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Commons Chamber

Volume 524: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2011

House of Commons

Tuesday 1 March 2011

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Parliamentary Constituencies

1. What recent representations he has received on his proposals to create fewer and more equally sized constituencies. (42561)

The last representation that I received on this matter was from Parliament, to say that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 received Royal Assent on 16 February, and I am sure that many Members of this House and the other place were grateful that it did.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last Wednesday showed that on 1 December the Wirral—represented in this House by four Members of Parliament—had 239,000 electors, whereas my borough of Croydon, with just three MPs, had 243,000 electors. Can my hon. Friend tell me when the boundary commissions will publish their draft proposals to deal with this shocking injustice?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on exactly why it was necessary to have more equally sized constituencies across the country, so that voters will have equal weight when they cast their votes. He will know that the boundary commissions have to report finally to Ministers by 1 October 2013. We expect that they will set out their initial proposals some time this year, but that is a matter for the independent boundary commissions.

Democratic Audit has said that equalising constituency sizes will lead to chaotic boundaries. Does the Minister think that the Deputy Prime Minister—or, to be more precise, his immediate successor in 2015—will be happy representing not only parts of Fullwood and Broom Hill, but Glossop, 20 miles away?

I simply do not agree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. The 2011 Act provides for a spread of plus or minus 5% of the quota, which is quite a significant number—around 8,000 electors—so that the boundary commissions can take into account all the traditional things, such as local ties and local government boundaries, but ultimately they have to deliver constituencies of more equal size. At the moment, constituencies can vary by over 50%, which is simply not right.

Recall of MPs

2. What plans he has to introduce a power for electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42562)

5. What plans he has to introduce a power for electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42566)

7. When he plans to publish his proposals to allow electors in a constituency to recall their elected Member of Parliament. (42568)

The Government are committed to bringing forward legislation to introduce a power to recall Members of Parliament. We are currently considering what would be the fairest, and most appropriate and robust, procedure, and we will make a statement soon setting out our plans to establish a recall mechanism.

Will the Government’s proposals provide a definition of serious wrongdoing, enabling voters to know clearly what could trigger a recall? That is important in providing clarity about what voters can do.

My hon. Friend is exactly right: that is precisely the kind of detail that we need to get right in the Bill. In some cases it is clear: if someone is sentenced to prison for 12 months or more they are automatically disqualified already, under the present rules. There is certainly a case for removing that 12-month cut-off line. If someone is imprisoned for any period, it seems to me that there is a strong case for disqualifying them. The key problem is when wrongdoings do not lead to a prison sentence, and that is exactly why we would want to engage the House authorities, to provide a means by which they could be clearly proven.

In other countries that already have a right of recall, there is a significant annual cost in having departments to administer public petitions. Has the Minister considered making an impact assessment of the annual cost of introducing such a measure?

As my hon. Friend may know, we want the recall mechanism to be based on two simple steps: first, proof that wrongdoing has been committed, as I explained in answer to the previous question; and secondly, a petition by at least 10% of the electors to trigger a by-election in the constituency concerned. That is slightly different from some of the models to which my hon. Friend referred, in California and elsewhere, where there is a much more open-ended process.

Can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House whether he still believes that MPs should be recalled for breaking their promises—and if he does, how many Liberal Democrat MPs does he expect would be subject to that system?

The recall mechanism—as supported, I think, in the manifestos of all three parties—is for serious wrongdoing, as I explained in answer to previous questions.

I am not quite sure that that is right, is it? Did not the Liberal Democrat manifesto say that people would be given the right to sack MPs who had broken the rules? The question then is: who gets to decide who has broken the rules? If, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it is the courts, that is a fairly straightforward process. However, if it was left up to voters, might they not think that if someone promised 3,000 more police officers and then cut 10,000, or promised not to raise VAT and then put it up by 2.5%, they had broken the rules?

As I said before, wrongdoing has clearly been committed if someone is given a prison sentence, and I think that any prison sentence of any length should disqualify MPs. Otherwise, we clearly need to establish a mechanism here in the House to prove serious wrongdoing, and only once that has been established would we grant electors the right, following a petition of 10% of the electors, to trigger a by-election—[Interruption.] I think that the hon. Gentleman is asking from a sedentary position whether that mechanism should be without any kind of filtering here in the House. The honest truth is that if we did it like that, and had a sort of free-for-all, there would be a real danger of a lot of vexatious and unjustified claims being made against one Member by others.

Will extreme care be taken in the drafting of the legislation to ensure that in absolutely no circumstances will a recall of a Member of Parliament be possible because of the way in which a Member votes or speaks—however objectionably—or because he changes party, as Winston Churchill did on two occasions?

We certainly would not want a recall mechanism that would have disqualified Winston Churchill. Precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend has alluded to, we need to ensure that the system contains checks and balances so that it does not impinge on the freedom of Members on both sides of the House to speak out and articulate our views. That will not be the purpose of the recall mechanism. Its purpose will be to bear down on serious wrongdoing and to give people a chance to have their say in their own constituencies without having to wait until the next election for an opportunity to do so.

Boundary Reviews

4. What estimate he has made of the cost to the public purse of holding constituency boundary reviews every five years. (42565)

Our current estimate of the costs of undertaking a boundary review under the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 is £11.2 million. We are currently working on that estimate to update it to take into account all the changes made to that legislation in the later stages of its progress through Parliament.

Although it appears that the Deputy Prime Minister has calculated the cost of the changes in pound notes, he does not have a clue about the social cost of his plans, which will lead to the fragmentation of communities as new constituencies cut through historical, political and cultural boundaries simply to achieve his arbitrary arithmetical norm. Does the Minister not wish that he had simply decoupled that part of the Bill to secure his miserable little compromise?

The reason why I gave the hon. Gentleman an answer in pounds was that his question was about the cost to the public purse, and I was answering that question.

I do not agree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. There is a 10% margin, plus or minus 5%, within which the independent boundary commissions can take account of factors such as local ties and local government boundaries, but it has to be right that constituencies should be more equal in size. In the part of the world that the hon. Gentleman represents voters have more weight in the House of Commons than they should, compared with those in other parts of the country, and that is simply not right.

Does the Minister not agree that holding a boundary review every five years will be a recipe for chaos and uncertainty, given that the number of seats allocated in each country within the United Kingdom could change in that period? That would create great uncertainty among local electors, local authorities and local communities, who will not know what constituency they are going to be in. That will have a direct impact on the make-up of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

There is a choice: we can have either infrequent boundary reviews, which would be more disruptive, or more frequent ones, which—all other things being equal—would be smaller. Clearly the first boundary review, with a change in the rules that will result in a reduction in the number of seats in the House from 650 to 600, will be a fairly significant one. After that, however, boundary reviews will simply reflect the movements of the electorate, and I think that that will be a much less disruptive process.

House of Lords Reform

The cross-party Committee, which I chair, has been considering proposals for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. The Government will publish a draft Bill shortly, which will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny. The Government hope that that will be carried out by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that answer. Will the proposals include a fulfilment of the Liberal Democrat manifesto commitment to a fully elected House of Lords?

From what the hon. Gentleman has said, I take it that he supports 100% election to the other place, which is a great advance on the 0% of elected Members that the Labour Government delivered over the past 13 years. My party’s manifesto was very clear about a fully elected House of Lords, so it is no secret that that would be my preference, but as I have explained, we want to proceed with this process on a cross-party basis as much as possible. That is why I have been chairing the cross-party Committee, and why I would like all the proposals in the draft Bill to be subjected to rigorous scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. My preference is clear, but all I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that, given the fact that the reform of the other place has been stalled for about 150 years, there is always a danger of making the best the enemy of the good.

The Deputy Prime Minister said that it had taken 150 years to get to this stage. May I urge him to take another 150 years before we have to vote?

I do not agree with my hon. Friend, for the simple reason that a principle is at stake—that those who make the laws of the land should be accountable, as is common to bicameral systems across the democratic world, to the people who have to abide by those laws. That is a simple principle. As he knows, we are committed by the coalition agreement to introducing legislation for a wholly or mainly elected House of Lords. As I said, we shall publish a Bill shortly, and it will then be subject to extensive scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses.

The Deputy Prime Minister has just confirmed what he said at the last Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions, which is that he has not made up him mind whether the draft Bill will keep his promise to have a 100% fully elected second Chamber, or whether there will only be a partially elected one.

On another issue of timing, the Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will publish the draft Bill shortly. Before the general election he said that a Bill would be published within six to seven weeks of a new Parliament being formed, and the coalition agreement said that one would be published by December 2010. I know that he is a busy, hard-working Deputy Prime Minister, so when exactly can we expect to see this draft Bill, and what is the reason for the delay?

