House of Commons
Tuesday 17 May 2011
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
We are committed to increasing the use of restorative justice throughout the criminal justice system. Restorative justice should play a part in activities ranging from informal disposals administered by front-line police officers to enabling serious offenders to face up to the consequences of their actions. There is growing evidence of its potential to cut reoffending and crime, and to enhance the role of victims in the delivery of justice.
Charnwood council’s reducing reoffending scrutiny panel has been considering how to promote restorative justice locally. One of the problems that it has identified is that offenders are often released on Fridays or at weekends with no practical support. Before it can get around to worrying about restorative justice, we need to know what the Ministry can do to ensure that offenders are given the practical support that they need when they join the community.
My hon. Friend has raised a valid operational concern about Friday releases. However, holding prisoners whose statutory release date falls at a weekend until the following week is unlawful, and we do not think it right for prisoners to be let out early: they should serve the custodial period required by law. Our duty is to manage the operational issue of Friday releases. That includes ensuring that all prisoners are properly prepared for release, and implementing restorative justice as part of that preparation where appropriate.
My constituent Gary Thrall was left for dead after a vicious knife attack last year. His first contact from Victim Support came five weeks later, when it was suggested that he might like to meet some knife attackers. Does the Minister agree that that is a gross misuse of restorative justice, and what can he do to ensure that the same thing does not happen to other people?
I read about that case in the papers. It is plainly important for restorative justice to carry the confidence of victims. They should not be placed in a position in which they are required to take part in restorative justice disposals; restorative justice should be a right for them to exercise when they see fit, and when it is clearly in their interests to do so.
Is the Minister aware that many victims greatly value the restorative justice process, because it brings the person who has caused them harm face to face with the harm that he has caused? Does the Minister recognise the need for it to be mainstreamed into the system rather more than it is at present? There are many areas in which it is currently not available to benches and courts.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. It is important to bear in mind that restorative justice is a right for victims. I believe that if, in the circumstances described by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), a victim wished to exercise the right to engage in restorative justice and to demand an account from an offender who was pleading guilty or had been found guilty, he or she should have the opportunity to do so. The victim impact statement, as part of the restorative justice process for the benefit of the victim, must become a much clearer element of our justice system.
I agree with the Minister that restorative justice can be a positive intervention, and I was pleased to be able to attend a restorative justice session in Wormwood Scrubs organised by volunteers from the Prison Fellowship on 28 March. Unfortunately, however, it was the last such session to take place in a prison in the London region. Can the Minister explain why that is, given that it is agreed that restorative justice can be an effective intervention? Is this yet another example of the gap between rhetoric and reality?
No, it is not. The hon. lady is referring to a decision by the management of London prisons, which are principally local prisons, to focus on short-term offenders who are incarcerated in London as well as in local prisons supporting the courts. We are going to change the system so that restorative justice is embedded in the criminal justice process from beginning to end. The hon. Lady supported her party for a very long time in trying to get that done. I assure her that we shall absolutely deliver it.
The Ministry of Justice currently holds some limited data on the numbers of injunctions applied for in the county courts, but they do not allow identification of anonymity injunctions. The Department’s chief statistician is currently considering how robust data on the number of anonymity injunctions issued by the courts might be collated in the future.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend concerned about the possibility that the large number of injunctions that appear to be being granted on a routine basis suggests that the courts are paying insufficient regard to section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which was intended to protect press freedom? Given that, and given the huge speculation on the internet about the identities of those who have obtained injunctions, does he feel that the time is approaching when Parliament may need to revisit the issue?
I do not think any of us know whether the number is increasing. As far as I am aware, there have been two super-injunctions since the John Terry case, but the word “super-injunction” gets used very widely. I realise there is increasing concern, however. I personally have strong views on the secrecy of justice. We have a tradition of open justice in this country. Plainly, I believe in the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in this country, even when it is sometimes exercised provocatively, as it is supposed to be in a free country, but there are also areas where an individual is entitled to have their privacy protected. The time is certainly coming when the Government are going to have to look at this matter, although we will probably wait until we have had the report of the Master of the Rolls, who is looking rather more closely at the procedural aspects.
The Lord Chancellor is right to remind us that it is important that we get the balance right between freedom of speech and an individual’s right to privacy, but he will be aware of the public disquiet about the use of the anonymity injunction or super-injunction, both in terms of its abuse—or alleged abuse—and its circumvention, for example by the use of Twitter. As he has said, the current situation is not satisfactory, but the Master of the Rolls is simply looking at the process, rather than the substance. What does the Lord Chancellor intend to do about that, so as to provide leadership on this issue?
First, I agree that the Master of the Rolls is looking at process, and I am sure what he says will be very valuable. As I have said, we will wait until he reports back before starting to take a proper look at the issue, but I think the Government will now have to study it and decide whether there is a case for intervening. There will never be unanimity on all these judgments, precisely because it is so difficult to balance the competing parts of the convention on human rights and the competing interests involved. There have been cases where we have certainly needed to know—such as where people are disposing of waste material by dumping it off the coast of Africa. That is easy in one direction, but in the other, every time I watch a football team I do not think I necessarily need to know about the sex life of each of the players.
As is often the case, I find myself agreeing to a large extent with what the Lord Chancellor says, but let me say this. Super-injunctions are not granted by European judges using European law; they are granted by British judges using British law, and Parliament has supremacy over that law and those judges. If clarity and guidance is required and suitable, and bearing in mind the fact that we have the draft Defamation Bill and the forthcoming justice Bill, why does he not just say that he will use those vehicles to provide clarity and guidance?
We will consider these matters, and it is probably right that Parliament passing a privacy Act might well be the best way of resolving the issue, but we need to get somewhat nearer a consensus and to know exactly how we are trying to strike the balance before something is submitted for the judgment of Parliament. We may well not have to wait until the end of a long, controversial process such as that, and instead find some other way of tackling the issue, but we are considering it and we will come back with proposals in due course. If there were debate on a privacy Bill, there would be an interesting range of opinions even in Parliament, but I have not met many people yet who seem to have the perfect answer as to how to get the balance right.
Some of these injunctions serve to prevent information from being passed to the police or other regulators. Does the Secretary of State believe the law should be changed so that regulators can always have information passed to them?
That is one of the arguments which the judge who decides whether to grant the injunction will no doubt have in mind. Whether it is reasonable and in the public interest for the injunction to be granted is what the judge is meant to try to establish. The question for us is how we can make that clearer and more defensible, and how we can know more about what is happening so that we are all satisfied that injunctions are granted only in cases where the right to privacy of the individual is, indeed, being interfered with unjustly, but I know of the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this topic, and we will bear his views in mind—
I will try not to talk this one out, Mr Speaker—although I will be tempted to do so.
Reform of the Court will be a key aim of the forthcoming UK chairmanship of the Council of Europe. We will be pressing in particular to reinforce the idea that the Court’s role is a subsidiary one, which means that states, not the Court, have primary responsibility for protecting convention rights.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. In supporting reforms that cut the backlog of cases and reduce the delays that many people experience in the Strasbourg Court, does he agree with Amnesty International and 270 other non-governmental organisations which have founded a petition to campaign against the introduction of fees in the European Court of Human Rights, as they believe those could, in some cases, represent an insurmountable barrier to justice?
I certainly think that one of the things that needs to be tackled and can be tackled without too much difficulty is the thousands upon thousands of cases awaiting a hearing at the Court, many of which are completely outside the sphere of the convention and could be disposed of reasonably straightforwardly. The question of fees will have to be decided in due course by the Ministers of 47 member states of the Council of Europe, but there is not much evidence at the moment that people are feeling excluded from the jurisdiction by the threat of any imminent costs.
There would be very little problem with the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court if we repealed the Human Rights Act 1998, withdrew from the convention and replaced it with a British Bill of Rights. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is about time that that happened?
If we repealed the Human Rights Act, which is one of the matters being looked at, we would just go back to having the convention applied directly by Strasbourg. The issue attracts a wide range of views, which is why we have set up a commission to consider them—[Interruption.] We have indeed set up the commission. It is composed of serious people who have expressed a very wide range of views in the past on the subject. They will strive to reach a consensus and it will be useful to get a properly informed and expert assessment of what the various options might result in. I am sure that the package of measures recommended by my hon. and learned Friend is one of the matters they will be considering in the course of their discussions.
