House of Commons
Monday 26 July 2010
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
Kent County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]
Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Allhallows Staining Church Bill [Lords]
Bill read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport was asked—
Impartiality Rules (Television News)
I thank the Secretary of State for that precise and illuminating reply. He will know that the British public value the political neutrality of TV news in this country, so will he confirm that the Government have no plans to change the rules governing political impartiality on TV news, and that they will expect broadcasters on digital terrestrial television to conform to those rules in the future?
I can confirm that we have no plans to change the impartiality rules, but we will take no lessons on impartiality from the Opposition. There are two people responsible for impartiality in British broadcasting: the head of Ofcom and the head of the BBC Trust. One is a former Labour councillor and the other is a former Labour special adviser.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the BBC also needs to remain neutral on international politics, and that, if it is to be believed about its position on Israel, it needs to publish as a matter of urgency the internal report that it commissioned on its apparent anti-Israel bias?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right that impartiality needs to apply across the board. I am well aware of his concerns about the issues surrounding the publication of the independent report into the BBC’s coverage of Israel, and I am very happy to raise those issues with the BBC Trust if he would like to supply me with any new information that he has about them.
I agree entirely with the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), but there is another matter on which news broadcasts are not neutral: they have a degree of imbalance on matters relating to the European Union. Will the Secretary of State seek to ensure that in future broadcasters reflect the nation’s view on Europe, not their view?
I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. The BBC Trust recognised in a report that it published, entitled “From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: Safeguarding Impartiality in the 21st Century”, that the BBC was behind public opinion on issues such as Europe and immigration, and the BBC recognises that it must ensure that that does not happen again. However, as Culture Secretary I have to be very careful not to direct the BBC in any way editorially, because in a free country that is a beacon for democracy it is very important that the national broadcaster be independent of the Government. However, that is not to say that the hon. Gentleman’s point should not be addressed in the appropriate way.
Since taking office two months ago, the new coalition Government have already taken three steps that will increase participation by young people in sport. The first step is to increase sport’s share of national lottery funding to 20%, which was envisaged when the lottery was set up; the second is that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced plans for a new Olympic-style school sport competition; and the third is that we have asked sport’s national governing bodies to increase to 30% the amount of money that they commit to grass-roots sport from their broadcasting deals.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for a positive answer. The borough of Lambeth and my local borough have an excellent sports action zone, promoting sport at all ages. Will the Minister take further steps both in the short term to ensure that, now the school holidays have started throughout the UK, all ages are encouraged to get used to doing some sport, and in the medium term to ensure that we train and recruit many more sports coaches throughout the UK?
I can absolutely give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. A key part of the new whole-sport programme, which the previous Government introduced, was to ensure precisely that sports’ governing bodies devoted a far greater proportion of their funding to grass roots; that the funding was targeted at precisely the sort of voluntary schemes that he mentions; and that a crucial part of that was funding for extra coaches, who will be vital to drive any form of participation that we get off the back of the 2012 games.
I am glad to hear that the Minister has some ideas on increasing youth participation in sport, but, as someone who has coached young people in rugby for the past five-and-a-half years and as a parent of a sports-mad child, I have to say that the idea that over the past 10 years there has not been any encouragement for competitive sports always seems quite ridiculous. Does he agree that the tabloid myth that there is no support for competitive sports is an insult not just to the previous Government, but to all those PE teachers who give up so much of their time and to all those people who voluntarily coach young people in sport?
It would be fair to start by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his contribution to grass-roots sport over many years as a rugby coach in his own area.
The question of competitive sport is a difficult one, and it is clearly something that, as a new Government, we put at the heart of our sports policy. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman looks at the figures for competitive sport in schools, he will see that it is an area that needs attention and that everybody would agree we need to work on. We have highlighted that and put in place a plan to address it.
Last Friday, I had a meeting with people at the National Badminton Centre, which has its headquarters in my constituency in Milton Keynes. They have ambitious plans to extend participation in the sport, but a problem they often encounter is that sports halls built for sports use are increasingly rented out for non-sports uses. Will the Minister look into that as a matter of urgency?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. In fact, the people there said the same thing to me when I went to visit about a year ago. When I looked into this, I found that the problem is that a village hall can be used for a variety of uses, so to try to screen it out for badminton means no dog show, no village fete, and none of the other things that take place in village halls. This is about the sensible division of time in the way that village halls are used. I can only promise my hon. Friend that I will look into it.
Over the past 13 years of a Labour Government, £5 billion was spent on sport, and that increased investment increased participation. After 10 weeks of this new Government, we have already seen the Building Schools for the Future programme cut, with 11% of that money due to be spent on new sports facilities; we have seen free swimming cut; and we are now seeing that they are prepared to drop the target of 2 million people participating in sport, which was one of the Olympic legacies. What discussions did the Minister have with the Department for Education before the decision was taken on Building Schools for the Future, and what is he going to do about the sports facilities that need to be improved and would have been improved under that scheme?
There are two obvious things to say in answer to that question. First, we are dealing with an economic inheritance that we did not create but that was left to us by the Government of whom the hon. Gentleman was a member. Secondly, the Secretary of State has a regular series of meetings with his counterpart in the Department for Education at which these matters are discussed. We have already increased the share of lottery funding to 20%, and that is a huge improvement. Under the hon. Gentleman’s stewardship, the amount of money that sport governing bodies were committed to giving to the grass roots in their broadcasting deals was 5%; in three or four months’ time, when our changes have gone through, it will be 30%—a huge increase.
Television Licence Fee
We have had absolutely no discussions with the BBC about the level of the licence fee under the next settlement.
I have been very clear that in its use of licence fee payers’ money, the BBC needs to be on the same planet as everyone else. We are tackling a huge deficit as a result of the economic legacy left by the last Government. As we are having to be careful about every penny of taxpayers’ money we spend, so the BBC must be careful with every penny of licence fee payers’ money that it spends.
My hon. Friend will know that we are committed to a strong BBC that focuses on producing great TV and high-quality news. He is absolutely right. There has been a trickle of stories about BBC pay and expenses, particularly BBC management pay; lots of people at the BBC do not have high salaries. The BBC must look at what happened to Parliament when we lost the trust of the public because we did not handle our own expenses correctly, and it must be careful not to make the same mistakes.
Licence fee payers will have found last night’s broadcast of “Sherlock”, produced by BBC Wales and written by the excellent Steven Moffat, first class and great value for money. Earlier, the Secretary of State took pains to name the chairman of the BBC Trust and his former political affiliations, along with the chairman of Ofcom. By doing that, was he trying to call into question their impartiality in the work that they do, and if not, why did he bother to say it?
I, too, watched “Sherlock” last night and thought that Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch did a brilliant job. It was a very good example of the BBC at its best, investing in new programming.
I am not in any way calling into question the impartiality of the two gentlemen I mentioned earlier, but the Opposition should not preach lessons on impartiality when they were so careful to put people of their own political affiliation in charge of so many Government quangos.
Does the Secretary of State understand the concern of many of my constituents and others across the country following the report in The Daily Telegraph of his comments on the BBC? They feel that its high-quality programming is something to be supported and celebrated, not least the excellent independent news coverage that is free of the influence of commerce, or indeed Rupert Murdoch.
I agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of the BBC spending money on high-quality programming. That is what the coalition Government believe is one of the primary roles of the BBC. I also agree with her that one thing that has made British broadcasting some of the highest-quality broadcasting in the world is that we have a mix of funding streams, including the licence fee, advertising-funded programming and subscription-funded programming. That is why we are happy with that structure and intend to continue with it.
We have no plans to ask the BBC to sell off Radio 1. There may be possibilities in the case of some of the BBC’s commercial assets, such as BBC Worldwide, and we await any proposals that the BBC may have. However, we are committed to a publicly funded, publicly owned national broadcaster as a benchmark of quality in the broadcasting system. We believe we are one of the few countries in the world to have competition at the quality end of the broadcasting market as well as the popular end, and we want that to continue.
