House of Commons
Thursday 10 May 2012
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Committee of Selection
That Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Alan Campbell, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Michael Fabricant, Yvonne Fovargue, Mr Mark Francois, Mark Hunter, Mark Tami and Angela Watkinson be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Session.—(Mr Randall.)
In accordance with Standing Order No. 122D I will now announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for the new Session.
Nominations should be submitted in the lower Table Office from 10 am to 5 pm on Wednesday 16 May.
Following the House’s decision of 12 March, only Members who do not belong to a party represented in Her Majesty’s Government may be candidates in this election.
If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will take place in the Division Lobbies from 11 am to 1 pm on Thursday 17 May.
A briefing note with more details about the election will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.
Business of the House
Following the brief—sorry. Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
We got there in the end.
Mr Speaker, you informed the House on Wednesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be:
Monday 14 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be business and the economy.
Tuesday 15 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be foreign affairs and international development.
Wednesday 16 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be the cost of living.
Thursday 17 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subject will be jobs and growth.
The provisional business for the week commencing 21 May will include:
Monday 21 May—Remaining stages of the Local Government Finance Bill.
Tuesday 22 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Financial Services Bill (Day 2), followed by Third Reading of the Civil Aviation Bill.
Wednesday 23 May—Second Reading of the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill, followed by a European document relating to the proceeds of crime.
Thursday 24 May—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 24 May will be:
Thursday 24 May—Debate on the operations of the family courts.
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement and apologise for my slightly unfocused beginning; I was lost in admiration for the work that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) has done as Chair of the Backbench Business Committee and rather wondering whether, and hoping that, she would consider standing again.
Following the brief announcement yesterday of the Government’s legislative programme, the Deputy Prime Minister said in a letter to his party activists that it showed that
“Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight”.
At last, we have an acknowledgement from them—that they are in the political lightweight division. After all, this is a party that was beaten at the polls last week by a man dressed as a penguin.
The Deputy Prime Minister added in desperation that the Queen’s Speech
“has a firm Liberal Democrat stamp on it”—
and he was right. It had nothing to say on the economy; nothing to say on getting people back to work; nothing to help hard-pressed families. All that Liberal Democrats want to do is sit around and debate House of Lords reform. The Leader of the House has announced six days of debate on the Government's packed legislative programme. Will he find time for a debate about how the Liberal Democrats are punching above their weight?
Will the Leader of the House find time also for the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), to participate in that debate? After all, he said of the Government last year:
“We don’t know what we’re doing”
after 2011, and
“we’ve run out of ideas”.
Will the Leader of the House coax the right hon. Gentleman out of whatever cupboard they have put him in and get him to the Chamber so that we can congratulate him on being correct?
Before the Queen’s Speech the Conservative Chair of the Public Administration Committee said that the Government lacked a compelling vision. Today it is clear: the problem is not that they lack a compelling vision, but that they lack any vision at all. The Leader of the House was unable to find time for a debate on the Committee’s report before the Queen’s Speech. Will he now finally do so?
While his economic plan is failing, the part-time Chancellor is focused on his other job of managing the Conservatives’ election strategy. As Thursday’s local elections showed, that is going very well. Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating the new Chipping Norton set of Labour councillors elected in the Prime Minister’s constituency last Thursday? They join more than 800 other new Labour councillors elected up and down the country.
After last week’s polls, the Prime Minister said that he wanted to listen. Why does he not meet his new Labour councillors, who will be able to tell this out-of-touch Prime Minister what the electorate are really saying? He will not even have to ban photographs of that meeting. On that very point, we learned this week that the Prime Minister arranged to meet Rebekah Brooks at a point-to-point meeting so long as they were not seen together. Meanwhile, the Culture Secretary hides behind a tree so that members of the press do not spot him meeting James Murdoch. That sums up the Government—wrong choices, wrong priorities.
Can the Leader of the House confirm that prior to appearances before the Leveson inquiry, Ministers still have to account for their actions to the House and that the ministerial code still covers them? Following yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, the Institute of Directors said that the Government were beginning to lose the confidence of UK plc, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers complained that there was no industrial strategy, and the British Chambers of Commerce wanted more support for jobs and growth. Even today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph asks, “Why was there no plan for growth?”
Will the Leader of the House find time for a statement on the Government’s elusive plan for growth? Slashing employment rights is no substitute for a growth strategy. The Government’s disastrous economic policy has led to massive unemployment, growing inequality and a double-dip recession. The out-of-touch Chancellor thinks that the solution is a huge tax cut for millionaires. A Cabinet Minister says that the Government have no ideas, while a senior Back Bencher says that they have no vision. It is little wonder that, abandoning the No. 10 rose garden, the Prime Minister and his deputy went this week to a factory to relaunch the Government. It was a factory where big blue tractors pulled small yellow trailers. What an apt metaphor for this Government.
Mr Speaker, before I address the issues raised by the hon. Lady, I should say that you will have seen today’s announcement of the death of Lord Glenamara, who, as Ted Short, was Leader of the House from 1974 to 1976—my first two years in the House. He has left his name as the author of Short money, an important constitutional reform that enables Opposition parties better to hold the Government to account. As Leader of the House, he gave the shortest answers at business questions; whatever was asked for, the answer was “not next week”. The answers today may still be the same, but they are at least couched in more user-friendly terms when people ask for a debate.
The local elections did not produce a famous set of results for the governing parties, but if we add together the votes for the two coalition parties, we find that we comprehensively beat the Labour party. The Labour party was, of course, beaten by a monkey in Hartlepool and it did not even put up a candidate in more than 110 wards—the penguin did not even have a chance to beat the Labour party because the Labour party did not stand.
I move on to the Queen’s Speech. The hon. Lady complains that there is not much in it; if that is right, I hope that we will have no complaints from her on a Thursday that the Government have not allowed adequate time to debate the legislative programme. If she looks at that programme, she will see that we are addressing a whole range of issues that her party simply ducked when it was in government—energy, electricity market reform, public sector pensions, House of Lords reform, adult care and executive pay. Her side ducked all those policies, but we are now dealing with them.
On high rates of tax, the fact is that for 13 years Labour’s top rate was not 50% or 45%; it was 40%. Labour left us with a legacy of a 50% tax rate that raised no money at all and a letter saying that there was no money left. As a result of the Budget, those earning above £150,000 will pay £1,300 a year more, which means that there will be less pressure on those who are not in the top tax bracket, who will obviously pay less. The question to which we have not had the answer is whether, if Labour Members know that that rate raises very little, they are pledged to reinstate it.
Turning to the question of Ministers, of course Ministers remain subject to the ministerial code, and of course they are accountable to Parliament for the actions that they take.
On growth, if the hon. Lady looks at the Queen’s Speech she will see that it contains some good Bills for businesses. There is an enterprise Bill giving employers more confidence to hire new staff and grow, there are repeals to save businesses time and money, there is a £3 billion green investment bank to stimulate the green economy, and there is an energy Bill delivering long-term, affordable electricity. Also, we have just had the Budget, and the Finance Bill is going through the House at the moment. That is the main vehicle for economic policy rather than the Queen’s Speech. The Budget included cuts to corporation tax, more funding for the Business Finance Partnership, the scrapping of health and safety legislation, investment in technology, and more investment in infrastructure—all in addition to the measures that we announced in the autumn statement last year. Of course there is more administrative action that we can take and will take. We have set our course and we must stick to it. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting higher growth in the UK this year than in Germany, France and the eurozone. I very much hope that we will have the hon. Lady’s support for the measures in the Queen’s Speech, which promote growth in this country.
Southeastern has just opened a consultation on its December rail timetable, which presents the Department for Transport with an opportunity to give commuters in Orpington the fast services during peak hours for which they have been crying out for a long time. May we please have a debate on the urgency of providing Orpington with a service that is commensurate with the town’s importance and its sizeable commuter base?
My hon. Friend speaks for the large number of commuters in his constituency who need a fast train service into the centre of the capital. As a former Transport Secretary, I understand the importance of what he has said. My understanding is that the Department for Transport has to sign off any revised timetable, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will need to be satisfied that it meets the aspirations of my hon. Friend’s constituents. I will certainly pass on his concern to her so that she can be aware of it before any such validation takes place.
I think we would all agree that we owe the late Ted Short a debt of gratitude as a former Leader of the House and deputy leader of the Labour party.
May I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) for drawing my attention to the colour of the tractors and the trailers in Basildon? I now have a mental picture of the wheels coming off.
Will the Leader of the House tell us when the Government intend to make time available for a debate on the report by the Joint Committee that considered the beleaguered draft Bill on the so-called reform of the House of Lords? Given the comprehensive trashing of the draft Bill not only by those who are opposed to reform but by anyone who has any constitutional understanding whatsoever, it would be quite useful if we could have a debate to expose its weaknesses.
Listening to that question, one would not have believed that the right hon. Gentleman stood for election on three manifestos committed to House of Lords reform. The Joint Committee reported a few days ago. The Government want to reflect on the recommendations in its report in order to see whether we need to amend the draft Bill that was published last year. There will then be a House of Lords reform Bill, and so there will be a debate on that. I anticipate that the Bill will be introduced before the summer recess.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the regional growth fund? Yesterday I got a letter from the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), saying that the National Audit Office is going to find that the money from the regional growth fund has been very positive for jobs and growth. There is a further £1 billion available for growing businesses that is due to expire this month. A statement from the Minister would be very valuable in publicising that opportunity.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding the House that £1 billion is available. We are a month away from the deadline for bidding under round 3. I am sure that all hon. Members with prospects in their constituency for the regional growth fund will encourage businesses to put bids forward. On her bid for a debate on this matter, there will be such an opportunity on Wednesday when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will update the House on the steps that we have taken to promote growth and employment in regions of the country that need further help.
Does the Leader of the House share my view that the recent trial and conviction of nine men for child abuse in Rochdale should lead us immediately to have a thorough debate in the House on what on earth was going on? I have a long-held interest in this matter. Indeed, I secured a Westminster Hall debate on it back in January 2009. It surprises me that the Secretary of State for Education has not indicated that he will be at the Dispatch Box to discuss this terrible case of child abuse, but has leaked his reaction to it to the press. He should be here at the Dispatch Box, leading a debate on the matter.
I am sure that the whole House agrees with the hon. Gentleman about the seriousness of the offences that have been revealed and about the need to take action to ensure that vulnerable girls are not subjected to the abuse to which those ones were subjected. I hope that it will be possible in today’s debate on home affairs and justice for hon. Members to intervene on the issues that he has mentioned. He will have seen the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education on the steps that he has taken to ensure that those in care homes are not subjected to the abuse to which those girls were subjected.
He should be making that statement to the House.
The hon. Gentleman says that my right hon. Friend should be here. The subjects for the Queen’s Speech debate are chosen by the Opposition, not by the Government, so I resist his accusation that we have not found time for a debate on this matter.
There is recognition from leaders of the Pakistani community that there is a cultural issue that needs to be addressed. I assure the hon. Gentleman that this is an issue that the Government take seriously, as he will have seen from the statement by my right hon. Friend. I hope that the next time my right hon. Friend appears for questions, he will have an opportunity to update the House on the steps that are being taken.
May we have a debate at the start of this Session on the future of business statements? As is demonstrated by serious contributions such as that of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), Members have an appetite for something more than the tiresome trivia that have become a habit at these events. At the least, could we reform the business statement to make it an opportunity to put the deliberations of the Backbench Business Committee centrestage in the House?
When, in due course, we establish a committee that deals with Government business as well as having a Backbench Business Committee, it will be a good opportunity to look at business statements, because if the regime for fixing the business of the House changes, we may need to change the way in which the business statement is made. I defend my hon. Friends from any accusation of the trivial use of business questions. I find them helpful to find out what concerns there are, certainly on the Government Benches, and on many occasions they influence the structure of debates.
Would it be possible, although I appreciate that it might not be next week, to have a debate about the way in which the arrangements for transferring child-related benefits from one parent to another are failing? They are failing fathers in particular. A number of constituents are coming to me to say that there are such delays with child benefit and other child-related tax benefits, and that they are finding themselves in severe financial hardship. The system is allowing bureaucracy to win over child welfare. It is time for us to have a debate on this matter, so that I do not have to go to a Minister every time it happens.
The hon. Lady raises a serious issue. Where there is no agreement between the mother and father about who is the recipient of child benefit, it falls to the Department to resolve the matter. In the absence of agreement, the receipt of benefit often stays where it is. That is often not with the parent who cares for the children. I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to see whether there are proposals to cut through the bureaucracy in coming to a fair decision, and to ensure that the parent who has the child gets the benefit that should go with them.
May we have a debate on the economic impact of prolonged roadworks? We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the roadworks on the M1 between junctions 6 and 14, which are having a major impact on businesses in Milton Keynes. Although I appreciate that the programme has been speeded up under this Government, can we please bring it to an early conclusion?
I will raise the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Speaking from memory, these contracts are let on lane rental terms, which means if they overrun, the contractor is out of pocket because he is paying rent for the lanes that are out of use. I take seriously the issue that my hon. Friend raises and I will share it with the Secretary of State for Transport and ask her to write to him.
I encourage the Leader of the House, as a former Transport Secretary, to seek the support of his successor for a debate on airport capacity in the south-east. I ask that in the context of speculation about the future of RAF Northolt, which is adjacent to my constituency and whose flight paths go across it. There has been much speculation about a substantial increase in business jet usage of RAF Northolt, about which many of my constituents are understandably concerned, so they would want to participate in the broader debate on that issue.
If the hon. Gentleman is ingenious, he may be able to raise the issue when we deal with the remaining stages of the Civil Aviation Bill, when there will be a two-hour debate. Subject to what the occupant of the Chair decides, it may be possible to raise the issue of Northolt during that debate; I will certainly forewarn the Minister replying to it that she is likely to get this matter coming in to land.
Vidal Sassoon, who passed away yesterday, revolutionised hair styling. This son of immigrants rose from a humble upbringing to become one of the best-known brands in the world. Emelia at Studio 21, Zak and Gennaro at Jagged Edge and Sugar at Sugaz in my own constituency are, in their own way, emulating that ambition. May we have a debate on behalf of the National Hairdressers Federation, which is based in Bedford, and in memory of Vidal Sassoon to talk about the positive role that hairdressers and barbers play in promoting entrepreneurship, supporting apprenticeships and making all of us, even given some challenges, look and feel a little bit better?
The whole House is grateful to my hon. Friend for his tribute to that noble profession of hairdressing. I am afraid I do not require very much time in the hairdresser’s chair to have my hair dealt with. There may be an opportunity in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to debate hairdressing, the role it can play in raising the nation’s morale and, of course, the contribution many hairdressers make to style—making even Members of the House look more attractive than they would otherwise.
Liver disease in young people is a rapidly growing problem. May we please have a debate on public health and the advertising and sponsorship of alcohol? We need to reduce alcohol misuse among young people.
The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. He will know that the Government have proposals to minimise the damage done by alcohol through proposals for minimum prices and more expensive duties on the drinks that do the most damage. I cannot promise a debate in the near future, but I hope there will be an opportunity, perhaps when the Backbench Business Committee gets up and running, to have a debate on the serious issue of liver disease.
Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on British manufacturing? In North Staffordshire, the success or otherwise of JCB has a great impact on the economy in Staffordshire Moorlands because of the number of people employed by JCB and the number of local businesses that supply JCB. It was great news to learn of last year’s record results—the best in the business’s 66-year history.
My hon. Friend raises a good issue, and I am delighted to read of JCB’s results, with turnover at a higher level and more than double the sales of 2009. That helps to provide jobs in my hon. Friend’s constituency, while many other smaller firms also benefit from what is happening. What she says shows that some of the steps we have taken to promote growth and bring down unemployment are taking root. I hope that many others will follow in the steps of JCB.
On Tuesday 29 May, people in Nottingham and beyond will use the social media site Twitter to promote our fine city by tweeting about its very many attractions and attempting to get Nottingham trending. There is a limit to what one can say in 140 characters or, indeed, at business questions, so will the Leader of the House make time for a debate about why Nottingham is such a great place in which to live, work and invest, and how the Government can support the city’s economic growth plan?
The city can be proud of the hon. Lady for using prime time in the House of Commons to promote the city she represents. As I said in response to an earlier question, it may be possible during the debate on the Queen’s Speech to find time for a speech in which, in more than the 140 words that she has just used, she may be able to pay tribute to the great city she represents, to encourage investment in it, tourism to it and further promote its prosperity.
Regional growth and enterprise zone policies are helping companies such as the Motor Industry Research Association and Jaguar Land Rover to create thousands of manufacturing jobs in the midlands, and, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the Engineering Employers Federation, extending “above the line” research and development tax credits will have a similar effect. Given that 22% of the work force in my constituency are engaged in manufacturing, that is obviously excellent news. May we have a debate on midlands manufacturing and the progress that it is making? That would help us to establish what more can be done to embed the present renaissance.
My hon. Friend may be able to speak in next Thursday’s debate. However, he has reminded the House of the success of the motor manufacturing industry in this country, with Jaguar Land Rover and some of the Japanese companies investing, succeeding and exporting. That is exactly the sort of rebalancing of the economy that the Government seek to promote, and I was delighted to hear of the success in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
I recently met my constituent Stephen Fletcher, who is a victim of thalidomide. He is concerned about the Government’s intentions in respect of maintaining financial support for thalidomide victims. Could the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Health to offer reassurance to Stephen, and to many others like him who are concerned about their futures?
Many of our constituencies contain thalidomide survivors, and I know that they are worried about what will happen after the three-year pilot fund of some £20 million runs out in March next year. The current pilot will be evaluated, and discussions are being held with the Thalidomide Trust’s national advisory council. When the discussions have ended and we have the results of the evaluation of the pilot, it will be possible for a statement to be made about the way forward. We do take seriously the problems of thalidomide survivors, who need reassurance that help will be available when the fund runs out.
May we have a debate on standards in our schools? I know from my work as a local school governor that there are many extremely dedicated teachers in my constituency, but I was concerned to learn from a mother recently that the marking policy in her children’s school is for teachers not to correct more than three spelling mistakes for fear of harming the children’s self-esteem. I am sure the Leader of the House agrees that that policy puts many young people at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs that require correct spelling. I think that it may be a hangover from national guidance in the past, and that the present Government would not be keen for it to continue.
That sounds to me like political correctness taken to excess. I am sure that it is in children’s interests for any spelling mistakes to be put right at an early stage, when they are at school, rather than possibly counting against them at a later stage. I hope that many of the steps that we have taken to promote the authority of head teachers to make schools more responsive to the needs of parents will encourage the adoption of the approach suggested by my hon. Friend, and that teachers will put mistakes right at an early stage rather than, out of misguided kindness, allowing them to fester and, perhaps, prove more damaging subsequently.
Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech included a commitment to a draft Bill on adult social care, which is a hugely complex and important subject. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should have debates on it during the new Session to ensure that the momentum of this important policy is not lost?
I agree with my hon. Friend. As I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, this was one of the issues that the last Government did not address. My hon. Friend may have heard Lord Warner, on this morning’s “Today” programme, basically saying that the Labour party had fought the last election on a false prospectus, holding out the prospect of a national social service but being totally unable to fund it.
We commissioned the Dilnot report, and a White Paper will be published this spring containing proposals on adult care. As my hon. Friend mentioned, there will then be a draft Bill to take the agenda forward. In the meantime, resources have been put into the national health service and adult services to give more support to social services departments, which I recognise are under pressure.
This morning I spoke at the UK and European symposium on addiction disorders, an issue which I know is of great concern to Mr Speaker. May we have a statement about Government policy on addiction, and its impact on families and on wider society? I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have dealt with casework in which addiction has been an issue, and have observed at first hand both its huge human cost and its financial cost, which is estimated to have been £110 billion in the UK last year alone.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. As he will know, we set out our drugs strategy in December 2010, and we are in the process of updating it. We will shortly publish a report on the achievements in the first year of the strategy, and it might be possible to “pin” a debate once the report becomes available. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for having spoken at the symposium this morning.
I am sure my right hon. Friend is aware that last week voter turnout in London was 7% above the national average, and I am sure the whole House will wish to congratulate Mayor Boris Johnson on his re-election and Ken Livingstone on his retirement from front-line politics. Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on devolving much more power to the Mayor of London so that Londoners can fully see and feel the benefit of having Boris Johnson as our Mayor?
Without wanting to put too much pressure on my coalition colleagues who sit on the Front Bench with me, I do, of course, congratulate Boris on his re-election, which was achieved with the support of my party and many of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches who worked tirelessly to get him re-elected. We have recently devolved more powers to the Mayor: powers under the Homes and Communities Agency have been transferred to the Greater London Authority; we have abolished the London Development Agency and transferred its activities to the GLA; and we have enabled the Mayor of London to establish a mayoral development corporation to oversee the long-term development of the Olympic park. I hope my hon. Friend will therefore see that we are in the process of devolving more powers to the Mayor of London.
In Great Yarmouth, the energy industry and the engineering industry that support it are growing exponentially, with companies having made and received investments of hundreds of millions of pounds: Perenco, Seajacks, ODE and Gardline are just a few of the companies that are struggling to keep up with demand. This is a good problem to have, so may we have a debate in Government time to examine and highlight the growth opportunities, particularly given what this Government have done for the energy sector and business in general?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. The green investment bank is coming on-stream, with billions of pounds available for investment, and the energy Bill, with its electricity market reform, will provide an opportunity for fresh investment in electricity generation. I am delighted that firms in my hon. Friend’s constituency are well placed to take advantage of the growth that has been achieved.
As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, 200 years ago tomorrow Spencer Perceval was assassinated in the House of Commons, yet the only thing marking where he fell are a few irregularly placed floor tiles. May we have a statement on whether we might put in place a more fitting memorial to that statesman?
The question of whether to have a statue or memorial is a matter not for the Government but for you, Mr Speaker, and the Commission. Spencer Perceval’s family used to live in my old constituency in Ealing, where a church, All Saints church, has been built in his memory and a concert is held to remember him. The mayor of the constituency he represented—Northampton, I think—will lay a wreath in his memory at the weekend. I will pursue, through the Commission, my hon. Friend’s suggestion of having a more fitting memorial to Spencer Perceval.
I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of the results of Thursday’s elections to Rugby borough council. By focusing on the efficient delivery of local services, the controlling Conservative group increased its proportion of councillors. Will my right hon. Friend consider finding time for a debate to make the point that local elections should remain exactly that: local?
I am delighted to hear of the good results in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I know that much of that was due to his tireless work on the doorstep, and I am sorry that I missed those results on the night. He makes a good point: local elections should be local. There is a lot of evidence that where local councillors perform well, that gets recognised in the ballot box and they outperform their party, which may not be doing so well. I am delighted that Rugby will continue to enjoy the benefits of having a Conservative-controlled local authority.
Total UK automotive exports have reached just under £30 billion, which is a record, and they increased by 15% last year alone. Our car trade deficit is now at its lowest since the mid-1970s. May we have a debate on the success of the automotive industry, its role in our national economy and—running through all of that—the Government’s work in promoting exports as a whole?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. Again, there may be opportunities in the debates on the Queen’s Speech to develop the theme, but he reminds the House that on 3 May Jaguar Land Rover announced plans to invest £200 million at its factory in Castle Bromwich. Nissan is creating more than 1,000 new jobs in Sunderland, Bentley is creating 500 jobs thanks to the regional growth fund, and Jaguar Land Rover is creating 1,000 new jobs on Merseyside. It is a good example of how we are winning export orders in a competitive world market, but also rebalancing the economy so it is less dependent on financial services.
I join the many small food and drink manufacturers in my constituency in welcoming the announcement of a groceries adjudicator in the Queen’s Speech. Bearing in mind that Longley Farm dairy, in my constituency, exports more than half the products it makes, may we have a debate on the wonderful contribution our small food and drink manufacturers are making to our economy?
I am delighted to hear of the export success of my hon. Friend’s constituency firm. There will be an opportunity when we debate the Bill to which he refers to look more closely at the role of the adjudicator, and there will be opportunities during the remaining days’ consideration of the Queen’s Speech to highlight the efforts of small firms in the food manufacturing industry to help turn the country round and create sustainable jobs.
Carrier Strike Capability
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the carrier strike programme. The strategic defence and security review considered the carrier strike programme, put in place by the previous Government, as part of a wide-ranging review of options for delivering effective future defence while dealing with the black hole in Labour’s defence budget and the unaffordable “fantasy” equipment plan bequeathed to us by the Labour party. While the review confirmed that carrier strike would be a key capability in delivering Future Force 2020, it also recognised the unsustainability as a whole of the defence equipment plan we inherited.
The strategic decision on carrier strike that emerged from the SDSR process was to convert one carrier with catapults and arrester gear to operate the carrier variant of the joint strike fighter, facilitating greater interoperability with allies, with a decision on the future use or disposal of the second carrier to be taken at the 2015 SDSR. The decision was also taken routinely to embark 12 fast jets while retaining the ability to surge up to the previously planned level of 36 aircraft. As the House would expect for such a complex and high-value project, the strategic decision taken at SDSR was followed by the commissioning of a detailed programme of work to look at the costs, risks and technical feasibility of all aspects of the proposed solution. That study was expected to take 18 months, completing by the end of 2012.
Since I took on the role of Defence Secretary in October last year, my overriding concern, after current operations and the welfare of our armed forces, has been to ensure the deliverability of the MOD’s equipment plan and the achievement of a balanced and sustainable budget. That will give our armed forces the assurance they need to carry out the massive transformation that will deliver Future Force 2020—the concept for our armed forces set out in the SDSR. The carrier project is a large element of the equipment programme, and I have worked closely with the new Chief of Defence Matériel, Bernard Gray, to assess the technical and financial risks involved in it.
It quickly became clear to me that a number of the underlying facts on which the SDSR decision on carriers was based were changing. First, as the programme to convert a carrier to operate with a catapult system has matured, and more detailed analysis has been carried out by suppliers, it has become clear that operational carrier strike capability, using the “cats and traps” system, could not be delivered until late 2023 at the earliest—considerably later than the date envisaged at the time of the SDSR of “around 2020”. Britain’s carriers will have all-electric propulsion, and therefore will not generate steam like nuclear-powered vessels, so the catapult system would need to be the innovative electromagnetic version, EMALS—the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System—being developed for the United States navy. Fitting that new system to a UK carrier has presented greater design challenges than were anticipated.
