House of Commons
Thursday 20 January 2011
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Culture, Media and Sport
The Secretary of State was asked—
With private sector partners, the Government are creating a major, new overseas marketing fund. We are looking to create a fund of £100 million over the next four years which aims to deliver 1 million additional international visitors to the UK and £2 billion in extra visitor spend.
I thank the Minister for his reply. As he will know, the Government are rightly focused on an agenda of growth across our economy. Does he agree that tourism, especially to the regions, such as Leicestershire, and to regional attractions such as the Great Central railway, is a key part of that growth strategy?
I absolutely agree. One of the key points about tourism is that it is an efficient and rapid way of driving economic growth and regeneration and that it does that in all parts of the country outside the south-east. It is an excellent tool for rebalancing our economy.
My constituency is home to Chester zoo, one of our nation’s foremost visitor attractions. With more than 25 million people visiting zoos and aquariums in the UK every year, what help can the Minister offer to promote such an important part of our visitor economy?
We are engaged in a recalibration and reorganisation of local tourist boards—destination management organisations, to use the jargon—which are being refocused to become more private sector-led. The express intention is to give prominent attractions, such as Chester zoo, a much bigger and stronger say in how their local destinations are promoted and marketed to tourists in the UK and abroad.
What assessment has the Minister made of the rise in VAT on the potential for the promotion of tourism? Would he explain to people who provide tourism products whether they should absorb the cost of that rise, thereby cutting their profits, or pass it on to their customers, thereby offering a disincentive for tourism in the UK?
Clearly the rise in VAT is principally a matter for the Treasury, but it affects all economic sectors and every business in the country will have to make precisely the judgment that the right hon. Gentleman describes. As a politician, I would not dream of telling individual businesses how to run their business—it must rightly be a matter for them—but I am sure that, because they have skin in the game, they will make the right decision for their business in their particular sector.
Is the Minister aware of how important literary houses in the UK are to visitors from overseas and from this country? I chair the John Clare Trust—he was one of our greatest poets of the countryside and environment. It is very difficult these days to get a brown sign or any help to put such attractions on the map. Can the Minister help us?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that our listed houses are major tourist attractions, and that includes our great heritage houses and the smaller and more modest places that are listed. If he is interested in promoting them more effectively, and I applaud his efforts in doing so, he should speak first with his local tourist board, which will be refocused in the way I have explained. We are also evaluating whether there are other ways to improve things such as signage, and not just brown signs, but signs at major transport interchanges, such as those that direct people on how to get to a particular attraction once they have arrived at a train station. All those points are essential and should be handled by the newly refocused and, I hope, revitalised local tourist boards.
2. What proportion of sport governing bodies have committed to spend 30% of their broadcast income on grass-roots sports. (34701)
As these are the first departmental questions since the new year, I will start by putting on the record—I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members—our congratulations to the England cricket team on their triumph in Australia this winter.
At the same time as announcing the decision on listing of sports television coverage in the summer, I challenged sports to take a hard look at what more they could do to increase the proportion of their broadcast income that they spend on their grass roots. I am delighted to say that on 22 December all six of the governing bodies that are part of the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s voluntary code committed to ensure that at least 30% of the net revenues from their UK broadcasting rights are reinvested. In total, that means that at least £250 million a year will go to grass-roots sport.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply, which is welcome news for sport, and I am sure that we all congratulate him on what he is doing. Can he confirm that, together with reforms to the national lottery, that will mean that funding going to grass-roots sports will be higher at the end of this Parliament than it was under the previous Labour Government?
At the end of November, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), announced that he was setting up a UK film forum to plot the progress of UK film industry funding. Can the Minister for Sport and the Olympics inform the House whether the forum has met and what progress has been made?
Olympics (Economic Legacy)
We are working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Greater London authority to ensure an economic legacy for London, and we are in regular contact with the six east London host boroughs. London businesses, including five in the borough of Lewisham, which I know will please the hon. Lady, have already won from the Olympic Delivery Authority contracts with a total value of more than £3 billion.
May I press the Minister on the affordability of the housing that will be available in the athletes village once the games are over, particularly the flats that will be up for sale on the private market? On a recent visit to the Olympic site, I was told that the anticipated asking price for a two-bedroom flat is between £350,000 and £400,000. Does the Minister agree that that puts those properties out of reach of the vast majority of ordinary people and, in particular, ordinary Londoners?
I shall answer the question in two parts. Let us remember that a considerable portion of the houses in the Olympic village has already been acquired by Triathlon Homes as affordable housing; that is very much a key part of the scheme. In terms of what happens to the Olympic village after the games, we have been extremely careful with the expressions of interests that we have looked at precisely not to put housing values on it, so I do not know where the hon. Lady got that figure from. It might be a market guesstimate, but it is no more than that at the moment.
I am sure we all agree that the economic legacy of the Olympic park will be in part secured by identifying a long-term tenant for the Olympic stadium. Does the Minister therefore agree that when we bid to host the games, the bid book was clear that the stadium’s legacy would have athletics at its core, with associated multi-sport availability for the local community? Does he also recognise that the Olympic Park Legacy Company will make a decision on the tenant on 28 January? There are two contenders, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham football clubs, but does he agree that only the joint bid from Newham council and West Ham football club fulfils the commitments we made when we won the games?
The right hon. Lady is of course correct. At the time of the bid, the commitment was to leave a 25,000-seater mixed-use stadium, with athletics at its core, so we have already broken a part of that, in that there is not going to be—I would guess—a 25,000-seater stadium. I hear what she says about the future of the Olympic stadium, as I have had my ear bent on the issue by a number of hon. Members. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is going through a quasi-judicial process, so it would be inappropriate for me to comment either way at this stage, but I hear what she says.
6. What recent progress he has made on the roll-out of community broadband; and if he will make a statement. (34706)
My officials continue to engage with local authorities, local enterprise partnerships and the devolved Administrations regarding the next wave of funding for superfast broadband as part of the £530 million that we have secured from the TV licence fee settlement. The next locations for funded projects are due to be announced in May 2011.
As the Minister is aware, Suffolk is a particularly rural county that will derive significant economic benefits from the widespread deployment of high-speed broadband. He will be aware also of our advanced stage of preparedness in having a public-private partnership to deliver it, so will he please be a little more specific and tell us when he is going to announce the timeline for the next delivery phase of those broadband projects?
What discussions has the Minister had with BT and other suppliers who still produce maps showing broadband coverage, sign people up and take their money, only for them to find that broadband does not work and probably will not work for many years?
We regularly have discussions with the operators on the advertised broadband speeds that they put out. As Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority have made clear, it is very important that broadband operators should be clear about what speeds are available. However, I am happy to pursue further the point that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Is the Minister aware that in many parts of the country broadband access is quite good in domestic premises, because the roll-out of cable TV has dealt with domestic problems, but often very poor in commercial premises in high streets and business parks?
Yes. It is important to emphasise that even in an area where, in theory, superfast broadband already exists, there will still be patches where the broadband connections are not as good. That is why we have set aside such a substantial sum of money to help with the roll-out of broadband.
The UK Government have set out their plans to make the most of the games for the UK as a whole. Twenty-three businesses registered in Scotland have won work supplying the Olympic Delivery Authority and 36 contracts have been awarded to Scottish businesses through CompeteFor, the online brokerage service. In addition, I regularly meet the Scottish Government to ensure that Scotland continues to benefit from London 2012 and to support their plans for the Commonwealth games in 2014. I am meeting sports Ministers from the devolved nations next month.
I thank the Minister for his response. Next year, it will be four years since Team GB’s fantastic showing in Beijing. I am delighted to say that one of the supreme athletes of that team, Chris Hoy, said at the time when he won his medals that he was proud to be Scottish but also proud to be part of the UK team, and that he could not have achieved what he did had he not been part of it. I think that that sentiment would be echoed by almost all Members of this House apart from the separatists. Might the Government produce a report, or send me a letter, outlining exactly what benefits Scotland will see from the 2012 Olympics?