In December 2010, the Government set out proposals for more effective punishment, rehabilitation and sentencing of offenders in the “Breaking the Cycle” Green Paper. We are finalising our response to the views expressed during the consultation and will publish it shortly. That will be followed by the publication of the legislation required to implement our proposals.
It is the Government’s view that justice should be done, and that is best done by judges taking into consideration the circumstances of every individual case. There will be circumstances in which Parliament has made clear its views in legislation. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary, the hon. Gentleman will well understand that. He will also well understand the potential for miscarriages of justice if this place chooses so to tie the hands of judges that they are not able to exercise justice in the individual cases that come before them.
At present, a defendant entering an early guilty plea will earn up to a third off the sentence that would otherwise apply. The Government are proposing to replace that with a discount of a half, a move which is opposed by the judiciary and many others. How on earth will giving a half off a sentence help to protect the public?
I would have thought that a moment’s reflection would make that clear. Let us suppose that someone who is accused of rape co-operates with the authorities at the first opportunity, rather than puts their victim through the entire process of having to be prepared to give evidence and then having to give evidence. That is one example where there is a definitive benefit to the victim from encouraging the earliest possible guilty plea.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary made clear last year, there are of course problems with short prison sentences for both male and female offenders. We will not take away from the judiciary and magistracy the ability to use short sentences when required, but we need to ensure that community sentences that are properly robust and properly punitive can carry public confidence as an appropriate option, particularly for women offenders who frequently have wider responsibilities in the community that would be lost if they were incarcerated.
Prisoners (Foreign Nationals)
In 2010, 5,235 foreign national prisoners were removed or deported from the UK. The number of foreign national prisoners has reduced by 622 since 31 March 2010 to the present figure of 10,745. The number of foreign prisoners transferred through prisoner transfer arrangements remains regrettably low due to the voluntary nature of most of our existing arrangements. We expect about 60 prisoners to be transferred in 2011-12 to serve their sentence and for the number of transfers to rise progressively as the European Union prisoner transfer agreement enters into force.
On 2 June, in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), the Prime Minister said:
“I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the Foreign Secretary to draw up agreements with as many countries as possible”.—[Official Report, 2 June 2010; Vol. 510, c. 434.]
Will the Minister update us on which new countries he has drawn up agreements with in the 11 months succeeding that date, what agreements have been finalised and, while he is at it, whether three and a half years after I began negotiations we finally have an agreement with Nigeria on repatriation?
I regret to inform the right hon. Gentleman that we are still waiting for the Nigerians to complete their legislative processes, but that is in process and I am delighted to report to him that we have every expectation that it will be brought to a conclusion. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we do not control both sides of a negotiation and we have to ensure that we have partner countries that will agree to compulsory transfer. He, of all people in this House, is well aware of how difficult that is. That does not mean that we will not try to improve on the dreadful performance of the previous Administration.
Legal Aid Reform
We intend to bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows.
A host of organisations, including Citizens Advice, the Law Society and the Select Committee on Justice, have criticised the lack of an evidential basis for the proposed legal aid changes and have asked the Government to slow down and think again. Will the Minister be willing to act on their advice?
The hon. Lady’s question implies that the Government have not been listening. I would say that that is not the case. The consultation elicited some 5,000 responses, we have now had three Adjournment debates on legal aid reform, hundreds of questions have been tabled and I have been engaging in debates, sometimes with shadow Ministers, outside this place. I would say that the Government have been doing a lot of listening on the issue and we will be ready for legislation shortly.
The Government’s position is not to start off with the number of legal aid practitioners. Our starting point is the sort of legal aid system that we should have in this country, which will support vulnerable people. The number of practitioners to service that will follow.
Does the Minister believe that there is anything to learn from the Secretaries of State who have been dealing with forestry and health when it comes to rushing through proposals that have been rejected by professionals, the public and coalition Members of both Houses?
Legal aid per se involves poor people, so if we are going to reduce costs it will impact on poor people. It is true that individuals with protected equality characteristics are over-represented within the current client base of civil and family legal aid when compared with the population as a whole, although the extent of that varies by category of law.
Will the Minister be taking the advice of the Select Committee on Justice, which recommended that the Government should assess the
“merits of the cost-saving proposals put forward by the Law Society”,
namely the alternative savings of £384 million—£34 million more than the Government’s proposals would save—while protecting all civil and family legal representation?
Various alternatives have been suggested by the institution that the hon. Lady mentions and by many others during the consultation. The question is whether they would work and whether they would deliver the required savings within the spending review period. The main proposal of the Law Society, which she mentioned, is an alcohol levy—a penny on your pint to pay for lawyers.
I am glad that the Minister is actively listening on this issue—[Interruption.] We will see, won’t we? Under his proposals, someone with a debt case who faces homelessness will be eligible for legal aid, so why should someone facing homelessness in a case of unlawful eviction not also be eligible?
Those are the sorts of issues that we have been considering very carefully through the consultation process. It is very important to realise that even after our reforms we will still be spending £40 million on housing legal aid, for example, and £6 million with debt, so it would be wrong to say that we are abolishing those areas of law. We are looking to get better value and to make sure that the money goes towards helping the vulnerable.
The Minister will have noted a great degree of consistency in the submissions on the proposed changes to legal aid, with concerns expressed about family law, debt and housing law, medical negligence and cost-shunting on to other Departments. He has confirmed that the consultation on legal aid has been a genuine listening exercise. Can he confirm that many of the points expressed by organisations such as the Law Society and the CAB have been heard and, critically, will be acted on?
All of the submissions have been heard and are being considered very carefully—I can assure my hon. Friend of that. As for whether we put them all into place—that is unlikely, but we will consider them all and where we need to change our proposals, changes will be made.
I recently met Langleys Solicitors, a firm based in my constituency, which feels that the recommendations about reductions in the provision of legal aid combined with the recommendations from Lord Jackson’s report on civil court reforms will seriously undermine access to justice and the rule of law. What assurances can my hon. Friend give to Langleys, my constituents and me that the Government’s reforms will not make it more difficult for ordinary people to have recourse to the courts to right wrongs?
I have to be up front with my hon. Friend and say that less money will be spent on legal aid, which means that fewer people will have access to legal aid. The important issue is that we direct scarce resources to the most vulnerable, and that is exactly what we will be doing by prioritising those whose security and liberty is at risk and those whose homes are at risk of immediate repossession.
I was fortunate to secure a debate on legal aid last week in which I and others had the opportunity to go through some detailed concerns. Sadly, the Minister ran out of time in which to respond; I trust that he will respond to us all in writing. He implied then that there would be changes to the original proposals. Can he confirm that now, and what will they be?
I can confirm that a letter has been sent to my hon. Friend, so he should get it shortly. As I said in the Adjournment debate, which helpfully enabled hon. Members to put their points across, issues that were raised then are being looked at carefully by the Government. We will assess those and some of them may have implications for our legislation in due course.
The Secretary of State has accepted Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations on civil litigation reform. He said they were “very attractive” and he was “impressed” by them, so why is the Minister ignoring the report’s recommendation that the Government make
“no further cutbacks in legal aid availability or eligibility”
“The legal aid system plays a crucial role in promoting access to justice at proportionate costs”?
Legal aid does play a very important part in access to justice, which the Government support. Lord Justice Jackson was looking at civil costs, and in that context he looked at legal aid. On that point, as in various other instances, we did not agree with his recommendations. What we will put forward in legislation is a total all-encompassing package. The shadow Minister will appreciate that we consulted on public and private funding at the same time so that those who wanted to respond could do so in the context of both.
Work Opportunities (Prisons)
We have made clear our intention to make prisons places of work and industry. In the Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”, published last December, we set out our proposals to break the destructive cycle of crime. That included proposals for prison work. Our response to the consultation on the Green Paper will be published soon.