Secondly, and partly as a result of the delayed timetable, the estimated cost of fitting this equipment to HMS Prince of Wales has more than doubled in the past 17 months, rising from an estimated £950 million to about £2 billion, with no guarantee that it will not rise further. Given the technical complexity involved and given that the cost of retrofitting “cats and traps” to HMS Queen Elizabeth—the first carrier out of build—would be even higher, it is unlikely that she would ever, in practice, be converted in the future.
Thirdly, at the time of the SDSR there was judged to be a very significant technical risk around the STOVL—short take-off, vertical landing—version of the joint strike fighter, and some commentators were speculating that it could even be cancelled. Indeed, the STOVL programme was subsequently placed on probation by the Pentagon However, over the past year, the STOVL programme has made excellent progress and in the past few months has been removed from probation. The aircraft has now completed more than 900 hours of flying, including flights from the USS Wasp, and the US marine corps has a high degree of confidence in the in-service date for the aircraft. The balance of risk has changed, and there is now judged to be no greater risk in STOVL than in other variants of JSF.
Fourthly, further work with our allies on the best approach to collaborative operation has satisfied us that joint maritime task groups involving our carriers, with co-ordinated scheduling of maintenance and refit periods, and an emphasis on carrier availability, rather than cross-deck operations, is the more appropriate route to optimising alliance capabilities.
When the facts change, the responsible thing to do is to examine the decisions you have made and to be willing to change your mind, however inconvenient that may be. It is about doing what is right for Britain, not burying your head in the sand and ploughing on regardless, as the previous Government all too often did. A persistent failure to observe that simple principle is at the root of many of the MOD budget problems that we inherited from the Labour party, and I do not intend to repeat its mistakes.
The decision taken in the SDSR to proceed with a carrier strike capability, despite the massive challenges we faced with the MOD’s budget, was the right decision. The decision to seek to contain costs by going for “cats and traps” on a single carrier, with greater interoperability with allies, and the cheaper carrier variant version of the JSF aircraft was also the right decision, based on the information available at the time. However, the facts have changed, and I am not prepared to accept a delay in regenerating Britain’s carrier strike capability beyond the timetable set out in the SDSR. And I am not prepared to put the equipment plan, which will support Future Force 2020, at risk of a billion-pound-plus increase in the carrier programme and unquantifiable risk of further cost rises.
So, I can announce to the House today that the National Security Council has decided not to proceed with the “cats and traps” conversion, but to complete both carriers in the STOVL configuration. That will give us the ability to use both carriers to provide continuous carrier availability, at a net additional operating cost averaging about £60 million per year. As we set out in the SDSR, a final decision on the use of the second carrier will be taken as part of SDSR 2015. We will switch the order for JSF aircraft from CV to STOVL, which we can do without delaying delivery and, by making this announcement today, we can plan on the basis of the first operational aircraft being delivered with a UK-weapons-fit package.
We expect HMS Queen Elizabeth to be handed over to the Navy in early 2017 for sea trials. We expect to take delivery of our first test aircraft in July of this year, and we expect the first production aircraft to be delivered to us in 2016, with flying from the Queen Elizabeth to begin in 2018, after her sea trials are complete.
We have discussed this decision with the French Government and with the United States. The French confirm that they are satisfied with our commitment to jointly planned carrier operations to enhance European-NATO capability. The United States, on whose support we would rely in regenerating either type of carrier capability, has been highly supportive throughout the review and I would like to record my personal thanks to the Secretary of Defence, the Pentagon, the navy and the marine corps for their high level of engagement with us. I spoke to Secretary Panetta last night and he confirmed the US’s willingness to support our decision and its view that UK carrier strike availability and our commitment to the JSF programme are the key factors. The Chief of the Defence Staff and his fellow chiefs of staff—all of them—endorse this decision as the quickest and most assured way now to deliver carrier strike as part of an overall affordable equipment programme that will support Future Force 2020.
This was not an easy decision to take, but our responsibility is to make the right decision on the basis of the facts available to us. Neither I nor any of my colleagues came into government expecting decisions to be easy or pain-free. I have a responsibility to clear up the financial mess we inherited in the MOD, just as we are clearing up the mess we inherited across Government as a whole, and to set a balanced budget and an affordable, deliverable equipment programme with manageable and bounded risk. This decision addresses one of the last impediments to my announcing the achievement of those objectives to the House, and I hope to be able to do so very soon.
This is not just about balancing budgets, critical as that is. It is about the UK’s defence, secured by an appropriate and sustainable military capability. This announcement delivers an affordable solution to securing that capability and, with two useable carriers, gives us the option of continuous carrier availability. It confirms the expected delivery of the first test aircraft this summer, of the first production aircraft in 2016, of the first carrier into sea trials in 2017 and of the first flight of the JSF from the deck of the carrier in 2018, with an operational military capability in 2020. It confirms the support of our principal allies, the US and France, and that of the defence chiefs. It shows that we, at least, are not afraid to take difficult decisions when they are right for Britain and I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. Let me start by saying again that when the Government do the right thing on defence they will have the support of Labour Members. In politics, however, one can often judge what a Government genuinely feel about their own policy not just by what they say but by when they say it. They have told the media that this is positive news and yet they announced it here in the Commons the very first day after the council election defeats. It must be the first ever example of a Government waiting until the polls close to announce good news.
It is worth reminding the Secretary of State how he got here. The Government were elected promising a bigger Army but are delivering the smallest Army since the Boer war, they have curtailed anti-piracy duties owing to Royal Navy cuts and the RAF has lost long-term surveillance capabilities. On the defence budget, decisions this Government have taken have increased costs. Changes to the Astute class submarines added a further £200 million and the carrier U-turn has cost up to £250 million. On top of that, they are failing on reform with the defence procurement plan delayed for two years. Last year, the largest defence programmes were delayed by a combined 30 months adding £500 million to their costs and while hundreds of defence workers across the country are losing their jobs the Government have no defence industrial strategy to speak of whatsoever.
The biggest blow to the Government’s defence credibility is this chaotic carrier programme. Standing at the Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister announced his plans to U-turn on Labour’s carrier strike policy, scrap the Harriers, sell Ark Royal, build two carriers but mothball one, sack trainee pilots and downgrade British sea power. But that U-turn has now come full circle. Nothing has been gained and two years have been wasted. In tough times, £250 million have been squandered while the forces are having their allowances cut. Harriers are being sold to the Americans for a fraction of their value, we are subject to international ridicule and there will be no jets on carriers for a decade. Mr Speaker, you do not have to be a military strategist to know what aircraft carriers are meant to carry—the clue is in the name.
The Government say their policy is cheaper, but it is more expensive. They said there would be interoperability with the French but their chosen jet cannot land on the French carrier. The Prime Minister personally derided a policy that he is now defending. The Government said that Britain did not need jump jets and Ministers scrapped the expertise needed to operate STOVL aircraft only now to decide to buy a new fleet of jump jets. We now need to retrain people and redevelop the skills that were so carelessly cast aside just two years ago. That is as incoherent as it is ludicrous.
The Secretary of State’s defence today is that the facts have changed, but that is not the full story. I know the advice that the Prime Minister received—that the defence review policy was high risk and high cost—but the Prime Minister overruled that. The Public Accounts Committee warned of rising costs, the National Audit Office said that the Government had an “immature understanding” of the costs, and the Select Committee on Defence warned against strategic shrinkage. The Prime Minister’s decisions have cost British time, British money, British talent and British prestige.
I know the Secretary of State always likes to blame someone else, and he has done that again today. He recently accused British families of causing the financial crash, but he cannot scapegoat the former Defence Secretary for this decision. He has to take some responsibility for the Prime Minister’s mistakes. The Secretary of State has carefully nurtured a reputation as a spreadsheet king who is most at home over his paperwork, so he needs to share some of it with us today. Will he publish a full breakdown of the costs of the plans being abandoned? Will he confirm that the cost of the U-turn is greater than the income from the sale of the Harrier jump jets? How many of the new aircraft does he plan to purchase? Will he confirm that Ministers were warned 18 months ago about the risks and costs inherent in this decision? If Britain will have two aircraft carriers, will the Royal Navy have to increase the number of its personnel? Finally, there is another question that the Secretary of State did not cover in his statement: what will now be the total cost of the carrier build programme?
In conclusion, the Secretary of State has said the Government will do the right thing when the facts have changed, but the previous Labour Government got things right whereas this Government’s policy has unravelled. In recent weeks we have seen incompetence piled upon political hubris. Only a Government who started a petrol crisis when trying to avoid one and whose idea of putting more police on the streets is having thousands demonstrating outside Parliament would have a policy of building two carriers, mothballing one immediately, selling the Harriers and having no planes to fly off aircraft carriers for a decade. Describing the Government’s defence strategy as an “omnishambles” would be a compliment. It is time the Prime Minister started to take responsibility. He should be at the Dispatch Box apologising for his and his Government’s incompetence.
Before the right hon. Gentleman climbs too far up his high horse, perhaps we should, to give a bit of context, remind ourselves of the role that his party played in the history of this project. It was Labour’s fiscal incontinence that created the black hole that we are trying to climb out of and Labour’s decisions that left us facing the challenges we faced at the time of the strategic defence and security review. It was Labour that ordered two 65,000 tonnes carriers, three times the size of a typical STOVL carrier, without cats and traps.
It was Labour who let the contracts on a sweetheart deal, which meant that cancelling the second carrier would have cost more than going ahead and building it. It was Labour who ordered the ships without having the money to pay for them, and then drove costs of £1.6 billion into the carrier programme by delaying the build to accommodate a £250 million cash-flow problem—a performance described by the Public Accounts Committee as setting
“a new benchmark in poor corporate decision making.”
Let me turn to the couple of specific questions buried at the end of the shadow Defence Secretary’s rant. He asked me about the timing of the statement. I have come to the House at the earliest possible date after the National Security Council took the decision to make the change. He said that £250 million has been squandered. I tell the House frankly that expenditure has been incurred in appraising the option of building a CV carrier and fitting it with cats and traps, but it has been nowhere near the £250 million that the right hon. Gentleman referred to. He asked me if I would publish details of the costs involved.
You don’t know.
The right hon. Gentleman says that I do not know. If he had ever been a Defence Minister, or inside the Ministry of Defence, he would understand why I do not know. These are complex contracts. I can give him an approximate idea. We think the cost of the design work that has been carried out and the appraisal work will be between £40 million and £50 million. There may also be some exit costs payable to the US contractors responsible for the EMAL system. We will be negotiating around those issues, and I give the right hon. Gentleman this commitment: once we have a definitive figure, I will make it available to the House.
The right hon. Gentleman said that we will have no jets on our carriers for a decade. I do not think he was listening to the statement. We will take delivery of the first test aircraft this year. We will receive the first STOVL variant aircraft in 2016 for operation off land. The carrier will go into sea trials in 2017 and, as soon as she has completed them in 2018, flights will begin from the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth. It will take us two years to work up full military operational capability, but it is important that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who is shaking his head, understands what that means. It is the gap between getting from the point when we fly the jets off the carrier to the point when the military are satisfied that we have full operational capability.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the number of aircraft that we will be purchasing. The plans for deployment of aircraft have not changed as a result of this announcement. We will routinely embark 12 aircraft and we will be able to surge that number to 36. On the purchasing of aircraft in the joint strike fighter programme, I can tell him that there is no requirement for us to go firm with numbers at this early stage of the programme. Where we can retain optionality, we will do so, as part of prudent budget management.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about risks and costs in this project and in the carrier variant project. We are talking about a project with a total cost of around £10 billion. It is hugely complex, probably the second largest industrial project under way in this country today. There will always be risks, and there will always be risks of cost escalation in such a project. The challenge is not to eliminate risks, but to manage them. That is what proper management of the Ministry of Defence is all about.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the operation of two carriers. If at the next strategic defence and security review, the Government and the National Security Council take the decision to operate two carriers in order to give us continuous carrier availability, there will be an additional cost of about £60 million a year on average for additional crewing and maintenance to keep the two carriers in high readiness.
Will the Secretary of State accept that there were two optimal mixes for JSF and carrier? We could either have a 65,000 tonne carrier and use the carrier variant, with a longer range and bigger payload, or, as the American marine corps are doing, choose the jump jet variant and have smaller carriers. Is the position we are in today sub-optimal, and not the result of industrial policy leading military policy? Does he accept that the real difference, and the reason why he has come to this decision, is that the extra time required for the EMAL system to be put in actually breaches the risk that we were willing to take at the SDSR?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that at the SDSR, a view was taken about the amount of risk that was tolerable, about the horizon to which we could accept an absence of carrier capability and, as I have said, I am certainly not prepared to see us go beyond 2020 without the carrier strike capability.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is the question for Opposition Members to answer: why did they order two 65,000 tonne carriers without cats and traps, which anyone involved in naval aviation operations knows is itself an absurdity? [Interruption.]
Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), assisted by his colleagues, is chuntering repetitively from a sedentary position, in breach of the conventions of the House. I ask the hon. Gentleman to exercise what modicum of self-restraint he is able, in the circumstances, to muster.
We inherited this programme, and frankly I am not interested in trading insults with the Opposition about what happened in the past. What I need to do now is take the carriers that are in build and that are being built under a contract that makes it more expensive to cancel them than to complete them, and put them to the best possible military use for the defence of this country.
The Secretary of State has taken, and is announcing, the right decision today, and I understand how difficult it is to perform that kind of U-turn and how uncomfortable it must be. But I cannot go along with him on the excuse—the reason—that both he and the Prime Minister decided to give for that decision. That is that the facts have changed and therefore we are changing the decision.
I reviewed this decision, taken by my predecessors. The fundamental facts were there at the time and have not changed. We have been up an extremely expensive cul-de-sac for the last 18 months as a result of a shambles of an SDSR, and I can only congratulate the Secretary of State on bringing some sanity to it; but he ought to understand the problem that he will give himself in sorting out procurement work—which, yes, is problematic and was in our time—if he cannot find a way of being straight about why the decision is being taken and the fact that the previous decision was taken in the face of clear advice to the contrary.
I refute that last comment absolutely. The right hon. Gentleman is in a better position than many in the House to understand the complexities and the challenges of defence procurement, but to say that the facts have not changed is simply wrong. The risk profile of the STOVL aircraft is dramatically different now from what it was in 2010, when there was a very real risk that the variant would be cancelled. The cost estimates for fitting the EMAL system, and the understanding of the complexity of that task, have matured through the work that we have done since the SDSR. Although I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s endorsement of the substantive decision, he is simply wrong when he says the facts have not changed.
To make an announcement like this takes real courage and I commend the Secretary of State, and the Prime Minister, for making what I agree with the former Secretary of State is the right decision. Is my right hon. Friend able to say how much it would have cost to have converted the second carrier to cats and traps, because was there not a real risk that we would end up with a carrier that we could neither use nor sell?
My right hon. Friend is correct to focus on that point, and I thank him for his comments. As I think I said in my statement, fitting cats and traps retrospectively to the Queen Elizabeth, after her completion, would undoubtedly be significantly more expensive than even the current £2 billion estimate for fitting them to the Prince of Wales in build. It is therefore not unreasonable to think of a likely cost of between £2.5 billion and £3 billion for retrospective fit to the Queen Elizabeth, making that project, as I suggested in my statement, in practice unlikely ever to occur.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the terms of business agreement signed in 2009 provide that on completion of the carrier build, the UK will be spending perhaps only £230 million a year—0.7% of the MOD budget—to maintain essential shipbuilding skills? More important, will he tell us whether, as a result of the additional costs announced in today’s statement, he envisages that very small figure being reduced further in the future?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the terms of business agreement with the shipbuilding consortium commits the MOD to underwriting overhead costs of about £230 million a year to maintain skills. The challenge for the MOD is so to manage the shipbuilding programme as to recover as much of that as possible. After the carrier programme is finished in the shipyards covered by the TOBA, we will move on to the Type 26 programme and recover costs in that way. As far as I am aware, there is no mechanism for reducing that £230 million—it is a contractual figure.
Is it not abundantly clear that any discomfort or embarrassment the Government may feel is more than outweighed by the fact that the decision the Secretary of State has announced today is right both tactically and strategically? When the sound and fury have died down, that is what will concern those members of the Royal Navy who have the responsibility of looking after these ships and the aircraft that fly from them. Is it not important that today’s announcement will help to close earlier the yawning gap in capability left by the decommissioning of the Harrier aircraft and the carriers from which they were deployed? That shows commendable flexibility on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope he will show the same flexibility in respect of other matters, not least, for example, the role of the Royal Air Force at Leuchars in my constituency.
I knew my right hon. and learned Friend would get that in somewhere, but I thank him for his question. In the interest of tri-service harmony, I should make it clear that responsibility for the aircraft will be a combined responsibility of the Royal Navy and the RAF.
My right hon. and learned Friend refers to the Harrier question. Perhaps I need to remind him that it was the previous Government who sealed the fate of the Harrier in 2006, when they scrapped the Navy’s FA2 Sea Harriers, leaving only the ground attack version; and then in 2009 cut the size of that fleet, so that by the time of the SDSR in 2010 the fleet was simply too small to sustain operations in Afghanistan, never mind in Libya as well. We therefore had to take the difficult decision to end the Harrier’s service with the Royal Navy in order to sustain the Tornado, which continues to serve in Afghanistan and which acquitted itself so well in Libya.
I agree that the Secretary of State has made the right decision, particularly given the current financial climate, but I want him to clarify a comment he made. He said that the option of cancelling the carrier programme was not open to him. If it had been open to him, would he have cancelled it?
The SDSR in 2010 considered the possibility of cancelling the second carrier, to deal with the huge budget challenges we inherited, but the terms of business agreement was such that cancelling the carrier at that point would have cost more than delivering it.
I have long argued that if we are going to spend money on carrier strike force, we need to ensure that we have that capability all year round. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, in terms of capability, one advantage of the programme he has announced today is that it puts two operational carriers back on the table?
My hon. Friend is right. I made the precise point, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Arbuthnot), that the cost of converting the second carrier to EMALS cats and traps was likely to be prohibitive; that has emerged from the work that has been going on. Completing the two carriers in STOVL configuration gives us optionality. It means that they can both operate the STOVL aircraft; that the 2015 SDSR can decide whether to bring the second carrier out of extended readiness and deploy it during periods of refit or extended maintenance of the first carrier; and that subsequent SDSRs can decide whether finding the extra crew and meeting the maintenance cost is an appropriate use of naval resources, depending on our assessment of the threat risk.
I am still trying to understand precisely what the new facts are that the Secretary of State so recently discovered. He mentions risk profiles and cost estimates, but surely they were known. Would it not be wise of him either to be more specific or, even better, to publish the advice that would show us what those new facts are?
The hon. Lady will remember that I spent three and a half years in a shadow Treasury brief, during which time I developed a healthily jaundiced view of the Ministry of Defence’s procurement process. Now that I am inside the Department and see the process from the other side, I understand that it is a little bit more complicated than nipping down to the local supermarket to buy a carton of eggs or a bottle of milk. These are immensely complex projects. The way they typically work is that they start with a high-level estimate, informed by the best information available. One then commits funds—this costs money—to do a more detailed appraisal that identifies the technical and financial challenges and risks around the project. That is precisely what we have done. In terms of the appropriate management of a large, complex project, the MOD has followed exactly the right process. It has delivered us the facts to which I referred, and we have drawn the appropriate conclusions from them.
The Opposition should show a little more humility and gloat less on the subject of their responsibility towards the Royal Navy. It was Labour that quibbled over the design for 10 years, and Labour that told the workers to down tools, which cost £1.6 billion. It was Labour that sacked the Sea Harrier—and indeed the Ark Royal—and Labour that cut the number of Type 45s from 12 to six. That is the maritime legacy that this Government have inherited.
We can leave it at that. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), but in future, a question mark would be appreciated.
Will the Secretary of State confirm if he has investigated whether Mr Adam Werritty met any companies or lobbyists involved in the original very bad decision?
I have answered a number of parliamentary questions on the information that the Department holds on meetings held by, and contacts made with, Mr Werritty. As far as I am aware, I have disclosed in parliamentary questions the full extent of the Department’s knowledge.
Amphibious capability is a key part of our defence strategy. I thank my right hon. Friend for making sure that we clarify the timetable, but will he explain what impact the decision will have on amphibious capability, so that we can ensure that our Royal Marines are protected when they go on to land?
The STOVL configuration of the carrier in the carrier-enabled power projection model means that the carrier will embark both fast jets and helicopters—Chinook, Lynx and Merlin. It will also be able to embark Marines. It is a very large ship, as we have mentioned this morning. It will have the capability to carry troops and embark helicopters and fast jets in a way that will facilitate amphibious warfare.
Even a first-week midshipman could tell the Prime Minister that adopting two 180° U-turns takes us back to where we started two years ago. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment that the Government will continue to stand beside the use of Rosyth dockyard for the long-term maintenance of the carriers when they enter service? Will he tell the House what we will achieve, except squandering he knows not how many millions of pounds, by flogging our Harrier fleet for spare parts for a peppercorn, scrapping a generation of fast-jet Harrier pilots, and leaving the nation with—
We have got the gist. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
A first-week midshipman could probably tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not normal to order a 65,000 tonne STOVL carrier without any cats and traps. With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s question on Rosyth, no decision has been taken on where the carriers will be maintained in future.
It is widely alleged by some that the through-life costs of the F-35B could compare unfavourably with those of the F-35C. What rigorous assessment has my right hon. Friend undertaken to ensure that we achieve value for money, having made this decision, and what wider lessons on the defence budget can be drawn for similarly important and large decisions in future?
To answer the last question first, I am drawing some very interesting conclusions about how to manage the defence budget on an ongoing basis and hope to share them with the House shortly. It is precisely because the F-35C variant, on the face of it, has a lower purchase cost and a lower through-life maintenance cost that this option was pursued at the time of the SDSR 2010, but operating the carrier variant will of course require the installation upfront of the catapults and arrester gears, which we now know will cost in the order of £2 billion and rising. On the basis of a properly discounted cash-flow analysis over 30 years, I am clear that the STOVL variant, given the current estimate of the cost of cats and traps, will now be cheaper.
At the Royal Air Force officer training college at Cranwell we were taught that flexibility is the key to air power. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on showing the flexibility to make the right decision for our nation and our future military capability. Will he confirm that his decision has the support of the Chiefs, unlike the previous Government’s decision to scrap the Sea Harriers, which reportedly led to two of the Chiefs standing down?
I am very clear that my job is about supporting the military and our armed forces in defending our country. When I make decisions, I will work with the Chiefs to reach an outcome that works for the military. I can confirm that the Chief of the Defence Staff and all three single service Chiefs support the decision and have confirmed their support in writing to the Prime Minister.
Those on the Labour Front Bench have short memories. The pages of Hansard will show the debate that the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and I had in 2009 on the previous Government’s decision to withdraw the Harrier from Afghanistan prematurely so that it could be subjected to the programme review the following year and potentially cut. Of course, that is now ancient history and they seem to have forgotten it. I commend my right hon. Friend for his brave decision, which is undoubtedly the right one, to minimise the capability gap for carrier strike. Will he confirm that the STOVL version is easily a superior aircraft to the Harrier it replaces and equally comparable to anything it might meet in the air?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising a point that perhaps I should have made before. The STOVL variant—indeed, any variant of the JSF—is a fifth-generation aircraft and represents a step change in capability. It is a stealth aircraft with an autonomous intelligence-gathering capability, and the STOVL variant has significantly greater range than the Harrier had. It is an aircraft with greater capability, greater range than the Harrier and a range of capabilities that previous generations of aircraft simply did not have.
I have received a good deal of correspondence from constituents, both those serving in and those retired from the armed forces, who for a long time have expressed huge concern about the strategy and direction of our procurement. They will be relieved and delighted to hear today that my right hon. Friend has been able to continue to assess the strategy and come up with the right decision and brave enough to announce it to the House. Will he reassure the House that he will never let the woolly thinking and loose purse strings shown by the previous Government undermine our armed forces again?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Fiscal incontinence undermines the support that we can offer our armed forces. Doing this in a disciplined way is not, as the right hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) would try to present it in a rather sneering fashion, some sort of obsession with spreadsheets; it is about doing our job as politicians, which is to ensure that the support for our armed forces is there, is sustainable and can actually be delivered to them.
The Ministry of Defence has a long and tawdry history of overspend in procurement, timelines that are well in excess of those originally planned and of ploughing on regardless. Will the Secretary of State confirm that his decision today demonstrates a change of culture that really shows that we are getting to grips with the budget and the timelines to provide guarantees to the armed forces and our nation?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question and assure him that we will take the decisions that need to be taken in the interests of the nation’s defence, however awkward or inconvenient. I will come to the House however many times I need to and make however many announcements I need to make to get the Department back on track. I want the MOD to stand tall among the Departments of State, with a normal relationship with the Treasury and with the centre of government, and with proper contingency arrangements in its budget so that the armed forces can be confident that the promises that are made to them will be delivered, unlike those of the previous Government.
What steps is my right hon. Friend taking on defence procurement to ensure that the Government do not risk repeating the mistakes of the previous Government, who even in their last financial year in office, 2009-10, oversaw a huge increase of £3.3 billion in the cost of the 15 largest defence projects?
I think that the announcement I have made today demonstrates for my hon. Friend and the House that we will put prudent management of defence projects ahead of playing politics. It would have been easy to avoid making this decision today, and politically much less uncomfortable, but this is about making the right decisions for the future of our armed forces and I can assure him that that is what we will continue to do.
Health Transition Risk Register
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of the Department of Health’s strategic and transition risk registers. In November 2010 the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) submitted a freedom of information request asking for the publication of the transition risk register relating to the planned Health and Social Care Bill. A similar request by Nic Cecil, a journalist with the Evening Standard, for publication of the Department’s strategic risk register followed in February 2011. The Government refused both requests on the grounds that the risk registers related to the formulation and development of policy and, as set out in the Freedom of Information Act 2000, were not required to be published.