I profess to being a little surprised, given that the right hon. Gentleman sat in the cross-party Committee that I chair, and I seem to remember that our last meeting was shortly before Christmas. He may profess ignorance of this matter, but he knows very well that the Committee, which I think has been proceeding in a methodical, co-operative and cross-party manner to try to create a cross-party consensus, concluded its work only relatively recently. He attended the last meeting shortly before Christmas, and we are now doing the work in government, which is entirely reasonable, to present a draft Bill based on that Committee’s work—and as I said, we shall do that shortly.

Topical Questions

As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on the full range of Government policies and initiatives. Within that, I take special responsibility for this Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

We have heard that while the Prime Minister was touring the middle east, the Deputy Prime Minister was skiing in the Alps. Does that suggest that the Prime Minister prefers to have the Foreign Secretary in charge, rather than leave the Deputy Prime Minister running the shop?

As for the events of last week, I am sure everyone will agree that we should all pay tribute to the extraordinary courage and professionalism of the armed services personnel who did so much—last week, again this weekend and ongoing now—to secure the safe return of British citizens from Libya, which was the first priority of the Government throughout last week. In the end, I spent just short of two days—two working days—away last week, but as soon as it became obvious that I was needed here, I returned.

T3. Can my right hon. Friend please tell me what steps he is taking to restore the public’s faith in politics, and in their Members of Parliament? (42444)

Our whole constitutional reform programme is directed towards restoring the public’s faith in politics, and in their MPs. That is why we have legislated to give people a choice in the electoral system for the House of Commons. We have also legislated to introduce more evenly sized constituencies so that people feel they are equally represented in the House of Commons. As was discussed earlier, we will introduce a recall mechanism so that when an MP is found to have committed serious wrongdoing, a by-election can be held. We will introduce a statutory register of lobbyists, and our plans for fixed-term Parliaments will mean that Prime Ministers can no longer manipulate the timing of general elections for their own party’s advantage. Finally, our plans for a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber will mean that the people, not the Prime Minister, will have a role in determining how our legislatures work.

I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister back to the Dispatch Box. At least today it has not slipped his mind that he is Deputy Prime Minister. May I follow up on the question asked by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom)? The Deputy Prime Minister talked about how the Lib Dems represent trust in politics—a politics that keeps its promises. Will he remind the House what he promised at the general election about police numbers?

As the right hon. and learned Lady knows very well, this Government have the unenviable, difficult task of clearing up the unholy mess that she left. I know that she and her colleagues want to live in complete denial, but because of the mistakes and economic incompetence of the Labour Government, we are spending £120 million, every single day of every single week, simply to pay off the interest on her debts. That is why, as the outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury said, “There’s no money left.” Unfortunately, when there is no money left, we must make savings across the public services.

But that has not stopped the Government spending £100 million on elected police commissioners, and the Deputy Prime Minister has not answered the question; perhaps it has slipped his memory again. May I remind him? He promised 3,000 more police, and he has voted for 10,000 fewer police. Is the problem not just his forgetting that he is Deputy Prime Minister, but that he has forgotten every promise he ever made? Is he aware that his complete betrayal on tuition fees, VAT, the NHS and the police has led to a new word in the English language: if someone has been the victim of a total sell-out, we say that they have been “clegged”? Is he proud of that?

What an extraordinarily laboured question! The right hon. and learned Lady may have forgotten that her party promised an emergency Budget some time soon, and £14 billion of cuts starting in a few weeks. She complains about the difficult decisions that we are having to take, yet I have not heard her and her colleagues make a single suggestion about how to fill the enormous black hole in the public finances that they left to us to sort out.

T5. Will my right hon. Friend agree to consider extending the terms of the Protection of Freedoms Bill to give stronger powers to the Information Commissioner to fine internet companies who misuse people’s personal data? Does he not agree that we need an internet Bill of Rights to stop the advance of the privatised surveillance society? (42446)

This is a very important issue. As it happens, since April last year the Information Commissioner has had the power to impose a penalty of up to half a million pounds for serious breaches of the Data Protection Act, and that applies to internet companies who misuse personal data. The commissioner can also serve information notices and enforcement notices, apply for warrants, pursue prosecutions and accept undertakings. As my hon. Friend may know, the commissioner has issued a code of practice for collecting personal information online. Finally, he might be interested to know that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are working on updating the relevant regulations and are considering extending the powers of the Information Commissioner and the sanctions available when privacy is breached.

T2. Will the Deputy Prime Minister give the House his definition of front-line policing? If he cannot, does he understand that the House will have great difficulty in believing that he can protect essential services? (42443)

Actually, I think that one of the problems in policing, as is widely recognised, has been that there are not enough police officers out on the front line, on the beat, in our communities. By some estimates, only 11% of police officers are out and about in our communities at any one time. Yes, we are having to deal with financial pressures because of the reasons that I explained earlier, but at the same time we must reform policing to minimise the amount of time that police officers allocate to work in the back office, and to ensure that they are free to be out on the streets, which is where we want them, for as much time as possible.

T7. In a sample of more than 80 immigration cases coming through my constituency, more than 15% of those involved were found to be on the electoral roll when they had no entitlement to be there. Does the Deputy Prime Minister not agree that urgent, immediate steps are needed to introduce positive voter identification? (42448)

I strongly agree that we must introduce measures to tackle electoral fraud. As my hon. Friend may know, we have announced that we will legislate to speed up the introduction of individual electoral registration to before the next general election, in 2014. Under that new scheme each person will have to register individually, whereas the current system is registration by household, and they will be asked to provide personal identifiers, including their national insurance number, to enable registration officers to verify the identity of a person before they are added to the register. That should tackle fraudulent or inaccurate register entries, which my hon. Friend rightly highlights.

T4. Before the election the Deputy Prime Minister said that providing more police was “the only way to create safer streets.” Now the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice says that there is no link between crime and police numbers. Which is it? (42445)

As I explained in answer to an earlier question, of course we want the police officers who are available to be out on the streets as much as possible. It is true that this is partly a question of resources—[Interruption.] Nothing is possible when there is no money. It was the outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury who said, “There’s no money left.” Those were not our words; they were his words.

We cannot provide for our schools, hospitals and police forces unless we have money. Because of the mistakes made by the hon. Lady’s party, we are pouring £120 million down the drain every single day simply to pay off the interest on her party’s debts. That is the problem that we face. At the same time, we need to reform policing to ensure that police officers can spend as much time as possible out on the beat rather than behind their desks.

T8. In both Nantwich and Crewe, and in the surrounding rural areas, many people feel strongly that the current planning system is not on their side, particularly when it comes to wind turbines, mobile phone masts and overdevelopment. Can my right hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing to improve the situation? (42449)

The basic principle is that we want people to feel that they have a stake in the planning system rather than feeling that things are being done to them. That is why, in the Localism Bill and in further measures that we wish to take, we are introducing new powers enabling local communities and neighbourhoods to determine for themselves what kind of decisions they want to be pursued in their areas, if necessary by triggering local referendums. For too long planning has been obscure, difficult to understand, very technocratic and highly over-centralised, and that is what we will be trying to change in the coming years.

T6. The first Deputy Prime Minister in British history to fail to turn up for work when the Prime Minister has gone abroad for a week! I think what I want to ask is, “What is the point of Nick Clegg?” (42447)

That was another much-rehearsed question. [Interruption.] I merely sigh at the laborious way in which these questions have been rehearsed and over-rehearsed.

The Prime Minister was away on an official trip. The fact that the Prime Minister is away on an official trip does not mean that he is not the Prime Minister any more. When the chief executive of a company goes on a business trip, he is still the chief executive. When the manager of a football club attends an away game, he is still the manager. As I sought to explain earlier, last week I was away for just under two working days, and I returned as soon as it became clear that I was needed back here.

T9. The pilot for the public reading stage of the Protection of Freedoms Bill is an innovative way of opening up the legislative process to the public. In that context, can my right hon. Friend update the House on progress on the delivery of a mechanism allowing formal parliamentary debate of petitions bearing at least 100,000 signatures? (42450)

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is working on a proposal to deliver precisely what my hon. Friend has described: the ability of people who petition the House to ensure that their demands are heard on the Floor of the House of Commons. That is one of a number of innovations that will open up the way in which we scrutinise legislation and allow the public, as well as ourselves, to have a say in how we do it.

How will the boundary reviews take the 2011 census into account, given that the preliminary results will not be available until the middle of next year?

As the hon. Lady may know, we are basing the boundary reviews on the electoral register rather than the census. That has been standard practice for a long time, and we do not intend to change it.

What action can the Deputy Prime Minister take to ensure that local authorities make every effort to ensure that young people find their way on to the electoral roll?

It is a vital issue of concern for all Members on both sides of the House that those who are not registered should be registered. One step that we will soon be piloting is to allow electoral registration officers to compare their databases with other publicly available databases, so that they can literally go from door to door and say, “You’re on this database, but you’re not on that one,” and thereby encourage people to register. Drawing international comparisons, our registration rates of just over 90% are pretty respectable, but of course we want to continue to do whatever we can to raise that standard even further.