No, I cannot. [Interruption.] The system requires considerable transformation. We intend to introduce as widely as possible a system in which it is normal for prisoners to have a working day doing proper work, getting into work habits and acquiring skills. We have some—comparatively few—outstanding examples of workshops run by outside companies and we are attracting wide interest from companies in how we can do that. Prison Industries will have to be addressed and we will probably have to put it on a different and more commercial footing. We are looking for work that can properly be done in prison without jeopardising legitimate small businesses outside. A moment ago I was accused of rushing everything. The great thing about such reforms, which will transform the prison system, is that there is no point in delivering straight away experiments that have not been thought through. I intend to change the atmosphere of prisons very substantially once we have got down to practical ways of doing so.
The introduction of work-based regimes more widely will be warmly welcomed by people who know about rehabilitation, but victims are concerned about reparation. Will the Secretary of State make sure that any wages earned as part of a work-based regime go directly to benefit victims or the communities that have been victims of crime?
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s response on increasing work opportunities in prison, but will that extend to more education and training in prison?
A great deal of education and training is delivered in prisons now, but it needs to be improved; it is patchy. We are not losing our focus on making sure that the basic problems of literacy and numeracy are tackled, let alone other further education delivered, and we hope to make sure that the contracts for provision of education and training services are of universally good quality.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) has a ten-minute rule Bill which would make it mandatory for those sentenced to two years or more to undertake a relevant offender management programme before being considered for early release. Do the Government intend to take those proposals forward?
We sentence people to prison terms as reparation for the wrong that they have done to their victims and society, and when they have completed their sentence we release them. Under existing rules they may be released from prison halfway through the named sentence, but they are on licence thereafter, subject to recall, and that has to be made meaningful. I do not want to add to the number of people in prison who are serving beyond any sentence that they have had imposed upon them for the crime that they committed, but who are waiting to go through some loophole which shows that they qualify for release, not least because it is very difficult to organise true opportunities for prisoners to be able to satisfy such requirements.
Charity Initiatives (Prisons)
The National Offender Management Service is committed to opening commissioning to all sectors. The Green Paper and the Ministry of Justice business plan for 2011 to 2015 set out that we will no longer provide rehabilitation services directly without testing where the private, voluntary and community sectors can provide them more effectively.
It is likely that many of the contracts for the rehabilitation of offenders will be placed with large providers, but what steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the charities and small-scale providers that do a lot of valuable work in that regard are being rewarded under payment by results?
The value of what is done by charities and the voluntary sector in the rehabilitation of offenders cannot possibly be overstated. There are thousands of groups and tens of thousands of people who want to engage with us to deliver the rehabilitation of offenders because it is the right thing to do. With a system now focusing on outcomes rather than inputs, it would be fairly foolish to ignore the capacity of this great army of auxiliaries to help us deliver rehabilitation.
Barnardo’s is working with G4S Parc prison in my constituency, along with a range of other partners, to look at the Parc supporting families scheme and the family intervention unit, which take the most difficult and prolific offenders and work with them to bring change. I invite the Minister to come to Bridgend to see how that work is changing outcomes, changing the opportunities for rehabilitation, bringing security for communities and reducing reoffending. It is an excellent example of the schemes that we are looking for.
I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s invitation. I have visited all the prisons in Wales, but I have rather more of the estate to get around before I have seen them all. I am anxious to hear about the kind of scheme she describes. I see examples of good practice all over the country of people working very hard in both the prison and probation services to engage other organisations, as she has described, and help the rehabilitation of offenders.
Our proposals on the rehabilitation of drug-misusing offenders were published in a Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”, in December 2010. These include: ensuring that sentencing helps offenders to come off drugs; piloting drug recovery wings in prisons; supporting the Department of Health in developing payment-by-results drug recovery pilots; and testing options for intensive community-based treatment for both female and male offenders.
Between 2005-06 and 2009-10, there was a 24% rise in the number of drug offences committed in Warwickshire. There is clearly a need for improved levels of rehabilitation for those who have suffered from drug addiction. The charitable, voluntary and social enterprise sectors are often best placed to provide this support. Will the Minister therefore tell the House what work he is doing to engage with those sectors to deliver better support and improve rehabilitation while at the same time reducing drug-related crime?
My hon. Friend has pointed clearly to a consequence of the failure to rehabilitate offenders effectively, which should have happened under the previous Administration. That is why we are engaged in what we are calling a revolution in rehabilitation. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies), we will have to ensure that we engage the full capacity of the voluntary and charitable sectors, in co-operation with the state sector and the private sector, in order to maximise our capacity to deliver and to focus them on outcomes rather than inputs.
Has the Minister seen the headline in a national newspaper today stating that drug addicts are pocketing benefits amounting to more than £1 billion every year? Does he accept that the welfare system needs to be reformed to give addicts help in the form of treatment, rather than funding their addiction, and how does he see such a proposal being taken forward?
That is an extremely important part of effecting the rehabilitation of offenders. The number of offenders whose offences are drug-related is very substantial, so in conjunction with the Department of Health we are examining and introducing pilots on the whole treatment of drug addiction in the community. Many offenders will enter those pilots and then, I hope, the scheme when we roll it out system-wide by the end of the Parliament. We are also examining with the Department of Health how we treat people in prison in order to ensure that we are much more focused on abstinence as well. I fear I may exhaust the patience of Mr Speaker if I go on.
Legal Aid (Immigration)
The Legal Services Commission’s gross operating expenditure on asylum and immigration legal aid in the financial year 2009-10 was £90 million, of which about £26 million was for immigration matters.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to reduce the amount of money spent on legal aid for immigration cases is to resolve those cases as promptly as possible, and that, had we not inherited an immigration system in crisis from the Labour party, the costs would be lower already?
My hon. Friend is quite right. The best way to reduce the amount of money spent on immigration legal aid is to retain taxpayer funding for serious issues only. Our current view is that most individuals involved in immigration cases, such as those applying for study or work visas or making citizenship applications, should not require legal aid to resolve their issues.
Victim Support (Violent Crime)
The Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses and the Justice Secretary are in regular contact. The commissioner has just completed her first year in post, working to a set of priorities agreed last year with my right hon. and learned Friend following a meeting with him. These included looking at the most effective provision for people bereaved by murder and manslaughter, and improving the treatment of young victims and witnesses.
As Minister with responsibility for victims policy, I have met the commissioner twice formally and on other occasions informally. We discussed and continue to discuss support for victims of violent crime as well as all other aspects of policy relating to victims and witnesses.
In Stourbridge we have a good Victim Support service, staffed largely by volunteers, but it operates on something of a shoestring, which affects awareness and its potential for partnership working. Does my hon. Friend agree that there should be some shift of resource in the system towards Victim Support?
I pay tribute to Victim Support, which plays an extremely valuable role in supporting victims and witnesses throughout the country. This year we agreed a funding deal with it, involving a grant of £38 million every year for three years, giving it greater financial security. Victim Support is also able to bid for additional money for local projects from the £18.5 million victims general fund, for which we invited bids this year. Overall, the Ministry of Justice is committing more money to the victims voluntary sector this year than last year, which of course, in the dreadful financial circumstances that we inherited from the previous Administration, shows our priorities.
The Government talk a really good game about supporting victims, but the reality is that under cover of a review the British Crime Survey is cutting questions on victims’ views, the witness and victim experience survey has ended and Her Majesty’s Courts Service’s court-users survey is coming to an end. We need to listen more to the victims of crime and put them at the heart of our judicial system, so can we have an assurance that the Secretary of State will reinstate survey questions or, indeed, improve on them, and not push under the carpet the experiences of victims and witnesses of how the British legal system operates?
There we have it—a demonstration of acquiring inputs, measurements and targets rather than focusing on outputs. The last thing that we do, as the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, is ignore victims. When we come forward with our strategy for victims and witnesses, he will see the extent of our commitment to ensuring that victims and witnesses are properly supported in the justice system.
Prisoners (Foreign Nationals)
I am in regular contact with my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, and my officials are in regular contact with their counterparts at the Home Office. The removal of foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation is a mutual priority.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his response. I am sure he agrees that the incarceration of criminals from outside the UK is not a duty owed by taxpayers from Erewash or, indeed, elsewhere throughout the country. The Government’s sentencing Green Paper explores how punishments for foreign offenders could include immediate removal, rather than imprisonment in this country. Will my hon. Friend please update the House on proposals to consider that measure?