Policy on broadband is a joint responsibility of the Secretary of State’s Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and he has indicated that he will dip into the licence fee to support the roll-out of high-speed broadband. Can he confirm that any new funding from that source will not be available until 2013 at the earliest, which is three years late, when Labour’s phone levy would have been generating £150 million a year in three months’ time, not in three years? Given his aim to reduce the licence fee, can he give any assurance that that level of funding will be available even three years late, and given the complete absence of significant new funding for high-speed broadband, is he embarrassed that his pre-election promises on high-speed broadband have so quickly turned to dust?
Let me confirm a few things that the right hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of, given that he was a Minister responsible for the matter. The first is that the money that his Government had allocated to ensure that everyone in this country could access broadband at a minimum speed of 2 megabits per second was less than half the total cost of doing that. That was why, when we examined the situation, we decided that we would honour the pledge but would not be able to do so by 2012 and extended it to 2015. As in so many areas, his Government simply did not leave enough money in the pot.
Digital Economy Act 2010
Ministers and officials have had recent meetings with copyright owners, consumer organisations and internet service providers, at which the matter has been raised.
Is the Minister aware of the deep concerns held about those sections of the Act among internet service providers such as BT and TalkTalk, among members of the public such as those who went to the Open Rights Group conference on Saturday, and among creative content providers? Given that the Act was rushed through in the dying days of the last Government, will he ensure that there is proper scrutiny of not just the details but the principle of those sections, which many of us oppose?
I am aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman mentions. It is important to emphasise that the technical measures in those sections would not come in until at least 2012, and that this House and the other place will have a chance to debate the matter in full under the super-affirmative procedure.
What representations has the Minister had directly from those who actually work in the creative industries—the 1.8 million people who depend on the sector for their jobs and the 250,000 whose jobs are at risk from illegal downloading? What does he have to say to them?
Media Ownership (Regulation)
I have had no representations from anyone on cross-media ownership.
If News Corp is successful in buying the remaining 61% shares of BSkyB, the control that it exercises over UK mass media will be greater than that of any individual in any other advanced industrial country, including Berlusconi’s Italy. The law in the US and Australia would prohibit such a takeover. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the lack of plurality of ownership in the UK media? What is the estimated tax loss if the merger takes place?
I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the estimated tax loss will be—I do not know whether there will be a tax loss. There are big tax gains from having a plurality of players in the British media market. The particular decision that he mentioned is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who is responsible for determining whether to invoke the public interest clause about the merger. He will make a decision in due course.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the relatively low price for which Richard Desmond has acquired Channel Five is a further indication of the continuing difficulties affecting all traditional television companies, and that it also shows that successful companies are likely to have to operate across several different media in future? Given that, does he have any plans to look again at the current rules that govern cross-media ownership and cross-promotion?
I thank my hon. Friend for a thoughtful question, as ever, on the topic. He is absolutely right that media companies of the future will have to operate on different platforms. That is why one of my first decisions was to accept a recommendation by Ofcom to remove the regulations on cross-media ownership locally to allow local media operators to develop new business models that let them take product from newspapers to radio to TV to iPods to iPads and so on.
We do not currently have any plans to relax the rules on cross-promotion. Indeed, the regulations on taste, decency and political impartiality on Five remain extremely tight, but we are aware of the need to lighten regulations in general because, if we are to have a competitive broadcasting sector, we must have one in which independent players can also make a profit.
The Secretary of State knows that Richard Desmond and Rupert Murdoch have huge pornography empires. Does he share my concern that children have increasing access to pornography on television? What can he do about it? It is a curse, and I hope that he shares my desire to do something about it.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Our real concern on this side of the House is about the sexualisation of young people in particular; we take a liberal view of adults’ ability to make decisions about what they see on television. I do not want to pretend that there is an easy answer, because traditional linear viewing, which allowed the watershed, made it possible to be much more definite about what would be seen by children and what would be seen by adults. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question directly, we have no plans to relax any of the taste and decency regulations for terrestrial broadcasts.
I had a brief meeting with the chair of the BBC Trust last month. My officials are now working with the BBC Trust to ensure that the commitment is achieved by November 2011, as announced in the Department’s structural reform plan, in a way that preserves the BBC’s editorial independence.
The move by part of the BBC from London to Salford has been good value for the licence payer, good for the north-west and will be good for the BBC. Does the Under-Secretary agree that it would be useful for the National Audit Office to consider moving further functions of the BBC from inside the M25 to the north-west, particularly Salford?
Is there any real justification for not opening up the BBC accounts to the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee, especially given that one of the Secretary of State’s reasons for cutting the licence fee was deficit reduction? I am not sure whether the BBC accounts would rack up against the public finances in quite that way.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I am not quite sure what point the hon. Gentleman is making. It is a coalition Government commitment that the National Audit Office should have full access to the BBC’s accounts by November 2011 in order to ensure value for money and public accountability.
Creative Partnerships is funded by Arts Council England and as such, decisions on its future are a matter between that and Creativity, Culture and Education.
The Minister does not sound as enthusiastic as the teachers and head teachers in my constituency are about this wonderful programme. Can he do more to publicise the achievements of Creative Partnerships? The case report that his Department semi-released a week ago without any real promotion concluded not only that Creative Partnerships improves learning and achievement, but that through research, it improves the capacity of creativity to do more to help children to learn.
As the hon. Lady may know, I am a passionate supporter of both music and cultural education in the round. We could do more to make such programmes more coherent, so that they work in a more joined-up fashion, but as I said, the future of Creative Partnerships and how it works is very much a matter between it and Arts Council England.
Does the Minister agree that because Arts Council England set up a separate body to deliver that programme—Creative Partnerships—and even if much of the work on the ground and delivery is excellent, we need to be careful how many tiers of management are involved? Creative partnerships are possible through local authorities and some excellent private sector organisations that do a lot of work with the community, such as the Creative Foundation in my constituency.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his well-made point. As I said, I feel very strongly that we need to bring some coherence to the sector. Many very good initiatives are happening on the ground, and it is important that we join them up as much as possible to make them as effective as possible.
Successive Labour Culture Secretaries achieved settlements in every comprehensive spending review from 1997 onwards that were significantly better than the Whitehall average, arguing successfully that culture has a special role in our national life; that for every £1 we invest, we get £2 back; and that spending in any case is tiny—less than the annual underspend in the NHS. Are the Minister and his colleague the Secretary of State even bothering to make those arguments with the Treasury? What has happened to the Liberal Democrats manifesto pledge to protect spending on arts and culture? Is that just another example of the Lib Dems having no influence whatever on the Government?
We work very closely with our Liberal Democrat colleagues. As the shadow Secretary of State is aware, the economic state that the previous Government left us in has left us with some very tough decisions to make. I can assure him that the Secretary of State and I, and all colleagues in the Department, are making effective arguments. Since the right hon. Gentleman makes his point so effectively, could he now give a guarantee that the Opposition—
I note that there is not even a Lib Dem Front-Bench spokesman in the Chamber at the moment, although I am partially reassured by what the Minister has to say, because of course his Government have been described by senior Conservatives as the “Brokeback Mountain” coalition. That happens to be one of my favourite films, but as I am sure he is aware, it does not end well. One of the cowboys is killed in a homophobic attack by backwoodsmen, and the other lives out a sad, lonely life on a trailer park. Which is which in this coalition?
Licensing Act 2003
I am delighted to reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are committed to the principle of trying to reduce the burden of red tape on live music performances. We are currently evaluating a series of options, and hope to bring forward whichever of them comes out best in the business case.