Appeals were then made by the applicants to the Information Commissioner. In both instances, the commissioner ruled against the Government, arguing that the balance of the public interest lay in public disclosure. The Government’s view, to the contrary, is that the public interest is best served in this instance by officials and Ministers being able privately to consider such issues, including any risks. We therefore appealed the commissioner’s decision, under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, to the first-tier tribunal.
The tribunal was asked to consider whether the Information Commissioner was correct to find that, on balance, the public interest required disclosure of the risk registers. On 5 April this year the tribunal made public the reasons for its decision. For the Department’s strategic risk register it found in favour of the Government and so did not order its disclosure, but it came to the opposite conclusion with regard to the transition risk register.
I have carefully considered the tribunal’s decision and discussed it thoroughly with Cabinet colleagues. Following these discussions, I have decided to exercise the ministerial veto, as allowed by the Freedom of Information Act, in relation to the disclosure of the transition risk register. This decision represents the view of the Cabinet. I have decided to veto rather than appeal the decision to the upper-tier tribunal, because the disagreement is on where the balance of the public interest lies and is a matter of principle and not a matter of law, as would be the focus of any further appeal. I recognise that this is an exceptional step; it is not one that is taken lightly. There is no doubt that reform of the NHS has attracted huge public interest, but my decision to veto, while an exceptional case, is also a matter of wider principle and not just about the specific content of the transition risk register.
In all Departments, Ministers are required to balance the public interest in terms of disclosure with the need properly to consider complex areas of public policy. Good government demands that the analysis and management of risk is thorough and robust, whichever party is in power. It is an essential aspect of good government, in the formulation and development of policy, that officials have a “safe space” within which to formulate sensitive advice to Ministers, that they feel free to use direct language and to make frank assessments, and that the Government should, in exceptional circumstances, be able to reserve such privacy absolutely.
The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) said in his evidence to the Select Committee on Justice last month:
“There has to be a space in which decision makers can think thoughts without the risk of disclosure, and not only of disclosure at the time, but of disclosure afterwards.”
He said also that there have been
“some rather extraordinary decisions by the Freedom of Information Tribunal, in which they suggested that it”—
“can apply only while policy was in the process of development but not at any time thereafter. That is crazy and it is not remotely what was intended.”
The Freedom of Information Act was drafted specifically to allow a safe space for the development of policy, and I have acted throughout in strict accordance with its provisions.
The risk assessment process, carried out by civil servants and detailed in those registers, is an integral part of the formulation and development of Government policy. It is strongly in the public interest that this process be as effective as possible. When the request for the transition risk register was made, many aspects of the policy were still at an early stage of their development: the Command Paper, responding to the consultation, had not been published; and the Bill had not been published. It is therefore incorrect to say that the transition risk register does not relate to the development of policy, because it fed, and continues to feed, directly into the advice given to Ministers.
The Bill may have become an Act in March, but we are still developing policy at the next level of detail. The value of risk registers is directly linked to the form and manner in which they are expressed—with the use of direct language. They do not, however, show the benefits of a policy, and they are not, as impact assessments are, intended to reflect considered calculations of both costs and benefits. They are simply about identifying possible risks in order to stimulate action to mitigate them.
If such registers were disclosed at sensitive times in relation to sensitive issues, as would have happened in the case before us, it is highly likely that they would be open to misinterpretation and misuse, with the impact that future risk registers would become anodyne documents of little use. Potential risks would be more likely to develop without adequate mitigation, and that would be detrimental to good government and very much against the public interest. Reflecting that, a detailed statement of reasons for my decision to exercise the ministerial veto in this case has been laid before Parliament.
This decision to veto the disclosure of the register is not in any way a criticism of the Freedom of Information Act. The Act always envisaged times when the Government would need to protect the process of policy development. This is one of those times. The Government’s right to make just such a veto is written into, and is a proper use of, the Act.
We have always been as open as possible about the risks and issues involved in the modernisation of the NHS. There was the full public consultation, a thorough examination by the NHS Future Forum and 50 days of detailed debate in both Houses, in addition to the detailed risks published in the impact assessment. Very few pieces of legislation have ever received that degree of public and parliamentary scrutiny.
On Tuesday I went further and published a separate document that includes the risk areas covered in the transition risk register, as previously set out not least by my noble Friend Lord Howe in another place on 28 November 2011. That document also includes the actions taken to mitigate those risk areas.
I have also published a “Scheme for Publication”, which sets out our proposals for reviewing and releasing material relating to the transition programme in future. Both documents are available in the Library and on the Department’s website. They further confirm that the purpose of the veto was not in any sense to restrict public access to relevant information, but was to establish that publication of the risk register in December 2010 would have been contrary to the public interest. This Government, more than any before us, are committed to openness and transparency. Across government we publish business plans, departmental staffing and salaries, full details of departmental contracts and summaries of departmental board meetings. In the national health service, we have published more information about services than was ever the case—not only shining a light on poor performance, but helping to root it out. We now publish the NHS atlas of variation, exposing variations in outcomes throughout the country; we have published data on mixed-sex accommodation, leading to a dramatic 95% reduction in breaches; and we have invested in new information collections on A and E performance, on ambulance performance and on clinical audits.
The decision to veto is about long-term principles and good government, not about limiting in any way the scrutiny of NHS reform. Information relating to much of the content of the risk registers is now in the public domain, but the important principle of the right not to publish has been maintained, and I commend this statement to the House.
Back in the rose garden, the talk was of the most open and transparent Government ever. Today, those words are as worthless as “no rise in tuition fees” and “no top-down re-organisation of the NHS”. We have heard self-serving rubbish today from a Secretary of State who does not want patients and the public to know the whole truth about his NHS re-organisation, but he has been brought here by the sheer tenacity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).
My right hon. Friend has been completely vindicated by the Information Rights Tribunal, which was scathing about the way in which the Government have conducted their re-organisation of the NHS, their failure to give an indication of their wide-ranging plans before their hastily drawn-up White Paper, and their decision to implement them on the ground before a Bill had been presented to the House.
After last Thursday, in interviews following the local election results, Government Members all promised to listen, but what is the first thing that they do? They take this unanimous ruling from a judge-led legal tribunal and tear it in two with trademark arrogance—a Government who believe that they are born to rule and above the law. In doing so, they have made a major departure from the established policy on freedom of information, and from the precedent set by the previous Government.
Hitherto, the ministerial veto has been used on only three occasions, all related to Cabinet discussions; applying the veto to operational matters of domestic policy breaks that precedent. As such, it is a major step backwards towards secrecy and closed government. Is there not now a real risk that other Departments will cite this shoddy decision as a precedent and seek to withhold public information that, in the spirit of policy intention of the Freedom of Information Act, should be placed in the public domain?
Where does this decision leave the Information Commissioner and, indeed, the Information Tribunal? Have they not been completely undermined by the Cabinet’s decision? The truth is that there is confusion in government about the decision, and the Secretary of State has failed to clear it up today. In his statement on Tuesday he said clearly that the risk register would not be published following Cabinet agreement and that it was a “final decision” by the Secretary of State, but just hours later on the “Today” programme the Health Minister Earl Howe said:
“We have every intention of publishing the risk register in due course, when we think the time is right”.
I have a simple question: will it be published or not? Was the Secretary of State’s Minister speaking for him and his Department when he made that statement, and if so will the Secretary of State tell us what his Minister means by “when…the time is right”? Most people, including those on the tribunal, felt that the time was right when the Bill was going through the House of Commons—before the right hon. Gentleman shamelessly rammed it on to the statute book.
The shambles is not just in the Department of Health, however; it is right across government. The shadow Leader of the House has just left the Chamber, but in a blog post earlier this week he said—
The Deputy Leader of the House.
The Deputy Leader of the House said that
“it would also be right to publish as much of what is contained in the risk register as possible”.
He said that this week—that the risk register should have been published. How many more Ministers and coalition MPs do not agree with the Cabinet’s decision?
Most worrying, however, is the confusion over freedom of information policy. The Secretary of State, in his statement earlier this week, said:
“If such risk registers were regularly disclosed, it is likely that their form and content would change”.
But later in the same statement he said that this was an “exceptional case”. Which is it? Do the Government now have a blanket ban on the publication of any risk register, even if ordered to do so by a judge, or was this an exceptional case? If it was the latter, how did it meet the exceptional criteria that Government rules require? We need answers, as again this Government are breaking the precedent set by the last Government. Following a ruling from the Information Commissioner, we released the Heathrow third runway risk register. We never called for the publication of all risk registers, but said that each case should be judged on its merits. Inconveniently for the Minister and the Conservative party, that ruling makes a clear differentiation between the strategic risk register on the one hand and the transition risk register on the other, as I have argued all the way through this discussion.
The Secretary of State’s argument today hinges on the “safe space” argument—he says that if we did not have a safe space, it may change future risk registers. Is he aware that the tribunal considered that point in detail but concluded that there was no evidence presented to us that the release of the Heathrow risk register had a chilling effect on their use by Government? Was the Secretary of State’s argument not tested in court and did it not fail in court? Is he not now showing a blatant disregard for the law? He said today that it “is a matter of principle and not a matter of law”, but it is a matter of principle and of law—freedom of information is the principle and the Freedom of Information Act is the law. He should be following the law that enacts that principle, but he has taken a step away from it today.
The Treasury website still has this statement on risk policy:
“Government will make available its assessments of risks that affect the public, how it has reached its decisions, and how it will handle the risk. It will also do so where the development of new policies poses a potential risk to the public.”
I ask again: if that is no longer the Government’s policy on risk management, when will it be removed from the Treasury’s website?
In conclusion, the Government are in disarray on many fronts. The NHS belongs to the people of this country, not Ministers. If Ministers cannot be open about the risks that they are taking with the NHS, they should not be taking those risks. That is a simple principle.
The truth is that this has been a cowardly decision from a Government on the run who are now too frightened to face up to the consequences of their own incompetence. The real reason for the veto is that publication would have shown that the warnings from doctors, nurses, midwives and patients were echoed in private by civil servants but the Government just ignored them. This is a Cabinet cover-up of epic proportions—a Government closing ranks and covering each other’s backs because they know that the public would never forgive them if they could see the scale of the risks that the Government are taking with the national health service.
Most of that was synthetic indignation. I am really surprised; the right hon. Gentleman cannot have read any of the review of the risk register that I published on Tuesday. That set out, in detail, all the risk areas carried in the risk register and the mitigating actions that have been taken. There is in no sense any area of risk identified 18 months ago that has not been put into the public domain in a proper form—one that reflects not only the character of those risks, but how those risks have been subsequently addressed.
The right hon. Gentleman is completely confused about the issue. The point of the veto was to confirm that it was not in the public interest for the risk register in December 2010 to be published in relation to the November 2010 document. That point was made very clearly. Acting as we did was not in any sense above the law; it was absolutely in accordance with the law. It is in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and with the structure of the management of risk. For the further clarification of the House, on Tuesday I published the risk management strategy associated with the transition programme, so the right hon. Gentleman can see that it is exactly in line with how the Government manage such risks.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about our intention to publish the risk register. We will publish it at a point when it would not prejudice the exemption for officials for the formulation and development of policy. There will come a time when it is appropriate to do so, when doing so will not prejudice that exemption under the Freedom of Information Act.
The right hon. Gentleman is completely wrong to suggest that no evidence was presented to the first-tier tribunal relating to the potentially damaging effect of publication under these circumstances. As the former Cabinet Secretary, Lord O’Donnell made those risks very clear to the tribunal. Who is better placed than him to say that? He must know that in another place, during debates on this precise issue of publication and relevance to the legislation, other Cabinet Secretaries and Members clearly stated their view that the publication of the transition risk register would run that risk.
The right hon. Gentleman is speaking directly contrary to his own view. When he was a Minister, he said in relation to a request for publication of a departmental risk register:
“Putting the risk register in the public domain would be likely to reduce the detail and utility of its contents.”—[Official Report, 23 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 1192W.]
He is making an absolutely spurious distinction between the transition register and the strategic register. [Interruption.] It is no good him shouting. The overlap between the two registers and the character of the formulation and development of policy—
Order. I appeal to the House to calm down. I say to the shadow Secretary of State that he has asked a series of questions and must await the answers. I say to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), a distinguished practitioner at the Bar, that if she conducted herself in the court room as she has here, the judge would not be amused—and I am sure that she would not do it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me be clear. The right hon. Gentleman, as a Minister, refused requests for the publication of risk registers. This risk register, the transition risk register, at the point when it was requested and formulated, was absolutely part of the formulation and development of policy and has continued to be used as part of the development of policy.
To make it clearer what the Labour party actually thinks about the issue, I should say that a Conservative party member recently submitted a request for a risk register to the one place where the Labour Government remain in power—in Wales. What did the Labour Government say? On 12 April 2012, less than a month ago, the Welsh Assembly Labour Government said:
“Release of the risk register would inhibit the way in which such risks are expressed, which potentially makes the management and mitigation of risk more difficult. This in turn would impair the quality of decision making when determining the most appropriate response to an identified risk. Ultimately this could impede the delivery of Ministerial priorities and inhibit the effective management of NHS performance, in both delivery and financial terms.”
That request to a Labour Government for an NHS risk register was turned down for precisely the reasons we have rejected the request for risk registers in relation to the NHS. The Labour party says one thing, but in government it did another and in government in Wales it does another.
Instead of spending his time debating an 18-month-old document—it is now out of date, frankly—the right hon. Gentleman ought to be recognising the reality of what is happening in the NHS. Instead of the risks that he keeps talking about happening, NHS performance is improving, and he should celebrate that. Waiting times are down, there are more diagnostic tests, and waiting times for diagnostic tests have been maintained. There is extra access to dentistry, cancer drugs and new cancer medicines. Health care-acquired infections in the NHS are at their lowest-ever level and the performance of the NHS is continually improving. As shadow Secretary of State, he would be better off celebrating the performance of the NHS than trying to run it down.
My right hon. Friend quoted some of the evidence that the Justice Committee is receiving, including very interesting evidence from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). It would help the Committee if it had an understanding of whether this instance is a special and particular case or whether it is seen by quite a lot of people in the civil service as a test case of whether there really is a safe space in which they can freely advance arguments about risk.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. This case is seen and was judged by me and my colleagues on its particular circumstances; as I made clear, it is an exceptional case. One of the arguments that underlay our decision was necessarily the one about the principle that we were assessing. That principle is very clear: the Freedom of Information Act envisages that there should be an exemption for the formulation and development of policy, and that under those circumstances the public interest in the proper development of policy could outweigh the public interest in disclosure.
In this case, we are very clear—and my colleagues have been very clear—that the risk register, when it was produced, was at that time instrumental to the formulation and development of policy and that therefore the public interest did not require its disclosure.
On Tuesday, the Health Secretary said that the veto was justified because the NHS risk register case is exceptional. On Wednesday, Earl Howe, the Health Minister, said:
“This isn’t just about the NHS. The Cabinet collectively took a decision that this was a matter that extended across Government.”
On Tuesday, the Health Secretary said that he was blocking publication, but on Wednesday, the same Health Minister said:
“We have every intention of publishing the risk register”.
This is a conspiracy and a cock-up. Is it not typical of this Government—too incompetent even to organise a decent cover-up?
I am afraid that the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I took the decision to veto the publication of the risk register, in justification of the Government’s view that it should not be disclosed, in December 2010. I am now making it very clear that I have put all the risk areas covered in the risk register in the public domain in the document that sets them out. The issue is not about the publication of the risk register now; it is about whether it was right to refuse its publication in December 2010. He knows perfectly well that that is the question and that is the judgment we made.
If the position of Labour Members is that the ministerial veto should apply only to Cabinet discussions, is it not odd that the legislation they passed does not contain that description? Is it not the case that the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) spoke for the reality of government rather than the opportunism of opposition?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Blackburn is not here; I told him that I would quote from his evidence to the Justice Committee. I will therefore not attempt further to interpret what his view might be. I think that what he said to the Justice Committee was consistent with the view that those implementing the FOI Act should bear it in mind that there was an exemption for the formulation and development of policy, as my hon. Friend implies. There was not an exemption for Cabinet collective discussion; there was an exemption for the formulation and development of policy. In each case, we have to weigh the public interest very carefully. Clearly, there will be many circumstances in which the public interest in disclosure outweighs the necessity for there to be a safe space for private discussions about issues of risk. In this case, in December 2010 my colleagues and I were clear that it would have been wholly wrong, and disruptive and damaging, to the policy development process for the document to be published at that time.
What does the Secretary of State so fear about what is in the risk register that he refuses to show it the light of day and defies a tribunal ruling?
I know that I cannot ask the hon. Gentleman a question, but I wonder whether he has read the document I published on Tuesday about what is in the risk register. I bet he has not.
Has the Secretary of State of State seen any previous risk registers, and does he think that their early publication may have affected the policy development of the previous Government?
I have seen many risk registers. Of course, I do not have access to the documents of the previous Government, so I cannot judge what the precise circumstances were in which the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) refused to publish a risk register, his predecessor as Secretary of State for Health refused to publish a risk register, or, indeed, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) refused to publish a risk register when he was a Treasury Minister.
In my constituency, the future of our hospital services, especially our accident and emergency service, is deeply uncertain. GP commissioning is colliding with massive cuts to social care budgets, creating considerable uncertainty about how that will pan out. Our ambulance services are being reconfigured—we are losing an ambulance to Salford—and our community services are being broken up and contracted out in penny parcels. Given all this uncertainty as transition begins to take its course in Trafford, what guarantees can the Secretary of State give to my constituents that they will be fully informed of the risks associated with such change when he is setting such a bad example nationally?
If the hon. Lady had looked at the document I published on Tuesday, she would realise that none of the issues she is talking about—quite properly, on behalf of her constituents—was addressed in November 2010 in the risk register. In so far as there were issues concerning the transition, not only have they been addressed but we have set out how we have mitigated them, with the specific objective of ensuring that during the process of transition there is not only business as usual in the NHS but performance is improved. That is why Labour Members should take on board the point that I made at the end of my response to the right hon. Member for Leigh: the performance of the NHS is improving during this process of transition.
Has my right hon. Friend received any representations from Labour Front Benchers about releasing the 2009 risk register, which they refused to publish when they were in office?
My hon. Friend may be surprised to know that I have received no such representations from Labour Members.
Is not the real reason the Secretary of State is vetoing publication of the risk register that it shows what the doctors, the nurses and the midwives warned of all along—that this reorganisation is dangerous and reckless, and actually puts patients at risk?
It does not say that. Before Labour Members get up to read out the Whips’ handouts, why do they not read the document that was published on Tuesday about what is in the risk register and how we have mitigated these risks? The hon. Lady’s point is unjustified, not least as regards nurses, because the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, in April 2011 and again in December 2011, sat in my office and told me, “We support the Bill.”
Will my right hon. Friend detail the changes in Department of Health policy on the publication of risk registers before or since May 2010?
The Department of Health’s risk management strategy is the same now as it was in 2009 or 2010.
The risk register that the Government fear publishing apparently points to potential major failures, including financial ones, in their plan for the NHS. Within weeks of coming to power, the Government ditched Labour plans for a new hospital for my constituents as it was considered too costly or financially risky, yet several hospitals could be built with the money wasted through their reorganisation. When will they recognise that and give their backing to the new financial plan for our hospital?
The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the reason we refused that support is that his local trust is a foundation trust. It was never contemplated that foundation trusts undertaking major capital projects in excess of £400 million should simply expect the Department to supply a capital grant for that purpose. Without commenting on the merits of the proposal, I think that his trust has since developed new and improved proposals. I am not sure that they have come to me in any sense at this stage, but when they do I will certainly be willing to look at them very carefully with the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns).
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many times, under the previous Government’s many reforms of the NHS, risk registers were routinely published as a matter of course?
Order. The difficulty with that question, although I am sure that it was sincerely intended, is that it relates to the policies of a previous Administration, for which of course the Secretary of State has no responsibility.
Should the Information Commissioner and the tribunal decide to approve the release of other risk registers, be it those that cover other work by his Department or the work of other Departments, such as the Work programme, has the Cabinet already decided also to veto their release?
No. The hon. Gentleman should know that in accordance with the FOI Act, if a ministerial veto were to be considered, it would be considered on the merits of any individual case.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he has followed the policy laid down by the previous Government on the application of the Act and that nothing has changed in that respect in policy terms?
Of course, Mr Speaker, I cannot comment on the policies of the previous Labour Government. I would be happy, if the right hon. Member for Leigh agrees, to publish the risk management strategy that the Department of Health had in place in 2009, which was not placed in the public domain at that time.
It is no surprise that the Secretary of State is running scared of publishing the risk register, because, as the House should not forget, an awful lot of measures now come through secondary legislation because the Government left a lot of detail out of the Health and Social Care Bill. In his statement—this is not from a Whips’ spreadsheet, let me add—he said: “If such registers were disclosed at sensitive times in relation to sensitive issues, as would have happened in the case before us, it is highly likely that they would be open to misinterpretation and misuse”. At what point does he think that there will cease to be “sensitive times”, and will he publish before the next general election?
I will repeat what my noble Friend Earl Howe said: we have every intention of publishing the risk register, but will do so when it is no longer directly relevant to the formulation and development of policy.
Having been involved in the production of risk registers for many years, I know that they are pertinent to the point in time at which they are produced and require free thinking by those who put them together. There must then be a mitigation strategy to prevent the risks from ever happening. The key issue is this: what does my right hon. Friend think would happen to the policy advisers who put together risk registers for Ministers if these highly sensitive documents were put in the public domain?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. To be absolutely clear, some risk registers are designed to be published. For example, strategic health authorities publish risk registers, and have done for a period of time, because they are designed to be published. The way in which the Labour party used the risk registers published by strategic health authorities, I think at the last Health questions, amply demonstrated that not only are they open to misrepresentation and misuse, but that the Labour party is very keen to misuse and misrepresent them. Even more so would it misrepresent and abuse the information in risk registers that were designed for the frank expression of advice if they were published. I do not need to speculate further in reply to my hon. Friend, because Lord O’Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary, made it very clear that we would end up with bland, anodyne documents that did not serve the management purpose for which they were created.
May I follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)? If civil servants did not trust that what they said to Ministers was said in confidence, we would get poor advice. Some things must remain confidential until the time is right for their publication. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I do agree with him. The Freedom of Information Act recognises explicitly that what he says is true, and that a judgment should therefore be made by Ministers about where the balance of public interest lies. That is what we have done.
Electoral Registration and Administration Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
The Deputy Prime Minister, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Kenneth Clarke, Mr Secretary Moore, Mr Mark Harper and Mr David Heath, presented a Bill to make provision about the registration of electors and the administration and conduct of elections.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).
Civil Aviation Bill
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)
Mrs Theresa Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Hague, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Vince Cable, Secretary Justine Greening, Mr Secretary Paterson, Secretary Michael Moore, Mrs Secretary Gillan and Mr Francis Maude, presented a Bill to make provision about the regulation of operators of dominant airports; to confer functions on the Civil Aviation Authority under competition legislation in relation to services provided at airports; to make provision about airport security; to make provision about the regulation of provision of flight accommodation; to make further provision about the Civil Aviation Authority’s membership, administration and functions in relation to enforcement, regulatory burdens and the provision of information relating to aviation; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 30 January); to be read the Third time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57),
Mr Secretary Kenneth Clarke, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr David Willetts, Mr Edward Vaizey and Mr Jonathan Djanogly, presented a Bill to amend the law of defamation.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80B)
Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Davey, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Miss Chloe Smith, presented a Bill to grant certain duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance.
Bill read the First and Second time, clauses 1, 4, 8, 189 and 209 and schedules 1, 23 and 33 as reported from a Committee of the whole House were laid upon the Table without Question put, and the Bill stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 7, 9 to 188, 190 to 208 and 210 to 227 and schedules 2 to 22, 24 to 32 and 34 to 38 (Standing Order No. 80B and Order, 16 April); and to be printed (Bill 1).
Financial Services Bill
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)
Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke, Miss Chloe Smith and Norman Lamb, presented a Bill to amend the Bank of England Act 1998, the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and the Banking Act 2009; to make other provision about the exercise of certain statutory functions relating to building societies, friendly societies and other mutual societies; to amend section 785 of the Companies Act 2006; to make provision enabling the Director of Savings to provide services to other public bodies; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No 80A) and Order, 6 February); to be further considered on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).
Local Government Finance Bill
Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)
Mr Secretary Pickles, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Mr Oliver Letwin, Andrew Stunell, Robert Neill and Mr David Jones, presented a Bill to make provision about non-domestic rating; to make provision about grants to local authorities; to make provision about council tax; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 10 January); to be considered on Monday 14 May, and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 9 May).
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Home Affairs and Justice
In justice and home affairs, the coalition Government achieved a great deal in the first parliamentary Session. We legislated to bring in elected police and crime commissioners, giving proper public accountability to policing. We brought in reforms to reduce reoffending and started paying by results. We rolled back unwarranted state intrusion into private lives through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. We placed successful investigation and prosecution, once again, at the heart of our strategy for countering terrorism. We reduced the cost of legal aid, while protecting the vulnerable.
In the second Session, we are bringing forward further reforms to strengthen public protection; to better tackle serious crime and defend our borders; to make justice swifter, fairer and more comprehensive; to maintain and modernise our communications data capabilities; and to improve the oversight of the security intelligence agencies that keep us safe.
The Gracious Speech included the Crime and Courts Bill, which was introduced into another place earlier today. Current estimates suggest that serious, organised and complex crime costs our country between £20 billion and £40 billion a year. Law enforcement figures suggest that there are more than 7,000 organised crime groups that impact on the UK, involving about 30,000 individuals. Even those figures may underestimate the impact. Behind those statistics is the human misery that serious and organised crime inflicts on our communities. The drug dealing on street corners, the burglary and mugging by addicts, and the credit card fraud that robs so many are all fundamentally driven by serious, organised and complex crime.