There will very shortly be an opportunity for all right hon. and hon. Members to see our proposals in response to the consultation on the Green Paper, and it would be appropriate to wait until then so that proposals come forward together in a coherent manner. We have to remember that we are dealing with the consequences of an era of inaction when, for example, the Council of Europe additional protocol on the transfer of prisoners was open for signature in 1997 and it took until November 2009 for that lot over there to sign it.
I shall begin with a topical statement. On 26 April, I attended a Council of Europe ministerial conference in Turkey on the future of the European Court of Human Rights. I was clear that the Court must focus on truly important cases and have proper regard to the judgment of national Parliaments and courts. I met a number of Ministers from other member states and senior figures from the Council of Europe and the Court who were receptive to this view.
In a recent and novel ruling, a man convicted of robbery defeated a deportation order on human rights grounds because he had a girlfriend—a relationship that the court described as that of a courting couple and no more. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider amending the Human Rights Act 1998 and the human rights clause in the UK Borders Act 2007 to prevent this kind of judicial legislation under article 8 of the European convention?
I have not seen that case, but I agree that it sounds like a rather sweeping interpretation of the right to family life, which is what the European convention confirms. If my hon. Friend will let me have the details, I will inquire into the case to see how it reached such a startling conclusion. It is possible that the report that he read, in whichever newspaper he read it, did not bear a very close resemblance to what actually occurred.
The Lord Chancellor has announced plans—this was raised by the previous Lord Chancellor—to reduce by half the sentence for an offender if he or she pleads guilty. In a remarkably flippant response, his junior Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), asked us to pause and reflect on the thoughts and views of a victim of rape. It is not only Labour MPs who think this is nonsense, nor only judges or victims groups: the Lord Chancellor’s own Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses says that it is bonkers. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider?
We are going to give the outcome of our consultation shortly, but I think that that proposal is likely to survive. The fact is that we have always had a reduced tariff for early guilty pleas in this country. It always startles the public when they discover that this has underlined our sentencing policy for many years. It is true that we are thinking of putting up the reduction to a half. It makes an enormous difference to costs, police time and the involvement of unnecessary preparations for trial if everybody leaves guilty pleas to the last possible moment. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary rightly said, victims and witnesses are put through an ordeal if they are preparing for a trial where they expect to be accused of lying because the man has not been induced to plead at an early enough stage. Those are the considerations that lay behind this proposal.
T2. Last month, I visited Kirklees restorative justice team, who, in Kirklees alone, need to keep only two offenders out of prison for a year to cover the whole of their budget. However, does the Minister agree that probably one of the most impressive elements of restorative justice is the immeasurable improvement in victims’ perceptions? (55692)
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The evidence from Northern Ireland, where a statutory form of restorative justice has been working positively in the youth sector, shows 85% levels of victim satisfaction. The data are getting better regarding the effect of restorative justice on the rehabilitation of offenders, and appear to show at least a 14% improvement if we use it. That is a pretty convincing case for the proper use of restorative justice, quite apart from the financial benefits that my hon. Friend mentioned.
T3. The Secretary of State will be well aware of the tragic loss of five young lives on the secure prison estate in recent months. Will he outline what work he and his officials are undertaking to look into those tragic deaths, and what measures he intends to put in place to prevent future occurrences? (55693)
We have had an unfortunate instance, but we will obviously investigate each of those tragic cases. Unfortunately, there are always extremely vulnerable people in young offender institutions, and steps have to be taken to protect them against self-harm. I have no reason to believe that anything has changed significantly that connects these deaths. I assure the hon. Gentleman that each and every one of them will be carefully considered to see whether anything went wrong or whether something can be improved.
T4. Does the Secretary of State share my concern and that of my constituents that prisoners are not spending their time inside constructively? Will any future Bill address that issue by ensuring that prisoners spend more time at work than in their cells? (55694)
As I explained earlier, I feel that concern strongly. The matter does not so much require legislation as sensible organisation, change in the structure of Prison Industries, and more leeway for governors to arrange work when there is a sensible opportunity to do so. A significant change in the culture of parts of the Prison Service would add to the good work that goes on at the moment, which is quite rare and is scattered across the prison estate. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is an important aim.
T6. Earlier this month, the foetal anti-convulsant litigation against Sanofi Aventis was discontinued after six years’ preparation. The claimants and their families have been denied their day in court because legal aid funding was withdrawn at the last moment. Will the Minister say what funding arrangements will be available for multi-party actions in future so that such families are not denied access to justice? (55696)
The funding of clinical negligence cases in this country is about 50:50 between legal aid and conditional fee arrangements—in other words, private funding. We believe that when people have the opportunity of private funding, they should take that option. In looking at our proposals for reviewing privately funded litigation, we are taking clinical negligence cases on board and are moulding our proposals to help those who want to take such cases.
The feeling has been expressed by several sources in the two prisons in my constituency that former members of the armed services are not looked on favourably in Prison Service recruitment. Will the Minister reassure me that that is not the case?
It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend, given our mutual background, that I would regard such discrimination against former members of the armed services as wholly unacceptable. If prison officers can produce evidence for that, I would be extremely interested to receive it.
T8. The Crime and Security Act 2010 received Royal Assent more than a year ago. How much longer will victims of overseas terrorism have to wait to receive their compensation? Those victims include Will Pike, who will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair, following injuries sustained in the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008. (55698)
I saw Will Pike and his father last week along with another representative of victims of terrorism overseas. We are bringing forward proposals on that, and will do so when we bring forward comprehensive proposals on victims, witnesses and criminal injuries compensation.
T7. Does the Minister agree that justice is best dispensed through a network of local courts, such as that at Lowestoft in my constituency? Will he provide an assurance that, following the recent round of closures, there are no plans for further rationalisation and that every effort will be made to sustain the existing network of magistrates courts? (55697)
I believe that justice is best dispensed through a network of courts that is efficient and well-utilised, and that provides the facilities that are expected of a modern courts system, particularly for victims and witnesses. I confirm that there are no current plans for further rationalisation.
We are considering our policy in the light of the debate and the result in the House of Lords. I have been discussing the matter with various interest groups, various Members of another place, and one or two Members of this House. Some of the lobbyists attribute to the chief coroner powers to tackle all kinds of failings in the system that the legislation never gave him or her. We could deliver some of the substantial changes that need to be made to the coroner system rather more quickly by distributing the functions elsewhere, rather than by creating unnecessarily a whole new office. I am considering the arguments. We ought to concentrate on what outcomes we are trying to produce, rather than argue about structures and new institutions.
Has the Secretary of State read the research commissioned by Lord Ashcroft and conducted by Populus called “Crime, Punishment & The People—Public opinion and the criminal justice debate”? If he has read the report, which I commend to him, will he confirm that its findings, which will make sobering reading for him, will be part of the proposals on sentencing?
I shall look at the report to see whether it is the source of my hon. Friend’s views on the subject of crime and punishment, which he frequently gives, and then I will try to find some counter-reading to recommend to him. I will try to study it if I get the chance.
The purpose of sentencing in this country is to punish offenders effectively and proportionately for what they have done. The purpose that I intend to add to that more clearly is to try to reduce the number who simply offend again and come back into the system. If we cut reoffending, it will mean fewer crimes and fewer victims, and we will make a positive contribution instead of recycling the same old people through the same old not very well functioning system.
Will the Secretary of State take a look at the case of Shrien Dewani, a British citizen who faces extradition to South Africa? He has shown me convincing evidence that he will not face a fair trial there. Can we reconsider extraditing that citizen?
T10. The Home Secretary recently announced her intention for police to do 80% of charging. I can see how that is to the benefit of the police, but has the Justice Secretary had any discussions about how we can ensure that it is not to the disbenefit of justice? (55700)
Legal aid to take family cases to court will in future be available only when domestic violence is an issue. Otherwise, couples will be expected to go to mediation. However, mediation may not be appropriate where there is a high degree of conflict, even when domestic violence is absent. What consideration is the Minister giving to how such cases will work after legal aid is removed?
We are studying that issue very carefully through the consultation. We believe that mediation, as a cheaper, quicker and less stressful alternative, is normally the best way to go, but there will be circumstances in which it is not appropriate, domestic violence being one of them. We are considering the definition of domestic violence carefully.