Yes, certainly. To some extent, I answered that question when I said that 23 businesses have won work and 36 contracts have been achieved through CompeteFor. Many Scottish athletes play a key part in our Olympic preparations; the hon. Gentleman mentioned one of many. The Scottish team is an integral part of Team GB and will, I am sure, contribute greatly to what I hope will be a record-busting haul at the London Olympics.
Is it not the truth, though, that Scotland will get absolutely zilch from the London Olympics? Written questions have revealed that out of 1,433 tier 1 contracts, Scotland has secured a measly 25. Yet the Minister will still not agree to apply the Barnett consequentials, which means that Scotland is owed some £165 million. Does not that make an absolute joke of the claim by Conservatives and Labour that this is a games for the whole country, when it is clearly a games for England and the south-east?
My definition of zilch is not 23 businesses and 36 contracts—that is not zilch in anybody’s language, even Scottish. Also, Scottish athletes will benefit from the changes made to the lottery. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that 23 businesses, 36 contracts and a lot of athletes is not zilch.
Creative and Leisure Industries
The creative and leisure industries have an important role in driving economic growth. We are therefore undertaking a number of initiatives to support these sectors, including a digital and creative industries growth review, the creation of Creative England, which will have a hub in Birmingham, a new overseas marketing fund for tourism, and the development of a new tourism strategy that will help to support the growth in tourism and leisure industries.
My constituency includes some major employers in the leisure, creative and tourism industries, from the premiership football clubs, Aston Villa and Birmingham City, to the Symphony hall and Hippodrome theatre. With the regional development agencies being abolished and local enterprise partnerships having no statutory role to promote tourism, what are the Government doing to support these vital jobs in my constituency?
I understand that Visit England has a transition team, which the hon. Lady should call. I take this opportunity to heap praise on Birmingham as a creative and cultural centre. Perhaps everyone in the House could welcome the new Birmingham central library, in which some £200 million is being invested—a good news story for libraries.
I am working intensively to ensure that the UK has the best superfast broadband network in Europe by 2015, and I am in constant contact with a wide range of telecoms companies and other stakeholders in that connection.
On 19 February, I and other North Yorkshire MPs from across the House will host the Ripon conference to celebrate North Yorkshire’s winning one of the superfast broadband pilots. It will bring together members of all parts of the community to consider how superfast broadband can made a difference to every part of North Yorkshire. Will he send a message to the conference or, hopefully, attend it?
Following the unfortunate conversation between the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and journalists from The Daily Telegraph, the whole of telecommunications policy has been vested in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. What steps will the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport take to ensure that the Department takes full account of the interests of internet users and service providers, as well as the content providers that have been its historical interest?
About 50% of households have access to high-speed broadband, but sadly only about 0.2% of them have bothered to sign up. Does the Minister agree that if we are to get what he wants, which is the best high-speed broadband in Europe, we have to stimulate demand for it? Does he agree that the BBC should use some of the money allocated to it for this area of work to stimulate demand, rather than just building infrastructure?
It is important to make it clear that the money from the TV licence fee will be used to roll out superfast broadband, but an important part of our broadband strategy—what is known as demand stimulation—is that more people take up superfast broadband. Martha Lane Fox and others are working to increase take-up of broadband.
I welcome what the Minister is saying. This matter segues into the Government’s proposal for more local television, which I also welcome. There is local town TV in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and much of Europe, but very little in Britain. I urge the Government to resist the big broadcasting monoliths and vested media interests, who will not like this proposal. Can Rotherham have an early experiment with local TV, because I do not feel that I get quite the airtime that I should on the national networks? I am sure that if there were a local TV station in Rotherham, I would appear at least once a month.
In line with the commitment in the Government’s coalition agreement, I am in discussion with the football authorities on what further steps they can take to bring about further governance reform and a greater involvement for supporters in their local clubs. I hope to set out the way forward in this area by May. I will take a close interest in the inquiry that the Culture, Media and Sport Committee is conducting on this issue.
Last year, the future of Ilkeston Town football club in my constituency of Erewash was in doubt because of difficulties. New owners were secured, and I am sure that the Minister will join me in wishing them all the best for the future. It was the efforts of local residents, who submitted a supporters’ bid, that really caught the imagination locally. Will he set out in more detail what efforts the Government are making to advance this interesting policy area?
I absolutely hear what my hon. Friend says. It was our intention to bring forward plans in the new year, but in view of the huge interest in the matter throughout the House, which was evidenced by a debate in Westminster Hall, we thought it sensible to let the Culture, Media and Sport Committee look into it first, as it had announced its intention to do so. We will consider that report before deciding what further steps to take.
I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s point about her football club and the role that supporters have played. The problem we have historically had in this country is that there are many different types of football club ownership, which makes a one-size-fits-all solution hard to get to.
Premier league footballers are vastly overpaid, premier league clubs are hugely in debt and our national football team is, in many ways, a disgrace. Meanwhile, in the real world, non-league clubs such as Kettering Town football club are struggling to provide suitable ground facilities despite massive fan support. Does the Minister agree that football as it is in this country at the moment faces an unsustainable future unless governance issues are properly sorted out?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that football governance issues need attention and action, which I believe is precisely why the Select Committee has responded to the anxiety throughout the House and announced its investigation.
If we look across all sports, it is clear that football is the worst-governed sport in this country, without a shadow of a doubt. When Labour was in government, it often made the point that the levels of corporate governance in football lagged far behind other sports, which are by no means beacons in that regard. Action is needed and the Government will take it, but we want to see the results of the Select Committee report first.
We have made good progress in improving governance at the BBC, including the announcement made in September by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr Foster) about allowing the National Audit Office unfettered access to BBC accounts.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. When considering the governance of the BBC, will he also examine BBC impartiality? On “The Alan Davies Show” last year, BBC employees likened the Freedom Association to the British National party and its founder, the late second world war hero Norris McWhirter, to one of Mosley’s brownshirts. When I wrote to the BBC I received a ridiculous letter from Mark Thompson refusing to apologise. Will my right hon. Friend demand that the BBC starts to live up to the obligation in its own charter?
I agree that impartiality at the BBC is paramount and that the particular comments to which my hon. Friend refers were totally inappropriate. I can understand why many people found them offensive. By way of reassurance, I say to him that in the selection process for the new chairman of the BBC Trust, which is responsible for impartiality, we have said that all candidates must show commitment to improving governance at the BBC. I hope that these issues will continue to be addressed.
The Secretary of State and I agree about the importance of the impartiality of the BBC. With the withdrawal of Sir Howard Davies from the shortlist for the chairmanship of the BBC Trust, there is growing speculation that the favourite is now the former chairman of the Conservative party. In those circumstances, it is particularly important that the appointment process is transparent. Will the Secretary of State therefore agree that the all-party Culture, Media and Sport Committee should scrutinise the two candidates referred to him by the appointment panel before he makes a recommendation to the Prime Minister?
I thank the Secretary of State, from the bottom of my heart, for what he said about the disgraceful attack on the reputation of Norris McWhirter, whom the BBC was delighted to have as one of its star celebrities for decade after decade. May I tell him that I worked with Norris McWhirter for many years in politics, and one could never find a more dedicated opponent of totalitarianism? That is hardly surprising given that at the age of 17, he volunteered for the Royal Navy and took part in one of the most successful anti-U-boat organisations in the battle of the Atlantic. It was a particular disgrace that someone—David Baddiel—who, like me, is from a Jewish background, should denounce that admirable man as a fascist or a Nazi sympathiser simply because he disagreed with him politically.
BBC World Service
We had a number of discussions on funding for the BBC both with the BBC and with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the context of licence fee discussions.