I am afraid that I cannot give my hon. Friend a precise date, if only because the devil is in the detail. I can only assure him that we are working through these measures as quickly as possible. A number of stakeholders—as the jargon has it—have to be consulted, and today I had meetings with people from the Local Government Association and Local Government Regulation in order to ensure that all the relevant people have been consulted. We will do it as fast as we can.
In deciding to retain Coventry market on the statutory list, I took into account the architectural and historical interest of the building, as set out in the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.
I am surprised by the Minister’s answer, because if architectural design were taken into consideration that building would not pass muster. Is he aware that that scheme means that hundreds of millions of pounds of modernisation money now cannot be spent in Coventry city centre? Will he meet a delegation to consider this further?
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, who took the trouble to write to me in advance laying out some of his concerns. My problem is that economic considerations are not part of the factors that I am allowed to consider under the 1990 Act. I can reassure him that the fact that the building is listed as grade II does not mean that it cannot be touched. In fact, there are many examples every year of listed buildings at grade II that are altered, and in some cases pulled down, for economic reasons, depending on the decision of the local planning authority.
Superfast Broadband (Cornwall)
Unlike the previous Government, this Government are committed to the roll-out of superfast broadband in rural areas as well as in cities, and not just at speeds as slow as 2 megabits, but at very fast speeds. Cornwall will be an important part of that process.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to roll out superfast broadband across the UK, but can the Secretary of State give me an assurance that we will not have a digital divide between roll-out in urban areas and roll-out in rural areas such as Cornwall?
We will do everything we can to avoid that digital divide. The importance of superfast broadband is not just economic; it is social. The reason for that is that every year 7 million jobs are advertised on line, and 90% require internet skills. So for remote, rural and deprived areas it is incredibly important that they are part of the revolution. That is why we are committed to tackling rural broadband provision at the same time as broadband provision in our cities.
2012 Olympics (North-west)
I have regular discussions on maximising the legacy benefits of the games for the UK as a whole. The north-west stands to gain from a wide range of opportunities created by the games through businesses winning games-related work, increased tourism and cultural events. For example G R Formby Heavy Transport Ltd, a firm in my hon. Friend’s constituency has won work in the Olympic Deliver Authority supply chain.
The first and obvious point is that 1,263 schools and colleges in the north-west are already registered for the London 2012 education programme. That is a process that will continue. It is part of highlighting the two years to go celebrations tomorrow and it is a process that we will continue as we move closer to the games.
Superfast Broadband (Isle of Wight)
The Isle of Wight does not have good or consistent broadband coverage and this Government are determined to sort it out.
My hon. Friend is right to talk about the importance of superfast broadband and not just low-speed broadband for somewhere such as the Isle of Wight. We have said that we are committed to having the fastest superfast broadband network in Europe by the end of this Parliament, and we are doing everything possible both to stimulate private sector investment in our broadband network and to have a coherent strategy for dealing with rural and remote areas such as the Isle of Wight. We are happy to work closely with him to ensure that the Isle of Wight is part of that success story.
I do apologise, Mr Speaker.
I have had no discussions with the BBC about the level of the licence fee.
I am delighted that the BBC has started to talk about making savings, but it needs to go further. The BBC needs to understand that the world in which licence fee payers are living is one of severe and constrained finances. Licence fee payers would like that to be reflected in the BBC’s approach to matters such as executive pay and remuneration, executive pensions, and a whole range of other areas. We want a strong BBC, but a strong BBC is one that is in touch with the feelings and the mood of the people who pay for it, and they are the licence fee payers.
I shall make a brief statement, if I may, to start proceedings. First, because of my Department’s responsibility to take its share of reducing the deficit inherited from the previous Government, we have announced today plans to rationalise or merge a number of arm’s length bodies for which we are responsible. As part of that, we have said that we are considering the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. That does not reflect our commitment to the Government’s or the lottery’s investing in UK film, or Government support for the sectors represented by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. However, in the constrained circumstances in which we find ourselves, we want to ensure that every penny is used on front-line services, not on back-office and bureaucracy.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I also want to mention that tomorrow marks the date from which there will be exactly two years till the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. I am happy to report to the House that the construction of the project is on track, and I believe that it will also be delivered within budget. It is because I want to maintain the cross-party support for that important project that I can today announce that there will be Liberal Democrat and Labour representation on the Olympic board, and the Labour representative will be the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell).
We are all looking forward to the 2012 Olympics. However, this is a very difficult time for football fans—after the World cup and before the season starts—so what lobbying has the Secretary of State been doing and what action has he been taking to bring the World cup back to England?
I thank my hon. Friend for his excellent question. I have met five members of the FIFA executive committee to tell them personally that England is the best possible place to host the World cup in 2018. More than 1 million people watch or play football every week in this country, and we have the best football infrastructure in the world. There is no doubt at all that we would deliver the best World cup possible in 2018, so I thank my hon. Friend for his support.
The Shott inquiry will certainly be looking at that, but it will also look at the chronic failures in local media throughout the country. The situation is tough for local newspapers and local radio stations and, unlike many countries, we have virtually no local TV in this country. For rural areas such as north Wales, we believe that local media have an important role to play. That is why, unlike the previous Government, we are doing something about the problem.
T2. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising Brentford football club community sports trust for its work in the community, involving more than 27 sports and 30,000 children, and explain what plans he has for developing the big society model to create more opportunities for sport for young people across the country? (10691)
I am very happy to praise the work of that organisation, which I visited with my hon. Friend before the election. I can personally attest to what a brilliant job it is doing. I think that it involves more than 50,000 young people every year across four London boroughs, and it has a brilliant role to play. I hope that restoring the lottery to its original four pillars as one of my first acts as Secretary of State will make more funds available for such projects and for their important work.
T4. Guisborough and Skinningrove in my constituency suffer from bad TV reception, and certain channels are unobtainable. Both areas are served by relay transmitters rather than masts. Will the Minister confirm the date for digital switchover in both communities, and provide details of the funding of the switchover? Will he also give me a guarantee that the residents of those areas will be able to receive all Freeview channels once the process is complete? (10693)
By the time digital switchover ends in 2012, everyone in the country should be able to receive at least 15 Freeview channels, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss any particular problems in his constituency.
T5. Last week, Dr David Harrop, a dentist from Grassington in the heart of the Yorkshire dales, wrote to me to say that he felt completely left behind by all the advances in the internet. Does the Secretary of State agree that connecting rural communities with high-speed broadband is vital for setting up businesses and for work? Will he meet me and my North Yorkshire colleagues to work out how North Yorkshire can be at the forefront of his superfast broadband revolution? (10694)
I am happy to meet my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Yorkshire; I have already met colleagues from Norfolk. I agree that superfast broadband can create jobs in fields that we cannot possibly predict, including home education and telemedicine, and we are anxious that those benefits should be shared throughout the country.
T6. The Government’s change of policy on regional development agencies required Yorkshire Forward to cancel an investment of £5 million in the refurbishment of the National Railway museum’s great hall and one of £1 million towards the restoration of York minster’s great east window. If the Government do not want Yorkshire Forward to invest in heritage, will the Secretary of State or the Minister responsible for culture come to York over the summer to discuss other ways of supporting those important institutions, and to meet people from other important heritage organisations in the city? (10695)
I was in York in April and it is a very fine city. I know that the museum is opening its extension this week. I will happily meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss how we can help York to continue to move forward with its exciting cultural and heritage projects.
T7. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already mentioned the fact that the Olympics will be launched two years tomorrow. I am sure that he also enjoyed the various events that were held recently in constituencies across the country, including Xtremefest and the disability showcase in Ipswich. One concern that has been passed to me by many of the volunteers who help with sport across the country is that they are put off by the excessive health and safety regulations and the increasing requirements for insurance. Will he assure me that he will have words with his colleagues in the Cabinet about how we are preventing people from doing the right thing? (10696)
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have already had a meeting with Lord Young to discuss how we can look at the burden of health and safety regulation on volunteering in general. A particular concern is the rule that requires two people to take children to sporting activities in minibuses. We are worried that that is putting off schools taking people to sports events in other places. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we are looking at that matter carefully.