Prisoners who reoffend cost the UK economy £10 billion a year. Is not the real solution for the Secretary of State to continue his excellent record as a public service reformer by incentivising private companies to rehabilitate prisoners and letting them earn a profit when they cut reoffending rates?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has worked with me on public service reform in the past. I am glad he shares our objective because, as he says, it saves the economy substantial amounts and reduces the number of victims and further crimes if a higher proportion of those who finish their sentence do not go on to reoffend and get convicted again. The approach that we are adopting to improving the reoffending reduction programmes, which is to pay by results and make it quite clear that charitable and ethical investors can get a return on their capital if they succeed in delivering that objective, is a valuable and innovative way of trying to achieve real results rather than strive needlessly.
Mr Dean, a constituent of mine, is still waiting after three years for full payment of a compensation award from a persistent offender. What action are the Government taking, and what action will they take, against persistent non-payment of compensation awards by persistent offenders?
I am afraid that we inherited a criminal injuries compensation scheme that was £765 million in debt. That is why we have inadequate funds to pay compensation, and why the payment of compensation in many cases has, regrettably, been delayed. We are trying to repair a system that was bust when we inherited it.
Recently in my constituency, a convicted sex offender who was automatically released at the halfway point of his sentence reoffended in the most appalling way. Will my hon. Friend agree to meet me to discuss both automatic release for predatory child sex offenders, and whether it is appropriate to house such individuals close to young families, schools, a playground and a park?
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the individual circumstances of that case. On the face of it, that situation should not have been enabled to happen. There should have been a sensible degree of risk assessment and a proper placement of the individual concerned. I am therefore only too happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the details of that case.
House of Lords Reform (Draft Bill)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Government’s plans to reform the other place.
At the last general election, each major party committed to a democratically elected second Chamber. The coalition agreement set out very clearly the Government’s intention to deliver that, but the roots of these changes can be traced back much further. A century ago, the Government, led by Herbert Asquith, promised to create
“a Second Chamber constituted on a popular instead of hereditary basis.”
There has been progress in the intervening years—the majority of hereditary peers have gone, and the other place is now predominantly made up of life peers. We should see ourselves as completing that work.
People have a right to choose their representatives. That is the most basic feature of a modem democracy. Our second Chamber, which is known for its wisdom and expertise, is none the less undermined by the fact it is not directly accountable to the British people. I am therefore publishing a draft Bill today, and an accompanying White Paper, which set out proposals for reform.
In the programme for government, we undertook to
“establish a committee to bring forward proposals for a wholly or mainly elected upper chamber on the basis of proportional representation.”
I chair that cross-party Committee, which reached agreement on many of the most important issues—not on all of them, but good progress was made—and those deliberations have greatly shaped the proposals that are being published today. I should like to pay tribute to all members of the Committee, particularly Opposition Members, who engaged with us in an open and collaborative fashion. Let me also thank those individuals whose past work on Lords reform has laid the foundations for what we are doing today, particularly the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and the right hon. and noble Lord Wakeham. Rather than start anew, the Government have benefited from their previous endeavours. Today’s proposals represent a genuine, collective effort over time.
The draft Bill and White Paper will now be scrutinised by a Joint Committee composed of 13 peers and 13 Members of this House. The Committee will report early next year, and a Government Bill will then be introduced.
The Prime Minister and I are clear that we want the first elections to the reformed upper Chamber to take place in 2015. However, although we know what we want to achieve, we are open minded about how we get there. Clearly, our fixed goal is greater democratic legitimacy for the other place, but we will be pragmatic in order to achieve that. We therefore propose an upper House made up of 300 members, each eligible for a single term of three Parliaments. Three hundred is the number that we judge to be right, but this is an art and not a science. In the vast majority of bicameral systems, the second Chamber is significantly smaller. That arrangement helps to maintain a clear distinction between the two Houses. We are confident that 300 full-time Members can cover the work comfortably. We are, however, open to alternative views on that.
The coalition agreement committed the Government to produce proposals for
“a wholly or mainly elected chamber.”
That debate is reflected in what we are publishing today. The Bill makes provision for 80% of Members to be elected, with the remaining 20% to be appointed independently. The 60 appointed Members would sit as Cross Benchers, not as representatives of political parties, and in addition bishops of the Church of England would continue to sit in the other place, but would be reduced in number from 26 to 12. The White Paper includes the case for a 100% elected House of Lords. The 80:20 split is the more complicated option, and so has been put into the draft Bill in order to illustrate it in legislative terms. The 100% option would be easy to substitute into the draft Bill should that be where we end up.
There are people on both sides of the House who support a fully elected Chamber, believing that an elected House of Lords should be just that. Others, again on both sides, take a different view, and support having a non-elected component in order to retain an element of non-party expertise, as well as to keep greater distinction between the two Houses. Personally, I have always supported a 100% elected House of Lords, but the key thing is not to make the best the enemy of the good. That approach has stymied Lords reform for far too long. After all, 80% is a whole lot better than 0%.
Elections to the new reformed House will be staggered: at each general election a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. That is to prevent the other place from becoming a mirror image of this House. In the Bill we set out how those elections could be conducted using the single transferable vote. The coalition agreement specifies only that the system must be proportional, and what is most important is that it is different from whatever we use in the Commons. That is to ensure that the two Chambers have distinct mandates; one should not seek to emulate the other.
STV allows for that, and would also give the upper Chamber greater independence from party control. Votes are cast for individuals rather than parties, putting the emphasis on the expertise and experience that candidates offer, rather than the colour of the rosette they wear. We want to preserve the independence of spirit that has long differentiated that House from this one. I know that some Members prefer a party list system, including Opposition members of the cross-party Committee I chaired. We are willing to have this debate, and have not ruled out a list-based system in the White Paper.
The Commons will retain ultimate say over legislation through the Parliament Acts, and will continue to have a decisive right over the vote of supply. In order for a Government to remain in office they will still need to secure the confidence of MPs. The other place will continue to be a revising Chamber, providing scrutiny and expertise. Its size, electoral cycle, voting system, and terms will all help to keep it distinct from the Commons and a place that remains one step removed from the day-to-day party politics that, quite rightly, animate this House. What will be different is that our second Chamber will finally have a democratic mandate, and will be much more accountable as a result.
Clearly, the transition must be carefully managed. We propose to phase in the reform over three electoral cycles. In 2015 a third of Members will be elected, or a combination of elected and appointed. The number of sitting peers will be reduced by a third, although we are not prescribing the process for that; it will be up to the parties in the other place to decide. In 2020, a further third will come in under the new system, and then again in 2025. There are other ways of staging the transition, however, and the White Paper sets out two of them.
To conclude, history teaches us that completing the unfinished business of Lords reform is not without challenges. Our proposals are careful and balanced. They represent evolution, not revolution, and are a typically British change. I hope that Members from both sides of the House and the other place will help us to get the proposals right. The Government are ready to listen and are prepared to adapt, but we are determined, in the end, to act. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for advance sight of the statement, and for how he chaired the working group—squaring the views of Lord Strathclyde with those of the rest of us was nothing short of a master class in conflict resolution. I am also pleased to see the Prime Minister here supporting the Deputy Prime Minister. The latter must feel like the manager of West Ham seeing his chairman after the final whistle on Saturday. I hope he has a better outcome than the chairman—I mean the manager—of West Ham had on Saturday.
I agree that our politics and constitution are in need of reform. Like the Deputy Prime Minister’s party, Labour had a manifesto commitment to create a fully elected second Chamber. Let us be frank: Lords reform is not near the top of any of our constituents’ priorities. They are more interested—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am grateful for that support; I am not sure whether the Deputy Prime Minister is. Our constituents are more interested in their schools and hospitals, and whether they will have a job at the end of the year. This is about how we write the laws that affect us, including laws on schools and hospitals, and who writes those laws, so if we are doing it, we have to get it right.
The present situation is unsustainable. The Lords has more than 800 Members, and the Prime Minister intends to pack in another 200, at great expense to the taxpayer—117 have already been added since May 2010—while at the same time cutting the number of elected Members in this House. More unelected, fewer elected—and he calls it progress. I fear that the Deputy Prime Minister will soon realise that the Tories are the real obstacle to reform, just as they were when we were in power.