Birmingham city council will today vote through the biggest local government cuts in history, with cuts of £212 million for next year. Two weeks ago the council’s deputy leader, Liberal Democrat Councillor Paul Tilsley, wrote to The Times protesting against the cuts, but 24 hours later he signed the budget. As the Deputy Prime Minister believes in restoring faith in politics, how would he describe the actions of Councillor Tilsley, or is he too on a slippery slope?

All local authorities of whatever political persuasion are clearly facing a very tough local government finance settlement, and we have never hidden the fact that it is extremely difficult. I think there is a great deal of discretion in how local councils can respond to those same pressures, however. For example, I am very struck by the fact that in Sheffield, the city where I am an MP, the Liberal Democrat council has kept every library and swimming pool open and has not made any major cuts to adult social services, and only 270 people will be laid off next year, whereas across the Pennines in Labour-controlled Manchester, 2,500 people have been laid off and almost everything has been closed across the whole city. In Birmingham, as in all great cities, difficult decisions are being made, and I trust that they are being made in a way that safeguards the services for the most vulnerable in that city.

I too welcome the excellent innovation of a public reading stage for the Protection of Freedoms Bill, to involve the public in the law-making process. Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the Government intend ultimately to extend that process of public engagement to all Bills? Will they also consider improving it even further—for example, by putting a Bill’s explanatory notes on the consultation website and considering the public’s suggestions at Committee stage?

As my hon. Friend may know, using the Protection of Freedoms Bill as the first pilot for providing the public with a public reading stage is precisely that: a pilot. We must learn the lessons from that, and see whether a public reading stage sufficiently engages people and makes the whole legislative process accessible to the public. If it does prove to be successful, and if we can make all the technical adjustments that might be needed work, then yes of course, in principle we would like to see this extended to all other pieces of legislation and draft Bills.

Attorney-General

The Attorney-General was asked—

Serious Fraud Office

2. What the policy of the Serious Fraud Office is on seeking costs from those convicted as a result of a prosecution brought by the office. (42452)

I am extremely pleased about the change of policy in the case of the British Aerospace contract in Tanzania, for which costs were sought and paid. Will the Attorney-General make sure that costs are always sought where there is a conviction? At a time of very tight public expenditure, it is important for the SFO to get income from wherever it can in order to investigate and prosecute such cases.

I entirely agree that costs should normally be sought. Of course there may be instances where that is simply not appropriate, such as where the defendant is destitute or penniless and it is clear that a cost order will serve no purpose—and, indeed, a court is unlikely to make one. Subject to that, however, it is the normal policy that where a conviction is secured, costs are sought.

Human Trafficking

3. What plans the Crown Prosecution Service has to improve the effectiveness of prosecution policy in human trafficking cases. (42453)

The CPS keeps the effectiveness of prosecution policy and guidance to prosecutors on human trafficking under review, and updates them on a regular basis. The CPS will soon publish a new public policy statement on human trafficking to explain the prosecutor’s role in such cases and the approach taken by the CPS.

I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer. In June 2010 there were 139 convictions for human trafficking. Will he write to me with an updated figure for such convictions?

Will the Attorney-General meet the officers of the all-party group on human trafficking, because one thing we have learned is that there is a considerable problem in prosecuting human trafficking cases and prosecutors often decide to pursue a lesser offence as it is easier to get a conviction?

On the first point, both my right hon. and learned Friend and I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and the group at some mutually convenient time, and I look forward to doing so. On the second point, all successful prosecutions depend on bringing the available evidence to court. It is not only our policy, but that of the Crown Prosecution Service and the police, that every assistance should be given to vulnerable witnesses, particularly those in cases of the sort that my hon. Friend describes, so that we can achieve prosecutions. We take this matter extremely seriously—indeed, I was in the Court of Appeal just before Christmas applying successfully to have an unduly lenient sentence increased.

But the Solicitor-General will be aware that often in human trafficking cases the victim is reluctant to give evidence or does not assist the progress of the case. Can he assure the House that in such cases, where the victim is more frightened of the police than she is of her abusers, the CPS is committed to carrying forward prosecutions wherever possible?

Yes, I can. The hon. Lady is perfectly right to say that many victims of human trafficking come from countries and jurisdictions where the police are seen as oppressors, rather than as assistants to the criminal justice system and to victims. However, the CPS and this country’s police forces are acutely aware of that and are sensitive to the needs of those traumatised victims. I can assure her that everything will be done to assist the prosecution of traffickers, with or without the evidence of the victim.

The Solicitor-General will be aware of the recent legal challenge to the Government threatened by the POPPY project, the organisation that supports victims of trafficking. It is based on the Ministry of Justice’s failure to consult and to publish an equality impact assessment on the proposed funding cuts, which the POPPY project claims breaches the Council of Europe convention against human trafficking. Given the High Court’s recent damning verdict on the way in which the Department for Education cancelled the Building Schools for the Future programme and given the Fawcett Society’s challenge relating to the disproportionate impact on women of the emergency Budget, will the Solicitor-General assure the House that Departments are aware of their duties to consult properly and consider rigorously equality impacts before decisions are made? Will he place a guidance note on the matter in the Library so that Parliament can better understand the obligations, thereby avoiding such abuses of power?

The hon. Lady’s first paragraph or so would be better directed at the relevant Departments—the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education—but the points that she makes will doubtless have been noted. On the later points, I will certainly consider what she has to say and see whether it is appropriate to put such a note in the Library.

Ministerial Speech

5. If he will place in the Library a copy of the speech he made to Politeia on 14 February 2011. (42456)

I did not make a formal speech during the Politeia event, so any comments I made were in response to points raised during a seminar. I therefore regret that I do not have any written record that can be placed in the Library.

The Attorney-General is reported as having said the following at the Politeia seminar:

“The court”—

the European Court of Human Rights—

“doesn’t have the last word. It only has the last word so far as parliament has decided that it should. We could, if we wanted to, undo that—I think we should always bear that in mind—and actually undo it without some of the consequences we have over the European Union.”

Did he say that? If so, what does it mean?

The question arose in the context of parliamentary sovereignty. What I said to the seminar was what I also said to this House on the previous Thursday, which was that the operation of the European convention on human rights and the jurisdiction of the Court are based on the UK having signed up to the convention in the late 1940s and having ratified it through Parliament, with Parliament thereby accepting the jurisdiction of the Court. It is legally open to Parliament to enact primary legislation or otherwise to withdraw from the convention if it wished to do so and if the Government wished that through Parliament. That was the point that I was making; I was simply trying to explain the legal framework under which parliamentary sovereignty works in this context. I would add that any withdrawal would not come without costs or consequences, and it is not Government policy to withdraw.

CPS/Police Co-ordination

6. What steps he is taking to ensure better co-ordination between the Crown Prosecution Service and police forces. (42457)

The Crown Prosecution Service and the police have a close working relationship. They are working together on returning the charging of some offences to the police, eradicating duplicated work and improving communications, making greater use of information technology through the service and delivery of electronic case files and providing a better service to victims and witnesses.

In 2010, more than a fifth of abandoned prosecutions were because of the CPS’s failure to review cases before they came to trial, which was extremely upsetting for the victims concerned. What steps can my hon. and learned Friend take to make sure that the police and the CPS work together more collaboratively and share information so that this does not happen so much in future?

I commend my hon. Friend on his close interest, both within his county and nationally, in matters of this sort. Police charging of some offences will clearly help to cut time-wasting, as will doing away with the unnecessary duplication of case file preparation and the better use of IT. The police and the CPS need to co-operate and work together from a very early stage so that the gathering and assessment of evidence can be effectively and efficiently directed towards achieving justice.

Will the Minister advise the House what contact his Department has had with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, the public prosecutor, the Police Service for Northern Ireland and our Justice Minister to ensure that cases in our courts are processed expeditiously and that there is not a two-gear system in which cases in Northern Ireland progress considerably more slowly than in the rest of the United Kingdom?

My right hon. and learned Friend and I meet and speak to the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland from time to time, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that the justice system in Northern Ireland is devolved to Northern Ireland and that it would not be right for us to interfere in its day-to-day work.

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that one problem faced by the CPS is that there often is not sufficient time for those who have the charge of cases to review them, partly because they have to spend so much time on administration. What steps is he taking to ensure that changes?

I am not sure that the picture my hon. and learned Friend paints is of general application, although I am sure it is true in some cases. Certainly, the Attorney-General’s office and the senior management of the CPS, from the Director of Public Prosecutions downwards, are determined to ensure that we have a system of prosecution that is not only just but efficient and effective.