For those living in countries where free speech is threatened or non-existent, the BBC World Service provides a vital and powerful source of unbiased information. I welcomed the Foreign Secretary’s reassurance back in September that the Burma operation is unlikely to face closure, but will the Secretary of State reassure the House that he is working with his Cabinet colleagues and the BBC to ensure that in countries that face significant political upheaval, that voice of independent free speech will be upheld?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend about the outstanding beacon for freedom that the BBC World Service represents, not least given the lifeline it offered to the people of Haiti and the 3.1 million people who are reported to use it in Iran. She is absolutely right. If it is any reassurance, closure of any language service must have the written consent of the Foreign Secretary. We are confident that the BBC World Service can sustain its current plans.
Access to Culture (Young People)
My Department invests more than £1.6 billion into our sponsored bodies and much of it is fundamentally connected to improving children’s and young people’s access to the fantastic culture that we enjoy in this country. We are working closely with the Department for Education on a review of music education, and will shortly announce details of a review of cultural education, to ensure that we are taking the best approach to investment in, and the delivery of, culture for young people.
Now that young people have lost their education maintenance allowance and their free theatre ticket scheme, “A night less ordinary”, and that we know that there is no replacement in a good education for access to live music and theatre and other arts, what action will the Minister take in these very difficult circumstances for the cultural sector to ensure that young people, and especially those from poorer backgrounds, are not the ones who lose out?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiments. I know that she used to work for Creative Partnerships and was a trustee of the South London gallery. She will know full well that almost all our cultural organisations work extremely hard to ensure access for young people to their work. We will continue to work with them and the Department for Education to ensure that that is maintained.
I will take as much time as necessary to come to a considered decision on this very important issue.
As a former Minister with responsibility for competition in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, I know that the Secretary of State will want seriously to consider the evidence and not to prejudge what should be done in this case—unlike his predecessor. However, does he agree that given his own very high-profile comments about Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB, it might be sensible in this case, in which justice needs to be seen to be done as well as to be done, for him to hand over the decision to someone who will be seen to be more impartial, if not actually more impartial?
Ministerial discretion is restricted to what is reasonable and fair in the eyes of the law. The process was set up in the Enterprise Act 2002 by the previous Government. It is incredibly important that due process is followed at every stage. We will publish exactly what we have done and whom we have met at every stage of the process when I make my decision, in order for Parliament to be able to scrutinise the process and ensure that it has been totally fair and impartial.
I am sure that the Secretary of State would accept that the Government’s handling of this quasi-judicial responsibility has been nothing short of a constitutional disgrace. The Business Secretary was stripped of his responsibilities because he
“declared war on Mr Murdoch”,
the Culture Secretary is on record as saying that he sees no problem with this particular deal, and the Prime Minister has now been found tucking into turkey in the middle of the process with the chief executive of News International. What breathtaking arrogance and contempt for their constitutional responsibilities!
Will the Secretary of State now tell the whole House whether he intends to meet any of the concerned parties before making a decision on this referral? Will he also release the Ofcom report—he has the ability to do so—in advance of making his decision, so that the House can be reassured that his judgment is impartial?
I remind the shadow Culture Secretary that when the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) made the decision on the Sky ITV purchase he published the Ofcom report when he announced his decision, so I am doing nothing different to what he did. On the issue of impartiality, I say this:
“been a force for good in improving the quality of broadcasting for British consumers”.
Those are not my words, but those of the shadow Culture Secretary. I wish that he would stop sucking up to the Murdochs.
I am pleased to announce that we have appointed three new non-executive directors to the Department’s board. They are David Verey, who is the chairman of the Art Fund and former chairman of the Tate; Peter Bazalgette, who is the former chairman of Endemol; and Lord Coe, who is attending on an ex-officio basis as chairman of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Many young people across north Yorkshire will be hoping to get tickets for the Olympics when they become available next month. How can we ensure that travel costs do not become a limitation for young people coming from the regions and hoping to take advantage of this fantastic event?
My hon. Friend is right to say that we want the Olympics to be something that is exciting for everyone throughout the whole country. On the specific costs of travelling to London, I suggest that he talks to his rail company to see whether it can help out. We wish him every success, and will give him every support we can, in that process.
The Labour mayor of Lewisham says that he did not seek election to close down libraries, but that is the scale of the cuts. In Milton Keynes, a Liberal Democrat councillor says that the financial challenge means that money will be taken out of the library service. My local council in Nottinghamshire, run by the Conservatives, tells me that, to reduce expenditure, 28 libraries will reduce their opening hours. So councils of all colours do not want to reduce library provision, but the Government are forcing them to do so. What will Ministers do about it?
I remind the hon. Lady that one of the reasons why councils have reduced funding is the economic mess that her party left this country in; that is why they are having to make the tough decisions that they are having to make. We are not standing by: I have contacted all local authority to remind them of their statutory duty and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council continues to work closely with a number of authorities on their proposals for the future of their library services.
T3. A campaign group in my constituency has recently submitted an expression of interest in applying for an FM licence to run the first community radio station covering the whole area, to be called Chase FM. Can the Minister assure me that part of the community radio fund will still be available for new licence applications such as that one, and will he join me in wishing Chase FM all the best with its application? (34722)
We are strong supporters of community radio. We have set aside almost £500,000 this financial year for it, and that funding will continue for the rest of this Parliament. Ofcom is considering whether there should be a third round of community radio licences and I will keep my hon. Friend informed.
T2. I noticed earlier that the Minister never really answered the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), so I will put it again. What assessment has the Minister made of the effect of the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance on the participation by young people in the arts and the theatre? (34721)
As I said in answer to an earlier question, several arts organisations provide fantastic opportunities for young people to access culture and education, and we will conduct a review of cultural education in the next few months which we hope will come up with recommendations that will enhance it.
May I take this opportunity to wish Chase FM the greatest of luck in applying for a community radio licence?
T5. Given the increasing reliance of businesses on the internet and the Government’s commitment to economic growth, will the Minister assure me that he will favourably consider including rural Devon, which has some of the poorest internet coverage in the country, in the second phase of the broadband pilot scheme? (34725)
As I said earlier, we hope to set up a second round of pilots for broadband roll-out, for which we have set aside £50 million, but obviously that process is being run by Broadband Delivery UK, and it would be wrong for Ministers to favour one area above another.
We would obviously like to associate ourselves with the Minister’s congratulations earlier to the England cricket team. However, he also claimed that funding for grass-roots sport will be higher at the end of the Parliament than it was at the beginning. How can that be the case, when local teams and clubs up and down the country are on the front line of cuts and facing higher fees and charges to hire pitches, sports halls and pools, and when local sports co-ordinators and county sports partnerships are sacking staff, all as a result of the cuts to local government spending imposed by his Government? What assessment has he made of the impact that local government finance will have on grass-roots sport, and what discussions has he had with his colleagues at the Department for Communities and Local Government?
I gave the answer I did because, according to the figures and projections for Exchequer and lottery funding to Sport England, the latter received £249 million this year and will receive £284 million by the end of the Parliament. That is a 14% increase by anybody’s maths. On local authorities, we are looking at the matter closely, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in trying to convince and reassure local authorities that they should not be closing sport and leisure facilities. There is no reason for them to do that—it is a choice they have to make—and I would encourage all of them to continue to build on the considerable investment that the Government are making in sport, both through UK Sport, Sport England and the London—
I am delighted that the Government have committed to backing the 2013 rugby league world cup, but there remains a concern that with the abolition of regional development agencies some significant funding from those sources will no longer be available. Will the Minister reaffirm the Government’s commitment and perhaps update the House on discussions with the Rugby Football League about ensuring that this important tournament is a big success?