I am sure that the Front-Bench team will agree that it is important to increase participation in sport at school, and that playing fields have an important role in that. During the review of capital expenditure on education, was the Secretary of State consulted on the proposal to review the regulations relating to school playing fields? If he was consulted, what did he say? If he was not consulted, why not?
We are working closely with the Department for Education on a number of projects to do with school sport. In particular, we want to ensure that proper protections are in place for school playing fields. That was a failing of the previous Conservative Government and of the previous Labour Government, and we want to put it right.
Given the Minister’s unilateral decision to close the UK Film Council, will he outline what discussions he had with the council and its members and when those discussions took place? Will he also outline what direct support and ambition the Government have for film making in the United Kingdom?
We have not announced a decision, but we have said that we are considering such action because we want to hear everyone’s views. The UK Film Council spends £3 million per annum on administration. We want to ask whether that money could be better used to support film makers.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Parliamentary IT Equipment
1. What representations the House of Commons Commission has received from new hon. Members on Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology’s policy that ICT equipment is allocated only to the permanent office of an hon. Member. (10698)
It is a very serious matter when Members of the House are denied the tools to provide an efficient and effective service to their constituents, at home in their constituencies. Will the hon. Gentleman please consider removing that obstacle to Members, recognising that those such as me who did not rush into taking out office leases saved the taxpayer money and should be entitled to the IT provision available to other Members?
I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman. If there are special circumstances in any case PICT will be prepared to consider an alternative approach. Under its current approach, each and every Member ought to have a permanent office, either in Westminster or their constituency, before they order equipment. That ensures that the equipment ordered is suitable for the space being occupied, and it avoids the need to relocate often heavy equipment and to set it up twice.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The procedure for early-day motions is a matter for the House. Despite their variable quality, the opportunity provided by EDMs to raise any issue in the House is valued by many hon. Members. I understand that the House authorities are considering measures to reduce the associated costs.
I thank the Minister for his response. I and many colleagues are increasingly concerned that the EDM procedure is being abused by outside interests and lobbyists, at considerable cost to the taxpayer and to Members’ time. What steps is he taking to ensure that that does not continue?
I know that a number of hon. Members share the hon. Gentleman’s view. Ironically, perhaps, the concerns about early-day motions are expressed in early-day motion 432, which sets out a similar view to his. The problem is that many of our constituents are led to believe by campaigning organisations that EDMs have an efficacy well beyond what we in the House know to be the case. The matter will have to be considered by the House authorities and Committees, but he makes an important point.
Early-day motions are an important way for the House, and particularly Back Benchers, to show interest, concern and dedication to a particular cause. I urge the hon. Gentleman not to make it more difficult for Members to sign early-day motions—I know that there are difficulties deciding which to sign and which not to sign—but to make it easier. Currently, we can table a question online, but we cannot add our name to an early-day motion online. Surely that facility could be introduced.
In the past financial year, a total of 2,531 EDMs were tabled, with 120,158 names added. Clearly, the obstacles are not insuperable, but the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which he has raised with me previously and which I have taken up with the House authorities. I hope that we will soon make progress on the matter.
Had it not been for the availability of the EDM procedure, I would not have been able quickly to gather 249 signatures for an EDM that helped in considerable part to change the law so that the mad decision of three judges that our home addresses should be revealed to anyone who asked for them could be stultified and reversed. May I suggest gently to my hon. Friends and other hon. Members that if they are so shy about saying no when asked to sign an EDM, they have the option of simply informing the Table Office that they do not sign any EDMs, and informing their constituents of the same? Those of us who want to make use of the procedure can then continue to do so.
The Government make major policy announcements to the House in the first instance when it is sitting. However, the demands of modern government make it impossible to avoid making any announcements at all when the House is not sitting.
The Minister for Housing, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), made substantial policy announcements on Friday that could just as easily have been made on Thursday or today. What assurances can the Leader of the House give us that until Parliament returns in September there will be no announcements that can wait, especially given that it is returning early in September? The House needs to be able to scrutinise legislation properly.
It is precisely because the Government want to keep the House informed that there are 32 written ministerial statements on the Order Paper today. We have brought forward announcements that might otherwise have been made in August in order to keep the House fully in the picture. I am not aware that any substantial policy announcements are to be made during August.
Will my right hon. Friend look favourably on a request that when consultation is announced over the summer—as it is in one of today’s written ministerial statements—a certain amount of injury time will be allowed to enable those of us who wish to take soundings from our constituents to do so adequately, and subsequently to respond?
I think I am right in saying that the Government have set out guidelines in best practice to assist the consultation process, and I hope that the process to which my hon. Friend refers observes those guidelines, and that she will have an opportunity to consult her constituents in good time before it ends.
Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the Government have made up their mind about their policy on rape anonymity, it will be communicated when the House is sitting, especially given that there is another leak in today’s papers suggesting that the Government have reversed their stated position?
The right hon. Lady knows that no legislation on rape anonymity is planned for the current Session, but of course the Government will make their views on the issue known at the right time. Before she waxes too indignant, let me remind her that the then Prime Minister announced at last year’s party conference—when the House was not sitting—substantial changes of policy on a national care service and a referendum on the alternative vote.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Parliamentary Recording Unit
I am aware that the hon. Gentleman has had discussions with the parliamentary recording unit. He has been very diligent, and I congratulate him on that. As he knows, the principles and level of charges were originally set out in 1993 by what was then the Select Committee on Broadcasting and have thereafter been reviewed at official level. The technical duplication charges, to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer but which I know he understands, will be reviewed during the business planning for the new broadcasting arrangements that will be introduced in August 2011.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
The Government will continue to publish Bills in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny as opportunities arise. We have already announced that three Bills—on parliamentary privilege, House of Lords reform and defamation—will be published in draft.
During last Thursday’s business questions, the Leader of the House told me that pre-legislative scrutiny was “not possible” for all constitutional Bills in the first term of a Parliament. Has the hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to read the words of Professor Robert Blackburn, Professor Robert Hazell and Peter Riddell, who say that there is no justification for rushing through without pre-legislative scrutiny the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill when we return in September, other than the political expediency of the two coalition partners?
Well, that is their opinion. It is perfectly clear that it is not possible for Bills to be produced in time to allow full pre-legislative scrutiny in the first 10 weeks of a new Government when those Bills are to be debated in the very near future; I would have thought that that was obvious to any Member of this House. We are clearly committed to using pre-legislative scrutiny whenever possible, but I repeat that it is clear that, with a new Government and a new House of Commons, there will be new Bills that cannot go through that procedure.
The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that in the previous Parliament many Bills were almost totally rewritten during their passage through the House. In due course, after the Government have had time to write their Bills, will the Deputy Leader of the House be able to say that pre-legislative scrutiny will be the norm, and not the exception, for a Bill in this Parliament?
The hon. Gentleman makes the important point that what is most important is that Bills are written correctly and are made right first time, rather than having them rewritten, as was so often the case under the previous Administration. [Interruption.] We hear protestations from Opposition Members, but may I remind them that in the 2009-10 Session only five Bills were submitted for pre-legislative scrutiny and in the 2008-09 Session there were only four, whereas we have already announced three.