How can the CPS and the police work together better to persuade courts not to give bail to persistent and prolific offenders? Nothing annoys the police more than regular offenders appearing before a court only to be released to commit offences while on bail.

I understand the point of frustration that my hon. Friend raises. The Law Officers are not here to direct judges on what to do in any given case, but the CPS and the police need to co-operate to make sure that relevant evidence is put before the court so that it can make a decision based on its application of the facts to the law and the sort of cases to which my hon. Friend refers happen on fewer occasions.

Witness Care

9. What steps he plans to take to ensure that the outcome of the comprehensive spending review will not have an adverse effect on the provision of services by witness care units. (42460)

The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to ensuring that the provision of services by witness care units is protected. Future funding for witness care units will still be made from the CPS baseline budget along with the commitment that also comes from the Ministry of Justice. Consequently, the outcome of the comprehensive spending review will not have an adverse effect on the provision of those services.

I thank the Attorney-General for his reply. Has he made representations to the Home Secretary to ensure that the police input into funding, which is extremely important, continues in respect of witness care units?

It is my experience, from the importance that the Home Secretary attaches to ensuring that witnesses and victims are properly cared for, that she gives this matter considerable priority. I have not been made aware of anything that suggests that my Department’s work will be adversely affected in this area by anything being done by the police, but I will certainly raise the matter with my right hon. Friend. If she or I can provide the right hon. Gentleman with some reassurance, I am sure we will be happy to do so.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter Registration (Students)

1. What steps the Electoral Commission is taking to improve levels of voter registration among students. (42461)

The commission runs campaigns before every election to encourage electors to register to vote. These typically include activities targeted at students. The commission is running a public awareness campaign ahead of the May 2011 elections and referendum, which will include working with student unions and other student groups across the UK to promote awareness of the election and referendum and the voter registration deadline.

In the Loughborough constituency, 12,000 students are studying at university, yet only 50% or so are on the electoral register. Registration is patchy among those in halls and those living out. It is important that students register to vote because for many of them this will be the first election in which they can vote. Is my hon. Friend happy that the Electoral Commission is providing specific guidance on the fact that they can be registered at their home and also where they are studying?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. We are confident that all the information that students need is on the Electoral Commission website, but the role of local electoral registration officers, student unions and universities in getting that information across to students is critical.

The Electoral Commission has had discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister about the use of national data sources to aid registration levels. Does this extend to the use of the national insurance database, which contains rising 16-year-olds? Giving them early experience of electoral registration might improve subsequent levels of registration by students.

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. I know that these matters are being discussed between the Deputy Prime Minister’s Department and the Electoral Commission. Hopefully, these discussions will come to a fruitful conclusion before too long.

Electoral System

2. What steps the Electoral Commission plans to take to inform members of the public about the merits and demerits of the alternative vote system for elections to the House of Commons. (42462)

5. What steps the Electoral Commission plans to take to provide information to voters on the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote system for elections to the House of Commons. (42465)

The Electoral Commission plans to send an information booklet to each household in the United Kingdom. The booklet will include a factual description of the first-past-the-post and alternative vote systems. It will not comment on the merits of different electoral systems used for particular elections. That is a matter for the yes and no campaigns. The booklet will also include information on the devolved elections and how to register to vote, and will be supported by an advertising campaign.

I have already seen some palpably false claims about the alternative vote system from the no campaign, which the yes campaign will obviously need to rebut, yet I note that it has been awarded only £380,000 to make its arguments, as of course has the no campaign, whereas a maximum of £600,000 was available. Is there any chance that the Electoral Commission will increase the funding equally to both sides?

Nobody has been awarded any money yet because nobody has been designated to run the yes and no campaigns. That will happen later in March. I am not aware of the specific figures that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I will refer his comments to the Electoral Commission. If there is an opportunity to do more and do better, we will certainly take it.

I thank my hon. Friend for his earlier reply. Will he go further and clarify what independent academic input has been used by the Electoral Commission as it prepares the briefings, who those people are and on what basis they were selected?

I am happy to be able to reassure my hon. Friend on that point. As part of the development of the text for the core section of the information booklet, the commission consulted academic experts on electoral systems. These were Professor Colin Rallings of the university of Plymouth and Professor David Sanders of the university of Essex. The consultation was intended to ensure that the explanations of the first-past-the-post and alternative vote systems were accurate. The commission also consulted the Plain Language Commission to ensure that the text was as accessible as possible, and undertook research co-ordinated by the Central Office of Information to ensure that the text was understood by voters. This involved in-depth interviews with members of the public in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Property Disputes

3. What procedure exists for resolving disputes between the Church Commissioners and third parties over the ownership of property. (42463)

There is no set procedure for resolving disputes of property ownership. Each dispute is treated individually, having regard for the particular circumstances of the case.

In one of the villages in my constituency, just outside Harlow, a community group is in dispute with the local parish church over the ownership of a hall and its land. Does my hon. Friend agree that an arbitration service would surely be preferable to a costly court case in such matters, as the community group concerned does not have the resources to fight a lengthy legal battle?

In such instances, I suggest that mediation is always preferable. I understand that the Archdeacon of Harlow offered to act as a mediator but was turned down. I am a qualified and trained mediator, so if I was acceptable to Roydon parochial church council and the Dobbs Weir residents association, I would be willing, pro bono, to act as mediator.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Electoral System (Referendum)

4. What assessment the Electoral Commission has made of the adequacy of the time available for provision of information to the public on the forthcoming referendum on the alternative vote system for elections to the House of Commons. (42464)

The Electoral Commission believes that there is sufficient time for it to provide factual information to the public on the alternative vote and first-past-the-post voting systems and for campaigners to put across their arguments effectively. The commission has been preparing for the referendum since the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was introduced in Parliament last summer.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his reply. However, in response to an earlier question he indicated that the Electoral Commission will not even designate the yes and no campaigns until the end of March, or thereabouts, leaving only April and five days in May for the campaigns. Is that really long enough?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. The designation of the yes and no campaigns will happen as soon as possible after 15 March—anyone can bid to become part of those campaigns before then—and in any event by 29 March. The Electoral Commission is confident that the campaign period is adequate for the purpose.

Will the hon. Gentleman condemn the outlandish and wholly fictitious claims being made by the no campaign about the costs of introducing the alternative vote if there is a yes vote? These include claims about voting machines, which the Electoral Commission has confirmed would not be necessary, about the cost of the referendum itself, which will be the same whichever campaign wins, and about the cost of an education campaign, which the commission has made quite clear would not be necessary. Will he deprecate those false claims?

I am delighted to say that it is not the role of the Electoral Commission to act as a referee between the yes and no campaigns. It is up to those campaigns to make their political arguments and rebut those with which they do not agree.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Former Roman Catholic Priests (Ordination)

6. How many former Roman Catholic priests have sought ordination in the Church of England since 2005; and if he will make a statement. (42466)

Figures held by the Archbishops Council show that in the past five years 14 former Roman Catholic priests have sought to be received into ordained ministry within the Church of England. As there is also discretion at diocesan level for acceptance into the ministry, not all candidates are centrally recorded, so the national figure is likely to be higher.

National newspapers suggest that there is a one-way road leading from Canterbury to Rome. I have no brief for the established Church—I come from good non-conformist stock—but does the hon. Gentleman agree that more should be done to make it clear to those Roman Catholic priests who are unhappy that there is a welcome for them in the Church of England?

I say to my hon. Friend that there is a welcome for everyone in the Church of England. He makes a good point; national newspapers give the impression that there is a one-way street for disaffected Church of England priests going to the Roman Catholic Church, but that is certainly not the case. There are very good ecumenical relations between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, as was demonstrated by Pope Benedict’s recent visit to the UK. There is certainly two-way traffic, and long may that continue.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Electoral Fraud

7. What recent representations the Electoral Commission has received on its report on fraud in the 2010 elections. (42467)

The Electoral Commission published its report on cases of alleged electoral malpractice in 2010 on 16 February 2011 and has received no representations on it.

I will make one representation. The commission’s report stated that it was not aware at the time of any case reported to the police that affected the outcome of the election to which it related. In fact, there has been one case of alleged electoral malpractice resulting in prosecution and conviction, and court proceedings have been initiated in another case. Does that not make absolutely absurd the claim made in September by the Conservative party chair, Baroness Warsi, that the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority in the general election because of electoral fraud, predominantly within the Asian community, that benefited Labour? Does the Baroness not owe the Electoral Commission an apology for the slur on its oversight of electoral proceedings? Frankly, does she not owe an apology to the Labour party and the Asian community as well?

The Electoral Commission is not responsible for the comments of any politician in this country, I am delighted to say. The report on electoral fraud showed that there were 232 cases of alleged electoral malpractice in 2010, 137 of which required no further action. Sixty-eight cases remain under investigation; in 23 cases police advice was given; two cases resulted in a caution; and court proceedings were brought in two cases, resulting in one conviction.