Absolutely. I can confirm the answer that I gave on this subject during, I think, the previous Culture, Media and Sport questions or the ones before that: I have made it absolutely clear that all world cups, in whatever sport, should be treated on exactly the same basis, and I have written to the chief executive of the RFL to confirm that. I am aware that there is an issue, however, because the regional development agency has withdrawn its offer of funding. Those involved are trying to work through that, and I will do everything that I can to help.
T4. My constituency is in central Scotland, and is neither rural nor isolated, but it does suffer from problems with broadband coverage. At the moment, it is falling between the cracks of action—or rather inaction—between what industry is doing and what the Government are doing. What will the Government do to help constituencies such as mine, and will West Dunbartonshire be considered as one of the pilot programmes to be announced later this year? (34724)
I will say again that we have set aside £530 million for broadband. We are starting with four pilots in the next few months, and will be announcing another four pilots—or possibly even more—in May 2011. We continue to engage through Broadband Delivery UK with regions across the United Kingdom, and I would urge the hon. Lady to work with her local councillors and BDUK.
Areas served by relay transmitters, such as Darwen, Whitewell, Newchurch, Bacup and Whitworth, receive about 15 Freeview channels, while those served by a main transmitter receive up to 40. Before switchover is complete, will the Minister confirm whether he has any plans to deal with this digital deprivation?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern on behalf of his constituents, and it is good that he has raised it. There has never been universal television coverage. About 90% of television viewers get the full range of Freeview channels, and about 98.5% get the basic 15. I will be happy to have discussions with him. This is a commercial decision for the operators, but it is worth having a dialogue.
Among the great cultural gems of this country are the regional museums of England, such as the People’s History museum in Manchester, so why is this most philistine of Governments withdrawing funding from these great museums, given that they know that local authorities cannot pick up the tab?
I object to the Government being described as a philistine Government, particularly by one of the country’s leading television historians. He and I are working extremely closely on preserving the Wedgwood collections, and I hope he is not thinking, “Philistine, philistine” as we sit down for our discussions. Funding is tight because his philistine Government bankrupted the country.
Is the tourism Minister aware that because One North East did all its tourism promotion work in-house it fell foul of the Government’s advertising ban, and that there is currently no promotion of the fantastic attractions of Northumberland? Will he work to ensure that a business-led alternative can get into place quickly?
I am aware of the problem; indeed, my right hon. Friend and I had a conversation about it in the Lobby yesterday evening. There are isolated examples of such issues in different parts of the country, depending on what has been happening with RDAs and their wind-down. As we discussed last night, I would urge him to speak to the transition team at VisitEngland and, if necessary, its chief executive, James Berresford. VisitEngland has a team specifically set up to help midwife the change from the old regime to the new, but if my right hon. Friend has any problems, he should let me know.
T6. My constituents in Wirral currently enjoy the regional television that exists. Although we offer a cautious welcome to the Secretary of State’s proposals for local television, there is a fear about what might happen to that which we already enjoy. Can he say more about how he will protect the quality of local television services? (34726)
Let me reassure the hon. Lady that we are interested in this issue because we want local television to be more local and better than it is. One of the problems with regional television at the moment is that the footprint is so large that it is difficult to put out programming and news that have the impact that real local television has. I have every confidence that what we announced yesterday will make a huge difference to her constituents in the Wirral.
The Minister might consider the failure of north-east tourism to be able to promote itself—a failure caused by the cuts that this Government have imposed—to be an isolated problem, but it is a real problem in the north-east. If he takes the trouble to visit the north-east, I am sure that an array of critics in the north-east tourism industry, including the National Trust, will make their feelings well known to him.
As I hope I have made clear, I am aware of the issues. I would be delighted to come to visit some of the north-east’s impressive tourism attractions, including such places as Holy island and many others. I would love to do that in due course, but if the hon. Gentleman has specific examples of problems in his area, I would repeat what I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) earlier, which is that there is a team specifically set up at VisitEngland to cope with precisely those issues.
No, I would not, because all such contracts have to be competed for on a commercial basis, as the hon. Gentleman needs to be aware, and there are strict rules that govern that. He is perfectly well aware that we cannot simply award contracts to one part of the country because it has not had enough before. What firms in those parts of the country should be doing is putting in competitive contracts because, as we heard in previous answers, many of those contracts have been awarded to British firms.
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
IPSA (Liaison Group)
1. What progress has been made on the creation of a liaison group between hon. Members and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. (34728)
My hon. Friend will be aware of your statement on this matter yesterday, Mr Speaker. I welcome the initiative, and I understand that the liaison group will meet soon.
At present, IPSA costs the taxpayer more than its predecessor and employs one member of staff for every nine Members of Parliament. Its bureaucracy is so complicated that it takes staff roughly 1,700 calls a week to unravel its complexities. Does the Leader of the House consider that to be progress, and could he do the taxpayer a great service by offering assistance in haste to the parliamentary standards—
I agree with my hon. Friend: there are opportunities to drive down the costs, and not just for IPSA, but for Members and their staff who have to operate the system. The existing regime was set up to a challenging timetable, and IPSA is the first to recognise that improvements can be made. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond to the review that is under way and put forward suggestions for reducing the costs on both sides of the equation.
Does the Leader of the House agree that the comments made over Christmas by a member of the IPSA board—comments that were ill-informed and insulting to many Members of Parliament—were not helpful in building a positive relationship between this House and IPSA? Could he put those comments on the agenda for the liaison group’s first meeting?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those comments were not helpful. I hope that one of the benefits of setting up the liaison group will be that we will now have a proper forum for consultation between IPSA and the House, and that there will be no need to resort to public acrimony in the newspapers. I hope that we will be able to have a sensible discussion and iron out some of the real difficulties that exist, without experiencing the kind of incidents to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.
Earlier this week, because IPSA had failed to tell me that it had put in place a direct payment to my landlord of my London rent, as I had requested, I also paid her for my January rent. This makes for one very happy landlord and one less happy bank manager. Does my right hon. Friend agree that better communication between IPSA and MPs is vital if the expenses system is to operate in a fair and efficient way?
I am sorry that my hon. Friend has had to dig into her own resources to pay her landlady twice. One of the initiatives that I and other Members are anxious to drive forward is the removal of the need for payments to go in and out of MPs’ bank accounts. If we can move more towards direct payments by IPSA or the use of a credit card, the sort of misunderstanding that has just occurred could be avoided.
I declare an interest, as a member of the new liaison group. The House has made it clear that IPSA must reform to provide a simpler, cheaper and non-discriminatory expenses system, and the Prime Minister has told it that it must “get a grip”. What assurances has the Leader of the House had from IPSA that advice from the new liaison group will be take seriously in shaping that reform? Can he also tell us what tests the Government will apply in deciding whether IPSA has reformed itself sufficiently or whether further action needs to be taken?
I welcome the fact that the hon. Lady will be serving on the liaison group; she will make a really positive contribution to its proceedings. IPSA will take the new body seriously, because it was set up at IPSA’s suggestion. On her last point, it will not be for the Government to decide whether IPSA has responded to the challenges that she has outlined; it will be a matter for the House.
House of Commons Commission
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
A guiding principle of the savings programme, as agreed by the Commission and the Finance and Services Committee, is that it must not damage the ability of the House to scrutinise the Executive. The Commission is confident that the savings being made in 2011-12 will adhere to that principle and enable Committees of the House to continue to fulfil their vital scrutiny role, and this is a matter that we will keep a close eye on.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. I understand why the House is making savings, but we would not find it acceptable if budget cuts prevented a quarter of our Members from travelling to Westminster to attend debates or Committees. A few of our Select Committees exist specifically to scrutinise the impact and effectiveness of Government policies and expenditure abroad. Does the House of Commons Commission accept that it is sometimes essential for those Committees to travel to other countries, and that, when they do so, none of their members should be excluded from their meetings?