The Deputy Leader of the House referred to someone’s opinion about pre-legislative scrutiny. What does he think of the opinion that all Bills should be given 12 weeks of pre-legislative scrutiny? That was the opinion of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, writing to the Liaison Committee last week. Is it not a travesty of the processes of this House that my Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform has only been able to squeeze in a maximum of three sessions to look at two very important Bills? Will the Deputy Leader of the House not cite past precedent, but try to set future precedent to do this job properly?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee will do an excellent job in looking at those Bills as they are taken forward. The critical period is between Second Reading and Committee, when Members consider amendments that they may wish to table. I hope that his Committee will take full advantage of that period by having as many sittings as he requires in order to do that work.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks, and he will be happy to know that from the start of this parliamentary Session older EDMs have not been reprinted weekly, saving 2.5 million sheets of paper and up to £300,000 in printing costs per year.
I confess that I have been here for only 18 years but I have not yet seen an EDM debated. Would it not be a good idea for us to pick four or five EDMs for debate in the course of a year and therefore, through the Backbench Business Committee or the Leader of the House, vent those issues and make the system better value for money?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, but I cannot add to the points made by the Deputy Leader of the House and the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). As my right hon. Friend will no doubt know, this is a matter for the Procedure Committee or the Backbench Business Committee.
My hon. Friend asks why. The Procedure Committee said there should not be such electronic tabling unless
“significantly stronger authentication than is currently required for parliamentary questions can be guaranteed”.
The Procedure Committee went on to say that it cannot therefore
“recommend the introduction of e-tabling for EDMs.”
I am happy to answer the hon. Gentleman’s question, and my hon. Friend’s question from a sedentary position.
The Commission will seek the view of Members in the normal way through the Finance and Services Committee and the Administration Committee. I am pleased to see on today’s Order Paper the submission of names to the will of the House for both those Committees. The Commission will also welcome the submission of views from individual Members, which should be sent to the secretary of the Commission.
I understand the need for the House to cut its costs, but I am worried about the size of the cut in respect of Select Committee travel, because it will undermine the ability of Parliament to scrutinise the Government. Will the Commission seek savings in other areas which do not have a direct impact on how Parliament does its job? For example, at a time of widespread public concern about public sector bonuses, will the Commission examine what impact the bonus scheme for senior staff of this House has had on their output and productivity?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. On the cuts in the Select Committee budgets, I am afraid that we are not able in this House to distinguish between one set of expenditure and another. The cuts announced recently are for this year only and are in response to the general financial stringency being applied to the public sector in the current year. Following scrutiny by the Finance and Services Committee last December, the Commission agreed to a reduction of 9% over three years and will consider the position for future years in the autumn. My hon. Friend’s point about bonuses will be included in that review.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the decision not to prosecute any police officer in connection with the assault and subsequent death of Ian Tomlinson?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I wholly understand the reaction of the public and of this House to the news that the Director of Public Prosecutions considers that he cannot bring a criminal prosecution following the Independent Police Complaints Commission’s investigation into the death of Mr Ian Tomlinson in April 2009. No one who has seen the pictures of his treatment that day could fail to be disturbed by them. The facts were rightly and thoroughly investigated by the IPCC. In recognition of the strong public interest in understanding how that decision had been reached, last Thursday the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has responsibility, independently of Government, for the decision, made a detailed and lengthy statement explaining it. The statement is available on the Crown Prosecution Service website, and I have also asked for copies of it to be placed in the Library.
Once the IPCC has concluded its report, an inquest will follow into the death of Mr Tomlinson under the direction of Her Majesty’s coroner. The Metropolitan police will also consider whether disciplinary or any other action should be brought. It has to be remembered that the detailed statement made by the DPP did not purport to set out any defence that the suspected police officer would have advanced had the case come before a criminal court; it only centred on the evidential issues faced in any prosecution.
From the outset, the CPS and the IPCC approached this case on the basis that there may be evidence to justify a charge for manslaughter. Expert evidence was obtained with a view to establishing the cause of death. After the original pathologist, who was appointed by Her Majesty’s coroner, provided a second statement about his findings, the factual basis on which the other experts had given their opinions about the cause of death was seriously undermined. The CPS concluded that there was no realistic prospect of conviction for manslaughter.
It is not appropriate practice in possible homicide cases to bring a charge for a lesser offence such as common assault while there remains a prospect of a prosecution for manslaughter. But once it was clear that a charge for manslaughter was not going to be possible, the CPS turned to consider whether proceedings could be brought for assault occasioning actual bodily harm. In law, a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm can be brought in respect of quite minor injuries. However, to bring a measure of consistency to charging decisions in assault cases the CPS applies charging standards. In the case of the G20 demonstration, for example, after a police officer struck a woman twice with his baton causing a similar level of injury, the CPS brought a prosecution for common assault applying exactly the same guidance. That officer was of course recently acquitted by the courts.
I understand the dismay of the House at the outcome of this case, which is that a prosecution will not be brought for any offence. That outcome was reached after an independent investigation of the facts by the IPCC and independent and thorough consideration by a senior and experienced Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor, with the added benefit of advice from independent leading counsel under the oversight and with the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions. I have seen nothing to make me doubt the seriousness and propriety of the decision-making process in this case.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman believe that if a member of the public had launched an unprovoked attack on a police officer that was immediately followed by the officer’s death, and if that incident was on film, a pathologist of highly dubious professionalism would have been appointed to investigate and that that pathologist would have been allowed to throw away samples that could have proved the link between the assault and the death? Does he also agree that it would be highly unlikely, even if one were to leave aside the evidence in connection to the manslaughter, that there would be no action on the assault?
We have all seen the film. The man was clearly assaulted. We have also, have we not, read Nat Cary’s evidence in which he says that there is an area of bruising consistent with being hit with a baton? As Nat Cary says, if that is not ABH, what is? How can the CPS have taken 15 months to come to no conclusion? It is not going to take any action. I suggest that that would not have happened if the tables had been turned and this shows that there is no equality before the law. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman agrees, what is he going to do about it?
I should say at the outset that I think that the first part of the hon. Lady’s question is based on a slightly false premise. The appointment of a pathologist is a matter for the coroner, not for the CPS. The first pathologist appointed in this case was appointed by the coroner—he has the power to do that. The hon. Lady will be aware from what was said by the DPP and from what I said a moment ago that much flows from that appointment. It is clear that a report was produced that provided an indication to lead to further reports that looked as though it might lead to showing a causal connection between the assault and the death but that subsequently a further factual statement from the pathologist first appointed by the coroner entirely undermined the basis on which any further expert view could be taken of the case by other pathologists. That is at the root of the problem.
As for the hon. Lady’s suggestion that in some way this case would have been treated differently had it involved the death of a police officer, I have no reason to think that that is the case. It is right to say that when the matter was first drawn to the attention of Her Majesty’s coroner, it might not have been apparent at that stage—because the video evidence had not become available—that this was not a sudden death on the fringe of the G20 demonstration rather than something that was intimately linked to it, as became clear when the video evidence became available.
I should like to thank the Attorney-General for the elaboration that he has given. It seems to me that the decision not to prosecute appears to rest on the divergence of medical opinion between the three pathologists who have conducted post-mortems, creating evidential problems for the DPP when considering the likelihood of proving a causal link between the push and the blow that, as we have all seen, were struck at Mr Tomlinson and his subsequent death. However, is it not the case that the decision of medical authorities to charge Dr Patel, the first pathologist, with 26 counts of misconduct is materially important?
The public will find it difficult to understand how the opinion of a doctor facing 26 charges of misconduct before the General Medical Council can in effect muddy the evidential waters in this very serious case to such an extent that a prosecution cannot proceed in a case where the public interest is not served, as I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman would probably agree, by such a decision.
Prosecuting authorities, of course, are rightly independent, but what powers of supervision does the Attorney-General have over their decisions? In view of the GMC’s charges against Dr Patel, has the Attorney-General asked the DPP to review his decision about whether to bring charges, given that the other two pathologists—Dr Cary and Dr Shorrock—agree that Mr Tomlinson’s death was a result of internal bleeding from blunt force trauma to the abdomen? If not, will he now do so?
