bill whose measures they now seek to repeal. Indeed, they are not just seeking to repeal that legislation, but describing in extraordinarily derogatory terms anyone who supported it.
I quoted our precise manifesto commitment in 2005. We were in the course of carrying out that commitment, and everyone recognised that it would be a long process, but it began with the Tories’ enthusiastic support at the 2005 general election, and ended with their bitter opposition. How do we explain the Conservative party’s change from hard-headed pragmatists to the political wing of Liberty? In respect of the issues that galvanised the Conservatives to act in the 1996 Queen’s Speech and support the Identity Cards Bill on Second Reading in 2004, the only change is that the problems that they sought to address have become more acute.
The mantra of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats is civil liberties, but the Home Secretary should remember that when we talk about civil liberties—our basic freedoms—we are not talking solely about the rights of individuals but about the rights of society as a whole. We are talking about the right to be able to travel freely, the right to have access to efficient and effective public services, and the right to live our lives free from crime. ID cards, biometric passports and the national identity register that supported them were designed precisely to protect those freedoms, but at the same time to help to increase security—the security of each individual’s identity, the security of our borders and, yes, an added layer of security in the fight against terrorism.
The Home Secretary might like to be aware, because she mentioned it, that it was not me who first pointed out the link with terrorism—it was the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), who is, I confess, not normally guilty of any inconsistency. During the Second Reading debate in 2004, he said, as shadow Home Secretary at this very Dispatch Box:
“I would not have countenanced ID cards before 11 September. After that, however, I accept that we must consider them. After 11 September, it is incumbent on all of us to examine carefully any measures that might enhance the nation’s security. Identity cards introduced properly and effectively may help to do that.”—[Official Report, 20 December 2004; Vol. 428, c. 1953.]
That is what he said as shadow Home Secretary.
My right hon. Friend—I will call him that, because he knows our relationship—is carefully not quoting the rest of the speech or saying what actually happened. What we did at that time was to give the Government of the day the benefit of the doubt because there had just been some terrorist events that obviously brought the country into some risk. We therefore said, “We will support the Government on this, under five tests”—they were very fond of five tests in those days. The five tests were that the Government could control the cost of the programme, which they did not; protect the privacy of the individual, which they did not; manage it competently, which they did not; protect the security of the data, which they did not; and show its effectiveness against terrorism and crime, which they did not. That is why we opposed it.