As well as growing, that threat is changing. That means that our law enforcement response must also change. Visible neighbourhood policing is vital, but it will not deal with the cyber-criminal who is raiding bank accounts directly from overseas. Arresting drug dealers is important, but it will not stop the flow of drugs from abroad. Vetting and barring are important, but they cannot protect a child from the dangers that lurk online. To deal with those new threats, we need a new crime fighting force—a force that is capable of working across police boundaries and organisational divisions; a force that can defend our borders and deal with the economic consequences of complex crime; a force that protects children and vulnerable people and is active in cyberspace. That crime fighting force will be the National Crime Agency.
The Home Secretary has used the phrase “serious and organised crime” a number of times. Is she aware of the high reputation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency internationally in south America and many other places around the world that are involved in combating the people trafficking and drug trafficking to which she has referred? How will she ensure that, with the changes in organisation and the new name, we do not lose the brand and the reputation that have been built over many years?
I am well aware of the good name that SOCA has across the world. When I visit other countries, I try to speak to local SOCA liaison officers, where we have them, and I have met some of our liaison officers from south America when they have been in the UK.
I know the value that other law enforcement agencies across the world place on the work that SOCA does. That is why the National Crime Agency will build on the good work that SOCA has developed. SOCA will become the serious and organised crime command within the NCA, so we will develop the good work that has been done. I believe that being within the NCA will give SOCA a greater ability to deal with these issues. Linking SOCA with the border police command, the economic crime command and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre will give us a greater ability to act across the various types of serious and organised crime. Criminals do not compartmentalise their crime. Serious and organised crime groups are often involved in many types of crime and we need to reflect that in our law enforcement capability.
There are a couple of areas of anxiety concerning the NCA. The first is that it has no clear line of accountability to the general public. Perhaps the Home Secretary can give some information on the mechanisms of accountability to local communities. Secondly, as I understand it the NCA will have fewer staff than SOCA. Which of SOCA’s responsibilities will therefore disappear? If I am wrong, perhaps she can clarify how the staffing and financing of the NCA will compare to those of SOCA. The ambiguity and confusion around those issues have not been cleared up.
I visited SOCA some weeks ago and spoke to its staff about the situation that will pertain when it comes into the National Crime Agency. Discussions are obviously taking place with staff about the arrangements for the transition. There is a limit to what can be done until we are in a position to introduce and take forward a Bill, but those discussions will take place. I recognise that at a time of transition there is always a degree of uncertainty for individuals. That happens because of the process of transition, but we will make every effort to continue discussions with staff about what will happen when SOCA comes into the NCA.
In terms of accountability and responsibility, the NCA director general will be responsible to the Home Secretary and through the Home Secretary to Parliament. I have every confidence that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, who has already shown a significant interest in the matter, will make every effort to ensure that his Committee has the opportunity to look into the workings of the NCA—
On that point—
The hon. Gentleman has started talking before I have sat down.
I missed the first two minutes of the Home Secretary’s speech, but I am keen to get into the debate because I have been outside talking about the dreadful case of criminals preying on children in Rochdale. My constituents do not really care what an agency is called; they want an effective mechanism. When I led a debate on child prostitution and the curse that we had across the northern region, I pointed out that one of the central problems is the not-joined-up relationship between different police forces in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire.
Is this going to be stamped out by this new—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will sit down when I say “Order”. Interventions should be brief, and it is customary to ask a Minister to give way before launching into an intervention, although the Home Secretary is perfectly capable of taking care of herself.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I recognise that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) passionately believes in, and cares greatly about, the issue he raised—and, frankly, so should we all. Sadly, child sexual exploitation takes place across communities and across the country. It is a matter of growing concern, given the number of cases identified by the police.
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of police forces working together. One feature of the National Crime Agency will be its greater ability not only to bring the agencies within the commands of the NCA together, but to work with police forces up and down the country. One aim is to get a more joined-up approach towards crime fighting at this level. That is why I am pleased that CEOP will be within the NCA because CEOP has a hugely respected reputation for its work—but I think it can do more, and being located within the NCA will enable it to do more.
I have already been generous in giving way, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I appreciate the Secretary of State’s generosity and I welcome what she has said. On the issue of tackling these issues in a joined-up way, a Northern Ireland court recently convicted people for sex trafficking—the first case in that regard. However, the sentence was incredibly low, and I have raised the matter with the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and with our Public Prosecution Service. Will the Secretary of State ensure that, when it comes to consistency in prosecutions, we also have consistency in outcomes, so that people convicted in Northern Ireland are put away for just as long as people here on the mainland?
The hon. Gentleman makes a point that is specific to Northern Ireland. The legal structures within Northern Ireland—the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland and Northern Ireland prosecutors—are the right place for the hon. Gentleman to pursue his concerns about sentencing in Northern Ireland. We have been in significant discussions with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland and, indeed, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the working of the National Crime Agency and how it will interact with the devolved Administrations. We have also been having discussions on that matter with others, as appropriate.
The National Crime Agency will, first and foremost, be a crime-fighting organisation. I have appointed Keith Bristow, the former chief constable of Warwickshire police, as its first director general. He will be operationally independent, but, as I said in response to the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd), accountable to the Home Secretary and through the Home Secretary to Parliament.
I see the NCA as having three important characteristics. I would like to set them out, as they reflect some of the exchanges we have just had. First, it must have a positive effect on the safety of local communities by joining up the law enforcement response from the local to the national to the international. That will enable us to do rather better than has been the case so far. Secondly, it must act as the controlling hand, owning the co-ordinated intelligence picture, but working with the police and others to decide on the highest priority criminal targets, agreeing on the action necessary to tackle them and having the power to ensure that action is taken. Thirdly, it must bring its own contribution to the fight against serious, organised and complex crime. That means having its own intelligence-gathering and investigative capability, sophisticated technical skills, and a presence internationally, at the border and in cyberspace. That is how I believe the NCA will help cut crime and lock up criminals.
Will the National Crime Agency have the authority and ability to go straight into a regional police force computer and, indeed, have the authority to go in and take over an investigation if the director general feels that it should do so?
The important point for the NCA is to be able to work with police forces at various levels to ensure that where it is necessary for it to be involved in investigations, that can be done. The Bill will provide for the NCA to have the ability to task police forces around the country. I expect it to work on the basis of co-operation and collaboration. That is the basis on which SOCA and CEOP have operated, and it has worked very well so far. I expect it to be possible to achieve what we want in respect of the effective joining up and collaboration of forces with the NCA and its commands. Any action will be based on the identification through intelligence of the greatest harms, which will allow us to identify the greatest priorities where action needs to be taken.
For justice to be effective, it must also be swift and efficient, and it must be seen to be done by a criminal justice system that properly reflects our society. The Crime and Courts Bill will further set out our reforms of the courts and tribunals system to make it faster, more transparent, more representative of the communities it serves and more efficient in its use of resources.
On the subject of efficiency and speed, the Home Secretary said in this morning’s written statement on Abu Qatada that she now has two options for the deportation of this man. One is to go through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission court and the other is to certify his further appeal as clearly unfounded. Can she say anything about whether she feels that certifying any further appeal as clearly unfounded would be effective?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Many would have wished to see a conclusion to the Abu Qatada case rather more swiftly than has been possible so far. I am confident, however, that we are closer to the deportation of Abu Qatada today than we were two days ago. We need to go through the proper processes in the UK courts. My hon. Friend rightly referred to the written ministerial statement and the two available processes.
If I can finish providing an explanation to my hon. Friend, the right hon. Lady might not need to ask a question.
Two processes are available. A very high bar is set for the Government to go down the route of adopting the certification process. Declaring a case against deportation as unfounded is effectively the same as saying that there is no legal argument against the deportation. As I said, a very high bar has been set in relation to that, but I am, of course, taking advice on both options. I shall make the Government’s position clear in due course.
Like the Home Secretary, I strongly welcomed yesterday’s decision by the European Court to refuse Abu Qatada’s appeal. I think that we all want him to be deported to Jordan as rapidly as possible. Of course we recognise that she will have to make complex and difficult decisions in order to ensure that she gets the next steps right, but will she now accept that she got it wrong when she told the House of Commons 12 times that the date of the deadline for Abu Qatada’s appeal was the Monday rather than the Tuesday night?
Obviously I welcome the fact that the European Court came out and refused Abu Qatada’s application for referral yesterday. As I told the Home Affairs Committee, I had been strongly advised that that was expected to happen because of the case that we had made.
Of course I accept that the Court has made its decision on the matter of the deadline. The Government still do not agree with that decision—[Interruption.] As I have said, we accept the Court’s decision. I made clear at every stage to the House and to the Home Affairs Committee that it was only ever going to be that panel of judges that finally decided whether the referral could be accepted. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote to the European Court today drawing attention to inconsistencies in the guidance that it had published on how to calculate the date, and asking it to clarify the position for future purposes and provide revised guidance.
I was talking about the Crime and Courts Bill, and the matters relating to the criminal justice system that it reflects. We will ensure that fines represent real justice by making defaulting offenders, not the taxpayer, pay the cost of collection. A single county court and a single family court will be established to increase the efficiency of the civil and family court systems, and the judicial appointments process will be reformed to introduce greater transparency, flexibility and diversity. Court broadcasting will be allowed, in limited circumstances, to help to demystify the justice system. We will improve the efficiency of our immigration system by removing full appeal rights for family visit visas and removing in-country appeal rights for excluded persons, and we will strengthen our borders by extending the powers of immigration officers to tackle serious and organised immigration-related crime.
I am glad that the Home Secretary acknowledges that the unequivocal advice about the deadline was wrong.
We were told yesterday that £3.5 million in bonuses had been paid to senior officials at the UK Border Agency, including a payment of £10,000 to one individual. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is wrong to give bonuses to officials of an organisation that has been so heavily criticised, not just by the Home Affairs Committee but by Members in all parts of the House and, indeed, by the Prime Minister? May we please see an end to this bonus culture unless the UKBA is fit for purpose?
The right hon. Gentleman has been vociferous in his reflections on the UK Border Agency and the UK Border Force for some time. The arrangements for bonus payments in the civil service are agreed collectively. For the 2010-11 performance year, 24% of Home Office senior civil servants were awarded non-consolidated performance payments. The highest bonus award paid to a permanent staff member of the senior civil service and its agencies was £10,000, and no UKBA civil servant was awarded a bonus of £10,000 for the 2011 performance year. Bonus payments are kept under constant review. They are awarded when individual staff have performed to strict criteria, and the restraint exercised by the current Government will continue to be exercised.
Another element of the Crime and Courts Bill is relevant to an issue raised yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) during the Prime Minister’s speech. We will introduce a new offence of driving while under the influence of drugs. Dangerous drug drivers should not be on the roads. Too many innocent people, such as 14-year-old Lillian Groves, have been killed or injured by people who have been driving under the influence of illegal drugs. We will close that loophole, and we will ensure that justice is done.
It is proposed that cameras should be allowed in courtrooms to give the general public a better understanding of what goes on there. Will the Home Secretary allow television companies to use snippets from those films? I think the effect of that might be the reverse of what she seeks.
This will be done extremely carefully. There has been discussion for some time about whether cameras should be allowed in courtrooms. The ability to film will be limited, in terms of who and what can be filmed. The details of how that is arranged with television companies and the courts will be discussed during the Bill’s passage. I think we all recognise that the filming could be of significant benefit, but it needs to be done in the right way if that benefit is to be achieved.
The Home Secretary has been speaking for 20 minutes. She is rightly covering the detail of the Queen’s Speech, and we will want to examine those Bills in detail. However, I am stunned by the fact that not once in 20 minutes has she mentioned the fact that thousands of police officers are marching just a few hundred yards away, taking an unprecedented level of action. They are campaigning because they are very much against 20% cuts in police budgets. Does the Home Secretary agree that we should be given more detail, and perhaps a Bill on police numbers? For instance, 5,000 front-line officers have been removed since May 2010.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well why it has been necessary for the Government to cut police budgets: because of the deficit that we were left by the Labour Government. As he reflects on the decision to reduce those budgets, perhaps he will also reflect on the fact that reductions of the same order are supported by his party’s Front Benchers, as they have made clear.
Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our justice system means reviewing and reforming aspects that are not operating as they should. All Members will be aware that our current libel laws are having a detrimental effect on freedom of expression and on academic and scientific debate, and that our courts have become a magnet for libel tourists. That is why all three parties included a commitment to reform in their manifestos. We are introducing a Defamation Bill rebalancing our libel laws to offer more effective protection for freedom of speech and reasonable debate, while at the same time protecting those who have been genuinely and unjustly defamed.
The Bill has benefited from extremely detailed and helpful scrutiny in draft by a Joint Committee of both Houses, as well as having been the subject of public consultation. That has been a great advantage, enabling a wide range of views to be expressed and carefully considered in a thorough and open way. It has helped us to draw up proposals that we believe address core issues of concern where reform is needed and where legislation can make a real difference.
The Government's second Session programme contains measures to fight serious and novel crime and to strengthen justice, but we must also ensure that we keep pace with all the threats to our country. The internet revolution has benefited us all—we now communicate and interact in ways that would have been unimaginable even a few years ago—but the communications revolution also presents an opportunity for terrorists to plot attacks, for serious criminals to arrange drug deals, and for paedophiles to share illegal and abhorrent images.
For many years our police, law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies have used communications data from landline telephones and mobiles—that is, the context but not the content of communications—to catch criminals and to protect the public. Understanding whom suspects have contacted, when they did so and where they were at the time can be central to building a case, proving associations between criminals or terrorists and showing that a suspect was at the scene of a crime. Over the past decade, communications data have been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation and in 95% of all serious crime cases.
As the Home Secretary will know, I practically cheered on the Conservative Government as they began to roll back the rotten anti-civil libertarian state that Labour had left them. Why is it now business as usual? Why does what the Home Secretary is saying suggest the worst excesses of new Labour, and why is she embarking on a snoopers’ charter?
Perhaps if the hon. Gentleman listens further to my explanation of the Bill, he will recognise that it is not a snoopers’ charter. Why am I standing here saying that we are introducing a communications data Bill? Because over the past decade, communications data have been used in every major Security Service counter-terrorism investigation and in 95% of all serious crime cases. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner has said,
“it is an essential and irreplaceable tool for protecting the public.”
If we allow our capabilities in this area to be degraded, criminals will go free who otherwise would not. The ability to use that tool is disappearing. As more and more criminal communication moves online, the ability of the police and agencies to access those communications is being degraded.
In the past, phone companies needed, for billing purposes, to log who a person had called, who called them, when, and for how long the conversation lasted. We can see that they keep such information just by looking at our itemised phone bills. Internet service providers have a different business model. Nobody charges per e-mail, and there are no itemised bills of Facebook posts. That means that modern communications companies do not store all of the communications data the police need. The police and agencies estimate that about 25% of requests for communications data can no longer be met because the data have not been stored, compared with just 10% six years ago.
In a recent case, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre received intelligence of unique internet addresses from the UK that had accessed child abuse material. Because some of the communications data were not available, nine out of 41 members of an international paedophile ring could not be traced. This Government are not prepared to allow more paedophiles to go free, more serious criminals to go on committing crimes, and more terrorist plots to go undetected, so we will bring forward legislation to ensure that communications data are available in the future, just as they have been in the past.
There will need to be more analysts in order to enable this additional data to which the Government and the authorities will have access to be used in real time. Are more appropriately trained analysts being put in place?
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands what will be done. There will not be accessing of information in real time. There are currently some limited occasions when real-time data are used, such as in kidnapping cases, where whether the individual is discovered could be a matter of life and death. These measures are not about accessing in real time, however, and I shall describe in a little more detail what our proposal is about and what it is not about, because some myths have been going around about the Government’s plans.
Does my right hon. Friend remember that one of the options that was considered when the previous Government were in power was the creation of a warehouse of information, because, as certain information was not needed by the service providers, the Government would have had to collect it? That would be a particularly undesirable and unattractive course of action, especially when compared with simply requiring providers to hold information for a little longer.
My right hon. Friend is right, and we opposed that proposal, as did our Liberal Democrat colleagues. We are not in the business of creating what my right hon. Friend described as a warehouse; this proposal is not about creating some giant new Government database, with every single piece of telephone information and e-mail. It is important to bust that myth.
What the legislation will do is provide an updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data. It will place new obligations on internet and communication service providers to retain certain data securely for up to 12 months. After 12 months, the data will be destroyed. Just as now, the communications industry will be reimbursed by Government for providing this service. The costs incurred are a fraction of those we would face for any alternative method; indeed, there is no like-for-like alternative. As now, data would be available only to designated officers on a case-by-case basis, authorised under legislation approved by Parliament, and overseen by the independent Interception of Communications Commissioner, who is a former Court of Appeal judge.
There will be no extension of the number of people who can access that data. Indeed, we have already legislated, through the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, to limit local authority access to communications data. Each acquisition of data must be authorised by a senior officer at a rank stipulated by Parliament. Access will be granted only if it is necessary and proportionate for a criminal or terrorist investigation, or to protect the public. Fishing expeditions would neither be necessary nor proportionate, and so would not be allowed.
The role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal—a panel of senior judicial figures—will be extended to ensure that individuals have a proper avenue of complaint and independent investigation if they think the powers have been used unlawfully.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this measure. Does she agree that, far from being a snoopers’ charter, these provisions will modernise and bring into line procedures that are already in place in respect of more traditional forms of communication, and allow the Crown Prosecution Service to continue, and to improve, its evidence-gathering techniques in prosecuting people involved in organised crime and other serious criminality?
My hon. Friend has got it in one: this is, precisely, about maintaining a capability that exists today in a changing technological world.
Will the Home Secretary give way?
I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am being very generous in taking interventions today.
The Home Secretary is, indeed, being very generous, but these are very important points.
I accept that the intention is as the right hon. Lady says, but there is a great danger that measures will be introduced that do not keep pace with technological change and that are not future-proofed. There is also a danger that the industry will not be engaged with properly, and that we therefore fail to address fully the ways in which modern technology functions. Will the right hon. Lady undertake to use the skills, abilities and experience of people in this House and in the industry, in order to ensure that the legislation that is designed is absolutely right?
The right hon. Gentleman makes the valid point—which, if I recall correctly, was similar to a point he made when I appeared before the Home Affairs Committee—that there is expertise in this House. We will look for ways to engage with those who have an interest in these matters. We do, of course, engage with industry, because, in respect of this Bill, it is important for us to be able to understand where the technology is going and the prospects for its future development.
The police and other agencies will have no new powers or capabilities to intercept and read e-mails or telephone calls. All such requests will always require a warrant signed by a Secretary of State. There will be no changes in these arrangements, and we envisage no increase in interception. Finally, to reiterate the point I made in response to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), let me make it clear that there will be no giant new Government database containing the data behind all e-mails and phone calls, which was what was proposed by the last Government.
The Home Secretary rightly said that communication service providers are required to keep data for commercial purposes such as billing, and that these new proposed measures will extend that to information for criminal cases. However, many companies will retain data for commercial purposes for up to seven years, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that they will not be required to dispose of that data within 12 months?
It is not the Government’s intention to require any change in the commercial model currently operated by communication service providers. The data that will be covered by the legislation—data that might not otherwise have been kept—will be required to be kept for only 12 months, however, after which time those data will have to be destroyed.
We are entering a new and highly complex technological world. In order to deal with it, we will need a highly motivated, well-paid police force. What am I going to say to the people who have been on today’s march, and who will come to see me later on, in order to assure them that the right hon. Lady believes they should be looked after?
The hon. Gentleman can tell the policemen he will meet later today that this Government are ensuring, through their changes, that the police will continue to be well remunerated and have access to a very good pension, and that police forces up and down this country will be able to continue to keep people safe and fight crime as they always have done. He can also assure them that, through the measures we are taking to introduce a new police professional body and to enhance the status and professionalism of policing, we are ensuring individual police officers will have access to the training and development they will need in order to acquire the skills that we want them to have. I see an exciting future for policing as a result of the reforms this Government are putting through, and that is the message I hope everybody will be taking out to police officers on the streets.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that leadership from the top is vital, and that the recent allegations of poor procurement practices and the payment of large consulting fees to ex-coppers at the Association of Chief Police Officers have to be investigated fully before we look at the best structure for police leadership going forward?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I understand that he has written about it to the Policing Minister, who is happy to meet him to talk about it.
The coalition has done a great deal to defend civil liberties. We have abolished ID cards, cut back Government databases and limited pre-charge detention. We have shown that we are not going to throw away hard-won British freedoms, even when we have to take important decisions about national security, and our proposals on communications data are consistent with those values. However, I recognise that Members will want the chance properly to scrutinise our proposals, so the draft clauses will be put forward for careful pre-legislative scrutiny. Following that, proposals will be introduced at the earliest opportunity, and I hope I can count on the support of the Opposition when they are introduced.
The strengthened safeguards we will put in place for access to communications data show that at the same time as we protect national security, we can also defend civil liberties. There is no contradiction between those two aims, so our justice and security Bill will enhance national security and justice by ensuring that all relevant material can be considered in court cases, at the same time as modernising and enhancing parliamentary oversight of our security and intelligence agencies. The statutory framework for oversight of the agencies has not changed since before 9/11. During that time, the public profile and budgets of, and the operational demands on, the agencies have all increased significantly.
The Government believe the time is now right to modernise the oversight regime to ensure that it is both effective and credible, so we will modernise the Intelligence and Security Committee and extend its remit. For the first time, the Committee will be given responsibility for the wider intelligence community. It will also be given broader powers to access information, it will have additional resources to carry out its tasks, and its status will be changed to bring it closer to Parliament. We will also broaden the remit of the intelligence services commissioner. These proposals represent a considerable increase in the powers of the bodies responsible for overseeing the intelligence community.
The justice and security Bill will also introduce proposals to deal with the limitations of the current court rules which do not allow sensitive intelligence evidence to be heard in civil proceedings, even where it is of central relevance to the case. In future, any challenges brought against the Government will be able to be heard fully, with all relevant facts and information available to the court. No important information will have to be withheld for fear of jeopardising important intelligence-sharing relationships or endangering lives. Under these plans, closed material procedures will be available in the tiny number of civil cases where national security-sensitive material is centrally relevant, just as they currently are in some immigration, employment and family hearings. The final decision on whether a closed material procedure is needed will rest with the judge. As much of the case as possible will always be held in open court. This is a step forward for justice. It will mean that civil cases that are currently not heard will be heard, and that serious allegations made against the Government will be fully and independently investigated and scrutinised by the courts. It will also mean that cases the Government believe have no merit will no longer be settled for significant sums, but will be heard and judged by our courts.
The Bill also seeks to protect our vital intelligence-sharing relationships by reforming the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction, which allows someone fighting a case outside the UK to apply to a British court for access to intelligence information held by us, and in some cases supplied by our allies. The Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction has been used no fewer than nine times in the last three years to seek the disclosure of secret intelligence that either belongs to the UK Government, or which our allies have shared with us. In such cases, the Government do not have the option of withdrawing from or settling these proceedings. Our inability to reassure our allies that we will uphold the confidential terms on which they share intelligence material with us has obvious and damaging consequences, so we will address the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction in the justice and security Bill.
The Government’s justice and home affairs proposals will ensure that serious, organised and complex crime is tackled; punishments are strengthened; justice is swifter and more efficient; freedom of speech is protected; national security is maintained; and the oversight of those who keep us safe is modernised. It is a comprehensive reform package that will enhance public safety, improve justice and cut crime. While today is only the start of the debate, these are aims with which I hope the whole House will agree.
Yesterday, it was clear that this Queen’s Speech will do nothing to tackle jobs and growth, nothing to get Britain out of a double-dip recession, and nothing to help family finances. Now, sadly, it is clear that there is not much to help tackle crime or improve policing, border security and justice, either.
As we gather to debate the Queen’s Speech, 16,000 police officers from across the country—officers in black hats, and many more thousands beside them—are gathering and marching through London. Constables, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents, even chief constables, are protesting against the 20% criminal cuts the Home Secretary is making. There are many more whom they represent who could not make it today because they are at work or out on the beat. There are officers such as Tony MacDonald, whom I met last month, who used to be a beat officer in Retford. He loved his job. He has been forced to retire years early, and police support for the town has been cut back. There are the officers in the midlands who told me that their response units have been cut back, so when a 999 call came in about a hit-and-run involving a child, it took the nearest officer 45 minutes to get to the scene of the crime.
This morning, I spoke to officers from Yorkshire who told me that they are spending more time on bureaucracy, not less, because the back office has been so heavily cut—officers such as Chief Constable Tony Melville, who warned that his force was at a cliff edge because of the cuts, and who has tendered his resignation because of his opposition to Government reforms.
The officers who risk life and limb to keep us safe are deeply angry at the cuts and the chaos they face. They are worried about whether, in the light of the Winsor review, they will be able to keep up with their mortgage payments. Morale is at rock bottom and they are overstretched, especially with the Olympics coming up. They are angry at a Home Secretary and a Prime Minister who do not recognise or sufficiently value the work they do.
I will give way to the hon. Lady if she will say whether she supports the officers from her constituency who are marching in protest today.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. Will she give the House an idea of what her party thinks the outcome of the police review should be?
We have said many times that we think the police could sustain cuts to their budgets of some £1 billion over the course of a Parliament, but instead, the Government have gone for £2 billion—going far further and too fast. That is why 16,000 officers are being lost, including thousands from the hon. Lady’s region. These are deeply destructive decisions that, in the end, are putting communities at risk. Of course, 16,000 officers is the number we needed on the streets of London to take back control after rioters burned Tottenham and Croydon, and looters ransacked Clapham, Hackney and Ealing; and 16,000 is the number of police officers that this Home Secretary has decided to cut.
I thank the right hon. Lady for giving way. So that we are clear, will she explain to the House from where she will find the £1 billion difference between this Government’s proposals and her party’s proposals?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have said many times that, overall, this Government are cutting too far and too fast. Their deficit reduction plan is going so far and so fast that it is hitting jobs and hitting growth, and it is not working. His Government and his Chancellor are borrowing over £150 billion more in order to pay for the bills of failure. The economy is not growing, jobs are being cut, businesses are not paying tax because they are not growing, and unemployment benefit has to be paid to all those people stuck on the dole.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us how many police officers could have been paid for had we maintained the level of growth—2%—that we had before the last general election?