It is important that we get the details right. The Deputy Prime Minister says that he supports a fully elected second Chamber, yet he is unveiling a Bill today that leaves at least 20% appointed, plus bishops, plus Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister. The Joint Committee will have a built-in Government majority, so the idea of it overturning anything of substance in the Bill by next year is unrealistic. These proposals risk being a dog’s dinner, with nobody happy at the outcome— not even the Lib Dem activists, whom the Deputy Prime Minister is trying to appease. After 12 months in office, he has nothing new to say on Lords reform, but is simply putting out proposals that kick the issue into the long grass.
Before the Deputy Prime Minister delegates responsibility for the Bill to the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is the Minister responsible for political and constitutional reform, and to Lord Strathclyde, can he answer these 11 questions on the proposals?
Bearing in mind that the country comprehensively rejected the AV system two weeks ago, is the Deputy Prime Minister seriously suggesting that he should impose a system of proportional representation for the second Chamber without consulting the electorate? What powers does he want a reformed House of Lords to have? How will he deal with the conventions that currently govern the relationship between the two Chambers? Does he believe that the relationship should be codified? What role does he envisage for the bishops in the second Chamber, and why 12? Can he set out the cost of a reformed second Chamber? If it is possible that no peers would be forced to leave until 2025, what does he predict the maximum size and cost of the second Chamber will be in the interim? Will he confirm that he wants reform on the statute book by the next election? Will he confirm whether he intends to use the Parliament Acts to force the proposals through? Will he also confirm whether coalition MPs and peers will be whipped to vote for the Bill when it comes out of the Joint Committee? Finally, will he allow a debate on his Bill in Government time before the summer recess?
The Deputy Prime Minister has confirmed by the publication of this Bill just how irrelevant he and his party are in the coalition Government. I am afraid that the Bill, the White Paper and the whole process are a huge anticlimax.
Not only did the right hon. Gentleman fluff the lines at the beginning, he also failed to rise to the occasion. This is an occasion when, for once, he could put aside his sour observations and try to work across parties, as we have in the cross-party Committee, to make some progress not only, I should remind Opposition Members, on something that was in their manifesto—by the way, so was AV, but a fat lot of good that did us all—but on something that we have been discussing as a country for almost 100 years. If that is not long enough, I do not know what is.
Before I turn to some of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, let me address the vital issue, which he has raised once again, about a wholly or mainly elected second Chamber. It would be so much easier to take the right hon. Gentleman’s admonitions in favour of 100% seriously if, during the 13 years under Labour, more had been delivered than 0%. Given that the country has been debating House of Lords reform for more than a century and that all three parties made a manifesto commitment on this issue last year, it is crucial not to make the best the enemy of the good. We have set out in the Bill how an 80:20 split would work, and we have maintained the option in the White Paper of moving to 100% if that is what people want. That is exactly what we will submit to the Joint Committee.
Turning to the right hon. Gentleman’s questions, the cost is almost impossible to estimate at this stage, without knowing precisely what the final composition of the House of Lords will be or the method of transition from where we are now to where we want to be in 2025. In the Bill, we have proposed a staged election—or election and appointment—by thirds in 2015, 2020 and 2025, alongside a staged reduction, commensurate with that, from the House of Lords as it is at the moment.
We will leave it to the House of Lords itself to decide the precise method of reduction by thirds. We have set out two options in the White Paper. One would involve moving to the full reduction of the size of the House of Lords to 300 immediately in 2015; the other would be to do nothing until 2025, which would mean that the reformed House of Lords would have become very large indeed in 15 years’ time. We would then make the reduction at that point. Those are exactly the kinds of issues that we will invite the Joint Committee to look at.
I can confirm our determination to see the reform of the House of Lords reach the statute book in time for the elections in 2015. We want to see the first elections to a reformed House of Lords take place in 2015. We will treat this legislation as we treat all Government legislation. This is something to which both our manifestos—in fact, all the manifestos—are committed, and it is clearly set out in the coalition agreement. We will use all the legislative tools at our disposal to deliver on that commitment.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister appreciate that there will be a warm welcome for the fact that he is introducing a draft Bill? We look forward to its being thoroughly scrutinised by the Joint Committee. Will he please explain how the balance of power between the two Houses of Parliament will change when an elected second Chamber competes with this House and its Members for democratic legitimacy?
We discussed this in the cross-party Committee. It is precisely to avoid competition between the two Houses that the Bill and the White Paper propose different systems of election, different geographical constituencies—the Lords would not represent constituencies in the way that we understand in this House—and non-renewable 15-year terms. Bicameral systems in other countries show that, as long as the mandate and the term in one House are very different from those in the other, an asymmetrical relationship can be preserved.
The stated aims of the proposal are clearly legitimacy and accountability. How would an election system that leaves the electorate unable to understand who they have elected add to legitimacy, and how would accountability be aided by 15-year non-renewable terms, during which there would be no power of recall for the electorate? Is it not true that a mandate given to the second Chamber would reduce the mandate of this House?
I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the insight that it is best to have long non-renewable terms in the other place in a reformed House of Lords precisely to avoid such conflict with the other place was not established by the present Government or the cross-party Committee I chaired; rather, it is an idea that has enjoyed consensus from the days of the Wakeham commission onwards. If we look at the proposals from a cross-party group of MPs, which were given considerable support by the previous Labour Government in 2005—the “Breaking the Deadlock” proposals—we find that a preference was made not only for non-renewable terms of between 12 and 14 years, but for the single transferable vote. These are not new proposals: they are drawn from a lot of insights identified by others from all parties in the past.
Given that this issue has been on the agenda of Parliament for so long and that reforming the second Chamber is now the settled will of the leadership of all three parties, is not the test of this Bill whether the leadership of those parties makes sure that the democratically elected Members of Parliament prevail in a reform that is long overdue and that the proposals are not derailed by people who are not elected, but are either hereditary or appointed—a completely unacceptable branch of a modern democratic legislature?
I strongly agree with my right hon. Friend in the basic principle that people should be able to hold to account those who make the laws of the land by which the people of this country have to abide. That is a simple democratic principle: it is not new; it is shared by Members of all parties; it is widely recognised as a simple democratic principle across the democratic world. It is interesting to note that there are still people even in this democratically elected Chamber who seem to resist that very principle.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister not agree that a sounder approach would be to decide what we want the House of Lords to do and what its functions should be before we decide how it is made up? Otherwise, we are in the situation of picking the team before we have decided what game it is going to play. Surely if it is to be elected, any self-respecting elected Members of the upper House will not feel themselves bound by the customs and practice that have applied to an unelected Chamber—and we will thus get conflict between this Chamber and the upper Chamber.
We already know the role of the House of Lords—scrutiny and revision. Every time this issue has been examined by a range of cross-party groups—the Wakeham commission was just one of many examples—the same conclusion has been reached: namely, those powers should remain the same and as long as the mandate, the electoral system and the terms of those elected in the other place are different, the basic relationship between the two Houses can remain constant.
I just do not recognise that. A commitment was made by the hon. Gentleman’s party, by the Labour party and by the party I lead and it was set out very clearly in all three manifestos of the main parties, so I do not think it can conceivably be described as a private preoccupation for one politician or another. This is an issue that we have been debating as a country for over a century. A very simple principle is at stake: do we believe, yes or no, that it is a good thing in a democracy for people to be able to hold those who make the laws of the land directly to account? According to our manifestos, all of us believe that that is the right principle; it is therefore right for this Government to try, on a consensual, open and pragmatic basis, to reach agreement so that we can finally put that principle into practice.
Most people will agree that the House of Lords has become too large, but that could be changed by all the parties agreeing to stop making so many new Lords. I do not know what happens on the buses in Sheffield and what people on those buses are saying, but I certainly know that people on the Clapham omnibus in my area are not demanding the reform of the House of Lords, as they have many, many higher priorities, yet they must see huge amounts of time, effort and money being wasted on this reform.
Of course I accept that many issues that we discuss in the Chamber, and many issues with which any Government must deal, may not resonate on the doorsteps, but they may none the less be significant and important to our national life. I think we all agree that it is important for world trade rules to work properly, but that is not an issue that is raised with me on the doorstep very often. It is important for us to get local government finance right, and that too is not raised on the doorstep very often, but it is none the less significant and important. The fact that an issue is not raised with us by our constituents does not mean that it is not worthy of debate. If that is not the case, I cannot imagine why Government after Government have debated this very issue for nearly a century
Is this not yet another tatty roadshow brought to us by the same people who thought that the British people wanted the alternative vote? If the Deputy Prime Minister really believes that the British people want this reform—and I note that he makes no criticism at all of the way in which the House of Lords currently does its job—why does he not submit these proposals to a referendum, and let the British people decide?