The House will know that, regrettably, six individuals have been found guilty of election malpractice arising from personation and postal vote fraud in Peterborough in the past four years. What specific strategies are the Electoral Commission pursuing to concentrate on postal vote fraud?

The Electoral Commission has made recommendations to the Government about tightening up voter identification, and the Government are considering that report. Naturally, the Electoral Commission takes all allegations of fraud seriously, but it is a matter for the police to investigate each and every incident.

Church Commissioners

The hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Clergy Accommodation

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but does he not think that there should be such a policy in the light of what is happening in Christchurch at the moment? The vicarage adjoining the priory lies empty, but the diocese pays more than £2,000 a month to rent alternative accommodation, several miles from the priory, for the new priest in charge, who is quite willing to occupy the priory should the diocese be willing to allow that to happen. Will my hon. Friend convene a meeting, using his powers of mediation, to try to drum some common sense and economic sense into the diocese on that issue?

The Christchurch parsonage is a very large building, being twice the recommended size, and it is very expensive for the diocese to maintain and for the occupier to run. The diocese is looking to replace it with a more suitable property, and the newly appointed priest in charge has therefore simply been housed temporarily in a rented property. In this instance, I do not need to act as a mediator, because there is a perfectly good remedy. If the parochial church council is unhappy with what the diocese is doing, it can make representations that the Church Commissioners will have to consider.

Electoral Commission Committee

The hon. Member for South West Devon, representing the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, was asked—

Voter Participation (Overseas Residents)

9. What recent discussions the Electoral Commission has had with Ministers on increasing the level of (a) registration and (b) turnout of electors resident outside the UK. (42469)

The Electoral Commission meets Ministers regularly to discuss the delivery of elections and referendums, including how to ensure that all electors, whether overseas or in the UK, can cast their votes easily and securely.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the shockingly low participation by overseas electors in UK elections. Of the potential 5.5 million British subjects living abroad, only about 15,000 are registered. What work has the Electoral Commission done on the implications of fixed-term Parliaments for sending out postal ballot papers significantly earlier in the electoral cycle, thereby improving the participation rate of overseas electors?

My hon. Friend is a consistent advocate of overseas voters. The Electoral Commission has done work on the issue and submitted representations to the Deputy Prime Minister as part of a comprehensive modernisation strategy for our electoral system. We wait to see what the Government will do with that report.

As I am out knocking on doors just now in East Lothian, encouraging people who are not on the register to register, or those who are on the register to register for a postal vote, I am not always confident that the forms will be returned. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a freepost return facility on all the forms would increase participation and registration?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her recommendation, which I shall certainly pass on to the Electoral Commission. I thought that that already happened. Obviously it does not, so I shall make representations, and we will write to her with our response.

Voter Registration

10. What discussions the Electoral Commission has had with electoral registration officers on their performance in respect of voter registration. (42470)

Since 2008, the Electoral Commission has monitored the performance of electoral registration officers in Great Britain against a set of standards, and it publishes an annual assessment of those standards which covers the key planning and management processes put in place by EROs. The Electoral Commission advises and works closely with EROs who do not meet these standards in order to improve their performance.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and welcome the steps that he has outlined. Should those steps not bear fruit, has the Electoral Commission considered any other, more directly interventionist actions that it could possibly take?

Once again, my hon. Friend makes a very important point. The Electoral Commission does work with EROs who underperform, but they remain at all times employees of the local authority, and the commission has no statutory power to intervene. It is of course a matter for this House whether we wish to consider further powers to enable the Electoral Commission to do an even better job.

Aid Reviews

With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the Government’s bilateral and multilateral aid reviews, which are published today.

The coalition Government’s decision to increase the UK’s aid budget to 0.7% of national income from 2013 reflects the values we hold as a nation. It is also firmly in Britain’s national interest, but this decision imposes on us a double duty to spend this money well. On my first day in office, I took immediate steps to make our aid as focused and effective as possible. I commissioned reviews of the Department for International Development’s bilateral programmes in developing countries and of the UK’s aid funding to international organisations. These reviews have been thorough, rigorous, evidence-based and scrutinised by independent development experts. They will fundamentally change the way in which aid is allocated.

Recent events in north Africa and the wider middle east have demonstrated why it is critical that the UK increases its focus on helping countries to build open and responsive political systems, tackle the root causes of fragility, and empower citizens to hold their Governments to account. It is the best investment we can make to avoid violence and protect the poorest and most vulnerable. In the middle east and north Africa, we are monitoring events closely and will respond as appropriate.

The bilateral aid review considered where and how we should spend UK aid. Each DFID country team was asked to develop a “results offer” setting out what they could achieve for poor people over the next four years. Each offer was underpinned by evidence, analysis of value for money, and a focus on girls and women. The results offers were scrutinised by more than 100 internal technical reviewers and a panel of independent experts. Ministers then considered the whole picture, deciding which results should be prioritised in each country. Consultation with civil society and other Government Departments was undertaken throughout.

As a result of the bilateral aid review, we will dramatically increase our focus on tackling ill health and killer diseases in poor countries, with a particular emphasis on immunisation, malaria, maternal and newborn health, extending choice to girls and women over when and whether they have children; and polio eradication. We will do more to tackle malnutrition, which stunts children’s development and destroys their life chances, and do more to get children, particularly girls, into school. We will put wealth creation at the heart of our efforts, with far more emphasis on giving poor people property rights and encouraging investment and trade in the poorest countries. We will deal with the root causes of conflict and help to build more stable societies, as people who live amidst violence have no chance of lifting themselves out of poverty. And we will help the poorest, who will be hit first and hardest by floods, drought and extreme weather—the effects of climate change.

As a result of this review, we have decided to focus British aid more tightly on the countries where Britain is well placed to have a significant long-term impact on poverty. By 2016, DFID will have closed significant bilateral programmes in 16 countries. This will be a phased process, honouring our existing commitments and exiting responsibly. These countries are China, Russia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Moldova, Bosnia, Cameroon, Lesotho, Niger, Kosovo, Angola, Burundi, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq and Serbia. This will allow us to focus our bilateral resources in the following 27 countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, the occupied Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Together, those countries account for three quarters of global maternal mortality, nearly three quarters of global malaria deaths and almost two thirds of children out of school. Many of them are affected by fragility and conflict, so we will meet the commitment made through the strategic defence and security review to spend 30% of British aid on supporting fragile and conflict-affected states, and to help some of the poorest countries in the world to address the root causes of their problems.

We will have three regional programmes in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and an ongoing aid relationship with three aid-dependent overseas territories, namely St Helena, the Pitcairn Islands and Montserrat.

The multilateral aid review took a hard look at the value for money offered by 43 international funds and organisations through which the UK spends aid. It considered how effective each organisation was at tackling poverty. It provides a detailed evidence base on which Ministers can take decisions about where to increase funding, where to press for reforms and improvements, and in some cases where to withdraw taxpayer funding altogether. The 43 multilateral agencies fall into four broad categories.

First, I am delighted to tell the House that nine organisations have been assessed as providing very good value for the British taxpayer. They include UNICEF, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI, the Private Infrastructure Development Group, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. We will increase funding to those organisations, because they have a proven track record of delivering excellent results for poor people. Of course there is always room for improvement and we will still require strong commitments to continued reform and even better performance.

Funding for the next group of agencies—those rated as good or adequate value for money, such as the United Nations Development Programme and the World Health Organisation—will be accompanied by specific pressure from the UK for a series of reforms and improvements that we expect to see in the coming years.

We are placing four organisations in special measures and demanding that they improve their performance as a matter of urgency. Those organisations are UNESCO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the development programmes of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the International Organisation for Migration. Those organisations offer poor value for money for UK aid, but they have a potentially critical niche development or humanitarian role that is not well covered elsewhere in the international system, or they contribute to broader UK Government objectives. We expect to see serious reforms and improvements in performance. We will take stock within two years and DFID’s core funding may be reconsidered if improvements are not made.

Finally, the review found that four agencies performed poorly or failed to demonstrate relevance to Britain’s development objectives. The review therefore concluded that it is no longer acceptable for taxpayers’ money from my Department to continue to fund them centrally. I can therefore tell the House today that the British Government will withdraw their membership of the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, and that DFID will stop voluntary core funding to UN-Habitat, the International Labour Organisation and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. That will allow more than £50 million of taxpayers’ money to be redirected immediately to better performing agencies. We are working closely with other countries to build a coalition for ambitious reform and improvement of all multilateral agencies.

As a result of the reviews, over the next four years British aid will secure schooling for 11 million children, which is more than we educate throughout the UK, but at 2.5% of the cost; vaccinate more children against preventable diseases than there are people in England; provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation to more people than there are in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined; save the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth; stop 250,000 newborn babies dying needlessly; support 13 countries to hold freer and fairer elections; and help 10 million women to access modern family planning.