My hon. Friend makes an important point: the economy was growing at the time of the general election, but we now have a double-dip recession instead. The Government have shoved the economy into reverse. As a result, businesses are not growing and paying their taxes, and more and more people are needing unemployment benefit. We are spending billions more on unemployment benefit and social security benefits. The Government are paying the bills of failure, rather than supporting growth and success.
The right hon. Lady can certainly argue about the pace at which the cuts have to be made, but may I take her back to the question my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) asked about whether the Government were going too far? The Chancellor is seeking to remove the structural deficit and, as I understand it, the Labour party is committed to exactly the same objective, and so the argument is only about pace, rather than about the overall scale. If that is so, can she answer the question: where will she find the extra £1 billion?
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that this is also about the “how”, because we want the economy to grow and his party has given up on growth, as even The Daily Telegraph has admitted. The economy has gone into a double-dip recession and, as a result, businesses are not paying the taxes that we need and more people are needing unemployment benefit. The economy is therefore suffering and the Chancellor is having to borrow an extra £150 billion more. He is failing on every single count; the approach is hurting but it is not working.
I will give the Policing Minister the opportunity to tell us what he would say to the 16,000 or more officers who are out on the streets today.
The right hon. Lady has conceded that the Labour party would be cutting £1 billion a year from the police budget—I doubt she told police officers that when she saw them earlier. Will she also concede that she has said that there should be a two-year pay freeze, which saves another half a billion, and that her right hon. Friend the shadow Policing Minister has said that there should be changes to overtime and shift patterns that would save another £600 million—those were his words—which means that they are committed to exactly the same savings as the Government? Does she therefore understand that police officers will not believe her when she makes the claims that she does?
Minister, you should know better. Interventions are to be brief; they are not an opportunity to make a speech. That applies to Ministers as well as to Back Benchers.
The Policing Minister can try this as often as he likes; it does not matter how many times he says it, he knows that it is not true. We have made it very clear that we think that this figure of £1 billion would be sustainable and, yes, it would include pay measures, changes and other ways of making efficiency savings. His figures may not include that, but we have made it very clear that to deliver the number of police officers—[Interruption.]
Order. Minister, you should not shout across the Chamber. You made an intervention. You are not required to like the answer, but you are required to listen to it and not heckle.
Government Members need to recognise that their decisions are cutting 16,000 police officers. Our approach is to say that we do not believe that 16,000 police officers should be cut. We believe that the police should have enough money to support those 16,000 officers. We should not have had to cut 5,000 police officers already from 999 units, from neighbourhood response units and from the urgent response units that we need to keep us safe and to arrive in an emergency.
I will give way to the Home Secretary if she will tell us why she thinks that it is a good idea to have already taken more than 5,000 police out of 999 units, neighbourhood units and the traffic cops.
The right hon. Lady just said that the 12% cut in police budgets that she has told us in this Chamber the Opposition would support includes the pay freeze, but it does not. She has said that she would support the 12% efficiency savings outlined by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, but those did not include either the pay freeze—£500 million—or the overtime cuts of a further £600 million announced by the shadow Policing Minister. What Opposition Members need to understand is that what she has said about cuts to police budgets would lead to cuts in police officer numbers and that they should not say anything other than that when they talk to the police.
We heard nothing then to defend the 5,000 officers being cut from 999 response units, from neighbourhood policing units and from emergency response units across the country. The Home Secretary is dealing in fantasy figures. She needs to think about what she has just said. If the figures she has just used were correct, no police officers would be going—no front-line staff would be being cut—everything would be hunky-dory and she would be able to do it all through the pay freeze and through the back-office cuts that she has proposed. But that is not what is happening. Instead, 16,000 police officers are going, from every corner of the country. They are being taken from the very front-line services we need. Time and again the Government told us that the front line would be protected and would not be hit, but that is not happening. She is out of touch. The Prime Minister told us:
“We won’t do anything that will reduce the amount of visible policing on our streets.”
But 5,000 police officers have gone already, and many thousands more are to go.
This is not just about the number; it is also about the considerable experience of many of those police officers. That is especially the case in respect of the grotesque picture in the west midlands, where, under rule A19, which the Home Secretary has blithely ignored and dismissed, very experienced police officers are being dismissed. They are going on to the pension scheme—this does not fall on the west midlands account, but it sure adds on to the public finances because of the pensions. When we talk about dodgy figures, that is exactly the sort of dodgy accounting we are discussing. This is a real loss to policing in the west midlands.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we are losing some of our most experienced officers. I have spoken to officers from other places around the country who wanted to carry on working, and who had great skills and experience to contribute to the police force, but are being forced into early retirement. The evidence and research from the House of Commons Library shows that that will actually cost the taxpayer more. This approach is absolutely crazy. It is bad for communities and bad for the taxpayer.
We know now what the Prime Minister’s response to this situation is. He does not think it is a problem; cutting 999 response teams is not about emergencies or about visibility—it is not even austerity. He said that it is just “efficiency”. He calls it “efficiency” but communities across the country call it, “Out of touch, irresponsible and unfair”, because they know it is communities that are paying the price.
How can the right hon. Lady reconcile her current rhetoric on numbers with the fact that under the Labour Government only 11% of the police were available to the general public at any one time? Was that not because mismanagement and bureaucracy ran riot under Labour?
The hon. Gentleman knows that that figure does not actually reflect what happens in police forces across the country. Barely an hour ago, I spoke to police officers who told me that they are now having to deal with more bureaucracy, not less. They have to do all their own recording of crime and all their own collecting of statements, which used to be done by civilian support staff. Those police officers told me categorically that they are now spending less time out on the beat and having to deal with more bureaucracy than they were before. The police are becoming less visible, not more visible, as a result of this Government’s decisions.
What then does the Queen’s Speech have to offer to cut crime or to improve public safety? The answer is: not much. The previous Queen’s Speech was bad enough: 17,000 suspected rapists were taken off the DNA database; 20% cuts were made in policing at the same time as £100 million could be found for elected police commissioners; counter-terrorism powers were watered down; and getting CCTV was made tougher. So what do the Government have to offer this time to make good the damage? The answer is: cameras in courts. I guess they had to put them somewhere, now that they are taking them away from the town centres and the housing estates.
The Home Secretary did promise stronger oversight of the intelligence and security agencies. We will support that, and I hope that she goes far enough. She also said that she wants more closed material procedures—the devil will be in the detail on that. There is a problem with foreign intelligence, and I agree with her that there is a problem with the Norwich Pharmacal jurisdiction. The proposals that she set out in the Green Paper were not justified and went too far. I recognise from her remarks today that she has made some changes to those positions, but we will need to see the detail, reflect and give the matter consideration. She also talked about extending communication surveillance. Again, we will await the detail. Everyone wants the police to be able to keep up with new technology in the fight against terrorism, but no one wants the police or security agencies browsing personal e-mails or Facebook pages at will. I hope that we can have cross-party discussions on this. The Home Secretary will know that the practice of previous Home Secretaries has been to provide extensive briefing for the Opposition and for Select Committees, so we will wait to see what detail she is able to provide.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way again. May I please press her in particular on the point about closed material proceedings? When the Green Paper proposals were announced in this House, the Opposition made it clear that they supported closed material proceedings and recognised the need to protect certain material. Is she now suggesting that the Opposition’s position has changed?
As the Home Secretary will know, we have said that the scope of the Green Paper was too wide. We recognise that there is a problem for the security agencies with regard to how civil claims are made and how material needs to be considered. However, proper safeguards need to be in place, as we have said. She also knows, as I have said this to her, that I am very willing to have further cross-party discussions with her about the detail. We have not yet seen what amendments she may have made to the Green Paper proposals and we will wait to see them and scrutinise them in detail. It is important that she should do that. On communications surveillance—I do not know whether she heard my points earlier, as she was conferring with her Front-Bench colleagues—it has been normal practice in the past for Home Secretaries to provide extensive briefing for the Opposition and the Select Committees. We will wait for that briefing and consider and scrutinise the detail as it is proposed.
The Home Secretary has also proposed stronger community sentences. That sounds good, although we gather that the Bill will be published and debated in the House of Lords without any clauses on community sentences. We should also consider what is missing. There is nothing on equal marriage—not even a draft Bill—even though, as Minister for Women and Equalities, she made it clear that she was consulting not on whether but on how to introduce the changes. There is nothing on violence against women and nothing on antisocial behaviour, even though she promised more than two years ago that new action would be taken. There is nothing on gangs, even though after the riots the Government told us that that was their big priority and even though we know that gang injunctions need to be improved. There is nothing on problem families, even though the Government told us in the autumn that they were the priority, and there is nothing to protect core public policing or to stop neighbourhood patrols being contracted out to private companies such as G4S or KBR as the cuts bite.
Is my right hon. Friend also surprised that there is no legislation on the criminalisation of forced marriage, something that was recommended by the Select Committee in the last Parliament and that was supported by the Prime Minister as Leader of the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend is certainly right that the newspapers have been briefed on that subject, but as it is not in the Queen’s Speech we do not know the Government’s position. It is obviously a complex issue; nevertheless it would be useful to know the Government’s view.
There is nothing on knife crime, crime prevention or counter-terrorism. This was the Queen’s Speech that the Government briefed as being tough on crime and tough on antisocial behaviour, but it is hardly the stuff to have criminals quaking in their boots.
To be fair to the Home Secretary, she did tell us about the National Crime Agency. We support it; it is sensible enough, it is right and there are serious national crime issues that need to be addressed, but let us be honest that this is not radical reform but mainly a rearrangement. It is a cross between the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, with the police national computer and a new command structure thrown in. It is sensible enough, it will be an improvement, but it will not compensate for the lack of 16,000 police.
As for Britain’s borders, the Home Secretary says the new National Crime Agency will include a border policing command. Will that deliver extra staff to deal with queues, extra technology to improve security checks, better management to sort out the chaos, and help for families queuing for hours with tired kids? No. Instead we will have a border command in a separate organisation from the border force, which is itself in a separate organisation from the border agency, and there will still be no clear direction from the Government about what any of the three of them is supposed to do. The Home Secretary is adding to the chaos, not solving it.
I am grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for giving way a second time. Has she had the opportunity to read the report by John Vine that was published this morning, in which he specifically points out his concern about constant reorganisation not helping the protection of our borders?
My right hon. Friend, who is the Chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, makes an extremely important point. I wanted to come on to that report, because, overall, we can see the queues getting longer while Ministers do not seem to have a clue what is going on.
Last Monday, the Minister for Immigration claimed the maximum queues were an hour and a half and accused the media of making “wild suggestions”. By Tuesday he was admitting the wild suggestions were nearer the truth; by Wednesday we were told the Prime Minister was getting a grip; by Thursday and Friday the queues were getting worse and worse. There were two-hour waits at Stansted and three-hour waits at Heathrow, reports of trains delayed by queues at Paris, Customs checks stopped at Heathrow and reports that staff from Manchester were being put on a plane, told to work for a few hours at Heathrow and put on another plane back again.
Finally, this week, we got the truth from the borders and immigration inspectorate. Passport staff at terminal 3 have been cut by 15%, shortages mean that they cannot cope with the queues, and management changes brought in under this Government are making things much worse. The Minister for Immigration charmingly told us that the report was out of date because action had been taken since September to sort it out, but since September things have got worse, not better. The report says the staff are all on at the wrong times—more when the airport is quiet and fewer when all the planes are coming in.
It is just baffling to everyone that the UK Border Force and the Minister for Immigration do not seem to be able to work out what time of day it is, but at least they are doing better than the Home Secretary, who is still rather challenged by the day of the week. I know that the Home Secretary is not on Twitter and she might have missed the attempts to cheer her up through the difficult time that she is having. They have started to suggest songs, such as “ Sunday, Wednesday, happy days,” “I don’t know why I don’t like Tuesdays,” “Eight days a week” and—clearly—nothing by The Police. How about Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Not leaving on a jet plane and I don’t know when I’ll be back again”?
Getting the date wrong in a case such as Abu Qatada’s, however, could have been very serious. Everyone is very relieved that the European Court decided to reject Abu Qatada’s appeal not because of the date, but because of the merits of the case. We should all welcome that decision. We all want him deported as soon as possible and the case has been repeatedly and thoroughly considered at every level in the courts, but lessons also have to be learned at the Home Office too. Three weeks ago the Home Secretary came to the House and was adamant that she had got the date right. Twelve times she told the House the deadline was Monday. In scathing tones she said to me:
“We are talking about a simple mathematical question.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2012; Vol. 543, c. 509.]
Sadly, it was a mathematical question that neither the Home Secretary nor her Ministers seemed able to answer.
The Court was very clear in its judgment that the deadline was Tuesday and Court officials said so at the time. It is no good the Home Secretary’s saying that the Foreign Office is now complaining that the Court’s guidance was not clear enough. If it was not clear enough, why not ask questions at the time? Why did they not ring up the Court and ask the question? Why did they not listen to the media and to the others who were raising with her the point that the Court was saying very clearly that the date was Tuesday, instead? Why take the risk?
It is all irrelevant now.
The Justice Secretary likes to chunter from a sedentary position that that is all irrelevant now, but the trouble is that it is not. The Home Office makes these serious decisions every day of the week. If it cannot even get what day of the week it is right, how can we have confidence in its decisions about the future? How can we have confidence when the Home Secretary next comes to the House and tells us categorically that she is right and that the Home Office advice is right when we still do not know why they got it so catastrophically wrong this time around? Surely she should now come to the House and explain why the Home Office got this so wrong, why it could not ask the right questions and why it did not take advice, listen to it and avoid taking the risk—a risk that could have added further considerable delays to this process.
The right hon. Lady is making good knockabout political points, but is it not the case that, given that Abu Qatada’s deportation process started in 2001, the real question she should be answering is why her party made so little progress in all that time whereas this Home Secretary has made so much progress in such a short time?
We still have a problem in that we all want Abu Qatada deported but he has not yet been deported. I agree that the process has taken far too long in the British courts and in the European Courts. I even agree with the Justice Secretary that reforms need to be made to the European courts to try to speed things up although there are considerable questions about the progress he has been able to make. I do not think, however, that we should have self-inflicted problems with the Home Office creating additional delays by getting something so basic wrong. This is about the serious decisions the Home Office takes and if it is unable to learn the lessons of the past or to recognise the errors it has made there will be serious problems in the future.
Do I gather that the right hon. Lady welcomes the fact that we got 47 countries to agree to get rid of these arrears so that there are not years and years of delay before things can get on? Does she welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has just won her appeal, which has not been delayed, and that we are now able to resume the ordinary deportation process? Why is she getting bogged down in procedural niceties that are now quite irrelevant and why did not her Government do anything about this for eight years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison) has just asked?
It is indeed gallant of the Justice Secretary to leap to the Home Secretary’s defence. They are huge friends—this is obviously a change of relationship between them. We are delighted to see their rapprochement.
I agree with the Justice Secretary that it is important to get rid of the arrears and try to deal with the backlogs at the European Court. That is a problem and I hope that some progress can be made. We are all very pleased that the Court rejected Abu Qatada’s appeal, but I must say that the Home Secretary made that more difficult, not easier. Abu Qatada should not have been able to appeal and she could have delayed her decision by a single day. The procedures matter because we do not want the Home Office to screw up important procedures. Whether it be in situations such as that when Raed Salah walked into this country because the Home Secretary did not get the procedures right to enable his being stopped at the border when she wanted him to be stopped, or whether it is about getting the date right, it does matter because this is not just any other omnishambles for this Government. It is not like a pasty tax or queues at the petrol pumps—this affects our national security. Whether about counter-terrorism or police on our streets, these decisions affect public safety. Whether on our borders or in our courts, these decisions affect our national security.
When we have 16,000 fewer police, a 10% increase in personal crime, 1,000 fewer foreign criminals being deported and this latest report showing 100 more illegal immigrants absconding according to the most recent figures, people are anxious. They are already worried about their jobs and their financial security and they do not want to have to worry about crime and public safety as well. This Queen’s Speech is failing the people of Britain just as the Home Office is failing on policing, border security and public confidence. It is a Queen’s Speech that offers no change, no hope and no direction from a Government who are not listening or learning. They should change course before it is too late.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate. Such is the nature of these debates that most of my remarks will be much more localised and parochial than those that fall within the ambit of the justice and home affairs issues being debated today.
First, let me say to the shadow Home Secretary that in the golden age of my period as a party leader I had to go, with great regularity, to meet a succession of Labour Home Secretaries. At that time, one never quite knew what was most likely to have changed since the previous meeting. On issues such as detention orders, people were scratching their heads and trying to find their way around the problems to which she referred. One week, Tony Blair would tell us that it was absolutely essential to have this number of days or it would be the end of civilisation as we knew it, and then poor Charles Clarke would have to go off and try to make sense of it. At the next meeting, when that issue had been shelved, we would be told that something else was absolutely critical and had to be dealt with or the earth would collapse around our ears. Given all the criticisms in the concluding part of the right hon. Lady’s speech, I have to say to her that any cursory examination of the way in which the Home Office and No. 10 handled these matters under Prime Minister Blair would reveal it to be rather chaotic. If I were her I would tread carefully and not be too critical about the progress that has been achieved recently under the coalition.
The second point I want to make about justice and home affairs involves casting my mind back even further to when I first became a Member in 1983. At that time, I was part of a new intake and the youngest Member of the House, and much to Mrs Thatcher’s disapproval, as Prime Minister, the House had voted by a significant majority to conduct an experiment into the televising of our proceedings. It is interesting to look back at the Hansard reports of those debates. As a party representative and the youngest Member of the House, I was appointed to the Select Committee that, under Sir Geoffrey Howe, oversaw the conduct of the experiment with cameras. At that time, people were predicting that all sorts of things would happen to the character of the Chamber if the cameras were allowed in. They said that everything would be a disaster, that nobody would understand what was going on and that the quality of our democracy would be demeaned—it went on and on. In due course, the cameras came in and, rather like what happened following the debates about votes for women, if anyone had stood up in the House of Commons a year or two later and suggested that the cameras should be taken out, they would have been laughed out of court.
“Court” is the operative word here because there has recently been an example in the Scottish courts, which has been well publicised south of the border, of the televising of a judicial sentencing. When the broadcasters came into the House of Commons, they were subject to very strict criteria, and they conducted themselves very responsibly, as they had to. I know that some people have genuine apprehensions about cameras coming into the courts in England, but I think the broadcasters will conduct themselves in exactly the same way. I do not think that televising proceedings will undermine the quality or integrity of the justice being dispensed. Instead, as with our proceedings, it will open them up to a wider audience in a way that is more illuminating, although perhaps not always more encouraging.
I want to touch on four of the measures announced in the Queen’s Speech and focus on how they will affect my part of the country—the highlands of Scotland. I will also make a further general point about House of Lords reform. First, we have already had the very welcome decision that the Green investment bank will be sited in Edinburgh. As a Scot representing a Scottish constituency, I am highly pleased by that, as one might expect. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) played a very important role in that campaign. The highlands of Scotland could contribute to the Green investment bank’s potential and also benefit greatly from it. I am thinking particularly of areas such as the Kishorn site in my constituency, which is on the brink of being brought back into being and at the cutting edge of offshore technology. I am also thinking about the tidal stream campaign at Kylerhea, which has attracted a great deal of attention and has great potential.
Secondly, I welcome the measures on banking. The anger that we all know remains out there among our constituents across the country and across parties about the inability of so many small businesses to secure decent levels of funding from the banks is genuine and further reform is essential. In my area and others, we need only look at the continuing rate of shop closures on the high street. In an area such as the Scottish highlands, to which tourism is so important, there is a stranglehold on local bed-and-breakfast businesses when it comes to getting funding out of the local banks, although it is not the local banks that are preventing that from happening because they are at the bottom of the food chain. Those decisions are being taken way up the food chain. That is why the measures on banking announced in the Queen’s Speech are so welcome and necessary.
Thirdly, let me address an issue on which the Liberal Democrats, including many colleagues of mine, some of whom are still in the House, some of whom are in the European Parliament and some of whom have moved on to become Members of the other place or to elsewhere, have campaigned for the best part of 20 years—the regulation of the supermarkets in relation to local agricultural producers. For example, producers have to sell milk to supermarkets at below the cost of production. Coupled with the phasing out of milk quotas under the common agricultural policy, that has caused a huge contraction in the number of producers, which is unhealthy in a liberal economy. It has also put them at a severe commercial disadvantage in relation to the supermarkets. The proposed reforms are a welcome development, and the thumbprints of Liberal Democrats are right across them.
My fourth point is about reform of the electricity market to ensure fair prices. Our position in the highlands is thanks to the late, great Tom Johnston, a pioneering Labour Secretary of State after the second world war—“Power to the Glens” was the slogan at the time. The most marvellous and visually dramatic hydroelectric system was built, and it remains tremendously vital for power production to this day. It is safe, secure and sustainable energy. We make as much from it as we can commercially, and climatically we are now well placed—perhaps not for all the right reasons—to take advantage of wind generation, both on and offshore, but the highlands pay more per unit for electricity than any region of Scotland. The House can imagine the incomprehension, if not irritation and downright anger, locally, not least when we have no gas alternative. The past winter has not been the easiest, and my postbag is still full of letters from pensioners who are unable to heat their homes adequately. All around us is the magnificent contribution that we make to the UK national grid, yet in return we do not seem to get a reasonable and fair rate in our area. If the legislation can help with that, it will be welcome indeed.
My final point is on House of Lords reform. I mentioned votes for women and the televising of the House of Commons. Nobody in their right mind would want to reverse those decisions. When we have a properly democratically accountable and elected House of Lords, nobody in their right mind will want to reverse that either. They could not argue for such a case with any credibility.
The very fact that the debate is still going on more than a century after it was predominant in British politics is in itself unbelievable. As the legislation goes forward, I do not doubt that we shall have arguments and disagreements in both Houses and within and across parties, but surely to God, in this day and age, we must find a basis for a mature, bicameral, properly democratically elected and functioning Parliament, fit for the modern age. The House of Lords does a lot of its work very well—I do not criticise it on that—but globally it is an unjustifiable and incomprehensible anachronism in this day and age, as history will judge when it is ultimately reformed. People will look at their history books and ask why it took generations of parliamentarians more than a century to get together and do it. I hope that my Labour friends across the Floor will not succumb to playing party politics and making mischief to try to cause problems for the coalition and miss the bigger historic opportunity before us.
There is much to commend in the Queen’s Speech, and I am delighted to speak in its support.
It would have been possible to discuss many aspects of the failure of the Queen’s Speech to address the needs of the country. The fact that 1 million young people are out of work ought to have been one of the priorities addressed by the Prime Minister in the Gracious Speech, but it was not there. That is relevant to our debate on home affairs, because we know that as unemployment rises among young people, some are drawn into criminality and some feel abandoned by society. That affects how some young people—not all—relate to the rest of society. There is a direct impact when we fail to look at growth and creating an employment base for our young people.
We could have looked at the failure of the Queen’s Speech to address funding of the national health service. Every time there are cuts in the health service, there are cutbacks in mental health services and there is a direct impact on the criminal justice system. Crime rates go up when we do not deal properly with mental illness in our society. Discussion of both those issues would have been relevant today, but as the Home Secretary is with us, I shall devote the bulk of my remarks to her responsibilities in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.
First, however, I cannot resist responding to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy). He hopes that his friends on the Labour Benches, where many of us regard him highly, do not make mischief simply to cause confusion in the coalition. I have to tell him that the confusion is already embedded deep in the coalition parties; it is nothing to do with us. Of course, it is impossible to defend the House of Lords as is, but he and his colleagues must address the fact that before we get to the important question of how we move people into a second Chamber, reform must be defined by the function and nature of the relationship between the two Houses.
I believe we should have either no second Chamber or an elected one, but we should also make sure that there is a proper relationship between the two Houses. It is not a trivial question. If it is not addressed, the Bill we think is coming before us will not be adequate for the modern constitution our nation needs.
I turn to the Home Secretary’s direct responsibilities. She was asked on a number of occasions why she did not address the fact that more than 16,000 people are demonstrating outside this building. They include police officers, many from the conurbation of Greater Manchester —my area—who are very concerned about three issues that affect policing. Of course, there are some matters of self-interest. Police officers are concerned about their pensions. I talked to one officer who has served for 12 years. He signed on in the belief that he would get his pension after 30 years’ service. He was perfectly entitled to believe that his contract would be maintained, but now he fears that instead of serving 18 years, he will be asked to serve 28 years before he can take his pension. Those are the legitimate grievances of people we should respect for the work they do.
The police feel that the Winsor report was adopted mechanically with no proper consideration of what the reform agenda could and should have been. The Home Secretary had the opportunity to lead a debate about modern policing, but instead she simply delegated the responsibility to Tom Winsor. His report could have formed the basis for the debate, but it was not fit for implementation lock, stock and barrel, and the police are right to be concerned about that.
The police are also concerned about what is happening to policing in our communities, despite what the Home Secretary tells us consistently. When I have pointed out to her that even though Greater Manchester is not a low crime area, police cutbacks pro rata are greater than in any force in England and Wales, she dismisses it by saying that the chief constable does not agree with my view that the cuts will have an impact on policing. She might have heard the chief constable of Greater Manchester police on the radio this morning talking about the difficult challenges in policing. He talked about the increased demands on the police—in relation to mental health, for example, which we know is increasingly an issue in conurbations such as mine. We know that these issues are piling extra pressures on the police while these cuts are taking place—1,500 police officers and 1,500 civilian staff are to go from the Greater Manchester police force. Despite Government rhetoric, that simply cannot be done without a direct impact on front-line policing.
I could say dramatically, had these cuts already been fully functioning at the time of the riots last August, it would have been massively more difficult to assemble the concentration of police officers that we were able to in Greater Manchester—police officers who literally put their lives on the line, out of an enormous sense of duty to our society. They were not asking questions about pensions, they were not asking questions about reform, but were prepared to stand up to rioters because they knew that that was what society expected of them. If we cut those police officer numbers, we cut the capacity to deal with such emergencies.