I am sure that the Attorney-General agrees—and would say again—how important it is that justice is seen to be done, freely and fairly, with all being equal before the law. The unfortunate circumstances of this case do not appear to show that at present.
As for the hon. Lady’s last comment, I entirely endorse what she says. On her earlier comments, I am not in a position to make a judgment on the misconduct allegations that may pertain to the pathologist, Dr Patel, which I understand arise out of other matters. Neither am I in a position to comment on questions of expertise. As I tried to make clear a moment ago, this is about an issue of fact. Dr Patel carried out the first post-mortem examination, which included certain conclusions about blood in the abdominal cavity. Subsequently, he factually retracted those statements, or altered them markedly, putting a completely different complexion on what conclusions could be drawn from the evidence and whether, in particular, any connection could be made between the blow that one can see being struck on the video, the fall that followed and the actual cause of death. I understand that that lies at the root of the Crown Prosecution Service’s difficulties in this case.
The hon. Lady also asked about my powers of supervision and superintendence. I have those—they are my ability to ask questions. As she might appreciate, I have certainly had an opportunity to do that, but this is not my decision and I have not been in a position to review the evidence. As I said earlier, I have no reason to think, from anything I have heard, that this matter was not most conscientiously and fully inquired into with a clear desire to see justice being done. The decision is potentially open to being reviewed by means of judicial review—that could happen if someone wished it to take place—but I want to make it clear that on the basis of what I have been told and what I have discussed, but not on a review of the evidence, it seems to me that the CPS has acted with complete propriety in this matter and in trying to take it forward.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the CPS might have acted with complete propriety but that its actions have nothing to do with the delivery of justice in this case? Does he understand that to allow the findings of a pathologist who has previously found a victim of the Camden ripper in 2002 to have died of natural causes resulting from heart disease to trump the considered verdicts of two other pathologists is far from satisfactory? Is he more understanding than I am of the fact that the Director of Public Prosecutions can take the view that the findings amount to an irreconcilable disagreement between experts rather than between two experts and one incompetent who ought to be disregarded?
I fully understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but at the risk of repeating myself, I must restate the key point. This is not just a disagreement between experts: it is about a key matter of fact that had to be established at the outset, which has been left completely unclear. On the basis of the facts as now stated, it does not lend support to there being a causal connection between the blow and the death. That might be a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs, but I simply say that the CPS has to go with the material that is available to it, and it cannot manufacture it or wish that something different had happened from what actually happened. From that point of view and bearing in mind my responsibility in this matter, in seeking to answer the House’s questions properly, I repeat that the CPS seems, from what I have been told, to have acted with complete propriety in investigating this matter.
The Attorney-General might recall that at the instigation of the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) the Select Committee on Home Affairs held an inquiry into the G20 riots and made passing comment on the case of Ian Tomlinson. Two recommendations were put forward, one of which concerned the use of untrained officers. The other involved the Committee’s concern about the prospect that communication between the police and the public at that time, and the tactics that were used, might undermine public confidence and trust in the police. Have those two recommendations been addressed? If not, will the Attorney-General write to me and let me know what progress has been made?
I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand that those questions fall slightly outside the remit of my area of responsibility. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is sitting on my left, however, and I am sure that is a reflection of the seriousness with which she takes the entirety of the matters that the right hon. Gentleman has just expounded. I hope very much, therefore, that my right hon. Friend will be in a position to answer the question that he raised.
It is important not to prejudice any further action, but does the Attorney-General agree that to avoid the impression of a cover-up it is also important that the CPS considers all the evidence that will be presented at the inquest and whether it warrants taking action against the officer then?
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly good point. As I indicated, the matter is not at an end. There will be an inquest and there is the IPCC report to the Home Secretary. If it were, indeed, the case that further evidence emerged, I have not the slightest doubt that the CPS would wish to consider it.
The issues causing my constituents concern are, first, the seeming failure of the Metropolitan police ever to learn from their past mistakes and, secondly, that the CPS seems to have endowed the medical evidence with undue weight and ignored the other manifest evidence that was in the public domain. If there is to be an inquest, will the family of Mr Tomlinson be afforded any kind of financial support by the Government, given the swingeing cuts that have been introduced to the legal financial service?
On that latter and final point, I have to tell the hon. Lady that it is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Justice. As she is aware, provision is available to help families in certain inquests and that matter would have to be considered. It would also have to be considered by the Legal Services Commission to which application would be made.
May I return to this point: I do not think it is a question of the application of undue weight on anything? The responsibility of the CPS is to apply the code and test of Crown prosecutors as to whether there is a basis on which a prosecution can be brought. In a case of prosecution for manslaughter, that is not possible for the reasons I have already given the House and the hon. Lady. In a case of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, if the CPS were to depart from its own standards and guidelines, which have, I think, been in existence for some 15 years—I seem to recollect they were introduced following some criticisms that there were excessive variations in when assault occasioning actual bodily harm was charged or not—that decision could be open to criticism and challenge.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting question. Normally, as I understand it, that is a matter for the discretion of the coroner. It may be that one of the matters arising from this case that needs to be considered is how pathologists are appointed by coroners in all cases.
Does the Attorney-General agree that a key element in upholding the rule of law is people’s confidence in the rule of law? Does he also agree that a number of issues associated with this case have tended to undermine that confidence both for the tragic Tomlinson family and for the community as a whole? The question of the pathologist’s competence has been touched on, but there is also the chequered history of the policeman involved—at one point, he was actually discharged from the Metropolitan Police Service. There is also the question of the length of time it took the CPS to finish the inquiry, which has meant that no prosecution of any kind may be brought. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that all of us in the House who are committed to upholding the rule of law have reason to be concerned about what has happened in this case?
I certainly endorse the hon. Lady’s final comment. Yes, and I hope I made it clear that there is something profoundly unsatisfactory about a conflict of evidence arising on facts and matters of this kind. Some matters the hon. Lady raises are not within my province, but there may well be some lessons to be learned, and as I indicated previously, this matter is at least not yet completely at an end. That having been said, prosecutors have to see that the law is observed, but they have to act within the law and on the evidence. They are constrained by that; indeed, that is one of their responsibilities and duties. The fact that the evidence ends up unsatisfactory and that the matter cannot therefore be taken any further does not mean that they have not done their job properly.
Does the Attorney-General accept that, whatever may be the normal practice, there was nothing to prevent the CPS from bringing a simple assault charge while other matters continued to be investigated? Does he also recognise that the urgency of creating a system of genuinely independent medical examiners, as recommended after the Shipman case and by the Justice Committee, is confirmed by aspects of this case?
The right hon. Gentleman raises the question of whether an assault charge could have been brought while the investigation continued. I say simply that it could have been. The difficulty that might have arisen is that if that assault charge had been taken to conclusion through the courts during the period of the investigation and subsequently the material on which a manslaughter charge could have been based became apparent, it might then have been impossible to proceed with the manslaughter charge. I do not think that that matter can simply be overlooked.
I did not fully respond to the point put by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) about the timing. I simply say this: there was an IPCC inquiry first of all, which took some months. By the time the Crown Prosecution Service got the material in this case, time had already gone on a fair bit. In those circumstances, I do not take the view from what I have seen that the CPS was in any way dilatory in trying to bring this matter to a conclusion.
Does the Attorney-General understand that a lot of people view his remarks today and his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) with utter consternation? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) pointed out, this is a question of justice and of seeing justice to be done. If we are to have any confidence in the judicial system and in the ability of the Government or the CPS to mount a prosecution, something must happen in this case where a wholly innocent man was killed in broad daylight on the streets of London and no action appears to be imminent on this matter.