Does the Deputy Prime Minister recognise that Lords reform is essentially a penalty shoot-out in which no one will score, because nearly everyone is opposing nearly everyone else’s proposed reforms? If we are to join him in this constitutional version of the fantasy football league, will he tell us whether there will be a limit to the number of Members of the House of Lords who can be appointed by virtue of being Ministers, whether it will be possible for elected Members to be appointed as Ministers, and why there is still discrimination in favour of one Church and England in respect of the Lords spiritual?
Whatever one’s views about the Church, it is a fact that it is an established Church, and that is reflected in the composition of the House of Lords. As for ministerial appointments by the Prime Minister, we think it acceptable in principle—and this is another matter that we would invite the Joint Committee to examine—for future Prime Ministers to make supernumerary appointments of Ministers to the reformed House of Lords, but only for the duration of their holding of ministerial office. In other words, there would be a temporary mechanism whereby Ministers appointed by the Prime Minister could be held to account by one or other of the Houses in Westminster.
It would not be up to me, or to any members of future Governments, to make such selections. Core to the proposals in the Bill for the model of 80% elected and 20% appointed is the making of appointments by an entirely independent and statutory appointments commission, the process conducted in an entirely open and meritocratic manner.
I must tell the Deputy Prime Minister that I have never seen less enthusiasm for a Minister’s proposals on the Government Benches. He should have looked behind him.
Being a sporting sort of person—as I am sure he is—would the Deputy Prime Minister be willing to bet me whatever sum he thinks appropriate that his proposed system will not be in place, or anywhere near it, in 2015?
Given that the hon. Gentleman and other Members in all parts of the House fought a general election last year on a manifesto commitment to House of Lords reform, given that, as I explained earlier, we have been discussing it as a country for a very long time, and given our determination in government to see the first step in these changes made in 2015, I am determined to prove the hon. Gentleman wrong.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his modest progress. The plain fact is that an unelected Lords is an illegitimate Lords, and that weakens the Lords and weakens Parliament as a whole. An elected Lords is a strong Lords, and that strengthens Parliament as a whole. Does my right hon. Friend not find it faintly ridiculous that after 13 years of abject failure, the dinosaurs over there are only interested in feather-bedding the dinosaurs upstairs?
As I said earlier, the Church is an established Church. We have set out proposals in the Bill, however, under which if progress were to be made on a largely elected, but partly appointed, House of Lords, on a supernumerary basis the Church would be represented but on a much smaller scale than we now—[Interruption.] The Bill envisages a cut from 26 bishops to 12.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister remind the House how many other countries elect people for 15 years—and he will have to do better than citing the likes of Papua New Guinea and Fiji this time? Does he not understand that having people there for 15 years will be the worst of all worlds, because they will claim democratic accountability to confront this elected House but they will be accountable to no one?
As I said earlier, the idea that in a reformed House of Lords there should be long non-renewable terms is not new. It has been put forward on numerous occasions before, and with cross-party support. However, if Members feel that is a step too far or the period of time is too long, that is exactly the kind of point on which the Joint Committee should seek to make representations.
I welcome these proposals, but may I suggest that the Deputy Prime Minister might have included in his roll call of thanks the late Robin Cook, as it is often forgotten that under his leadership this House narrowly—by just three votes—failed to support an 80% elected Lords back in 2003? The Deputy Prime Minister knows that these proposals will go nowhere unless he is prepared to use the Parliament Acts. Will he now commit to using them if these proposals are blocked in the other place?
As I have said, we are very keen to proceed on as consensual and pragmatic a basis as possible. [Interruption.] If I may just finish, we are presenting the Bill and the White Paper today. We hope the Joint Committee will be established before the summer, and it can then do a thorough job of applying pre-legislative scrutiny to the proposals we are publishing today, with a view to our submitting final draft legislation in the next Session. The Bill will be treated in the same way as any other Government legislation. It was part of all our manifestos and features in the coalition agreement, and if we cannot make headway by any other means, we will use all the legitimate instruments at our disposal to get the Bill implemented before the next general election. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about Robin Cook: I am very happy to recognise that it was an omission not to acknowledge the very significant role played by Robin Cook—and also, dare I say, by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) and many other Opposition Members, who have for many years argued precisely the case we are seeking to promote today.
The Deputy Prime Minister will know that the draft Bill states that nothing in these proposals shall affect the primacy of the House of Commons. As nobody else has been able to define what “primacy” means, how does the Deputy Prime Minister propose to define it?
Primacy is clearly set out in the two Parliament Acts, and was also clearly set out in my earlier statement. My view is that the fact of greater election to another Chamber does not in and of itself mean the balance between the two Houses is seriously disturbed. That is confirmed by examples of bicameral systems elsewhere in the democratic world.
The Deputy Prime Minister keeps asserting that the conventions will stay the same, but when the other place has 100% elected Senators or Lords and they take a different view from him, how will he assert this House’s authority over another elected House?
Does my right hon. Friend see these proposals as a means of empowering the voices of the devolved nations and the English regions? Manifestly, that will be achieved by electing people, rather than hand-picking appointees, in order to achieve balance across the country as a whole.
Clearly, a proportional electoral system, whichever one is finally settled on, would be reflective of opinion across the whole of the United Kingdom, so people across the United Kingdom can look forward to this as providing a greater reflection of opinions the length and breadth of the land.
Will the Deputy Prime Minister give an undertaking that the Joint Committee that is to be set up will include representatives from the smaller parties represented in Parliament, unlike the Committee that he set up previously, which brought forward this Bill?
This is clearly not something for the Government to decide; it is up to the usual channels, and I know that a number of conversations have already been had. Clearly, the ambition is—or should be, at least—that the Joint Committee embraces the widest possible opinion from this House.
When asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing) how one would resolve a clash between the two Houses, the Deputy Prime Minister said, “Well, this is why we are going to have different electoral systems, with proportional representation for the reformed Chamber.” Given that he believes that proportional representation is more democratic than first past the post, which of the two Chambers would he believe to be taking the correct decision if there were a clash on the basis that he outlined?
I am surprised that the Deputy Prime Minister should be focusing on this issue, given that in the local elections in Sheffield people were bothered only about jobs, inflation and getting his party out of the town hall. However, how can he describe his vision as “representative” or “democratic”, given that it would give representation to those who are members of the Church of England but would not give it to those of Jewish faith, Catholic faith or Muslim faith?
The Catholic Church prohibits its bishops from sitting in Parliaments and political bodies. Leaders of other faiths—I was in discussion with the Chief Rabbi just yesterday—also recognise that they do not possess the hierarchies that would allow them to provide that kind of representation. Those leaders of other faiths have long accepted, acknowledged and supported the idea of continued representation of the established Church in this country, even in a reformed House of Lords.
May I say to the Deputy Prime Minister that it is the view of many on the Government Benches that we did not come to this place to vote for measures that will undermine the democratic supremacy and legitimacy of this House? It is widely known that, as he said in his remarks, he has passionate and long-held views on what should happen to the other place. Others of us have equally strong and passionate opposing views. Why does he seem to be indicating to the House today that he is not going to follow the example of what happened in March 2007 and February 2003, when this House last voted on these measures, and offer everyone in this House a free vote, so that they can vote with their conscience?
Of course I acknowledge that people will have different views, will feel strongly about the matter and will come at it from different directions. The fact is that last year all of us, notwithstanding some relatively minor differences between our manifestos, stood before the British people on manifesto commitments to see reform to the other place finally be delivered. We will of course have further debates, deliberation and argument, not least in the Joint Committee, but this is Government business, this is in the coalition agreement and it is a manifesto commitment from Members in all parts of the House, and it should be proceeded with on that basis.
Against the background of events a few days ago when the British people voted by 70% to throw out the alternative vote, has it not yet crossed the Deputy Prime Minister’s mind that he has probably been set up by his Tory friends to do this job today?