It is those extraordinary events that take so much of the police resources. My hon. Friend and I were present at the memorial service for Anuj Bidvi, the student who was murdered on Boxing day. It took a huge amount of Greater Manchester police’s time to catch his killer, and that was not written into any budget. Those were circumstances of the sort that occur outside budgets.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has enormous experience and is enormously well respected throughout the world of criminal justice. He is absolutely right. That brings me to a point that I want to make. The Home Secretary and her colleagues have wanted to peddle the myth that it is easy to define what is front-line policing and what is not. Further to the case to which my right hon. Friend refers, of course an enormous number of back-room staff are involved in solving a murder. It is reckoned that, in Greater Manchester, a shooting costs somewhere in the order of £1 million to solve. That is not £1 million of blue-uniformed police officers plodding the streets, picking up bullets and rescuing people; it is £1 million spent on a resource base that is necessary to solve that type of most serious crime.
Fortunately, in Greater Manchester the number of shootings has gone down significantly in recent years because of the good partnership work that the police have been able to do; but that partnership work is challenged by the cuts. There is, I must say to the Home Secretary, too much denial among Government Members of the real impact of the policing cuts, too much denial of the fact that those cuts are reducing policing capacity, too much denial of the fact that there is an impact on the morale of the police officers who serve our communities, and who are now at the point where they feel they are being taken for granted and treated very badly in this process.
It is easy for any politician to stand up and defend the police, especially when we are in opposition, and I understand the dangers of that. The police do need reform. The police themselves accept that there is a great need for reform. But that reform must be consistent with the challenges they face, and with ensuring that the process of change is not so rapid that we prevent the process of embedding the necessary changes. I think there is now a need for a pause in the pace of change, although I do not expect one. I hope the Home Secretary will listen to those who are advising her away from that direction of travel, because we do need to look at what modern policing demands. We do need to look at partnership working of the type that modern policing has so successfully cultivated in recent years, which has allowed policing to operate within our neighbourhoods and to become part of the community, but which has also allowed it to operate at the most sophisticated level of modern technology, to solve the type of gun crime that I mentioned, or to be involved in the combating of terrorism and all the things that require a very different type of sophistication. But all that requires a more secure resource base.
When the Home Secretary was talking about the National Crime Agency, she did not answer my specific question about its resourcing and the number of people working there. The concern has been raised with me that there would be fewer people transferring across to the NCA than there are at present in the National Policing Improvement Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency combined, but with an expectation that more duties would be placed on the NCA. If that is right, we need to know how those extra efficiencies will be generated, or in any case we need some indication. I may well be wrong, and if the Home Secretary wants to tell the House now or later that I am wrong, I will hold up my hands and accept that. But it really is important that we get this right, because the NCA’s task will be of such fundamental importance that we must have the proper resource base. We must know that that resource base is sufficient to enable the continuation of the work that has in the past been done by SOCA and the NPIA, to enable the NCA to play a significant part in the future of policing.
I conclude as I began. There are many things we could have discussed in the Queen’s Speech that will impact directly on the levels of crime and security in our communities. It could have been mental health or issues around unemployment, especially among our young people. There is enough lacking in what the Home Secretary said today about the future of policing to cause concern, in communities such as mine and up and down this country of ours. I hope she will go back and fight a stronger case with the Chancellor—a stronger case that says, “Of all the things that you can cut back on, people’s security should be amongst the last.”
It is a pleasure to be able to contribute to the debate, and I start by mentioning some comments that the Home Secretary made. I particularly welcome the Crime and Courts Bill, with its potential impact on border security, and especially serious organised crime. I have campaigned in the House for a couple of years to ban the drug khat and, as it now looks as if the sale and importation of khat has been linked to serious organised crime, I hope that the Bill will have a direct impact on that. Equally, I welcome the establishment of the National Crime Agency, which must be a step in the right direction. However, I am sure that the key there will be a strong working relationship between the NCA and other agencies.
It is perfectly reasonable for the shadow Home Secretary to stand and oppose many of the Government’s cuts; that is her choice. But I do worry that there now seems to be a pattern whereby the Opposition will go to each of the pressure groups opposing the proposals for cuts, without any explanation of how the funding deficit will be managed. We saw that today, when we seem to have established at least a £1 billion difference between the funding arrangements, with no proper explanation of whether that will equate to a rise in taxes, should the Labour Opposition become a Government again, or where perhaps cuts will come in other areas. Until that gap is bridged, it is very hard to take seriously what is being said. My constituents are not stupid, and I think over time they will realise that, as the Labour party seems to oppose everything and propose very little in return, there is something of a credibility gap.
I will not keep the House long. I apologise for focusing on the families and children Bill. I appreciate that with six days to debate the Queen’s Speech, it is for the Opposition to choose the subjects debated, and time will always be a constraint, but today seems the most opportune time to talk about the Bill. I want to focus my comments on an area that, I hope, is not contentious across the House—the changes to the adoption system. I am pleased that the Government have been to date very clear in their aims. They have said that they would like to reduce the number of adoptions that are delayed in order to achieve a “perfect”, or near, ethnic match between adoptive parents and the adoptive child; to see swifter use of a national adoption register in order to find the right adopters for a child wherever they might live; to encourage all local authorities to seek to place children with their potential adopters in anticipation of the court’s placement order; and radically to speed up the adopter assessment process, so that two months are spent in training and information gathering—a pre-qualification phase—followed by four months of full assessment; to introduce a fast-track process for those who have adopted before or who are foster carers wanting to adopt a child in their care; and finally, to develop the concept of a national gateway to adoption as a consistent source of advice and information for those thinking about adoption.
I, and I sense the whole House, will support all those aspirations. I am confident that the families and children Bill will give hope to the 4,000-plus children in care who are waiting to be adopted by a loving family. It proves that we are not just paying lip service, but acting with due urgency and care to overhaul what is at times a lengthy and damaging process.
It strikes me that people who are slightly older, sometimes those in their early 40s, who want to adopt a child are debarred from doing so. I want legislation to raise the age limit—perhaps even to an age as great as my own.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. As one who turns 42 on Tuesday, I do not consider myself especially old, but perhaps I am considered too old in the present system. I think the point of the proposals is to broaden the range of potential adopters.
In supporting the Government’s aims, I would, however, underline the need for post-adoption support and services for birth parents. It is clear why we have acted to rebuild the exhausting road to adoption. On average, two and a half years elapse between a child entering the care system and being matched for adoption—an unacceptably long period. The assessment process for potential parents can be incredibly intrusive: adopters in my constituency have conveyed to me the prejudiced attitude that they have faced for trivial matters, such as earning a good salary or even owning a dog. Some families have faced difficulties in adopting the sibling of their adopted child: that even resulted in one couple being unable to adopt the brother of one of their children, thus depriving that child of the chance to grow up with his sibling. Black children wait in care about six months longer than white children in the hope of finding the “perfect” ethnic match. All the while, those children’s chances of making secure attachments with a new, loving family are lessened.
Thankfully though, measures are finally being taken by this Government to curb the damage that can be done. The plans include an increased profile for concurrency and swifter use of the national adoption register, throwing the net wider for potential adopters. Research shows that the well-being of a child who has successfully settled in a foster placement is equal to that of a child in a good adoption placement. Concurrent planning makes it easier for potential parents to adopt the child they are fostering, which means that the initial strong bonds made in foster care need not be disrupted. Referral to the national adoption register will ensure that delayed placements motivated by financial savings will no longer be possible, which will encourage ties with independent adoption agencies.
I am encouraged by the zeal with which the Government are embracing the challenge. I recently visited an independent adoption agency in my Milton Keynes constituency. Despite the positive feedback on the proposed changes, St Francis’ Children’s Society discussed the additional challenges it faces in its work. It is clear to me that two specific areas should not be ignored during this period of change: increased support for post-adoption services and better awareness of the needs of birth parents.
The work for adopted children does not simply stop the day that the child steps into their new home. Many independent adoption agencies across the country, such as St Francis’, pledge lifetime support. The needs of adopted children are highly specific. They are very likely to have experienced some sort of abuse or neglect, the effects of which can cause problems later in the child’s life. They may have development delay, with some children unable to walk or talk at the age of three or four. A lack of understanding persists in families and classrooms about attachment disorders and how they affect a child’s ability to form relationships and express emotion. Ignoring those problems, which are faced by all adopted children, will greatly affect their chance of living a stable and prosperous life.
Despite the requirement that all adopters should receive an assessment of their child’s needs, they have no statutory entitlement to the recommended support. Often, if their child requires therapeutic intervention, adopters have to seek funds for private help or do battle with their local authority. If a child can receive such intervention while in care, why can we not extend the support to when the child is adopted? Post-adoption support is where the work really takes place in shaping that young person and their family. Making post-adoption support statutory would reassure potential adopters that they can change the life of a child, with the full backing of this Government.
Positive work with birth families is taking place in my constituency. Birth parents who have lost their children to adoption are the often ignored third element of the adoption triangle. If we want to cut the number of children entering the care system, birth parents also require proper support and intervention to turn their lives around. In a written response detailing the support available to families of at-risk children, the Children’s Minister assured me that the Government are committed to reducing the number of children entering the care system. The Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), is right to focus on early preventive measures, breaking cycles before they envelop new generations and giving hope to those who are most in need.
St Francis’ Children’s Society birth connections service empowers individuals to make better decisions for the lives of their children, as well as for their own lives. Individuals counselled through the service have gained a better understanding of why their children were taken into care; they have also made healthier choices regarding the children who remain with them, or on whether to continue to have children. Most important, however, children whose birth families are properly supported during the adoption process are shown to have a better and more positive experience of adoption. Such direct work, which focuses on breaking habits and providing understanding, is much more valuable and effective in encouraging individuals to consider positive life paths.
Adoption is no longer the taboo subject it once was, but having a child taken away remains so. Demonising such parents has proved to be ineffectual. Let us consider new ways to help birth parents to re-engage with society, and continue to work to create more preventive services for the most disadvantaged.
The Government have begun to make it easier for people to adopt. The proof that the changes are working will surely be an increase in the number of children adopted in the coming years, but how can we get the message out to individuals and couples across Britain that adopting is a wonderful way to build a family, and is not simply for those who cannot conceive? Crucially, we need to think about how to change the mentality that, “Adoption isn’t for me,” when of course the truth is that adoption can and should be for anyone. That is perhaps the greater task that lies ahead of us. This Government have taken bold steps where previous Governments have failed to do so. By improving post-adoption support and addressing the needs of birth parents, we will truly create better outcomes for children.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster), who in this home affairs debate has rightly raised the important subject of children, families and adoption. Before I was elected to this place, I was a child care solicitor in local government, so I recognise the importance of a number of the points he made about the bureaucracy surrounding adoption and the need to make sure that children are placed for adoption. I hope that those points will be considered during the Bill’s passage through this House, and that its journey will be a speedy one.
I welcome the proposed legislation on drug driving to put it on a par with drink driving. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) and the Croydon Advertiser, who have led the campaign for a number of months. Having looked at the legislation and learnt about the campaign that the hon. Gentleman has prosecuted since becoming a Member of this House, I think the proposal seems so sensible that one wonders why we did not act before now. The only problem, I think, was that the equipment was not sufficient to allow the police to test drivers who may have taken drugs. I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, he will say more about the proposed legislation.
I also welcome the Government’s commitment to changing the landscape of policing and the creation of the National Crime Agency. As the shadow Home Secretary said, it is a good concept to put organisations together and focus their efforts. The Prime Minister went further in his speech yesterday when he spoke about creating an FBI for the United Kingdom. I am not sure whether the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice see the NCA in the same light, or whether the right hon. Gentleman will become the new J Edgar Hoover, but the fact is that we need to unclutter the landscape of policing and make sure that it does the job we want it to do.
I am not sure that, at the end of the reorganisation, we will have fewer organisations than when the process started, but it is sensible to place the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre within the National Crime Agency. I was concerned when that was suggested, and in the light of the recent controversies about the grooming of young girls, CEOP’s importance has come to the fore, but I was convinced by other members of the Home Affairs Committee and we agreed unanimously that it is sensible to put CEOP in the NCA, as long as it retains its identity and focus and is not submerged in some great bureaucracy.
The problem that I have with the National Crime Agency is that we have so few details. I remember the appearance of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice before the Select Committee. He asked me in advance whether he could bring his director of finance to the Committee sitting, so the director of finance came along and sat with him. I asked the director of finance what the NCA’s budget was, and he could not give the Committee an answer. It was at that stage that we became very worried about how the details of the NCA would be arrived at, so every month—I do not know whether the Minister knows this—the Committee sends to the only employee, as far as I know, of the National Crime Agency, Keith Bristow. He must be a very lonely man in this huge organisation, which the Prime Minister likened to the FBI, and which is to have many organisations going into it. It has only one full-time employee, as I understand it. We sent him a questionnaire, so that he can fill in the gaps, and so that the jigsaw or new landscape can hopefully be completed by vesting day—the crucial day, of course, on which the NCA will get all its powers.
We will watch the NCA very carefully. We will watch the way in which the Serious Organised Crime Agency is merged with it, and will monitor the number of people leaving SOCA. We will follow the deliberations of the Public Accounts Committee, which had a very good sitting in which it discovered that hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money were being paid to former employees of SOCA who decided to take early retirement rather than stay in the police service. We will monitor those former employees to see whether they come back as consultants. If they decide to advise the Sultan of Brunei or the King of Bahrain, as some of our senior officers have done, that is a matter for them, but if they come back as consultants, having been paid off by the taxpayer, the Home Affairs Committee and the Public Accounts Committee will have something to say about it.
I share the Government’s ambition for a new landscape, but it is important to have people in that landscape. The crucial people to have, when dealing with policing, are police officers. Like the shadow Home Secretary, I went to talk to some police officers—mostly those who had come from Leicestershire, but also a few others including Paul McKeever, the chairman of the Police Federation—about their march in Westminster today. I am sorry that the commissioner did not allow them to march past the Palace of Westminster, and I am sorry that certain chief constables did not allow officers leave to join the march—I understand that police leave was cancelled in some, if not all, areas—because it is really important that we hear what the police have to say about the Winsor review.
If the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and others have followed the proceedings of the Home Affairs Committee, they will know that we were not that impressed by Mr Winsor, partly because he decided to criticise the Select Committee, which obviously does not go down well with its members, and also because we felt that his data and the claims that he made were not really backed up with facts.
The Minister shakes his head, but I urge him to look at the exchanges between members of the Committee and Mr Winsor.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does he acknowledge that at one point Mr Winsor said he had given a definition of front-line policing in his earlier report, although there is not, in fact, anything like an adequate definition there of what he means by front-line policing, never mind a definition that could practically be used, if we are to use that term?
My right hon. Friend is right: Mr Winsor did not give a definition, and it would have been useful to receive one. I know that the Minister has written to the Committee with his definition of what front-line policing should be.
We have to carry police officers with us. I cannot really understand why a Government committed to law and order with the kind of vision and ambition that Ministers have should want to take on the very people who are to administer that vision. The last time I was on a demonstration with the police was under the previous Government, who made the terrible error of not paying police officers what the arbitration committee said they should. In the only robust conversation—I was going to say “row”—that I had with the previous Prime Minister on the subject, I pointed out that a Labour Government ought to honour an agreement that they had made, and should pay police officers what we said we would. I think 100,000 officers turned up to that demonstration. There are slightly fewer this time—28,000—but, as I have said, their leave has been cancelled.
The Government should not take on the very people who are to administer a crucial part of their agenda, because if anything goes wrong, and there is an emergency, the first people praised by the Home Secretary at the Dispatch Box are the police.
I am listening carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, as he knows. May I point out that the Government honoured the third year of that pay deal? That is one of the first things we did when we came to office. Will he reflect on the fact that the recommendations of the independent Winsor review, which was advised by a former senior chief constable, have been broadly supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which represents the 43 forces of England and Wales? The recommendations are now the subject of negotiation. It is not right to dismiss a considered, independent report that is broadly supported by the chief constables of this country.
It depends which chief constable we are talking about; I do not think that the chief constable of Gloucestershire, who recently announced that he is going, is the best person to call in the Minister’s defence. This is about ordinary police officers, not those who sit at the top of the tree. Very soon, ACPO will no longer be there, because the Minister is getting rid of it. He may pray it in aid, but we are talking about the effect on ordinary police officers. I do not want ordinary police officers to have to take second jobs to make ends meet. I do not want them to spend some of their time as private investigators, as some of them do. I do not want them to have to leave the police force to become private investigators; 60% of private investigators are former police officers. I want police officers to have a career, be well paid, and be compensated.
I endorse the points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) about the way in which SOCA operates internationally. What it does internationally is different from what it does in this country. Ever since I have chaired the Select Committee, I have felt that if the public give an organisation £500 million, we expect it to be able to deliver as far as seizures and disrupting organised crime are concerned. I never thought SOCA quite made it, in terms of giving the public value for money. However, on our recent visit to Colombia, I was deeply impressed by what SOCA does abroad. I know that it is to go into the NCA, but given that the President of Colombia, in a meeting with the Select Committee, spent the entire time praising the work of SOCA and what it is doing to stop drugs coming out of Colombia, we should consider branding for one moment, and whether we actually want to change SOCA’s name abroad, or keep it, just for these purposes. Many countries rate what SOCA is doing, and to give it a new name and branding may be a step too far.
I will not deal with surveillance issues because I know that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Justice will speak on the subject, but I will talk about two more issues. One is immigration. The Government will deeply regret their decision to take away the right of appeal for family visits. I am looking round the Chamber. The hon. Members for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), for Croydon Central and for Harrow East (Bob Blackman)—I am sure that there are others, but I pick those because I know a bit about their constituencies —will have huge immigration case loads in their surgeries, as many Labour Members have. The fact is that taking away the right of appeal will hugely increase Members’ case loads. We are happy to do more work, but the fact is that we will send those people back to make further applications. The Minister for Immigration is not in the Chamber at the moment and other Ministers do not deal with immigration work, but the facts are very clear: 50% of the appeals against decisions to refuse family visits are won in the immigration tribunal, which means that decision making is not as good as it should be. If we take away the right of appeal, we will take away people’s only option to have their relatives come here to attend family occasions, funerals and weddings.
That will be a big mistake by the Government. The previous Government were about to make the same mistake. I think that the proposal comes not from Ministers but from officials. I can recall talking with Charles Clarke about it—he happened to be watching a Norwich match at the time—when colleagues and I went to see him, and he took our point. I said, “Take away the right of appeal, and you will deny our citizens, people who live in this country, the chance to get their relatives here for their family occasions.”
The Government will regret what they are doing. The Prime Minister addressed 1,000 people at the launch of Conservative Friends of India 10 days ago. I am glad that he did so—he made a very good speech—but he did not tell them about this proposal. Every single person attending that event will have a relative who wishes to come here to visit them and so will be inconvenienced by and feel distressed about what is proposed. We are putting pressure on the entry clearance officers, who themselves are having their numbers cut because of Government decisions. I ask Ministers please to look at this again. It is extremely important that they do so.
The shadow Home Secretary spoke about Abu Qatada. The Home Secretary came out and said that a mistake was made—not in so many words, but she said that the date was wrong. She came to the House and was asked 12 times about it, and she came to the Home Affairs Committee and was asked by me six times about it. She said that she accepted unequivocal legal advice, so she should change her legal advisers. She has spent £1 million on external legal advisers on the Abu Qatada case. It is not as though there is an absence of Queen’s counsel; they are not all at the Leveson inquiry. My advice is to find someone else who knows about immigration law and pay them what they ask to be paid, but for goodness sake get some good legal advice. I do not blame Ministers for the mistake, and I do not expect the Home Secretary to pick up a phone and find out when a deadline is, but I do expect her to get that legal advice, and if someone says they think it is wrong, even if it happens to be a BBC journalist, she should call her officials together and ask them to look at it again.
My final point is not about home affairs but about an issue I have raised in nearly every Queen’s Speech debate in the 25 years I have been a Member of the House. It is something that happened 21 years ago—the closure of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. In every Gracious Speech debate I have talked about the need to end the liquidation of BCCI. On 5 July 1991 the sixth-biggest bank in the world was closed down. Many of my constituents lost money in that bank, and I can remember going to see the then Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Governor of the Bank of England with people such as the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and Mr Alex Salmond and many others to see what money there was for the people who had lost their money in BCCI. We were told that there would be no money left for them because the bank was empty and bankrupt. The Sheikh of Abu Dhabi was told, “Please don’t give us the money, because the bank is broke.”
After 21 years, those people have now received 90% of their money back, thanks to the work of the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He was the first and only Secretary of State in 21 years to write directly to the liquidators to ask when the liquidation would be completed. I am pleased to say that shortly afterwards the liquidators fixed the final meeting, and on 17 May, after 21 years and £1 billion of liquidators’ fees for a £6 billion bank, BCCI will finally close and the creditors will have got 90% of their money back. This is the last time I shall mention BCCI in this House, certainly in a home affairs debate. I wish all those who have been involved in the campaign well and hope that we will learn the lessons from it: when a bank is in trouble and people are prepared to support it, as we have done subsequently with a number of other banks, we should stop and pause before closing it down and causing misery for so many thousands of people.
It is a pleasure to follow my colleague, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). He made an interesting point about family visas, and he and I sat behind entry clearance officers in Mumbai and New Delhi, trying to work out why they generated so many appeals and discovering that, for example, people’s tendency to tell untruths that were irrelevant to their case caused some of the problems. Subsequent to that, when the Select Committee on Justice looked at appeals, we came to the view that Departments should be penalised if their decision-making processes were so bad that they generated a large number of appeals. It was not that we had in mind abolishing appeals; it was much more that Departments should have a financial incentive to get their decisions right in the first place.
I shall refer to other justice issues, of which there are quite a lot in the Gracious Speech, but first I welcome its general approach and the priority that it gives to the economy. My constituents are primarily interested not in how many Bills the House passes, but in whether we get the country out of this crisis, treat people fairly and build for the future. There are things that they would like to see, such as investment in the A1 and an announcement—long delayed—about school capital programmes so that we can have a new high school in Alnwick, but my farmer constituents will be pleased to see in the Queen’s Speech a long-standing Liberal Democrat commitment: the Bill to create an independent regulator for the supermarket supply chain, which has seen so many market distortions at the expense of small farmers.
On the issues that are of special interest to the Justice Committee, I start with the Crime and Courts Bill. It includes a lot of detail, which we still need to find out about, but we share a number of its general objectives: the reform of county courts offers opportunities for greater efficiency; the measure on driving under the influence of drugs will be welcomed throughout the House; and the facilities for broadcasting from courts, if carefully managed, provide real opportunities to achieve a better understanding of the courts.
There is tremendous scope for greater efficiency in fine enforcement, as it is a scandal that so many fines remain unpaid; there is scope within the transfer of documents, because the courts are able only gradually to secure good technology; and there are areas in which attempts to achieve greater efficiency have initially misfired, such as in the provision of interpreters in court proceedings, as the new contract, at least initially, has thrown up serious deficiencies that need to be dealt with and which the Committee has raised with the head of Her Majesty’s Courts Service.
I was intrigued to see the reference to judicial appointments and diversity, and it is not quite clear how the Government intend to achieve what they have in mind. The irony, to which the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) has sometimes pointed, is that the old system had started to generate greater diversity, albeit in a non-transparent way, because the Lord Chancellor was able to use rather informal powers to achieve greater diversity.
The new system does not seem to have taken us much further forward, so it will be interesting to hear what the Government have to say on that, but some of the problems lie in the professions from which judges are drawn and in the fact that Crown Prosecution Service-employed advocates have a limited ability to gain the judicial experience that would make them candidates for judicial offices. Those problems need to be addressed.
We will be particularly interested in the family courts provisions, some of which are in the children and families Bill, and in Westminster Hall on 24 May we will have a debate about family courts, when some of the issues that I am going to mention will be raised. One issue that is almost certain to come up is the problem of expert witnesses, including the cost, the duplication and the uncertainty surrounding qualifications, which we need to deal with.
One issue that the Committee has looked at closely and reported on, however, is one on which the Government appear to be moving in a direction that worries us, and that is the law relating to the interests of the child in family law proceedings. I reiterate what the Committee concluded in its report on the operation of the family courts. We stated:
“In our view it is obvious to the court that a child deserves a loving, caring relationship with both his or her mother and father. A statement which might be taken to qualify the principle that the best interests of the child must prevail could give the impression of a change in the law and could cause confusion. We heard evidence from Australia that the effect of the ‘shared parenting’ approach had not only confused parties about how the ‘best interests of the child’ test should operate, but can encourage a more litigious approach by parents in private law cases,”
which runs directly contrary to the Government’s desire to promote mediation and out-of-court settlements. I hope that the Government will move very carefully on that issue. The consultation process is not yet over.
The issue of mediation brings me to the fact that changes to legal aid will lead to more litigants in person in the family courts. Most members of the Committee start from the proposition that the courts are not a good place in which to resolve many of the family difficulties placed in front of them. There are few things more absurd than trying to use the formal process of a court to rule on whether a child can go to the scouts or guides on a Friday night or is required to be wherever their other parent lives. That is an unsatisfactory way to deal with such matters, so we are strongly behind the Government’s desire to see such issues dealt with much more through mediation. But when we find litigants in person in the family courts, the family courts will have to adapt to be able to deal fairly with those litigants in person.
Another feature of the Crime and Courts Bill is community sentencing. It is obvious that prison is essential for many very dangerous people; the recent case in Rochdale involving the abuse of young girls is ample evidence of when people have to be put in prison for the protection of society. But prison becomes a gross misuse of resources if we use it for those who would be more likely to give up crime if we dealt with them in other ways.
We have a responsibility to use taxpayers’ money to prevent taxpayers from suffering from crime and to keep them safe. We should therefore have a rational approach to a justice policy that achieves that objective. For many criminals, prison is relatively easy. If a person’s life outside prison is fairly disordered and disorganised, prison is not as great a hardship as it would be for some Members, for whom it would be a dramatic change in the life that they are able to enjoy.