I believe that those results, which will transform the lives of millions of people across the world, will make everyone in the House and this country proud. They reflect our values as a nation—generosity, compassion and humanity. However, those results are not only delivered from the British people; they are for the British people. They contribute to building a safer, more stable and more prosperous world, which in turn helps to keep our country safe from instability, infectious disease and organised crime.

Aid can perform miracles, but it must be well spent and properly targeted. The UK’s development programme has now been reshaped and refocused so that it can meet that challenge. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for giving me advance copies of it.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s declaration that our aid programme is both morally right and in our national interest. As he argues against those who decry aid, he will have our strong support. This is not just about charity; it is about justice, tackling global inequality and fulfilling our responsibilities to the world. We put development at the heart of our agenda because we believe we must struggle for a fairer and more equal world.

As things change in the world, as we are seeing in north Africa and the middle east, it is right to review our aid programme, but what should not and must not change is the commitment to spend 0.7% of our national income on aid by 2013. There must be no slipping back on that. Will the Secretary of State tell the House when he will bring forward the Bill to put that promise into law?

Will the Secretary of State campaign vigorously to show that our aid matters and saves lives? The girls and boys sitting in classrooms in Nepal, the Nigerian women who no longer have to walk miles to fetch water and the millions of children who no longer die from preventable disease are proof of that. Is not that the way to build support for aid, rather than by announcing as “new” decisions that we had already made? Will the Secretary of State admit that there is nothing new about ending significant bilateral aid to Russia? We ended it in 2007. Grand gestures of shutting down already closed programmes create a misleading picture of aid and undermine rather than support it. He should know better. As tackling poverty depends greatly on trade as well as aid, will he implement the Bribery Act 2010 now?

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that after 13 years in which the Labour Government tripled the aid budget, reversing the cuts of the previous Tory Government, this country led the world in tackling global poverty? Is he not concerned that that leadership, which is so important during a global economic downturn, is undermined by his decision to freeze the percentage of aid as a share of national income for the next two years? Can he tell the House how many lives will be lost and how many fewer children will go to school because of the lost £2.2 billion in aid?

Will the Secretary of State assure the House that he will protect his Department from raids by other Government Departments? DFID’s budget is for the world’s poorest, and he must not let other Government Departments use his budget as a source of cash. Will he reclaim the £1.8 million that he gave to fund the Pope’s visit? That was not tackling global poverty, nor was his Department’s loan of £161 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands. He has to be strong and stop his ministerial colleagues using DFID as a hole in the wall.

In our 2009 White Paper, we recognised the need to help people who suffer the twin problems of grinding poverty and living in an area ravaged by violence. It is right that we co-ordinate our development, diplomatic and security efforts, but our aid programme must not become subsumed in our military and security objectives. Of course, in places such as Yemen it is right that our aid efforts complement our foreign and security policy objectives where they can. We are absolutely committed to upholding our security and countering terrorism, but that must be the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Will the Secretary of State confirm that poverty reduction will remain the focus of DFID money?

I welcome the Government’s continuation of Labour’s commitment to the international co-ordination of aid through multilateral organisations, and in particular the Secretary of State’s reaffirmation of the EU’s work, but will he reconsider his decision on the ILO?

The Secretary of State’s men-only ministerial team talk a lot about how they will empower women in the developing world. Why, then, has he still not decided how much he will contribute to the new UN women’s agency? Why should the women of the world have to wait for the men in his Government to put their money where their mouth is?

On bilateral aid, we welcome the focus on setting aid objectives for each country, but did the recipient countries play a part in that? Will the Secretary of State continue the spirit of the 2005 Paris declaration, which put the developing country in the driving seat and did so much to end the problematic post-colonial relationship between donor and recipient countries? Will he confirm that the decisions to cut aid to very poor countries such as Niger and Lesotho involved co-ordination with other donor countries, to ensure that our decisions do not leave them high and dry? Will he also explain his decision to end aid to Burundi, where there is deep poverty, and which is in the great lakes region, where there is still instability?

I welcome the Secretary of State’s continuation of the previous Labour Government’s focus on results and value for money. We made progress towards the millennium development goals, such as cutting maternal mortality and increasing child survival. To say that that was wasting money is an insult to all those who worked on those programmes, and it is to deny the value of those lives that were saved. I hope we will hear no more of that.

With more than 1 billion people still living in poverty, the Secretary of State is right to recognise that there is a long way to go. As Secretary of State for International Development, he will have the Opposition’s support. We will back him in his work if he keeps faith with British generosity and our duty to the world’s poor.

I think I will take that as qualified support for the Government’s position.

The right hon. and learned Lady emphasises that it is morally right and in our national interests to stand by the very strong commitments that have been made by all parties in the House, which I welcome. We made it absolutely clear when we took office that in sorting out the dreadful economic inheritance we received from the Labour Government, we would not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world, and we honour that promise today. On that point, let me make it clear to her that the legislation agreed before the election in support of the 0.7% pledge from 2013 will come before the House as soon as the parliamentary business managers can find a convenient time.

Let me make it clear that I have cut back the programmes in Russia and China that we inherited. The programme in Russia will be completed by the end of April, and the programme in China will be completed by the end of March, but the coalition Government have made the decision to rein back those programmes—we inherited a continuing programme.

I should make it clear to the right hon. and learned Lady that support came in equal proportions from a number of British Government Departments involved with the Pope’s visit, but that included DFID because, as she will be aware, the Catholic Church and its organisations deliver health care and education in some of the most difficult parts of the world, and DFID has a very strong relationship with the Church on that basis. However, let me put her mind at rest: my Department’s share of the cost of the visit did not come out of the 0.7% budget or the official development assistance budget.

The right hon. and learned Lady also asks whether other Departments are raiding the DFID budget. She should know, because we have made it absolutely clear, that we will stand by the OECD development assistance committee definition of what is and is not aid. We stand by that, and it governs what can and cannot be spent by the British taxpayer under the ODA budget.

The right hon. and learned Lady referred to the guarantee that has been so skilfully negotiated in the Turks and Caicos Islands by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. The islands are a dependent territory, and we stand by our dependent territories—she will be aware that that is one of the first commitments in the International Development Act 2002. However, thanks to my right hon. Friend’s skill, we have negotiated a guarantee while they sort themselves out, rather than funding from the British taxpayer.

The right hon. and learned Lady asked whether we would reconsider our decision about the ILO. I emphasise to the House that the decision came from a recommendation in the multilateral aid review, which I strongly encourage her to look at, and in which the professional analysis reads:

“The ILO has a wide range of organisational weaknesses including weak cost control and results reporting”

and

“limited transparency”.

It continued:

“We will consider, on a case by case basis, funding the ILO in country on specific projects—provided it represents good value for money and is consistent with UK poverty reduction goals”.

That is a fair analysis. However, I invite hon. Members who do not agree with it to have a look at the multilateral aid review and reach their own conclusions. I want to emphasise that the four elements of a decent work agenda—employment, social protection, labour standards and social dialogue—form a core part of my Department’s work in this area, and will continue to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions trade unions from a sedentary position. Let me make it clear that the trade unions, for the work they do, will be able to apply to the global poverty action fund, and I look forward to their doing so.

The right hon. and learned Lady made three other points. The first related to support for the new United Nations women’s agency. The Government strongly support the agency and argued for it to be set up. One of my noble Friends was there last week, and I saw Michelle Bachelet, the brilliant new head of UN Women, on—I think—her first day in office. We have offered her staff in order to assist in her tasks, and when she comes forward with a strategic plan in July, I have no doubt that we will be able to fund it. We will urge other countries to share the burden appropriately, but we will be very strong supporters of what she is doing.

The right hon. and learned Lady asked me about Niger and whether I would confirm that other donors were involved in the decision. We decided that it was not appropriate to keep a bilateral programme in Niger. Other donors were certainly involved in the decision. Much of the work that is being done in Niger, which she will know is an enormously food-insecure part of the world, is done on a multilateral basis. Last year, I agreed specific support on a humanitarian basis to feed 810,000 people, including 35,500 children suffering from acute malnutrition. Some 81,000 families received seeds, and we sent specific support for 15,000 livestock, which of course is very important to people continuing their lives. We are very much engaged in Niger on a humanitarian basis, but we look to other countries to share the burden, and we strongly support the multilateral architecture in addressing the situation in Niger.

The right hon. and learned Lady also asked about Burundi. We have completed our work on revenue capacity-building. We had a very small programme there, but we judged that it was right to close it. These are tough and difficult decisions, but we thought that we could spend the money better elsewhere. However, TradeMark East Africa, which we strongly support, will be based there as well. Wiring that into the regional infrastructure is extremely important, and work is ongoing on that.