The hon. Gentleman is a noted member of the International Development Committee. There will be £800,000 for Select Committee travel in 2011-12. That is a substantial sum of money at a time of financial stringency, and the Commission believes that it will be sufficient for those occasions on which an overseas visit makes an essential contribution to an inquiry. The Committees that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned will have a clear claim to be making essential inquiries, but the way in which the budget is used is ultimately a matter for the Liaison Committee.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post as well; he will do a good job. Is he aware that younger, and—dare I say it?—more progressive Members of the House scrutinise the Executive using social media such as Facebook and Twitter? Twitter is free. Will he give us an unequivocal commitment that Members should be able to use Twitter to hold the Government to account?
LEADER OF THE HOUSE
The Leader of the House was asked—
As the Leader of the House has said, the Government will move the online petition system to the Directgov portal soon—certainly before the summer. Officials are now working on an effective verification system to ensure that petitions become a useful tool for engaging with the Government, in contrast to the gimmicky approach of the previous Government’s No. 10 petition site. My briefing notes say that, at this point, I should use the pseudo-word “clicktivism”, a neologism as ugly as it is unintelligible. I have no intention of associating myself with it.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He is, I know, aware that the rail line between Manchester and Clitheroe is in desperate need of improvement. If the requisite number of signatures were collected by a “clicktivism” or anything else, could it be debated in this House and, if so, what impact does he think it would have on Government policy?
That is exactly the sort of issue that might well commend itself for a debate via the petition system. I commend my hon. Friend for his vigorous campaigning on the issue. Rather than wait for that to happen, he might like to pursue the option of having an Adjournment debate in order to debate the matter further.
Can the Minister say what a “direct portal” is? As I understand it, petitions were made to No. 10, so I hope he is going to confirm that petitions will now go to the House of Commons and that the House of Commons will debate petitions to it, not to No. 10.
Well, the petitions will be to the House of Commons, but the Government’s site will be used simply because it is there. The “Directgov” site is the common site for connexions via the internet to Government. I believe that the address is www.direct.gov.uk, so the hon. Gentleman might like to look at it and see whether it is a sensible portal to use—if he accepts the word “portal” at all.
The Committee itself made it clear in its first special report that in determining what business should be taken, it would consider
“public petitions recently submitted to the House and petitions published on the Downing Street website—until such time as a system for electronic petitions to the House is implemented”.
We very much welcome the Committee’s continued interest in e-petitions as a source of debate, and we will work with it and with the Procedure Committee in making sure that we have a proper procedure for linking petitions to Parliament.
I am very surprised that the Deputy Leader of the House has not followed the Scottish Parliament system for public petitions, given that that has been widely praised both by his predecessor and by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he briefly outline why there is such a divergence between the 10-year-plus Scottish Parliament system and this system?
I do not think that there is a huge divergence. We looked at the Scottish system and at whether it was applicable. The Procedure Committee, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has also looked at the issue. We have the Directgov site in place, and we are keen for people to be able to put petitions before the House at the earliest opportunity—and this provides the earliest opportunity. As I said, I hope we can get it up and running before the summer. If the Procedure Committee has further views on how the system could be changed in the future, we would certainly be open to its suggestions.
May I say how much I welcome the decision of the Backbench Business Committee to retain the pre-recess Adjournment debate, which is a venerable institution, as indeed are the contributions of the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) to it, as they always provide a tour d’horizon of his constituency? We are always very pleased to know what is going on in Southend West.
I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee and its excellent Chairman on their innovative work and I am delighted that all those who wanted to speak in that Adjournment debate were called, but does the Minister have any feel for whether the new arrangements have achieved the objectives on ministerial responses?
I think that ministerial responses—I set aside my own efforts—were better than usual, simply because they were informed by a pre-knowledge of the topics that Members intended to raise.
Forty-five Members participated in the debate on 21 December 2010, compared with 23 in 2009 and 25 in 2008, and I believe that according to most measures that must be considered a success.
Not only did 45 Members speak, but every Member who wanted to speak was able to do so. The fact that six Ministers responded from the Dispatch Box made the occasion very popular with Back Benchers, and also ensured that they were much more able to hold the Government to account. The debate was in its usual slot, but does the Deputy Leader of the House welcome the fact that the Backbench Business Committee has done some innovating of its own?
I think it is terrific that the Backbench Business Committee is prepared to consider new ways of doing things in order to establish whether we can improve the procedures of the House, and I can only congratulate it on doing so. I am particularly grateful to the hon. Lady for ensuring that I had sufficient time in which to address, at least briefly, the points raised in the debate.
I know—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will announce it later—that the hon. Lady’s Committee has decided that there is scope for a debate on parliamentary reform, and I think that that too is extremely useful. We will work closely with the Committee in trying to do things better in future, and I hope that the hon. Lady will continue her good work.
HOUSE OF COMMONS COMMISSION
The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—
Procedural Data Programme
On 16 December, the procedural data programme board agreed to the project initiation document for a pilot project on electronic delivery of answers. That pilot is due to end in March 2011. The project team will produce a report recommending next steps, which the board will consider in May.
I was astonished to learn of the inefficient process by which—in the 21st century—written answers are published in Hansard. They are typed in the Department and delivered by hand to the House as a print-out, at which point the Hansard reporters have to type them again. I am glad that the Commission is considering changing the process, but may I urge it to do so quickly, and to recognise that short-term costs such as the cost of the necessary software will be outweighed by long-term savings in staff time?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her approval of the steps that the Commission is taking. The process is somewhat complicated, not least because no two Departments use exactly the same technology when preparing answers, and a large amount of business analysis must be conducted to produce a sufficiently detailed understanding of their working practices. However, resource expenditure of £34,970 has been invested in the project, and we will work as expeditiously as possible to arrive at a resolution.
A key part of the savings programme as a whole is considering all the instances in which the use of electronic media would improve the service to Members and reduce costs, while also having the environmental benefit of reducing the use of paper. The Commission certainly intends to consider those matters.
The Home Secretary is in Budapest at an informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council, so I will be responding on her behalf. As the Home Secretary, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have made clear, the first duty of any Government is to protect the British public and we will not do anything that risks our security. The arrests of individuals for terrorism-related offences before Christmas, the cargo bomb plot in October and the bombings in Stockholm in December have all demonstrated that the threat from international terrorism remains a serious one.
On 13 July last year, the Home Secretary announced that she was renewing the current order for 28-day pre-charge detention for six months, while the powers were considered as part of a wider review of counter-terrorism powers. As the Home Secretary will be giving a full statement to the House on Wednesday on the outcome of that review, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt her statement by giving details of the review today.
This Government are clear that the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to 28 days’ detention before they were charged or released was meant to be an exceptional power—that was always Parliament’s intention. But under the last Government, it became the norm, with the renewal of 28 days repeatedly brought before the House, despite the power rarely being used. Since July 2007, no one has been held for longer than 14 days, despite the many terrorists arrested since then. That is a testament to the efforts of our prosecutors, our police and our intelligence agencies.
As I said, the Home Secretary will, next Wednesday, announce to the House the findings from the wider review of counter-terrorism and security powers. She will set out the detailed considerations of the Government in determining whether the current regime of 28 days should be renewed and, if not, what should be put in its place. In the interim, I can announce that the Government will not be seeking to extend the order allowing the maximum 28-day limit and, accordingly, the current order will lapse on 25 January and the maximum limit of pre-charge detention will, from that time, revert to 14 days. We are clear that 14 days should be the norm and that the law should reflect that. However, we will place draft emergency legislation in the House Library to extend the maximum period to 28 days to prepare for the very exceptional circumstances when a longer period may be required. If Parliament approved, the maximum period of pre-charge detention could be extended by that method.