While we were looking at the great success that Norway has in rehabilitation through its prison system, a Norwegian prison governor told us that one of the main problems with people coming to prison is that they do not take responsibility for their actions. What does the prison system do? It teaches them no responsibility at all; it takes away all responsibility and says, “We’ll tell you what time to get up, what you have to do and provide you with meals.” That is the end of responsibility. We need to change how we look at people who need to be made to take responsibility for their actions. That is why we welcome measures such as restorative justice and why the development of community sentences is so important. However, as the Government recognise, we have to win public confidence for community sentences.
We have to get to a place where the public do not regard the length of a prison sentence as the only measure of how seriously society takes a crime. Naturally, people want to express very strongly that they are not going to put up with certain crimes and that society will not stand for them, but if our only way of doing that is to add a few more years on to a prison sentence, we will often spend money in ways that do not prevent people from suffering from those crimes in the future. It is important that we develop the effectiveness of community sentences and the public understanding of them.
I hope that the Government’s approach to crime will also take account of the principles of justice reinvestment, which we set out in a report at the end of the last Parliament. They demonstrate that if we invest money soon enough, we can stop young people getting involved in crime in the first place. For that reason, I particularly welcome the Government’s commitment to early years education, which is one of many ways in which we need to be getting to children and young people at the stage when the likelihood that they might become involved in crime is increasing dramatically. Society seems so unaware of that.
I need to mention other justice issues. One is defamation. I am not going to get into the argument about that, because it has been so well explored elsewhere, including by the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. However, I do want to look at issues to do with the justice and security Bill, starting with the closed proceedings in civil cases. It is important to remember these proposals are not about criminal cases in which somebody might be imprisoned on the basis of evidence in closed proceedings, but about civil cases. The question is whether we can devise an acceptable procedure to stop Governments potentially having to pay damages to known terrorists and advocates of terrorism because the court cannot see all the information that is relevant to the case. I am not sure that we can do that, because it is very difficult and involves a very high threshold, but the stakes are high.
We should not confuse this with some wholly unacceptable procedure relating to criminal cases. It is about civil cases in which the Government are, in effect, the defendant in circumstances in which there is information that they cannot bring before the court. Public interest immunity does not solve that problem. The House will have to look at this very carefully. It must be clear from the start—I get the impression from the Home Secretary’s comments that it is now clear—that the judge, not the Executive, would decide whether such a procedure could be used. That must be a judicial and not an Executive decision. An Executive can trigger the process, but it must be a judicial decision as to whether the process can be used at all, even if this House has decided to go ahead with it.
The same proposed piece of legislation sets out to reform the Intelligence and Security Committee. I was a member of that Committee for 11 years, from its beginnings, so I have quite strong views about what needs to happen. There are certain key things about the Intelligence and Security Committee. It needs to retain confidence in the trustworthiness of its members; otherwise it cannot work in this field at all. It needs to retain the ability to report to the Prime Minister on things about which it cannot report to the House; otherwise it cannot draw attention to what might be serious problems, because to do so would be to give information to those who wish this country no good.
The most difficult issue for the Committee is the removal of the ability of the agencies to invoke a statutory bar on its examining operational matters. It is impossible to oversee intelligence without looking at operations; one would not understand what was going on. In practice, the agencies engage regularly and fairly extensively with the Committee on operational matters, but the statutory bar can be used as a refuge if an agency does not want to create a precedent by allowing the Committee to get involved in a particular area. Issues that are now coming to light demonstrate that if the Committee had had greater access earlier, it could have achieved a great deal more, to the benefit of proper democratic oversight and the long-term good of the agencies themselves. I have a lot of respect for the way in which the agencies developed their understanding of what the Committee was doing and were increasingly willing to engage with it fully, but at some points the statutory limitation on operational matters was used as a barrier. We must give the Committee the ability to send in an investigator such as an auditor who can look at any of the papers and files and then go back to it and say, “You don’t need to see much of this, but you ought to look at this particular file because it reveals a problem.”
We also have the draft communications Bill, which the House will have to look at carefully. It will come with draft clauses, which is a helpful approach. Its provisions are about who called whom, when, and from where, not about the content of the communications. Of course, the law enforcement agencies need some of this information to deal with matters such as those that the Home Secretary mentioned earlier, including paedophile cases and various kinds of organised crime, and they need to have access to whatever forms of communication people, particularly criminals, turn to if they think that there is a category to which such procedures cannot be applied. We do not want the Government to be able to gather all communications into some vast Government database, because we can be pretty confident that the scale of that organisation will mean that it gets mismanaged and will be open to abuse, just as in the past there has been abuse of the police national computer, for example. I am very glad that the Government are no longer taking that approach and are instead moving towards merely requiring communications providers to hold communications data for longer.
In that case and in others that I have mentioned, we should consider whether more use could be made of prior judicial authorisation. The system that we use not only for communications data, but for the interception of communications has an element of subsequent judicial review, but we do not use judicial authorisation. Of course, we do use that for a search warrant. If the police want to search somebody’s house, they go to a magistrate and ask for a warrant. That seems to be a perfectly good precedent that might be applied more strongly in the area of communications. I think that people would have more confidence if, rather than it being the Executive or the law enforcement body that gave permission, there was prior approval from the judiciary at the appropriate level, whether it be a magistrate or a High Court judge. That would depend on what was being considered—communications data or interception.
I want to make one last point about a Bill that was not in the Queen’s Speech. I did not expect it to be, although the Justice Committee encouraged the Government to include it. I hope that the Government will encourage and assist a private Member in taking up the matter. I am talking about a Bill to implement the Justice Committee’s recommendations on the presumption of death. Those recommendations would extend the scope of the private Member’s Bill introduced by our colleague, Tim Boswell, in the previous Parliament to help those who have had a missing family member for many years. Such people are unable to get any closure and cannot temporarily resolve the financial issues that arise when there is a missing person. Bank accounts may be drained by subscriptions and payments that the family cannot cancel because they have no authority to do so.
Legal provisions to deal with that problem could be put into a private Member’s Bill. There is widespread agreement around the House that that is desirable and it has been vigorously campaigned for by organisations that represent people in this appallingly difficult position. I therefore hope that the Government will assist a private Member to take the matter forward because it would be a welcome addition to the legislative programme. In my experience, few things are improved by passing a law, but the problems of people in that situation could well be improved by such a piece of legislation.
I am pleased that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) is in his place, because I want to follow on from where he ended his speech. He referred to the discussions on the House of Lords. He knows that I have a high regard for him, but I was greatly surprised by his peroration, in which he appeared to chastise the Labour party, ignoring all the evidence, which I will come to in a minute or two, from the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill, the alternative report and the public debates that we have had. Although it pains me to say it, if he and his Lib Dem colleagues are worried, they ought to keep an eye on their leader, because the Joint Committee got the impression from his evidence to us that this was the most vital thing that was going on throughout the earth, and yet in the last few days his tone has changed considerably.
I pay tribute to my colleagues on the Joint Committee, including the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) who is in his place. Many people worked extremely hard on that Committee and in preparing the alternative report. When we are told that difficulties are likely to be presented, I ask frankly—my views are not necessarily shared by others on the Joint Committee—why should they be? We had about 15 divisions in the course of our sittings. The talk about manifestos is not that relevant. The Conservatives said in their manifesto that they wanted a consensus. They certainly did not get it on the Joint Committee. When we took vote after vote, and when we listened to people giving evidence, what did we find? We found that the Government’s enthusiasm for the new Chamber—whatever it might be called—being elected is distinct from the views of other Conservatives in another place and here. The Government seem to fear the fact that a lot of their Members simply are not in favour of election, and that they might not carry even the very small Bill that they are putting before this House and another place.
We were required to consider a draft Bill. When we look at that Bill and compare it with what was said in the Queen’s Speech, which talks about “the composition” of the House of Lords, I find a considerable dilution of the task the Joint Committee was asked to undertake. Reference is made to composition, but there is nothing about elections, nothing about a referendum, nothing about funding or spending, to which I shall return in a minute or two, nothing about the extremely important role of this House—but merely composition. It was almost as if the Joint Committee had never met at all.
Let me put on the record where I am coming from on this issue. Lord Hunt, speaking for the Opposition in the other place said:
“The Official Opposition support an elected House. However, that must not be at the expense of primacy of the Commons, nor must it threaten gridlock or detract from our role as an effective revising Chamber. Further, these changes should take place only with the…consent of the British people.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 1 May 2012; Vol. 736, c. 2100.]
I entirely agree with that. If I mention more Members of the other place than I do Members here, let it be said that I have been incredibly surprised by the fact that, although the other place is rightly considered not to be democratic in its present form, it spent two days debating this issue. The issue that ended up being in the Queen’s Speech, however, is but a little mouse in its reference to “composition”, so I think it fair to take the views of the other place into account as well as those of right hon. and hon. Members here.
To be fair to the Liberal Democrats, they stuck to their manifesto commitment to a 100% elected Second Chamber with no referendum—I did not agree with it, but that is where they stood—but we must accept that there are many views on this crucial issue, particularly when we have an unwritten constitution.
The Joint Committee tried with great courage to obtain from the Government their estimate of what the costs would be, but we achieved no results at all. I tried to put it to the Prime Minister yesterday in the context of his support for the Queen’s Speech. Incidentally, I noted that his script made no reference whatever to the House of Lords; it came up only when he responded to interventions. This is the question I put to the Prime Minister yesterday:
“Can he tell us today what costing has taken place on the proposal in the Queen’s Speech and will he share that with the House?”
The Prime Minister replied:
“Certainly. The cost of a stand-alone referendum would be significant and it is worth taking that into account.”—[Official Report, 9 May 2012; Vol. 545, c. 24.]
If ever someone were to answer a question that was not put, that was it. Where are we as members of the Joint Committee and as those who supported the alternative report? The report was supported by Members of all parties—except, to be fair to them, as I want to be, the Lib Dems. Whatever our views—I have made mine clear—we cannot assess an issue as big as this one without looking at the likely costs. I highly commend the alternative report to right hon. and hon. Members. Those who prepared it were advised by Lord Lipsey that the changes in the draft Bill would amount to £177 million in the first year and £433 million by 2020.
I do not remember a single person raising the issue of the House of Lords when I was canvassing before the recent local elections and, indeed, before the general election two years ago. People are far more worried about issues such as unemployment, the economy, energy charges and the attack on the health service. It is right for the House to regard those matters as having greater priority as we take our time to decide what will happen if there is indeed to be another Chamber.
I referred earlier to the relationship between the two Houses as time goes on, and to the important question of primacy. I believe that, in a modern Britain, democratic representative government ought to mean that the House of Commons, elected as it is, retains its primacy. The Joint Committee decided that there was an unbridgeable gap, and I agreed with it. The more we listened to the evidence that we were given, the more I formed the opinion that this was as much a review of the House of Commons as a review of the House of Lords. I do not think that the issue should be dealt with in such a mean-minded way, through a mere reference to composition in the Queen’s Speech.
Of course our Committee sought advice from the Government. We sought legal advice. In response to two of our requests, the Attorney-General refused to give any advice at all. I ask Members to answer a question honestly. Is this the way to go about introducing a major change?
The Government, incidentally, had set up a Committee on the draft Bill, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, promising that we would have a report by December 2010. What did we find? At the very mention of referendums and power, the Committee stopped meeting, so we did not even have the benefit of that. We are told that we should have confidence in the coalition and that it will deliver, but I have seen precious little evidence that that is the case.
Because we did not have any advice from the Attorney-General, we relied on advice from people such as Lord Pannick and Lord Goldsmith, which clearly indicated that there was a strong contradiction between those who support election to the House of Lords, as I do, and the existing Parliament Act 1911. I believe that it was the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber who reminded us that that Act is 101 years old. Even then, however, Erskine May was warning us that this Parliament—this House of Commons—would not retain its primacy if there were an element of election elsewhere. We really cannot proceed with these issues without clarifying that vital matter. It is at the core of all the differences that may exist. Others may be settled, but that one cannot be.
Clause 2 of the draft Bill was criticised again and again, and was defended by only two people. The House will not be surprised to learn that they were the Deputy Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who is responsible for constitutional affairs. No one else supported clause 2, which was as big a shambles as the other elements of the Bill that the Government had presented to us for examination before coming up with the reference to composition in the Queen’s Speech.
The Clegg Committee clearly failed, but that did not mean that we should neglect our duties, and we did not do so. We could not agree on a number of issues, but that is no surprise. I hope that if a referendum is held and the British people have their say, we shall have a genuine, open debate that involves the people. I think that it ought to involve a body like the convention that we set up a number of years ago in preparation for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. It was not just a small committee of politicians from both Houses, end of story; rather, it was a convention that consulted the entire population. There were elected people—local citizens, as well as representatives from community councils, business, the trade union movement and many other bodies and sectors. As a result, it came up with far better and more clearly worked out proposals for the Scottish Parliament than we have produced for what might be our new second Chamber.
The issue of a mechanism for deadlock—what happens if neither House agrees once there is an element of election in the other House—must be addressed. Also, the report, which I signed, recommends that there should be 12 bishops from the Anglican Church, and I respect the standing of that Church and its link with Parliament. However, in our modern society we must also consider people of other faiths, and if we have the convention that the alternative report recommended—and which I support—that will emerge.
I might have been a bit harder on the Liberal Democrats than I normally am, but I have to say to them—[Interruption.] Wait for what’s coming next. I have to say to them that if they truly believe that this Prime Minister is going to deliver the policies they had in their election manifesto, they have another thought coming. To put it more mildly, the Deputy Prime Minister said that his party was punching above its weight, but I have to say to the Liberal Democrats, “Be careful. You were invited to a rose garden; along the way lies the garden path.”
Yesterday was a great day for our Parliament. I am a big fan of such enormously traditional and historic ceremonies. They are a little like getting married, in that they give us the opportunity to make all sorts of new resolutions to do things better than ever before. Yesterday I was attending my second state opening, and this time I actually half-understood what was going on. It renewed my enthusiasm for the job I do. I hope it also enthused the coalition to keep going—to make the economy better and to improve our country for the sake of all of us—and I am sure that it did so. However, on some issues I want to urge the Government to go even further than was proposed in the Gracious Speech.
On the issue of sorting out our banking system, I have spoken to a number of members of the Monetary Policy Committee and to people at the top of small banks in Britain who share my grave concern about the lack of competition in banking. There is a groundswell of support among smaller banks for full account portability, so people can transfer their bank account number with them, rather than having to change all their accounts and all their online banking transactions—including, perhaps, their iTunes and Tesco online shopping accounts —every time they want to move banks. That is a huge disincentive both to people to switch and to businesses, which have enough on their plates at present. Especially now, when we are implementing the Vickers proposals, I urge the Government to look again at introducing full account portability. Instead of having a seven-day redirection service, it would be very easy to introduce a shared payments infrastructure. That would, at last, give us real competitiveness in our banking sector.
I also urge the Government to go further with regard to the European Union. I am sure everyone in this country agrees with them that we need to defend Britain against the British taxpayer having to bail out eurozone members, but I think the Government should be going further. We should now be proposing a new and better relationship for Britain within the EU. It is simply not possible for the EU to remain as it has been ever since it was started, with the same relationships for all 27 member states, while it continues to expand, with different member states having different needs, different economic situations and different interests. It is going to have to change, and I urge the Government to ensure that we are completely ready to determine what would work better for Britain.
The third issue on which I urge the Government to go further is regulation and red tape for businesses. The absolute, top priority, as Her Majesty said, is to get our economy going again, and nowhere more so than in the very small business sector. We must give young people and others who cannot find a job a direct and clear incentive to create one for themselves by starting a business. I urge the Government to look carefully at scrapping the entire burden of regulation on micro-businesses with, say, three employees or fewer. I envisage there being absolutely no regulation whatsoever—no minimum wage, no maternity or paternity rights, no unfair dismissal rights, no pension rights—for the smallest companies that are trying to get off the ground, in order to give them a chance. That would all change, however, as soon as the number of employees increased.
We could also get Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to provide a simple one-page online form for micro-businesses such as market stall traders, domestic cleaners, gardeners and carpenters. Such businesses, although they may employ people, are often outside the real economy, and when the owners retire or move to another area, they lose that entire asset and have nothing to on-sell. If we could wipe out such regulation for the very smallest businesses, set a flat-rate personal allowance and 20% flat-rate tax, including capital gains—with a turnover restriction, of course—that would get our economy going again and provide a direct incentive for those who are looking for work, particularly young people, to do something for themselves.
I urge the Government to go further in those three areas, but I am conscious that today’s debate is about justice and home affairs, and I want to focus on a massive revolution that would make the job of both Government and Opposition Front Benchers far less onerous. We need to do something for the very youngest in our society. I know that we plan during this Parliament to make it far easier for people to adopt, but we need to turn the situation on its head and to look at life from the perspective—with your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker—of the baby. This issue is entirely relevant to the justice and home affairs agenda. What we saw during last August’s riots was surely the result of a generation of children not being taught the difference between right and wrong, and not being brought up to empathise with other people and to respect their property. In many cases, they simply have not had the benefit of the loving upbringing that would enable them to develop the mental and emotional capacity to obey the law, fulfil their role in society and be decent human beings.
Of course, it all starts with the moment of conception. When a baby is born, it is effectively two years premature. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom. A new-born foal or calf can instantly feed and walk and do many things that babies simply cannot do, whereas humans have to be two years old before they can really do much at all for themselves. Interestingly, physical underdevelopment is only a tiny part of the story: the key is the mental underdevelopment. When a newborn baby is hot, cold, tired, bored or hungry, he does not know that that is the problem. He just knows that something is wrong, so he will cry, and he will look to the adult carer who loves him to sort him out and figure out what is wrong. So we, as loving parents or grandparents, or even as nannies or foster parents, will change him, feed him, burp him, jog him up and down or walk him down the garden. We will do anything to try to soothe his feelings, get him back to sleep and put him back into a state of rest and calm—that is what babies try to draw their parents into doing for them. Most of us are able to do that, and it is extremely successful for the baby.
Interestingly, when a baby is born he only really has the amygdala—the brain stem—that gives him the flight or fight self-preservation instinct. It is only between six and 18 months that a baby puts on a growth spurt of the frontal cortex, which is the empathy part of the brain; it is the part of the brain that turns someone into a human being. It makes the difference between an animal with a flight-or-fight instinct and a human being with the capacity to empathise, to feel someone else’s pain, to make relationships, and to form friendships and long-term commitments.
That growth spurt occurs as a result of loving attention—the peek-a-boo games, people saying, “Aren’t you gorgeous, I love you” and so on. I am not talking about you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I am merely giving you an example. I am quite sure that you were very securely bonded to your parents. Those peek-a-boo games and the love that a parent has for an infant stimulate that brain development and build the capacity in that infant to deal with the things that life will later throw at them.
This is not a niche issue that affects only the most troubled in our society, as research shows that 40% of British children are not securely attached by the age of five; they have not formed a secure and loving bond with their parents. When a baby does not form that loving and secure attachment, the frontal cortex does not develop properly. The brain scan of a three-year-old child who did form that bond shows a lovely “cauliflower-looking” brain, whereas the scan of a three-year-old who was neglected or abused as a baby shows something that looks more like a shrivelled prune. The earliest relationship between a loving parent and their baby, or an uncaring parent and their baby, determines the capacity of that human being throughout the rest of their life. As I say, 40% of children in Britain are not securely attached by the age of five.
There are no longitudinal studies tracking precisely the impact for those people, but, as with anything, the impact is on a spectrum. If someone’s capacity to hold down a job, to make friends at school or to not be bullied or become a victim is all set out by the age of two, the consequences can be very difficult for people who are not securely bonded. Such consequences can range from simply struggling, having bouts of depression throughout life, not being able to keep a relationship going or not having very good friends to those at the very desperate end, where people have literally been neglected or abused by the person upon whom they came to rely.
Let us consider what happened to baby Peter, who was so badly abused. What mother could allow some idiot to stub a cigarette out on her baby unless she really did not love him, did not care about him and was putting her relationship needs above those of her own relationship with her baby? Where babies are severely neglected and abused, it harms their whole lifelong capacity. Those who are neglected and abused now will, as adults, be the neglecters and the abusers. It is entirely natural to us, as human beings, to be the kind of parent to our children that our parents were to us. So sociopaths are not born; they are made by the earliest experiences in their life. Most of those occur when a baby is less than two years old.
So when we talk about adoption and fostering, and when we all express disgust at the fact that 6,000 babies under a year old are in the care system, it is not just that it is terribly tough on those parents who are the would-be adopters or terribly tough on those babies not having loving parents; the situation is fundamental to the entire life prospects for those babies. If they do not form a loving bond, their capacity throughout their life will be damaged irreversibly.
There is another impact on a baby who does not receive loving attention. When babies are left to scream and scream for hours and days on end—I am not talking about parents who, in desperation when they have had enough and tried everything, leave the baby to cry for an hour or two, but about parents who go out and leave the baby to fend for his or herself, which does happen—they continue to cry and eventually take refuge in sleep. When the baby is screaming his or her level of cortisol—the stress hormone in their bloodstream—rises and if it stays high, that has consequences for the baby’s immune system. When an infant is very neglected, bad health and poor health consequences go with that. People with mental health problems and other problems stemming from early neglect and child abuse also have very poor health outcomes, which are fundamental to their quality of their life later on.
If someone constantly has high stress levels, they develop a tolerance to them. Although some of us might find an exciting episode of “Z-Cars” incredibly thrilling, somebody with a high tolerance to their own stress levels would need to indulge in much higher risks to get the same level of stress. So, for example, going out fighting, getting into drugs, going out and stabbing someone or committing other violent crimes could be the only way for that person to get the same level of stress and excitement. People who have been badly neglected at an early age often have a predisposition to high-risk behaviour.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the campaign run by Action for Children on reforming the law on child neglect? As I understand it, at the moment the law on child neglect is simply about whether a child has a roof over their head and does not cover emotional support, which is exactly what she is talking about.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am aware of that campaign and many others, too. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children has an excellent programme called “All babies count”, which is concerned about the mental health of babies. After all, that is a slightly obscure topic until one gets into it. Adult mental health has always been something of a Cinderella service for our NHS and when infant mental health is mentioned, it usually merely prompts the question, “What’s all that about?”
Our society has taken great care to develop an NHS that every man, woman and child in this country values and wishes to preserve, yet it is all about health and focuses on mental health far too little and too late. At the moment, when someone conceives, they are allocated a midwifery team and introduced to the health visiting team. If they get so far with problems, they might be introduced to the social work team. Unfortunately, there is great fear among parents of being introduced to the social work team because they fear that their baby might be taken away. They are therefore concerned about seeking help. Parents have a midwife and health visitor, who often do a fabulous job for the physical health of mum and baby while the mum is pregnant and when the baby is very young. When mum is not bonding well with her baby—she might be terribly post-natally depressed, as one in 10 women suffer from post-natal depression, but she might not know that she is suffering from it—the midwife and/or the health visitor might spot it but, at the moment, there is not much they can do. The bar is set so high for referrals to child and adolescent mental health services that someone almost needs to be at a crisis level before they can be referred for psychotherapeutic support for that earliest relationship. That is quite simply wrong.
When we talk about children being school-ready, we mean in the sense of their responding to their own name, understanding danger and understanding the word no, but those should not even be the questions that are asked. When parents are firmly bonded to their baby, they will take the trouble to teach their child about danger and to give their child breakfast. We are always firefighting. We should accept that everything we do for a baby from the moment of conception until they reach the age of two is developmental and that pretty much everything we do for them after they are two is about trying to put right damage that has already been done.
I am very interested in what the hon. Lady is saying. Is she familiar with the family nurse partnership programme that was introduced in this country a few years ago? The programme was about trying to avoid some of the dangers and consequences that she is talking about. The idea was not to have the social services involved in trying to clear up and deal with problems after they had developed, but to give support to young, first-time mothers—helping them with parenting skills, the bonding that is needed, feeding, playing and all the nurturing that goes into preventing some of the problems the hon. Lady has mentioned from developing. Does she agree that such programmes have an important role to play?
Yes. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments and I am very aware of the programme he mentions. There are many other programmes, and they all have a valid role to play. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, I want to talk about a charity that I have been involved with for 12 years now—the Oxford Parent Infant Project, which has seven satellites around Oxfordshire. It works with families and their babies to improve the quality of attachment. OXPIP has had astonishing results over those 12 years. In 2009, I gave up my role as the chairman of OXPIP to fight my general election campaign, but I always intended that if I was fortunate enough to be elected to Parliament, I would work to build a Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership, which I have now done. That partnership was launched six months ago and we are trying to build a service that, like OXPIP, provides psychotherapeutic support for families who are struggling to bond with their babies.
What I really want is for this approach to be established through children’s centres. We do not need more overheads or more buildings. I am a co-chair of the all-party group on Sure Start children’s centres and it has become apparent from our recent inquiry into the impact of the un-ring-fencing of the early intervention grant that it is not the case that children’s centres are closing—far from it. Directors of children’s services are very committed to support for the youngest. What I have found astonishing from that inquiry is the fact that there is no common shared understanding of best practice in children’s centres. To say that they are about getting children school-ready is to miss the point completely. School-readiness should be a result of the earliest relationship if it is sound and solid. That is where we need to focus our efforts.
I would like to see parent-infant partnerships working in every local authority in conjunction with the children’s centres and as part of those teams—working with health visitors, midwives and social workers as a point of referral. Midwives and social workers have a very full role and enormous lists of clients or patients to see. Some midwives look after up to 600 families and it is ridiculous to assume that they can see mum and sort out whether she has a safe and secure relationship with her baby as well as treat those mothers and babies who do not have such a relationship. That simply is not going to happen. Even the Government’s excellent efforts to produce far more health visitors will not provide a complete solution to this problem. Health visitors need somewhere to refer cases—a specialist team such as a parent-infant partnership that can provide the psychotherapeutic support for that mother and baby, or father and baby or adoptive parents and baby to help them to form that early bond.
A week tomorrow, the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Project is having a one-day conference in my constituency to talk about the incredible work that can be done through early-years intervention to change our society for the better. This is not just about human happiness, although that is what drives me—the potential for all those babies to be so much better—but about the potential financial savings for our society. If we had one generation in which the vast majority of babies were securely attached by the age of five, instead of 40% not being securely attached by that age, we would radically reduce the cost to our mental health services, our prison services, our police and our social services, which are currently trying to pick up the pieces of failed early attachment.