As I said, anyone who saw the video of what happened must be seized with very serious concern about the matter. That is a view that I entirely endorse. Therefore, for the same reason, I am extremely unhappy, as I am sure everyone in the House is, that we should be in the position that we are in today with such a complete lack of clarity in the matter. There may well be lessons to be learned overall, but I came to the House to answer for the CPS, which had to take the material available to it and act on it. As I said before, I do not believe there is anything in what I have seen of how the CPS has conducted itself in this matter to make me think that it was not seeking throughout to try to ensure that justice was done in this case. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to accept that.
Does the Minister agree that the liberty of every citizen in this country relies on the separation of powers, that members of the public should not be tried by television and the media and that the CPS has looked at this properly and reached a proper decision?
My hon. Friend does make an important point—in this country, we have the presumption of innocence and it is also right that we only prosecute where the code test is passed and there is a credible basis on which a prosecution can be brought. Those are onerous burdens for the CPS, which it has to discharge impartially, free of political control and fearlessly. I have not the slightest doubt that in this matter that is what it has sought to do. The fact that the outcome is unsatisfactory—from the House’s viewpoint and that of many, particularly, I might add, the family of the deceased, for whom everyone in the House must have the greatest sympathy—does not, in fact, undermine the validity of what the CPS was trying to do.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, on the CPS’s lack of proceeding against the officer, one aspect that causes concern is his alleged chequered history? According to press reports, he left the Met under a cloud, was re-employed as a clerk, successfully applied to Surrey constabulary for a position and then transferred back to the Met. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman advise us, to his knowledge, whether that aspect of Metropolitan Police Authority recruitment policy is being examined as part of the process in respect of the prosecution, and whether, if there is a lesson for the Home Office on inter-constabulary transfers, that matter will be brought to the attention of the House?
The Home Secretary is sitting on my left, and she has had the opportunity of hearing the hon. Gentleman. As he will appreciate, the points that he makes are again outside the remit of myself as a Law Officer and, indeed, of the Crown Prosecution Service, but I fully accept that they are perfectly pertinent.
Would my right hon. and learned Friend be able to assist in this way: cases involving causation are always difficult, but did the Crown Prosecution Service consider two other charges available to it, neither of which would have been time-barred, namely affray and misfeasance in public office?
So far as affray is concerned, I am not aware of whether it was considered, and it does not immediately spring to mind as appropriately reflecting what happened in the case. So far as misconduct in public office is concerned, the matter can be looked at, but the test for misconduct in public office is quite clear: it should not be used as a substitute to get around a substantive offence being brought. For those reasons, the CPS took the view that misconduct in public office was not an appropriate charge to bring, and in that it is certainly backed by all precedent.
Is it true that the coroner, Professor Paul Matthews, refused to allow two IPCC investigators to attend the first post-mortem and failed to advise Mr Tomlinson’s family about their rights in relation to the second post-mortem? If so, how can any of us have any confidence in his ability to conduct an inquest that will have such a crucial bearing on any future decision by the CPS?
Policing in the 21st Century
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about a consultation paper that I am publishing today. Entitled “Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people”, it sets out the most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years.
For this Government, police reform is a priority, not just because we inherited the worst public finances of any major economy, but because for too long the police have become disconnected from the communities that they serve, been bogged down by bureaucracy and answered to distant politicians instead of to the people. Crime remains too high, too many families and communities suffer from antisocial behaviour and barely half the public are confident that important local issues are dealt with. Meanwhile, the challenges that we face have changed. Terrorism, the growth in serious and organised crime and cybercrime all require new approaches that cross not just police force boundaries, but international borders.
First, we will transfer power back to the people. We will introduce directly elected police and crime commissioners by 2012. The commissioners will set the police budget, determine police force priorities and have the power to hire and, where necessary, fire their chief constable. To help the public hold their local police to account, we will publish local crime data and mandate local beat meetings so that people can challenge the performance of their neighbourhood policing teams.
Secondly, we will return professional responsibility to police officers. Front-line staff will no longer be form writers; they will be crime fighters, freed from bureaucracy and central guidance and trusted to get on with their jobs. We have scrapped the policing pledge. We have got rid of the confidence target. We will restore police discretion over charging decisions for particular offences. We will limit the reporting requirements for “stop and search” and we will scrap the “stop” form in its entirety.
Thirdly, we will shift the focus of Government. As the Home Affairs Committee noted during the previous Parliament, the previous Government tried to micro-manage local policing but failed to support forces effectively on national issues, so we will build on the work of the Serious Organised Crime Agency to create a more powerful national crime agency, which will tackle organised crime and protect our borders. We will phase out the National Policing Improvement Agency and scrap Labour’s plans for a statutory police senior appointments panel. We will discuss with the Association of Chief Police Officers the way forward in its role as a professional leadership body.
Fourthly, we will make the police more efficient at force, regional and national levels so that front-line local policing can be sustained. To this end, we are already consulting separately on police procurement regulations to get better value for taxpayers’ money.
Fifthly, we will unleash the power of community pride and civic responsibility, so that people can come together to cut crime. We will therefore look for a cost-effective way to establish 101 as a single police non-emergency number so that it is easier to report crime and antisocial behaviour. We will also do more to encourage active citizens to become special constables, community crime fighters and members of neighbourhood watch groups.
There is nothing inevitable about crime. That is why we are determined to press ahead with these reforms, which demonstrate our determination to undo the damage of the Labour years, put the people back in charge, and rid our communities of crime, antisocial behaviour and disorder. I commend the statement to the House.
The statement should be entitled, “Policing in the 21st Century: How to make the job harder”. As usual, the Home Secretary trots out her infantile drivel about the last Labour Government, probably written by some pimply nerd foisted on her office by No. 10.
The Home Secretary said that she aims to undo the damage of the Labour years. That damage was recorded in the Home Office’s statistics on 15 July. Here it is: overall crime is down by 50%, violent crime is down by 50%, property crime is down by 55%, the murder rate is at its lowest level since at any time over the past 20 years, and the chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest level since records began in 1981—21.5%, down from its peak of 40% under the Conservatives. That is the damage that she is seeking to undo—the kind of damage that any Government would be proud of.
The Home Secretary is about to have her budget cut by at least 25%.
Thanks to us, the hon. Lady says from a sedentary position. I remind her that we were making the police a priority and guaranteeing the funding for record numbers of police officers.
Last week’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission made it plain that any cuts above 12% were bound adversely to affect front-line policing. Soon we will learn how the Government plan to restrict the use of the DNA database and CCTV, and thus make it harder for the police to catch criminals. Today we have the final part of the triple whammy—structural upheaval through the imposition of elected commissioners and the abolition of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. Perhaps the Home Secretary can tell me which chief constables, which police authority chairs or even which local authority leaders support the replacement of police authorities by a single elected commissioner. Sir Simon Milton, when he was the Conservative head of the Local Government Association, said that:
“there are already people elected at local level to represent the community and be advocates over a range of services—they’re called councillors”.
Is not the Home Secretary setting up, in Sir Simon Milton’s words,
“a parallel and potentially conflicting system with a competing mandate”?
Sir Hugh Orde has said:
“Every professional bone in my body tells me”
that having elected commissioners
“is a bad idea that could drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability and add nothing but confusion.”
The Conservative chair of the Association of Police Authorities has said that the idea appears to be driven by dogma, and Richard Kemp, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the Local Government Association, has said that the vast majority of the 3,700 Lib Dem councillors—a figure soon to be drastically reduced at the next election—oppose an elected commissioner. Does the Home Secretary not think that the narrower the remit of the position, the weaker the case for having the occupier of that position decided by ballot?
How will the Home Secretary safeguard the operational independence of the chief constable? As the APA has pointed out, police authorities have done a great deal over the past few years to ensure that the public understand their role and that police authority members are properly equipped and trained to operate effectively. There is a clear argument for enhancing and increasing the role and responsibility of local government, so that local councillors have a clear mandate for holding the police to account. That is the route that we should be taking, rather than this unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion. Can the Home Secretary tell me whether the LGA is right when it states that the elected commissioners will cost £50 million? What is her estimate?