In the Government’s announcement on the wider review, the Home Secretary will set out what contingency measures should be introduced in order to ensure that our ability to bring terrorists to justice is as effective as possible. This country continues to face a real and serious threat from terrorism. That threat is unlikely to diminish any time soon. The Government are clear that we need appropriate powers to deal with that threat but that those powers must not interfere with the hard-won civil liberties of the British people. There is a difficult balance to be struck between protecting our security and defending our civil liberties. The outcome of our counter-terrorism powers review will strike that balance, and it is this Government’s sincere hope that it will form the basis of a lasting political consensus across the House on this fundamentally important issue.
We are in the unusual constitutional position of having the Government make an announcement in response to an urgent question on a vital matter of national security. I shall return to that issue at the end of my comments.
First, I agree with the Minister that keeping the public safe and striking the right balance between security and the protection of liberties is a vital task facing any Government. That is why when I became Home Secretary—[Interruption.] When I became shadow Home Secretary, I told the Home Secretary that it was our intention, as a responsible Opposition, to support the Government on issues of national security and on the review of counter-terrorism powers. That was on the basis that decisions were made on the basis of evidence and were in the national interest, and that there was an orderly process.
That is still our intention, but this process has not been orderly—it has been a complete shambles. I am not referring only to the way in which this review has been delayed and delayed—it was first promised, last July, to be completed by the end of last summer. Nor am I referring only to the countless and very detailed leaks and briefings to the BBC on the outcome of the review. Such leaks have continued over the weekend—following my point of order of eight days ago—including to The Sun on the funding of surveillance. I have to say that this is no way to make announcements on vital issues of national security.
There is a third reason, which is the reason for this urgent question today. When the Home Secretary announced her review in July, she extended 28 days pre-charge detention for a further six months until 24 January and she said to the House:
“After that, it will be up to me as Home Secretary to come back to the House to ask for a further extension, to let the limit fall to 14 days, or to present new proposals that reduce the limit but introduce contingency arrangements in extreme circumstances.”—[Official Report, 14 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 1007.]
The Home Secretary has not come back to the House. I said that we would support a change on the basis of the evidence. There has been no evidence. There are no details of contingency arrangements. We are told that there will be a statement on Wednesday, but the policy on 28 days collapses by default on Monday.
In the absence of the Home Secretary, will the Minister tell the House what will happen on Monday if a terror suspect is detained? What will be the period of detention? Do the police and security services agree that this power is now not needed? Is that in the evidence in the as yet unpublished review? Do the Government really intend to let this happen by default, with no statement, no announcement and no evidence presented to the House? I must say that this is a deeply arrogant way for the Government to treat this House. It is a shambolic way to make policy on vital issues of national security.
Should not the Minister go away, come back this afternoon to make a proper statement, publish the evidence and allow right hon. and hon. Members to ask the questions that should be asked, rather than allowing the Government to treat them with such contempt?
I am sorry that I shot the shadow Home Secretary’s fox before he stood up with what was clearly a pre-written statement that did not bother with anything I actually announced—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman asked a question; I gave a substantive answer. He seems to object to that. I have come to the House of Commons to give a substantive answer to a question. I can understand why the noisy and excited Opposition Front Benchers are confused by this process, because under their Government there was never any substantive answer to an urgent question. It clearly came as a huge shock to the shadow Home Secretary that he actually had an answer, because it was clear from the rest of what he said that he had not listened to any of it.
The right hon. Gentleman’s substantive point was that he wanted the counter-terrorism powers review earlier. I think that in his more serious moments he might recognise that, rather than rush a review of something as important as counter-terrorism powers, it is important to get it right. In this area of vital national interest and the security of our country, the Government will not be driven, as his Government too often were, by the media agenda. We will take the right amount of time and get it right.
The right hon. Gentleman’s other point was about process. He had the cheek to talk about process in relation to counter-terrorism powers. I shall not take any lectures on process from the party that tried to use pre-charge detention as a political tool, that tried to impose 90 days detention, then 60 days, then 42 days—a party that, when that proposal was turned down by the House of Lords, finally and grudgingly settled for 28 days. The shambles of counter-terrorism powers was precisely illustrated by the disasters of the previous Government.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the timing of when he will get the evidence. If he ever paid any attention to the proceedings of this House, he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announce last week that the Home Secretary would make the statement that I have just talked about next week. I announced earlier that the statement would be made on Wednesday, but there is an underlying serious point that the House needs to address, which is the importance of balancing the security of the British people with the need to maintain our civil liberties. We need no lectures on that from the right hon. Gentleman. One of the most damaging failures of the Government in which he was a leading figure was an inability to strike that balance between security and civil liberties. At every turn, the Labour Government trampled on civil liberties, not just with their attempt to impose 90 days detention but with their databases on children and their ID card scheme. No amount of sanctimonious bluster from the Labour party can disguise their shocking record on civil liberties and security. This Government will repair their mistakes in that area.
My final thought for the right hon. Gentleman is that he said in his blog last week:
“I want to support the Home Secretary in reaching a new consensus about counter-terrorism policy”,
I am afraid that nothing he has said today has illustrated that what he claimed to think last week is what he actually thinks this week. He should go away and think hard about the serious nature of his job.
Order. There is understandably intense interest in this subject, but there is also pressure on time with the business statement to follow and thereafter two important and well-subscribed debates to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Brevity from those on the Back Bench and Front alike is, on this occasion, not just desirable but essential.
Does the Minister agree that the coalition’s approach to counter-terrorism judiciously balances the country’s security needs with the defence of our precious civil liberties in contrast with the Opposition’s approach, which relied on draconian and counter-productive counter-terrorism measures that were highly damaging to fundamental British rights and were ineffective from a security perspective?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We need to strike a new and better balance, not just in the interests of civil liberties but in the interests of security. The wider the co-operation we have with the police and security services, the more secure we will all be. The better balance we are now striking is a significant step forward in achieving that.
I was the Home Secretary who increased the time from seven days to 14, not 28, and I think there is good reason for a balanced and sensible approach. But why are we able to have just one announcement on one part of the review without evidence today instead of the total review being announced? Do we have to wait until next Wednesday simply because the Home Secretary happens to be at an informal meeting in Budapest as part of her duties within the European Union? What is the difference between today and next Wednesday?
The right hon. Gentleman rather makes my point. I repeat that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said last week that the Home Secretary would make a statement next week, and I am now able to reveal that it will be next Wednesday, so he asks the correct question: why are we doing this now? We are doing it now because the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) asked an urgent question and I have shocked him by giving a substantive answer. I make no apology for that.
Can my hon. Friend explain why this welcome announcement appeared prematurely in so many media outlets at the same time? We always criticised that when we were in opposition and I would have hoped we would take firm action against leaks now that we are in government.
It is unfortunate if the House of Commons is not told the position before the media and I fully endorse what the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) just said. Will the Minister accept that it is a welcome step that the 28 days is being reduced to 14 days, because 28-day detention was never meant to be permanent? As for party polemics, the 90-day limit was defeated as a result of Labour Members. One thing I should like to know is why, if we are to reduce the length to 14 days, the Home Secretary will have reserve powers? It should be 14 days without any particular powers being given to the Home Secretary that would not have the authority of the House of Commons.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support and for his long and distinguished history on the Home Affairs Committee of fighting for civil liberties. As he knows, he and I have often agreed on these matters, and I am glad to make an announcement of this sort today. He makes a perfectly reasonable point about the reserve powers. I should emphasise that it will be a draft Bill, only to be used in emergency circumstances, which the House would have to approve at the time. It is not a question of in any way leaving 28 days on the statute book. On the issue of leaks, I will certainly take lectures from the hon. Gentleman. I do find it just a tad hypocritical to hear those on the Labour Front Bench and new Labour apparatchiks—[Interruption.]