At the conference, we will be making the case that early-years intervention and spending money in the very earliest years when babies are under two is a really good way to save money much further down the line. Research from the States suggests that a dollar spent when a baby is under two saves $19 further down the line. There is a huge argument for looking seriously at that type of service, from both a financial and a moral point of view.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom). If I may summarise what she has just said, it is that if we do not address child development, education and mental health, a heavy price will be paid in the criminal justice system and by victims. She is right: prevention is better than cure.
I have declared my intention to stand for selection as the Labour candidate in the election for police and crime commissioner for south Wales. I am not sure whether a formal declaration of interest is required. One friend said that in Sir Humphrey’s terms, it was courageous to stand for an experimental role at a time of draconian cuts in police cash and numbers. I do so in the belief that the role will be difficult and challenging, and that it cannot be left to chance. The commissioner will have a contribution to make on the issues that I want to raise.
The Government are taking big risks with police finances and numbers. There is real anger among police officers, who are represented outside the Houses of Parliament today, and among many others who have already left the police force although they did not wish to do so. That is why the shadow Home Secretary was able to wipe the floor with the Home Secretary earlier.
The problem goes beyond statistics on cash and police numbers. The Government are making major changes in the policing landscape. It is a muddle. Against the background of cuts that are being made too far and too fast, we have the loss of senior and experienced police officers. Last year, there were riots in a number of English cities and we still do not know enough about why they happened. We did not have a report of the sort Lord Scarman produced after the riots in the 1980s, and although the Home Affairs Committee has issued a good report it does not enable us to predict what might trigger similar events in the future. What is certainly true is that the loss of police officers, especially those who are senior and experienced, will make it difficult to deploy police in the numbers and at the speed they were needed last August should such events happen again.
It is unhelpful to have so much talk about the front line—a term that ignores the important roles played by people in the background who undertake work on terrorism, child protection and internet-related offending. I am disappointed that, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said, it is far from clear what Mr Winsor means by the front line in his report, or what the chief inspector of constabulary or Ministers mean by that term.
My right hon. Friend referred to the reputation that the Serious Organised Crime Agency has earned in such places as Turkey, Colombia and the USA, as I have been able to hear for myself. I reinforce his request that the Home Secretary try to find some way of retaining that branding. Why not call that division of the agency the serious and organised crime arm? That would allow the branding to be retained, if not in this country at least in our relationships with forces abroad.
A more problematic issue is that we are unclear where the many responsibilities that lie with the National Policing Improvement Agency will end up. The Home Affairs Committee has asked many questions about that, but the answer we receive is “We’ll let you know in the fullness of time.” That is not good enough.
Much has been said about the intention to create a new professional body for policing. It sounds fine and dandy. Why should there not be a body for policing just as there is for workers in a variety of other professions, including medicine? The problem is that there is no clarity about what that professional body will be. It cannot be a body that is “owned” by chief police officers—a successor to the current arrangements for representing chief police officers. It needs to be able to focus on professionalism and training. We have seen very little so far about the resources, the structure and the arrangements that would be necessary for creating that body. It is an aspiration, but we have seen no details of what would deliver professionalism and help to reinforce the need for professional police officers to feel professional and respected and to be respectable in the work that they do.
I agree strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central (Tony Lloyd) on the need for opportunities and a clear future for our young people. In that connection, the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire made some pertinent comments. If that need is not addressed, we will build up problems for the future.
My decision to stand for Parliament resulted from deep frustration at working with unemployed young people and young offenders in the 1980s, during the time of the Thatcher Government, which to my mind was a complete and utter disaster. I felt that something had to be done to take a grip on the failures that that Government were creating, both in terms of building a strong economy and addressing the needs of young people. I am afraid that, under the current Government, we seem to be going at an accelerated pace down the road the Thatcher Government took us, and which the years of Labour government, thank goodness, managed to reverse to a considerable extent.
I want to say a word or two about antisocial behaviour, because that is the issue that affects many individuals, families and whole communities. In tackling antisocial behaviour, the antisocial behaviour order is a very important instrument. It was deeply disappointing when, in July 2010, the Home Secretary, in the words of the headlines, declared a death knell for the antisocial behaviour order. Little has been done since then either to deliver on that “promise”—if it was a promise; I would see it as more of a threat—or to deal with antisocial behaviour. Doing away with antisocial behaviour orders would not be a sensible contribution to tackling antisocial behaviour. Antisocial behaviour orders have been effective when used properly and intelligently, and I am pleased to say that in my area, the South Wales police and the local authorities that they work with have developed ways of using them that have been effective in protecting local communities.
The antisocial behaviour order is a simple and effective measure and it is regrettable that instead of improving its use and effectiveness—there is certainly potential for doing that—the Government are allowing it to be strangled in bureaucracy and red tape and undermining its effectiveness. I remind the House that the purpose of the order is to prevent and stop a series of events that damage the lives of local people.
It is a matter of fact that many people’s lives are ruined by a series of low-level nuisance activities—very often ones that do not quite reach the point where a prosecution or a serious police investigation is justified, but which nevertheless are ruining the lives of neighbours and individuals in the community. It is not a question of one serious incident; it is more like a movie film of minor irritation and low-level nuisance. It is a fact that antisocial behaviour orders have worked well in nipping that sort of activity in the bud.
The National Audit Office and the Audit Commission said in their report that our approach to antisocial behaviour worked, with 65% of the NAO’s review sample desisting after the first intervention and 93% after the third. That is an outcome to be desired because it stops the activity, and it is a fact that criminal records create an obstacle to employment and rehabilitation. By allowing things to continue, by not nipping things in the bud, one makes it more likely that offending will continue and an individual life will be ruined. The answer is not to ignore or condone that activity but to stop it. That is why the antisocial behaviour order is a civil order, based on evidence of nuisance activity to the civil burden of proof. Making such an order does not lead to a criminal conviction; if the individual ceases that activity, nothing follows. There is not a conviction. It is not something that stands in the way of their resuming a useful life. A breach of the order leads to prosecution on the basis of the criminal test of evidence and to a criminal conviction, but is not the aim of the order. The aim is to stop bad behaviour, and properly used the order has been enormously beneficial. I say to the Home Secretary: stop messing about with the antisocial behaviour order. Tidy up the system—increase its efficiency and by all means simplify it—but do not throw out the baby with the bath water by getting rid of the antisocial behaviour order.
Another gap in the Queen’s Speech is anything to deal with violence against women and domestic violence generally. We have been promised legislation in Wales, but there is nothing on that subject in the Queen’s Speech. That is another example of the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales tackling an issue that is not of itself part of the criminal justice system, but where effective legislation would prevent people from coming into the criminal justice system through their offending. Many incidents of domestic violence, often against women but also directly and indirectly damaging to children, go unreported, perhaps until a wife or partner has been through seven, eight or more violent incidents. Prosecution and conviction are important, but that simple fact demonstrates the urgent need for systems of early support and intervention to be in place. Such systems require specialist support services, which may cost money in the short term, but save money in terms of police time, court and legal costs and NHS costs—repeated injuries can incur significant costs. Early intervention can help to avoid the family break-up that becomes inevitable following repeated and escalating violence.
Does my right hon. Friend believe that the situation will get worse now that the Government are withdrawing legal aid for victims of domestic violence?
Yes, indeed I do, because the provision of legal aid can help to resolve the direct problem. That measure, combined with the cuts in local government services, particularly in England, which have led in some places to the ending of support and early intervention services, mean that serious problems are likely to arise and to escalate, as my hon. Friend says.
I must put the record right on this point. The Government are not taking away legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Indeed, we are keeping it for the victims of domestic violence.
I note what the hon. Gentleman says and have no reason to argue with him, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will be looking very carefully at the small print of the proposals and the way in which the Government take them forward.
Violence generally is not only the top priority in crime prevention, but is very expensive to society. Without going into detail, I point out again that a project led by John Shepherd of University College hospital, Cardiff, in which a clinical approach—almost an engineering approach—is used to analyse where violence happens, the context in which it happens and its causes, has led to a 20% greater reduction in levels of violence in Cardiff in the past decade than has been achieved in equivalent cities. Given our scarce resources, we must target prevention and early intervention measures and work to understand the causes and nature of criminal activity. In that way, we can reduce the number of violent incidents, which has the benefits of reducing both the number of victims and the level of violence against victims, and of making savings to the public purse in the police and criminal justice system and in the health service.
I am pleased to see the Chairman of the Justice Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), in his place. I remind Ministers of the commitments they made to pick up a copy of that Committee’s report on justice reinvestment. I was a member of the Select Committee at the time that report was prepared. Essentially, it asks: are we spending money in the right ways, or are there are better ways to use our resources? I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that although some lessons may have been learnt from that report, many more lessons can be drawn from it, and that in many ways, when it comes to the criminal justice system, we are not spending money in the most effective way.
The report pointed out that most of the things that really affect levels of offending are outside the criminal justice system. That signals more strongly than anything else the need for strong partnerships and joint working by the police, other organisations in the criminal justice system, and those outside. We need to use the benefits of restorative justice, making offenders face up to the impact of what they have done. There are also lessons to be learned from relational justice. Some of the issues covered by the hon. Member for South Northamptonshire, to do with the way that babies and young people are treated, are often about failures of relationship, as well as moral failures.
We need to refresh the partnerships involving the police, local authorities and other agencies to cut crime. As Sir Robert Peel said when he established the first police service here in London, the purpose of policing is to prevent and reduce offending. He also said:
“The police are the public and the public are the police”,
which is a bit delphic, but I think it means that unless the police and the public are in tune—unless there is a good relationship between the police and the public—policing will not be fair and will not succeed in the basic aim of creating a safer society in which offending is not taken for granted.
The Home Secretary referred to internet-related crime. I applaud the emphasis that she placed on this modern scourge, but great care is needed. We need to be sure that we do not get things out of proportion. Given the vast growth in online retailing, I am not sure that the number of offences is that out of proportion to the numbers for retail crime in our shops. We need to be sure that the big figures do not just reflect the big increase in the size of internet trading. Care is needed because legislation should be the last refuge of any Home Secretary, not the first. We should not repeat the mistakes made over decades in the offline world, as laws rarely prevent what they forbid. I therefore encourage the Home Secretary to work this out with the industry and parliamentarians. It is not good enough to have the Government and industry deal with the issue alone; Parliament has a role.
The Home Secretary has in her team the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who, in opposition, took on an important role in this House, working on internet-related issues. I suggest that she listen to him, and to the members of the Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum or PICTFOR, which succeeded PICTCOM, the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee. PICTFOR seeks to engage Members of this House in understanding internet-related issues. As the chair of that group, I offer our engagement in response to her welcome for that comment.
I am disappointed not to see something in the Queen’s Speech about sprinklers to prevent preventable fires in houses, especially those in multiple occupation. I encourage the Home Secretary and the Ministers on the Front Bench to get a grip on their colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. I had a meeting with a Minister in that Department who seems completely oblivious to the fact that the Department’s approach, and its refusal to accept such a change, means that it is putting its head in the sand and putting lives at risk. Ann Jones, an Assembly Member from north Wales, introduced a Measure on the subject in the Welsh Assembly, so Wales is benefiting from taking steps forward on this matter. I spent time with the police service in Vancouver and saw how it has been able to reduce not only the risk to life but the amount of damage to property through the installation of sprinklers in new properties. I encourage the Government to stop ignoring a measure that is supported by the insurance industry and the fire service, and to follow the Welsh Government and Assembly in implementing such a measure.
On Lords reform, we ought to look not only at the composition of a new House of Lords, but at better methods of scrutiny and constructive debate. Perhaps we ought to be more imaginative and think more laterally, as my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester Central said—perhaps we should have a single Chamber but with different mechanisms—rather than just allowing the debate to grind on as it has for decades, which seems to take us nowhere.
My final point on home affairs relates to the Home Secretary’s reference to the item in the Queen’s Speech on enhancing border security. Frankly, the Home Affairs Committee has seen little indication of improvement in the work of the UK Border Agency and a great deal to be worried about. One of the problems is that it is not an agency at all. It is not a separate agency with its own directorate and a board to which it is accountable, but an integral part of the Home Office and, therefore, the direct responsibility of the permanent secretary, the Home Secretary and Ministers. They really need to get a grip on it, rather than thinking that a bit of cosmetics, such as dividing the Border Force from the Border Agency, will make the difference that is needed. Introducing responsibilities into the new National Crime Agency might help to make that difference, but it is confusing that that agency will have some responsibilities and that the Border Force is being taken out of the Border Agency.
To sum up, while Labour was in government crime fell by 40%, and that was not by accident. It was possible only through strong partnerships and effective policing by motivated officers. That was supported by sensible reforms, the provision of new powers, such as antisocial behaviour orders, new preventive work, especially partnership working through the youth offending teams and the creation of the Youth Justice Board, which I am glad the Government are now allowing to continue its good work, and halving the time it took to get young offenders before the courts. More could be done on that, because we still take too long to deal with young offenders. A society that fails to nip things in the bud when young offenders start offending, or even before they have been absorbed into the criminal justice system as a result of being caught and prosecuted, is condemned to live with the disastrous impact of a life of crime on victims, the community, the families of offenders and victims and, essentially, the offenders themselves. We cannot afford that and the Government should put more emphasis on the need to prevent crime in the first place.
It is an honour to follow the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael). I am an avowed monarchist and bow to no one in my support for Her Majesty the Queen, who yesterday gave an excellent Gracious Speech to both Houses and demonstrated once again the wondrous duty she has done for this country over 60 years as monarch. Over the course of this year we will be able to celebrate those 60 years, and not only in this country, but across the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Later this year, when London hosts the Olympics and Paralympics, millions of visitors to this country will be able to see our pomp and pageantry at first hand. It is one of those things that keeps the traditions of this country fresh and refreshed in everyone’s mind, so it was a matter of great pride to be able to get into the other place this time to witness the Gracious Speech at first hand.
When I campaign on the doorsteps, and not just for the local elections over the past few weeks, but solidly, week in, week out, over many years, the last thing people talk about is reform of the other place. That comes across loud and clear. They worry about their jobs, the economy, feeding their children, their children’s education, care of the elderly and care of vulnerable young people. The key issue that I think was spelt out in the Gracious Speech was that we are putting the economy at the heart of government and putting right what went wrong.
The other thing that comes across loud and clear on the doorsteps is that the people of this country recognise who put the economy into this state and who are getting us out of it. I am sure that the fear on the Opposition Benches is that we are on the right course and that by 2015 the public will have realised that, and that the people who put us in this mess in the first place will not be trusted to run this country again.
The clear issue then, as others have mentioned, is the centrality of the legislation on reform of the other place. I am one of those—I am quite open about this —who, on becoming a Member, believed in a completely elected second Chamber. I thought that appointed or hereditary peers making judgments was an anachronism, but in my two years in this place I have changed my view, because in the other place there are many people who would never be elected or, in fact, selected, but who are absolutely critical to the functioning of government and to scrutinising the minutiae of legislation. We will have an interesting debate about House of Lords reform, but I do not believe that it should clog up the business of this House for any length of time whatever. There are much more important issues on which to centre our attention.
Another issue that comes across loud and clear on the doorsteps is people’s fear of crime and the importance of punishing criminals, and we should review what happened in the previous Session. We passed legislation that introduces much stricter punishments on offenders and, for the first time properly, makes brandishing a knife in public an offence that will be punishable by a period of incarceration. We should remember, however, that the legislation is still being enacted, followed through and will be gradually introduced over this Session for the courts to utilise.
The most important thing is that criminals are caught, processed quickly through our courts and suffer harsh sentences, so that they act as a deterrent to those who might follow them and, equally, so that the public can feel confident that those who would cause them damage are being taken off the streets. That is the other key issue. The legislation has been enacted, so it is now for the courts to ensure that it is implemented.
One thing that has been brought home to me about our courts system, and in particular our magistrates courts, is the failure to provide proper interpreters for either victims or those accused of crimes. Cases often have to be adjourned or dealt with on a different day because courts do not have the right interpreter. That is a huge waste of court time and money—although it is all public money in the first place. Ministers have to get to grips with that issue, but it does not need legislation; it just needs proper organisation and facilities.
I have undertaken the police parliamentary scheme, and I commend it to all hon. Members in order to see at first hand the job that the police do in keeping us safe on a day-to-day basis, and to see the specialist units that combat specific types of crime. I have a concern, however. I promote the increased use of no-strike agreements in the public sector, and I want to see more of them in our emergency services and specialist services on which we depend, but if we have a no-strike agreement, as we do with the police, which makes it illegal for them to go on strike, we must ensure not only that they are on-side and understand their duties and responsibilities, but that we listen to them.
Having met the police on many occasions, I am concerned that we in Parliament are not listening to them properly, so I recommend to Ministers, in particular, that they hold face-to-face talks with the Police Federation, which has come up with plans that would cut the cost of policing throughout the UK, to ensure that we establish a demonstrable and fair position for all police officers, thereby saving in the public sector the money that we all want to see saved. At the moment there is a view among the police that they are not being listened to, and as a natural Conservative I fear that that is not the right place for us to be, so I caution our Ministers to hold proper discussions.
Having seen at first hand many of the specialist units that operate in the Metropolitan police, in particular, I have become much more informed about the risks that we run in this country today. That is why I welcome many of the Bills announced in the Queen’s Speech.
I firmly believe that the protection of vulnerable children is vital, and I commend my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) on her interesting speech on early years development, which is crucial. Another issue is that the police can tell whether a young person aged eight will be a criminal in their teens and 20s. The reality is that such young people have been failed by our system; many have been in care all their lives and have never had parental direction or loving, caring parents. It is vital that we change that—that we speed up the process of adoption and make sure that those vulnerable young people are protected and brought up to understand the differences between right and wrong and what a loving family is all about.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if we are really focused on what is right for babies, it will be essential to ensure that when adoption has to take place, it must be before the baby is two years old?
Before I came to this place, I was a councillor for 24 years, during which time I examined the problems of young people and the failure of the local authority to permit any adoptions whatever for an extended period. Early adoption, so that loving parents can take over looking after a baby, is crucial. Adoption used to take place very much quicker if, unfortunately, children were not wanted or their parents were not able to look after them. Now, of course, many thousands of children across the country are left in care for far too long and never get adopted. It is far better for there to be adopted babies rather than adopted young children. That is important.
I am delighted that we will be enshrining in law what the Labour party talked about when in power and we talked about in opposition—making sure that race will not be the single issue determining whether someone can adopt a child.
On the draft communications Bill, having spent 19 years working for British Telecom and having gone around the specialist units of the Metropolitan police, I have seen at first hand the huge increase in the use of mobile phones, texting and electronic data in general. The internet has transformed the whole of society. One issue for those who understand the technicalities is that it is one thing to detect when someone with a fixed internet protocol address joins the internet, but it is quite another when a dynamic IP address is used. If someone is a criminal or terrorist, they are likely to know about those technical aspects and avoid detection. We have to ensure that we do not fall into the trap of changing the law and putting an unnecessary burden on the vast majority of people in the country, while not catching any terrorist at all. That is my immediate concern.
I believe in the fundamental civil liberties of the individual—the right for people to go about their lawful business as they choose, with minimum interference from the state. We recognise, of course, that some liberties have to be given up so that general liberty is preserved. However, I am pleased with the clarification on the Bill—that we will not have a Government database of a huge amount of e-mail traffic. Goodness knows what the size of that database would be if it included the vast growth in e-mail and text messages. At the moment, there is software that will easily do searches of key words and strings of particular words to search all e-mail traffic across the UK. However, I suspect that that would not be helpful, as criminals and would-be terrorists would quickly develop a code that excluded all the tracked words.
I have discussed with the Met police paedophile unit the vast growth in the number of paedophiles who use the internet to groom young people for their horrible purposes. Without going into the details of what the Met police do operationally, they say that they are just capturing the tip of a very large iceberg. We must all be concerned that there are vulnerable young people who are being groomed by those evil people. Let us be clear: they are evil people who need to be caught and punished to ensure that vulnerable people are protected. It is therefore vital that the law is changed to enable the police to do more to trap those people and to make sure that they are suitably punished. That must trump everything else.
On processes for dealing with crime and the courts, I fear that with 43 police forces across the country acting independently, criminals, particularly organised criminals who carry out their crimes across the UK, have the opportunity of not being detected. A national crime agency that will deal with this right across the UK, ensuring co-operation between police forces and taking over responsibility, must be the right way forward.
I am equally of the view that our borders must be protected. A national border force that will ensure that people who lawfully come to this country can enter, but those who try to enter illegally cannot, must, likewise, be the right way forward. Interestingly, the Queen’s Speech suggests no changes to immigration law, and that is right. Instead, we need to ensure that the existing rules are operated properly and thoroughly so as to be fair to everyone concerned. I noted the comments by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee about people entering the UK for family parties, weddings, other celebrations, and funerals, and I share his view that there are serious problems in that regard. However, many of those problems would be solved if the applicants were properly advised to put their application in correctly with all the relevant details to prevent their being not allowed to enter the country and then having to appeal, which is a costly and totally unnecessary process.
As somebody who gets a good number of immigration cases, I have noticed that there are more and more refusals. I think that is linked to the artificial limits that the Government are putting on to non-EU immigration rather than necessarily the eligibility of people to travel to this country for events such as those that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I would be interested to hear the Home Secretary’s comments on that.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. One of the key concerns of people who have chosen to live in this country, be they of whatever origin, is that far too many people are entering the country. It is right that people who have relatives in other parts of the world should be allowed, if they wish, to have them here to visit—that is the key word—for a short period and then return. However, those visits can tend to be rather extended, with people overstaying their visas and then no action being taken, over many years, to make sure that they return. These serious concerns are shared by many people right across the various different communities that make up our great British nation. The Government must look into the matter, because the people of this country clearly expect the sheer numbers of people choosing to come to join us and live here to be reduced drastically.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way again. I agree totally with his analysis, but the Government’s measures to do away with appeals will not solve the problem. All that will happen is that people will put in a fresh application, which will create even more administration.
The issue of appeals is interesting. My caseload is similar to that of many other Members. When people are forced to lodge an appeal, it is almost always the case that they have failed to put the relevant information on the application in the first place. If people got their applications right, they would not need to appeal because they would be admitted rather than refused. The clear solution is to have proper advice and a proper process. People gaining permission to come to the UK before they get anywhere near booking flights is the way forward.
I, too, have a large immigration caseload. One of the biggest problems that my constituents face is getting good quality, affordable legal advice so that they can progress their claims. However, the Government have taken away funding for legal advice for those who are seeking to remain in this country, some of whom have been here for more than 10 years and whose children are established in schools. Families are being ripped away from the places that they know. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to have a firm immigration policy, it needs to be fair? Fairness means that there is access to proper legal advice.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I agree that it was disgraceful of the Labour Government to leave people for 10 years or more not knowing whether they had a legal right to stay in this country. I have inherited such cases in my constituency. The backlog of cases that had to be dealt with by the incoming Government was immense. There are sharp lawyers—actually, they are not sharp lawyers, but lawyers who are sharp at taking people’s money off them—who, when they have no case whatsoever, will charge people enormous sums of money to write short letters on their behalf. The lawyers who really annoy me are the ones who take money off my constituents and then write to me as their client’s MP asking me to do their job for them. I take the view that immigration rules need to be firm, fair and understood. The previous Government left people waiting, without solving their problems. [Interruption.] I am conscious of time, so I will not take any further interventions on that subject.
I am pleased that we will reform the position on defamation. Many of us who have been involved in public life for a long time know that going through the High Court when one has been defamed is not a cheap option. Anything that reforms that process has to be good.
I think that opening up the courts for television, if it is used in the right way, will quickly lose its novelty. I also think that it will help to get rid of the fear that people have of going to court, either as a witness or because of some other involvement in a civil case. We will get to a position quickly where people understand what really goes on in the British courts before they experience it. That is to be welcomed.
Overall, this is a strong Queen’s Speech, particularly in the area of home affairs. It has started a process that we want to see, and it will deliver a safer and more prosperous Britain for everyone who lives here.
Several hon. Members
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I point out that the last three speeches have lasted 24 minutes, 22 minutes and 21 minutes. If we carry on at that rate, nobody else will get in. People ought to be a little more restrained. We have eight more speakers to get in and I understand that the Front-Bench spokesmen want half an hour between them. Can we please try to ensure that everybody gets in, because people have been sat in the Chamber for a heck of a long time?
I shall do my best to follow your wise counsel, Mr Deputy Speaker. Thank you for calling me to speak in this important debate.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman). I confess that I did not agree with everything that he said, but I did agree with some of it. Especially interesting was his point about specialist police units. Many of those units do not qualify as front-line policing. That must be borne in mind when we debate police resourcing in this country. I will say a bit more on that later.
In debates such as this, it is easy to cover a whole kaleidoscope of issues, as many hon. Members have done today. I do not propose to do that in my speech, in the hope that if I speak primarily on one issue, Ministers might be more likely to listen to what I have to say. I hope so. The issue I have chosen to focus on is driving offences. I believe it correct to prosecute drink-driving vigorously. There is nothing clever, macho or in any way sophisticated in being over the limit for drink-driving. I greatly welcome the change in social attitudes that has taken place on this issue in recent years.
I believe that it is right, too, to have a proper punishment for people who drive while under the influence of drugs. I very much welcome the fact that this will be made a specific offence under the Crime and Courts Bill. I do not believe that there are any currently reliable statistics on how many people have been killed by drug-drivers, but there is one thing that we all know too well—that being drugged at the wheel and putting other people’s lives at risk is totally unacceptable and demands the toughest penalties possible. I hope that the introduction of this specialist offence will not only make our roads safer, but will bring home the message that people who are high on substances on our roads are not just a nuisance—they are criminals.
In the spirit of welcoming this change, I call on the Government to be bolder in this area. One way of doing so is by tightening up on other driving offences that also cause enormous suffering and harm. Chief among these, I think, is the menace of driving without a licence or without insurance.
Last year, I spoke in another debate in this place about the case of nine-year-old Robert