The coalition agreement talked about refocusing the Serious Organised Crime Agency, not eliminating it. That organisation was formed only four years ago, and the structural upheaval then took years to settle down.
It was our structural upheaval, I agree completely, but that is what occurs with any reorganisation. To put people through another structural upheaval four years later is simply madness.
In 2006, SOCA was wrongly described as replicating the FBI, and reports over the weekend gave the same description. Does the Home Secretary think it is accurate? She will be aware of Sir Paul Stephenson’s John Harris memorial lecture recently, which rejected the FBI option. Sir Paul set out a model built upon SOCA, not upon replacing it, and his national federated model has much to commend it. Why is the Home Secretary not pursuing that alternative?
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre does fantastic work. To build upon that work, we were moving it away from SOCA to be a non-departmental public body. Will the Home Secretary continue that process, and if not, why not?
Will the dedicated border force replace the UK Border Agency, and how many jobs will be lost as a result of these initiatives in SOCA, the UKBA, the National Policing Improvement Agency and elsewhere?
We have yet to hear a word from this Government about how they plan to cut crime. All we have heard is how they will cut officer numbers, prison places and police powers. Today, the Home Secretary has managed to reannounce at least three decisions that we had already taken in government. She says that she will mandate beat meetings to challenge the performance of neighbourhood policing teams, having scrapped the policing pledge drawn up by chief constables themselves to provide exactly that mandate.
The Home Secretary inherited the Department when crime had fallen substantially, public confidence in the police had never been higher and public concern about antisocial behaviour had never been lower. She says she is pursuing bold policies; in fact she is pursuing bad policies. I was pleased to see the Government’s U-turn on anonymity for rape defendants; elected commissioners need to go the same way.
I have to say to the shadow Home Secretary that I find his complacent attitude in relation to what has happened over recent years rather surprising. As far we are concerned, we do need to fight and cut crime, but our streets can never be too safe and we will not be complacent about the antisocial behaviour and crime that still blight the lives of too many people in this country.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the damage that is being done, but I will tell him when damage is done to policing in this country. It is when, as Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reported last week, at any one point an average of only 11% of police officers are out on our streets. It is when the average police constable is spending only 14% of their time on the streets and 22% in filling forms. The Labour Government did that damage over 13 years.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the DNA database. It is extraordinary that he is still willing to defend a Government who wanted to put innocent people’s DNA on the database, but were not willing to ensure that they had the DNA of all the people in prison on that database.
The right hon. Gentleman asks who supports the decision to have directly elected commissioners and elected representatives of the people. He will find some support from the following quote:
“we will legislate to strengthen the democratic link with the public by introducing local, directly elected crime and policing representatives.”—[Official Report, 17 July 2008; Vol. 479, c.435.]
Those are not my words, but those of the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor as Home Secretary, the right honourable Jacqui Smith.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the need to publish figures. Of course, we will in due course publish figures in relation to the police commissioners as well as the business case for the national crime agency. He mentioned its role and the need for it. Only two weeks ago in the Police Foundation lecture, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, raised the need for us to strengthen the tasking and co-ordination of response to serious organised crime. That is what the national crime agency will do. It will also deliver our commitment for a border police force and strengthen our ability to protect our borders.
On the shadow Home Secretary’s comments about cuts in budgets, I simply refer him to two things. First, he seems to have forgotten that, in the words of the former Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, “There is no money left.” Secondly, it would be helpful for the House to know that yesterday, on Sky News, the shadow Home Secretary confirmed that, in a Labour Government, he would have cut police budgets.
I think that everybody in politics aims to represent the people and their views. The point of directly elected commissioners is to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability. However, the hon. Gentleman is right that checks and balances need to be in place. That is why we will introduce the police and crime panels, drawn from local authority representatives and independent members, with powers to look at the commissioner of police’s plans in their area and to raise public concerns if they wish to do that.
I will leave aside the fact that the Government came to power promising to stop constant reorganisations but have done nothing but reorganise. Will the Home Secretary confirm that SOCA in its current guise is being abolished and that the intelligence function, which is crucial to dealing with, for example, the cybercrime and e-crime that she mentioned, will go with it? Does she therefore propose to enhance the role of the excellent police e-crime unit in the Met, or to transfer the powers to that amorphous body, the NCA?
The right hon. Gentleman’s assumption that SOCA’s intelligence-gathering capability will be abolished is completely wrong. We intend to build on and harness the intelligence-gathering expertise that has been built up in SOCA in the past few years as part of the serious organised crime command in the national crime agency.
Given that, in November 2003, the right hon. Gentleman’s proposals included changing police authorities so that they would be wholly or partially directly elected rather than appointed, I am sorry that he has not supported our proposal for directly elected commissioners.
Given that the Home Affairs Committee found that SOCA managed to seize only £1 from organised crime gangs for every £15 of its budget, will the Home Secretary reassure us that her proposals for the national crime agency will be more effective in cutting not only crime, but waste?
I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. SOCA has built up expertise in intelligence gathering, but we need to do more. We need to put more focus in this country on fighting serious organised crime, which is what the command within the NCA will be able to do.
The Home Secretary will know that effective policing in this country is absolutely dependent on good intelligence at every level. How will she ensure that the relationships between local authorities and the police, which are essential not only for neighbourhood policing, but for that golden thread of intelligence that goes all the way through to tackling terrorism, are maintained under her proposals?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her question and for raising the point about the golden thread that runs through policing. It is absolutely essential that we retain that golden thread from local neighbourhood policing all the way through to the work done at national level to fight serious organised crime, terrorism and so on. However, one of the points of introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners is to ensure that someone in each force has a direct responsibility to the people, which will ensure that they represent the needs of the people in local policing.
The Home Secretary has done what the Opposition failed to do—she has stood up to the vested interests and put the police under democratic control. Since she does not envisage allowing directly elected individuals to direct particular investigations, will she assure the House that she will not sign up to a European investigation order that would allow political appointees in other member states to do precisely that?
I thank the right hon. Lady for clarifying that the Government intend not to abolish SOCA, but rather to build on it. How will she ensure that efforts are made locally and regionally, whether by elected commissioners or chief constables, to focus on serious organised crime, so that the national agency can perform appropriately and for the benefit of the whole country?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for raising that important point. Of course, individual police forces will still have a responsibility to deal with serious organised crime, but we need to strengthen that national co-ordination and tasking in relation to such crime, which is why we are bringing the serious organised crime command into the national crime agency. However, we are also looking at imposing strong duties of collaboration among police forces to ensure that, when collaboration across force boundaries is necessary to deal with issues such as serious organised crime, that does indeed take place.
Will the Home Secretary give an assurance to the House and police forces in England and Wales that they need not fear that they will be forced into amalgamations because of the changes, and that we are not going to resurrect the Labour party’s proposals from its last term in power?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point and for enabling me to put absolutely clearly on the record that this Government will not try to impose mergers on police forces. If police forces voluntarily wish to merge and come forward not only with a strong business case, but with clear indications that such a merger is supported by the local communities, we will of course look at that, but we will not, unlike the previous Government, try to impose mergers on forces.
May I welcome a number of the Home Secretary’s proposals today that are in keeping with recommendations made by the Select Committee on Home Affairs last year? I was going to say that she nicked the name of our last report for her White Paper, but I will be generous and say that she borrowed it. She is right about SOCA, and clearly, £79 million on National Policing Improvement Agency consultants is far too much, but will she give the House an assurance that, whatever the reorganisation entails, front-line policing will not be affected; that the number of officers on the front line will remain the same; that our fight against terrorism will be as strong as it has been over the past few years; and that we will not give in to the serious organised crime gangs?