Never occurred to me, Mr Speaker—never. The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that any electoral change or changes to the electoral system can only be preceded by a referendum. It is worth remembering that we have changed electoral systems in this country on many occasions—for the European Parliament, the London assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament—and that the Government are proposing to do it for elected mayors; all without referendums.
Only a fifth of the current Members of the House of Lords are women yet we still have the anachronism of places effectively being reserved for men in the form of bishops. There might be differences of opinion in this House about the merits of all-women shortlists, but surely we can all agree that in terms of diversity the last thing Parliament needs is de facto all-male shortlists. How will the Government take the opportunity presented by reforming the House of Lords to create a more diverse Parliament that better reflects society?
We cover this in the White Paper. My hon. Friend is right to say that a reform of the other place presents all political parties—and, I must stress, the party I lead in particular—with an opportunity to have greater diversity in those who represent us in a reformed House of Lords. It is primarily for the political parties to decide how they will use the mechanism of a new form of election to ensure that there is greater diversity in the candidates they put forward.
May I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s commitment to bringing to House of Lords reform the same golden touch that he brought to the AV referendum? In practical terms, what will a wholly or partly elected House of Lords be able to do that the current House of Lords cannot?
It would fulfil the same function as it has at the moment, but it would do so with far greater legitimacy because it would be more directly accountable. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously proposing that there is something wrong with the argument of principle that those who have a hand in crafting the laws of this land should be directly accountable to the millions of people who have to abide by the laws of this land? I understand that there is a lot of point-scoring going on, but surely that basic principle is something that even he would not deny.
I would like to see every vote cast in our democratic Parliament cast by individuals who have been elected. We should all recognise, however, the widespread respect among our constituents for the spoken contributions made in the other place by Cross Benchers. Has my right hon. Friend or his Committee considered measures by which they could be allowed to stay in the House of Lords so long as the votes were the exclusive preserve of those who had been elected?
Clearly, one of the features of the proposal we are including in the draft Bill—namely, 80% elected Members and 20% appointed by an independent statutory appointments body—is that those appointed Members would sit not as party representatives but as Cross Benchers.
May I suggest to the right hon. Member that he is confusing legitimacy with accountability? Although election before one takes office might give legitimacy, it certainly does not give accountability. Accountability comes from an election after one has done things over the 15 year period. Will he reflect on that?
I think the hon. Gentleman has some force to his argument, but one thing we were keen to preserve in the cross-party Committee was that any reform should be designed in a manner that would allow elected Members of any reformed House of Lords to retain a certain independence and even distance from party politics. A lengthy non-renewable term was seen as one way of delivering that, not only by the cross-party Committee that I chaired but by many other cross-party Committees that have considered the issue in the past.
Is it not the case that if Members of the second Chamber are elected on a constituency basis, however big those constituencies are, and members of the public disagree with what their Member of Parliament has advised them, they will inevitably turn to Members of the second Chamber? Is the Deputy Prime Minister not therefore setting up a conflict that members of the public do not want to see?
First, as I said earlier, this House will have the final say—that will remain. Secondly, I think there is a world of difference between the number of people whom we all represent as Members of this House and the hundreds of thousands who would be represented by individual elected Members in any reformed House of Lords. That would be clearly understood by the public as providing a much greater and more direct mandate to those of us in this House than to those elected to the other House.
Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that he has had discussions with Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, on Lords reform? Given the wonderful and historic scenes we have seen with our Queen in Dublin this afternoon, should not this Parliament also catch up with the modern world and ensure that in a democracy all Chambers try to reflect the democratic wishes of the people they aim to represent?
I broadly welcome the proposals to elect our second Chamber and I shall certainly be supporting them. We have had some assurances from the Deputy Prime Minister on the incredibly long term in office of 15 years. Two weeks ago, the people of Brigg and Goole on the same day kicked out their Labour council and replaced it with a Conservative council, and voted by a margin of about 70% to reject a change in the electoral system. Is the electoral system also up for discussion along with the multi-Member constituencies? Will the Deputy Prime Minister at least listen to us on that?
As I said, in the draft Bill we have proposed one system—the single transferable vote—primarily because it seems to be the system that gives the fullest individual mandate to elected Members rather than casting them in a party political light. It is the individual independence of spirit in the other place that everyone agrees should be preserved, but there are alternatives. In the White Paper—I know that Opposition Members feel particularly strongly about this—there is the alternative of a party list system, which we have said is available to us, as explained in the White Paper. If that is where the debate takes us, we are very open to those alternatives.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister share the views of his hon. Friend the Liberal Democrat president, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), that Members elected in a different Chamber by STV will have greater legitimacy than Members of this House? Does he still believe that Members elected in another Chamber will be banned from then standing for election to this Chamber, and is that concordant with the Human Rights Act 1998?
We have looked into the latter point and it is consistent with the Human Rights Act. The draft Bill envisages—this enjoyed cross-party support on the Committee I chaired—that someone from the other place would not be able to stand for election to this place unless they had completed a cooling-off period of one term. Clearly, we do not want to transform the other place into a sort of launch pad for people’s careers in this place. The reverse, however, would not be the case.
Surely the answer to the points made by the hon. Members for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) is that the two archbishops and 10 senior diocesan bishops will bring to a reformed House of Lords considerable wisdom and expertise. On the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) about diversity, I hope that by 2015 the House will have had the opportunity of voting to legislate for the appointment of women bishops.
As I specified earlier, all we are envisaging is that if future Prime Ministers wish to appoint Ministers, they must make sure that those Ministers are for the duration of their ministerial office held to account by either this place or the other place, and that one way of achieving that objective, which is to enhance and strengthen the accountability of the Executive to the legislature, is to allow Prime Ministers in a small number of cases to appoint Ministers on a supernumerary basis for a temporary period during the time that they hold ministerial office.
A reform of the House of Lords is undoubtedly needed, but this is not a reform measure. It contemplates the abolition of the House of Lords and, with that, reduced diversity and reduced expertise in our public life. Why did not the Deputy Prime Minister use this opportunity genuinely to reform the House of Lords by adopting the Bill of the noble Lord Steel, which would remedy many of the deficits that currently exist?
In many respects the provisions of Lord Steel’s Bill are in part covered by the proposals that we are putting forward. For instance, one of the central planks of his Bill is that there should be an independent statutory appointments commission. That is exactly what is envisaged in this Bill. Another part of Lord Steel’s Bill provides for retirement of existing Members of the House of Lords. That has been taken up by the Leader of the Lords already. I do not think the ideas in Lord Steel’s Bill are incompatible with the longer-term reforms that we are proposing today.
As I said earlier, every time that has been looked at on a cross-party basis, the conclusion has been reached that in order to entrench rather than undermine the difference between the other place and this House, it is best to do so by giving any elected Members of a reformed House of Lords a long, non-renewable term so that they are not subject to the normal short-term temptations of party politics, to which some of us might be subject in this place.
May I remind the Deputy Prime Minister and the House that the Japanese recently reformed their upper House from an appointed House to an elected House? That led to a huge loss of talent, a situation where the upper House has a complete veto over most legislation of the lower elected House, and legislative stalemate. Would we not be very foolish to embark on these reforms?
First, I do not accept the principal assertion that if someone has the audacity to stand for election, somehow they do not have talent. That conclusion would not be favourable to anyone in the House. The assumption that wisdom and expertise can be possessed only by those who have not subjected themselves to election is an assumption that I have always found curious. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman refers to what happened in Japan, but he should look at bicameral systems across the democratic world that manage a relationship between one Chamber and the other perfectly well, even though there is election to both.
It is obviously right for a Government to proceed on a basis of consensus, given that this is a major constitutional change and all three parties supported it in their last manifestos, as the Deputy Prime Minister rightly pointed out. I hope that across the House Members will do their best, when scrutinising the Bill, to ensure that it becomes law so that the next elections can take place in 2015, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested. Does he agree that although it is important to proceed on the basis of consensus, there is also a danger that proceeding on too much consensus could lead to the lowest common denominator and a Bill being introduced that no one supports? There is already a danger that it will offend people who want a fully elected House and offend everybody who is not a member of the Church of England. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that one of the lessons of the AV referendum is that if people compromise