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has been able to give information to the House today, perfectly properly provoked by an urgent question from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. May we all reflect on the fact that the timing of these matters has reflected the extraordinary complexity and difficulty of dealing with these matters, and one might take the criticisms from the Opposition Front Bench a bit more seriously if they had less of a party political flavour about them?
There may be support for the substance of what the Minister has said today, but what concerns the House is the fact that we have had to wait for an urgent question to be asked before being given this information. It is unsatisfactory. The Minister for Security was clear to the Select Committee when she appeared before us last December that Parliament would be told first about these matters and that it would not appear in the newspapers. Is not the best course of action to move the statement from Wednesday to Monday, when the order lapses, so that Parliament can question the Home Secretary on these matters? That is a way to resolve this rather unfortunate state of affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman will have heard me say several times that the statement has long been planned for next week, and it was announced to the House that it would be made then. With regard to the deadline being Monday, it is entirely reasonable that the law should revert to what it was. It was a temporary emergency arrangement for six months, which would lapse on Monday anyway. To try to equate that with the wider counter-terrorism review is not quite right. As I have said repeatedly, the Home Secretary has always planned to come to the House to talk about the very important wider counter-terrorism review. Indeed, the House was given unusually long notice of when she would appear, so it has been kept entirely in the loop on this.
The statement will have as its root the security of the British people. As I have said, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt the Home Secretary’s statement on Wednesday, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government, unlike the previous Government, take very seriously the civil liberties part of the balance.
When I moved the motion for 28-day detention as the Minister with responsibility for counter-terrorism in the last Parliament, the Conservative party did not oppose it. After the election, it proposed a six-month period for a review, pending evidence. In order for Ministers to be able to account to the House, when will that evidence be presented, so that we can be assured that 28 days will not put the people of Britain at risk?
Will the Minister promise me that he will take absolutely no lessons from 90-day Labour when it comes to detention; a Labour Government who perhaps had the worst possible record of any modern European Government when it comes to civil liberties? I, too, welcome what he says about 28 days, but will he say a little more today about what he means by these reserve powers?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. Not only is it surprising that Labour Members are so worried about leaks; it is equally surprising that they can bring themselves to talk about civil liberties given their shambolic and dreadful record on that issue. That is precisely why the reserve powers that we propose will be in the form of a draft Bill, so that nothing can be done without the full consent of Parliament—even in the most dire emergency, which we can all imagine happening—if it is thought that we need to revert to a longer period of pre-charge detention. It will be for Parliament to decide, and that is absolutely the right way to proceed.
I welcome the statement and the fact that the trajectory of pre-charge detention under this Government is going down, not up, as it did under the last Government. We will have to wait and see what the legislation says and look at the detail, but can my hon. Friend confirm one point in relation to evidence? A lot of evidence is already in the public domain in the form of the Home Office statistical bulletins, which show that in more than four years we have never needed 28-day pre-charge detention. Will he confirm that, and also that he has not seen any countervailing evidence that contradicts that?
My hon. Friend, who is a considerable expert on these matters, is of course right. No one has been detained for more than 14 days since July 2007, despite the many terrorist outrages that we have regrettably seen since then. To put the House fully in the picture, to date, 11 individuals have been held for more than 14 days pre-charge, six of whom were held for the maximum 28 days, three of whom were charged and three were released without charge. Again, for the those on the Opposition Front Bench to talk about evidence when they tried to foist 90 days on the House without any evidence at all was completely disrespectful.
The Minister’s claims would have more credibility if it were not for the whoops and tweets coming from those on the Liberal Democrat Benches. Can he not accept that this will be seen in the country as a shabby political deal to make up for their failure in the Oldham by-election and a desperate attempt to hold the coalition together rather than doing what is best for national security?
All the pressure on this comes from the civil liberties lobby. May I urge my hon. Friend to put the safety of the British people first? I suspect that most people in London, if it were a choice between their daughters being blown up on a London tube or a terrorist who hates everything we stand for spending 28 days in relative comfort before being charged, would choose the latter. So act on the evidence and put the safety of the people first.
As I said in my statement, the first duty of any Government is the security of the people, but that has to be balanced against the wider civil liberties that my hon. Friend and I both hold dear. What we are achieving is the proper balance. What was in place before was unbalanced and, as I just said in answer to our hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), it was not contributing to extra safety against terrorism, but was potentially a power in the hands of the state that could have been abused. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) will not want the state to have powers that it could potentially abuse.
I have a hunch that both sides of the House could have united on a position around the reduction of pre-trial detention. But given that the Minister has just said that the security threat is such that the House should retain some form of emergency powers, is it not reasonable to ask that the Home Secretary should have come and put the evidence for that to the House? Can the Minister confirm that it was the intention of his Department to make this announcement by written ministerial statement on Monday, which would not have allowed any debate?
The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point about the reserve powers. The significant change is that instead of having something on the statute book to be used without any parliamentary scrutiny, we propose that Parliament should be able to act quickly, because we can imagine circumstances in which quick action is needed, while not leaving these onerous and draconian powers on the statute book. That seems to be a significant step forward towards proper balance and to giving Parliament more power over the process, which I am sure that he would welcome.
Is not proper border control an essential part of a review to deal with terrorism? It is no good building a police state at home if we allow pretty much anyone, be they friend or foe, to wander into the country. Will the Minister consider stronger measures?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. Clearly, having strong and secure borders is one of the essential elements in our fight against international terrorism, and that, as he knows, is why one of the Government’s priorities is to make our borders more secure. We have been making significant progress on that over the past nine months.
Perhaps the Minister should ask the Secretary of State for Education to include the history of civil liberties in his new national curriculum so that people can be reminded that it was a Conservative Cabinet that introduced internment without trial for UK citizens.
As the Minister knows, there were arrests and charges in Cardiff before Christmas relating to terrorist activities. Does he understand that my constituents would welcome the retention, which I think he has announced, of the possibility to extend detention to 28 days, albeit by a different method? Had that been necessary for public protection in the case to which I have referred, that would have been the right thing to do. Can he confirm that he is retaining 28-day detention as a possibility, albeit after a parliamentary procedure?
As I have explained, a draft Bill will be available so that Parliament can act if it needs to in a particular emergency. With regard to the arrests made before Christmas, it is important to look at what has happened. Since July 2007, no one has had to be held for more than 14 days, despite the many terrorist actions and the planned actions that, happily, have been stopped by the good actions of the police and security forces. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, as someone who considers these matters carefully, will welcome the change we are making today and that the shadow Home Secretary can do likewise at some stage.
Will the outcome of the review ensure that we go back to first principles: namely, that the task of security and intelligence should not be confused with the role of the criminal justice system, and that to conflate the two and warp the principles of criminal justice would be to fall into the sort of error that the previous Government fell into?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. It is precisely because we live in dangerous times and need to consider carefully what powers we have to fight terrorism that we should be all the more careful not to erode the principles of criminal justice and civil liberties for which this House has always stood.
I strongly support the reduction of detention without charge from 28 days to 14 days. Would the Minister confirm that there is no one currently in custody who will have to be released by Wednesday because their detention period has gone beyond 14 days?
Although I support the reduction to 14 days, Her Majesty’s Government are not treating Parliament properly on this issue. The Home Secretary will be in the House on Monday to take Home Office questions, so presumably it would be perfectly possible for her to make a statement then. The Order Paper does not list any statement on the issue for Wednesday.
The Order Paper for Wednesday is yet to be produced, so I am not entirely sure about the force of my hon. Friend’s statement. As he says, those who are eager to question the Home Secretary will have the chance to do so on Monday anyway, so I am sure that we can return to the issue.
Recently, the Leader of the Opposition defended many of the decisions made by the previous Government, of which he was a member, and now we hear from the shadow Home Secretary that he questions the decision about 28-day detention. Does the Minister agree that there are some worrying splits in Her Majesty’s official Opposition on the vital issues of civil liberties and national security?