Finally, a letter and a copy of the document “Changing lives, delivering results”, which sets out the results of the review, are available to all Members on the Board. Furthermore, the full multilateral aid review can be read on the internet by anyone who wishes to do so.

Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, but I remind the House that there is another statement to follow and thereafter an important Second Reading debate. If I am to accommodate the level of interest, brevity in questions and answers alike is of the essence.

May I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on a truly impressive statement, which was both highly practical and highly moral? May I also make a micro-economic point? It is one thing—and difficult enough—to establish projects in poor countries, but the most difficult thing of all is ensuring their subsequent daily, humble maintenance. When I walked around poor villages in Africa and Asia, I often came across a tap with clean water in it—one of the greatest assets that we can provide through aid—in the middle of the village. However, very often the tap was either dripping or gushing, and when one asked why, one was told that the rubber washer was always stolen within a few days of being installed. Nobody has ever told me what subsequent use the rubber washers are put to, but if the tap does not work or runs out of water, the whole scheme collapses.

My hon. Friend said he was going to make a micro-economic point! He has great experience of such matters from his distinguished past, and he is absolutely right. Seeing assets that have been installed but are not in working order is an enormously depressing aspect of international development. Seeing empty schools in Africa that do not have children to go to them or teachers to serve them is similar to what he described. All our work is designed to achieve effective and transparent results that work not only for British taxpayers but for those we are trying to help.

I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party friends of CAFOD—the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development—group. Does the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge the contribution of aid agencies and non-governmental organisations to the current focus of his Department’s work? Does he also agree with the overwhelming view that the greater the transparency, the greater the support will be from the British people for our objectives in this field? As two examples of how he can act quickly on such matters, may I urge him to accept the advice about implementing the Bribery Act 2010 as quickly as possible and to consider the role of British companies involved in mineral extraction in developing countries?

I certainly pay tribute to CAFOD and the brilliant work of Chris Bain in leading it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the importance of transparency, which is why one of the coalition Government’s first acts was to publish our transparency guarantee. He is right about results and openness. We are all strongly behind the Bribery Act 2010. There are some standing instructions that need to be worked out by a number of Departments, but that will happen relatively quickly and the Act will be fully implemented.

The review was right, and the tighter focus is welcome. The Select Committee on International Development will monitor not just the quantity and transparency of aid, but its effectiveness in tackling poverty and creating the space for development. However, will he explain one or two anomalies in his announcement? Burundi, which has already been mentioned, is a surprising omission, given that it is a poor country, but South Africa is included. What is the case for that, given that every other country on the list is a low-income country? Finally, will he confirm that targeting fewer countries will enable some of the staffing shortfalls that have been so apparent to be addressed, so that DFID staff are fully complemented where they are operating bilaterally?

The Chairman of the Select Committee makes an important point. Programme staffing will be set to ensure that we can implement all the programmes. South Africa is a regional hub—an engine of economic development throughout the region—and much of our programme there is devoted to that. I have explained the position on Burundi, but, clearly, it too benefits from that engine of regional economic development. On his first point, the independent commission for aid impact, which is led by chief commissioner Graham Ward, one of Britain’s most distinguished accountants, reports to his Committee, not me, injecting that independent evaluation of British aid that is so important in maintaining taxpayer confidence in what we are doing.

Order. My exhortations to brevity have not been quite as faithfully heeded as I might have hoped, but I feel sure that we will return to the path of virtue with a question from Mr Chris Ruane.

Today is St David’s day, and Wales is twinned with Lesotho. Will the Secretary of State tell us why Lesotho has been victimised in these cuts, and whether he had any discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government about his decision?

The Under-Secretary of State for International Development will be visiting Wales shortly. I reciprocate the comments of the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) about St David’s day. In regard to Lesotho, we think that there are better ways of supporting that country than through a bilateral programme, for the reasons that I set out earlier. When my hon. Friend goes to Wales and meets Members of the Welsh Assembly, I am sure that this is one of the matters that can be discussed.

Will my right hon. Friend make two things clear to the NGOs? The first is that they have a shared responsibility with us to make it clear that international development is a moral obligation as well as being in our national interest? The second is that, given that international development aid is now at 0.6% of GDP and will soon be at 0.7%, if people want more aid spent on a specific topic or area, it behoves them to explain which part of my right hon. Friend’s programme they want money to be taken away from, because the Department has now reached the maximum amount of funds that it is going to have during the course of this Parliament.

I will certainly pass on my hon. Friend’s message to the NGOs. They also have a strong agenda of accountability and transparency, and we encourage them strongly in that. The workings of the Global Poverty Action Fund will greatly simplify the way in which NGOs access taxpayer support, and will also be very effective in driving forward that agenda.

Will the Secretary of State join me in applauding the generosity of the British people, not least at the moment through their donations to Comic Relief? Will he also say something about his review’s impact on the poorest of the very poor—namely, the children and men and women with severe disabilities in the developing world, who constantly get lost in these debates, not least because they were not included in the millennium development goals?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right on that point. Some four years ago, I went to Laos and Cambodia deliberately to look at the way in which disability impacted on development. We have not forgotten about this, and disability is clearly recognised in the work that we are taking forward.

Will the Secretary of State give me an indication of how he intends to work with the Dalit community, some 65,000 of whom live in Dhaka, to ensure that they are not excluded in spite of the best efforts to deliver aid to poor people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Dalit community represent the poorest of the poor in India, and we are looking specifically at ways of introducing a scholarship scheme to bring advantage to hundreds of thousands of Dalit girls in that country.

More than half the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and less than half in the countryside. Just over a year ago the International Development Select Committee published a report on urbanisation which recommended a large increase in funding for UN-Habitat. I am astonished at the decision to pull the plug on UN-Habitat. Will the Secretary of State look at the report’s recommendations and write a note to the Select Committee explaining how his Department is going to meet them?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point about urbanisation. Only in the very recent past has the majority of the world lived in towns and cities rather than in the countryside, and the report to which he refers is a very good one. If he looks at the multilateral aid review, he will see the comments that were made about UN-Habitat, and I think that he will find them helpful in understanding the Government’s approach.

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on putting such a strong emphasis on the effectiveness of aid, given that its purpose is not to make us feel good but to do good? Does he agree with the all-party parliamentary group on Trade Out of Poverty that, although effective aid is important in alleviating poverty, countries can leave poverty behind in the long run only if they have opportunities to trade their way out of it? Will he place great emphasis on encouraging the rich unilaterally to remove tariffs, quotas and other barriers to poor countries trading with us?

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for his remarks. He, of course, led our party’s approach to the “globalisation of poverty” review of 2005—a most important document. I entirely endorse what he says about the importance of trade and trading out of poverty. The fact that there is such a strong coalition—if I may put it that way—between my right hon. Friend and Clare Short, who are driving forward this issue, emphasises how wide the support is for what he is doing. That underlines the importance of continuing to work flat out for a successful outcome to the Doha round.

The Secretary of State has said that there will be a new focus on both bilateral and multilateral aid. Will that focus include giving priority consideration to marginal farmers, with women numbering heavily among them? Did he have them in mind in his reference to property rights? How will he ensure that the special measures attaching to the Food and Agriculture Organisation do not interfere with improved focus on the position of women marginal farmers?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard the contrast between what I said about the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has been placed in a form of special measures, and the World Food Programme, which is doing extremely well under the leadership of Josette Sheeran. We would probably have pulled out of the FAO but it is about to recruit a new director and we want to work with that new director to ensure that the FAO becomes a much more effective organisation. I completely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about the importance of my Department’s focus on farming and agriculture.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, giving a renewed focus to British aid policy. He will know that improving good governance is one of the most effective ways of lifting people out of poverty. Will he confirm that, under his new order, there will still be a significant investment in capacity as he develops his targets for developing countries, as this will help them improve their democratic systems and their good governance?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in the emphasis he places on good governance. Helping people to hold their leaders and their politicians to account is an extremely important part of an open and free society, as events—not least, in the middle east—have made clear in recent weeks. This is an important focus of my Department’s work.

The Secretary of State will recognise that among the most exploited workers in the world are Dalits, garment makers and brick makers working in the very poorest countries. Their way out of poverty is organisation, better employment practices and decent wages. In that light, why is the right hon. Gentleman cutting money for the International Labour Organisation, which provides an important benchmark on the employment basis of those people and, of course, on the rights of migrant workers as well?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise that there are four key elements of the decent work agenda, which I mentioned earlier: social dialogue, labour standards, social protection and employment. It is a common purpose across the House that those elements should be supported, and we will work in a variety of ways, including with the trade unions, to ensure that we uphold them.

The Secretary of State will know that the all-party groups on Kenya, Uganda and sanitation and water will be extremely glad to hear that they are still going to receive aid. I notice, however, that Commonwealth Secretariat and UNESCO are being placed into special measures as a matter of urgency. Is there a case for putting the EU in the same category?

We have looked carefully at EU aid spending and while it is true that the spending through the Commission is not as good as it should be, it is nevertheless also true that the European development fund spends British taxpayers’ money quite well. Let me also make it clear to my hon. Friend that although some 17% of the funding comes from Britain, 40% of it is spent on the Commonwealth countries for which I know he has a particular affection.

The Secretary of State suggests terminating the aid programme in Vietnam. I suggest that he look again at the report of the Select Committee after its visit to the country in 2007. It recognised that although the aid relationship needed to change, the graduation of Vietnam to middle-income status was fragile, that many good ideas that could be used elsewhere in the world were being tested, and that the aid relationship, although changing, should continue. Will the right hon. Gentleman look at that again?

We had specific discussions with Vietnam on our programme there, which does not wind down, I think, until 2016—it has the longest tail of any of the wind-down programmes. Vietnam is powering out of poverty, and ensuring that the role of the private sector is fully embraced is a big part of the work that my Department is undertaking. We have agreed the scale-down with the Government of Vietnam, and it works for us and them.

I too commend the Secretary of State and his colleagues on today’s statement and the review behind it. On a visit to Kashmir last week, the outcomes of British aid that I saw in the capital, Muzaffarabad, impressed me. Given his mention of the European development fund, is he satisfied about the hundreds of millions of euros that go via the development fund to Turkey and Croatia, which are neither contaminated with a lot of poverty nor fragile states? If he is dissatisfied, will he take measures in future to ensure that the money is redirected to other countries.

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but many people would agree that building up Turkey’s capacity to trade with us through such assistance is a sensible use of European Union funds. I will have a good look at his point in respect of Croatia.

Today’s announcement of the continuation of bilateral aid to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is welcome, but will the Secretary of State continue to press the DRC Government on the importance of transparency in getting UK companies to engage and take risks in that country?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to stress the importance of that agenda in the DRC, which is a strong partner of ours. Over the next four years, we will be doing a great deal of work there, spending on average £198 million, with a strong focus on tackling malaria, ensuring that 6 million people get access to clean water, boosting the electoral system, and ensuring that girls get into school.

Unfolding events in north Africa and the wider middle east could not have been anticipated when the review began. Will the Government’s proposals allow enough flexibility to deal with these issues and with others that are bound to arise in future?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: we are watching extremely carefully what is happening. We are fully engaged on issues of humanitarian relief on Libya’s borders with Egypt and Tunisia, and I will be going there in the next couple of days.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that when he refers to the occupied Palestinian territories, he includes the prison camp of Gaza and the hells on earth that are the refugee camps in Lebanon? Is he aware that the $2.4 million that his Department has awarded for medical aid in the Lebanese refugee camps is enormously appreciated but will last for only a month, which is a symbol of the dire need in these places?

The right hon. Gentleman is extremely experienced in the issues of the occupied Palestinian territories and of Gaza. Through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, we take a careful interest in what is happening in Gaza and will continue to do so.

Having visited the flood-hit areas of Pakistan and Kashmir before Christmas, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will confirm that the money saved on aid to China and Russia will go to such areas and to the other poorest areas in the world that need the aid most?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As a result of the much more careful prioritisation of aid and aid programmes, we are able to re-channel British taxpayer’s money into the kind of causes that he identifies.

How does the Secretary of State justify ending bilateral aid to Cambodia, given that last year 31% of the population were estimated as living under the poverty line, and the country is in danger of missing seven of its eight millennium development goals?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but it is important to recognise whether a British bilateral programme that is small compared with several other bilateral and multilateral programmes was having a real impact. We concluded that such a programme was not the best way of spending taxpayer’s money.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his team on an important piece of work that is in the national interest, but may I press him a little further on the subject of the European Union? Would he consider discussing with the EU the possibility of a pan-European review conducted on the basis on which he conducted his valuable review of this country’s aid, to establish whether that would help the EU to deliver its aid more effectively?

We continue to discuss a range of matters with the EU and with Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who is in charge of development. The multilateral aid review examined the work of the European development fund in much the same way as the bilateral review examined our country-to-country programme. There is ongoing work to be done, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are very much on the case.

Last week I was in Ghana with the all-party parliamentary group on agriculture and food for development. Members of both Houses observed for themselves the critical importance of agriculture not just to the sustaining of livelihoods but to the potential for economic growth in developing countries. I noted the Secretary of State’s concern about the Food and Agriculture Organisation, but what strategic role will agriculture play in DFID’s plans for the future?

Food security and agriculture are at the heart of many of the programmes that we operate in food-stressed areas. We are working increasingly closely with the World Food Programme, not only on the provision of emergency aid but on trying to enable food-insecure areas to change the way in which they secure their food so that it is sustainable in the long term. Very good work is being done in Karamoja, in northern Uganda, and we intend to intensify it.

The Secretary of State said that he would put more money into the development of democracy in 13 of the 16 countries that he listed. Elections have already taken place last year and this year, so we have missed the boat on those. Can we be certain that the programme will continue and that we will carry out intensive work with some of the countries that have not done as well as they might have in reducing corruption in the electoral process, not just during the four-year period that has been mentioned but, if necessary, for five or six years?

My hon. Friend has asked a very good question. Over the next four years, we will work intensively to try to boost freer and fairer elections. As I said in my statement, we shall be working in 13 countries, notably Zimbabwe. We have made it clear that if there is a proper route map towards freer and fairer elections in that country, we shall be able engage much more directly in development work there.

It is all very well for the Secretary of State to be charming about Mrs Bachelet, the head of UN Women, but when I heard her speak at the Commission on the Status of Women last week, she pointed out that she still had to raise the bulk of the $500 million dollar budget of UN Women. Britain was the fourth biggest donor to UN Women last year, but although some 30 other countries have made commitments for 2011, we have thus far failed to do so. UN Women has an ambitious programme to tackle violence against women, to empower women, and to ensure that women’s voices are heard in some of the poorest countries in the world. Why has the Secretary of State not yet made a decision?

I think that I was respectful rather than charming about Mrs Bachelet, but as soon as we have a plan that we can fund, we will fund it. We have already provided some transitional funds. As the hon. Lady will know, there is specific funding to tackle violence against women, and she can rest assured that the Government strongly support this agency, as we always have. When we see the plan, we will fund it.

I welcome the tighter focus of the aid programme, but the India programme continues to present a juicy target for aid sceptics who criticise it for being directed at a nuclear power and a space power. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be fairer for them to acknowledge that the civil nuclear programme is playing an essential part in meeting India’s energy deficit, and that since its inception the space programme has focused largely on development, using satellite technology to give Indians in rural areas access to long-distance learning opportunities, remote health care and crop-related weather analysis?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. India presents a paradox, because although it has the programmes to which he refers, there are also more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Our programme is in transition: we are shifting its focus on to only three of the poorest states in India, and over the next four years up to half the programme will be spent on pro-poor private sector investment for development. We will not be there for ever, but now is not the time to end this programme.

How will the increase in aid to conflict-affected countries be evaluated to ensure it is having the greatest impact?

In future, all our programmes will have detailed evaluation criteria from day one whether or not they are in conflict-affected areas, and, of course, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact will evaluate whether the taxpayer is getting good value for money. These criteria therefore apply across all our programmes, not just those that are easiest to evaluate.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement on the refocusing of our aid to target it and get value for money from it. Does he agree that education, particularly for girls, remains a top priority? What is his Department doing, and what more can it do, to encourage education throughout the developing world?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. For reasons he will readily appreciate, one of the best development investments we can make in terms of outcomes is to get girls into school, which is why that is such a key target for us. Over the next four years, Britain will educate 11 million children overseas, far more than in the whole of Britain, and, as I have said, at 2.5% of the cost. Therefore, if any of my hon. Friend’s constituents say that this programme should be repatriated, he should point out that 2.5% of the cost would not even get one laptop per class.

An Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation visiting a former communist country last week was shocked to hear from the head of a trade union that she was under pressure to relinquish her post so that she could be replaced by a Government stooge. We offered her hope from the International Labour Organisation, which is the only effective body that can influence her Government. Why are we denying the ILO funds?

As the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say, we are maintaining our membership of the ILO. However, if he looks at the report—which he can download from the internet immediately after this statement—he will see the professional analysis of the ILO’s work, and he may then decide that there are organisations that might be better than the ILO in assisting the lady he mentioned in the specific circumstances he described.

Save the Children, which is a very well-supported charity in West Worcestershire, has particularly welcomed this review. The Secretary of State has just emphasised the importance of educating girls. Can he tell us how many more girls will receive an education as a result of this review?

I am afraid that I cannot give that precise figure to my hon. Friend off the top of my head, but I shall write to her on the matter. What I can tell her is that last year Britain educated about 5 million children overseas, but that figure will rise substantially in the future.