That may well be true, but I genuinely hope that the Opposition can bring themselves to a position in which they can balance security and civil liberties appropriately. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Home Secretary have admitted that Labour got the balance between security and civil liberties wrong. I look forward to the day when they can turn those fine words into some sort of concrete action and support the Government when we take measured and sensible steps, such as those we are taking today.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 24 January—Continuation of Consideration in Committee of the European Union Bill (Day 2).
Tuesday 25 January— Continuation of Consideration in Committee of the European Union Bill (Day 3).
Wednesday 26 January—Continuation of Consideration in Committee of the European Union Bill (Day 4).
Thursday 27 January—Second Reading of the Scotland Bill.
The provisional business for the week commencing 31 January will include:
Monday 31 January—Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill.
Tuesday 1 February—Conclusion of Consideration in Committee of the European Union Bill (Day 5).
Wednesday 2 February—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to Her Majesty’s Treasury.
Thursday 3 February—Motion relating to consumer credit regulation and debt management, followed by a general debate on reform of Legal Aid. The subjects for both debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 4 February—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 3 February will be a debate on parliamentary reform.
I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. Given what we have just heard from the Minister for Immigration, will the Leader of the House please consider bringing forward the Home Secretary’s statement to Monday, as has been suggested on both sides of the House.
The Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill really cannot come soon enough, because it has not been a very good week for the Government’s NHS reforms, has it? On Monday, the Prime Minister was completely unable to explain why spending billions of pounds on turning everything upside down will actually help patients, especially when, as John Humphrys helpfully pointed out, we have seen big improvements over the past 13 years. On Tuesday, the Health Committee called the changes “disruptive”, stating that they were creating “widespread uncertainty” and had taken the NHS by surprise. Could that be because the Prime Minister assured people before the election, when he was going around the country making promises as opposed to breaking them, that there would be no top-down reorganisation?
Yesterday, the Prime Minister could not answer a very simple question from the Leader of the Opposition. Three times he was asked to confirm that waiting times for NHS patients would not rise as a result of what he is doing, and three times he failed to do so. This is very strange. If all the upheaval really is about a better deal for patients, why can the Prime Minister not make that simple promise? Is not the truth that he just knows he cannot do so, because the Health Secretary took his colleagues by surprise with his plans, and the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), has to be brought in because No. 10 got the jitters. It is the same old story: the Tories in charge of the NHS spells trouble. Is that why the Education Secretary yesterday told people from the Dispatch Box to vote Liberal Democrat?
Moving on to another broken promise—namely, that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden—may we have a debate on the plan to take the mobility component of disability living allowance away from people living in care homes? When the Prime Minister was asked about this last week, he said that
“there should be a similar approach for people who are in hospital and for people who are in residential care homes.”—[Official Report, 12 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 282.]
That reply shows exactly why the Prime Minister does not get it. The right comparison for people in care homes is not with those who are in hospital, who do not plan to live there, but with those living in their own homes, and they will continue to get help with their mobility. The Government will have to change their mind on that issue, just as they had to on school sport and are in the process of doing on prisoners voting. It is wrong, it is unfair and it hits those whose shoulders cannot be described as the broadest, and, when those people find out that their current support, which enables them to go to the shops, to church, or to see friends and family, is being taken by the Prime Minister, there will be outrage.
Talking of which, may we also have a debate on the plans to sell off the nation’s much loved woodlands and forests? The last time the Tories were in office, that is exactly what they did, and they are at it again—only this time with Liberal Democrat support. Now, that is very strange, too, because visitors to the Scottish Lib Dem website can find a page opposing the sale of forests. There is a photo on it of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, looking very stern and holding a placard that says “Save our Forests”.
In case Members are somewhat puzzled, it seems that the Chief Secretary is passionately opposed to selling off forests in Scotland but wholly in favour of the sale of forests in England. If there is one thing that is even worse than breaking one’s promise, it is saying one thing in one place and the exact opposite in another—but as all of us know, the Lib Dems are world-class at that. I know that the Leader of the House will agree to my request for a debate, because he supports the procedure whereby petitions with more than 100,000 signatures trigger a debate in Parliament. So if I tell him that the petition opposing the sale of our forests has 160,000 names on it, and it does, can he tell us on what date that debate will take place?
Topical questions have been very effective in helping to hold Ministers to account. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should extend them to those Departments that still do not have them?
Finally, on 8 March we will celebrate the centenary of international women’s day. As the Leader of the House will be aware, for a number of years there has been a debate in the House on that day, so will he join me in encouraging the Backbench Business Committee to mark that special occasion?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the points that he makes. He asks for a debate on the Health and Social Care Bill, and he is getting one, as I have just announced, so all the issues that he has just raised can be dealt with then. We made a commitment, which his party did not, to spend more on the NHS, and we are reforming it to put more resources into front-line services. Against that background, the prospects for those on waiting lists or those concerned about waiting times are better under this Administration than they would have been had his party been elected.
The right hon. Gentleman asks for a debate on disability living allowance, and I recognise the concerns about that. He can have a debate about DLA: again, I announced that there would be a debate on an Opposition motion the week after next, so he can choose to debate DLA. I recognise the concern, but I hope he accepts that there are complicated issues. There are contractual obligations on certain care homes to make provision for some elements of mobility; some local authorities have requirements as part of their contracts with care homes to make provision for mobility; and people in residential homes are by and large sponsored by social services, but some are sponsored by the NHS, so different conditions apply. On the broader issue, we are consulting to see how the specific provisions on DLA will be introduced, and primary legislation will be necessary to make any changes to its mobility component.
Under the previous regime the Forestry Commission sold many thousands of acres without any requirements at all, but if the current proposals go through there will be specific requirements on those who acquire assets from the national forest to continue to make provision for access and other concerns—requirements that do not apply at the moment. So making transfers from the Forestry Commission to other owners will not have the adverse consequences that the right hon. Gentleman suggests.
We had an exchange on petitions that achieve a certain number of signatures, which my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House answered. If the trigger is reached and a petition hits the 100,000 mark, it becomes eligible for a debate, and its future is then decided by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who is in her place.
I have a lot of sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman’s point about a topical slot for those Departments with 30-minute Question Times: the Department for International Development and, I think, those for Scotland and Wales.
And Northern Ireland. I take that point seriously, so I shall have discussions through the usual channels to see whether we can make some progress.
The women’s day debate is important. If the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Wright Committee’s recommendations, he will see that the issue falls to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire and her Backbench Business Committee. He is perfectly entitled to go along at 4 pm or whenever it is to make a pitch for a debate on women’s day. It will certainly have my support.
Order. A very large number of right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Ordinarily, as the House knows, I seek to accommodate everybody at business questions, but that might not prove possible today, with heavy pressure on time and very well subscribed Backbench Business Committee-led debates, so I emphasise that there is a premium on single, short supplementary questions without preamble, and on the Leader of the House’s characteristically brief replies.
Following the Leader of the House’s written statement this morning, might I respectfully suggest to him that, just for once on MPs’ pay and conditions, he tries to be wise before the event? Regaining the trust of the general public after the calamitous expenses scandal requires that this House abides in full by the independent reviews, come rain or shine.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It will be for the House to decide whether to go ahead with the 1% pay increase that has come about through the machinery that was set up in 2008. The coalition Government have made their position on public sector pay very clear: we think that there should be a two-year pay freeze; that unless one earns less than £21,000 a freeze is a freeze; and that for those who earn under £21,000 the increase should amount to £250. Members earn substantially more than £21,000, and I believe that the House will want to reflect very carefully before it takes a 1% pay increase against the background of the restraint that many other people, earning much less than we do, have to face over the next two years. So I hope the House will come to a collective view when the motion is laid and agree that it is right for Members to exercise restraint for the time being.