House of Commons
Monday 9 July 2012
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
British Crime Survey
The crime survey shows that overall crime has remained broadly stable since May 2010. Police-recorded crime fell 3% in the year ending December 2011 compared with the previous 12 months, but as I have told the House previously, crime is still too high, and that is why we are making a number of reforms to policing to ensure that police are free to fight crime.
Over the past two years overall crime has not fallen, whereas crime fell by more than 40% under Labour. Does the Home Secretary believe that the 20% cuts to the police are partly to blame, and will she now change course to a more proportionate cuts plan of 12% over this Parliament?
The hon. Lady bases her question on a premise that I do not accept and which is not accepted by the Home Affairs Committee or, indeed, by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, which in its report on “Policing in austerity” recently stated that
“there is no evidence of a correlation between the change in number of officers and the change in total recorded crime.”
Greater Manchester Chief Constable Peter Fahy says that crime reduction is achieved by neighbourhood policing and by the police strengthening their relationships with local people. The number of police officers on visible policing lines in Greater Manchester has fallen by 300 in the past two years, so what effect does the Secretary of State expect that to have on crime levels in the area?
As I just pointed out to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), what we see is that there is no simple link—this is supported by HMIC and by the Home Affairs Committee—between officer numbers and crime figures. In Greater Manchester, police officer numbers have fallen by 4%, but overall crime has fallen by 6%.
Will my right hon. Friend congratulate those police forces in England and Wales which have worked to contribute to a 5% reduction in household crime between the years ending December 2010 and December 2011, and also welcome the 8% reduction in such crime in Cheshire, my local constabulary area?
The latest figures for year-on-year crime in Leicestershire show a reduction of 4.3%, or 3,083 offences, over the year. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating Leicestershire constabulary on its excellent work in the face of a challenging spending settlement?
I am very happy, again, to join my hon. Friend in congratulating police officers in Leicestershire on all their work in seeing that fall in crime. It is important; it matters to local communities; and it is clear that officers in Leicestershire and in many forces throughout the country are out there doing what we want them to do, which is to fight crime.
In Nottinghamshire, we have seen over the past financial year the fifth largest increase in crime of any police force, yet we have had the fourth largest funding cut of any authority. Will the Home Secretary look again at the funding formula and, in particular, when she reviews the damping mechanism of those formulas, think carefully about the impact on Nottinghamshire? Police officers really do make a difference to crime.
As Home Secretaries and Policing Ministers through the years have discovered, there are forces that benefit from damping and forces that do not. We committed to look at the damping mechanism in the last two years of the spending review period, but my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice has initiated that work already and is currently looking at the issue.
In a year of unprecedented operational demand, with the Olympics following Euro 2012 events, recorded crime in East Sussex is at its lowest in five years. Will the Home Secretary join me in congratulating East Sussex police force on its excellent work in reducing crime in the county and in my constituency?
Deportations (Dangerous Foreign Nationals)
We are working with the prisons, the courts and the police to overcome prisoner non-compliance in the removals process by establishing nationality and identity earlier; we are working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to increase the efficiency of the documentation process; and we are removing a significant number of prisoners much earlier in the process.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which we are working on. Where sentence length allows, consideration of deportation is now started up to 18 months before the earliest point of removal. As a result, we are removing a significant number of prisoners much earlier in the process. About a third of foreign national offenders removed in 2011 were removed before the end of their sentence, which is up from just under 20% in 2008.
There are not significant differences because these people are, by definition, foreign national offenders, so they do not come from any of the regions of the United Kingdom. Broadly speaking, how efficient we are relates to whether we have a concentration of foreign national prisoners in a prison where UK Border Agency officers can get at them early enough to make sure that all the schemes operate as efficiently as possible.
Figures for the 2011-12 academic year are not yet available, but 206,176 tier 4 student visas were issued in the year to March 2012. This figure covers all students, including those attending university. Last week, Universities UK told the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that universities are projecting an increase in international students coming to the UK, and UCAS applications from international students have risen by 10%.
We have some of the best universities in the world, and overseas students contribute £8 billion to our national economy and balance of trade. There has been lots of speculation over the weekend that the Government are about to change the migration figures so as to exclude overseas students. Will the Minister make a statement about the Government’s intentions, and will he think seriously about what can be done with the visa regime and the language requirements to encourage more genuine students to study at British universities?
I will happily make a statement now. There are no plans at all to change the definition of immigration. A student who comes here for three years or more is as much of an immigrant as somebody who comes on a work visa for two years or more. There is an international definition of immigration which covers everyone who moves to another country for more than a year, so students who come here for more than a year are included in that definition.
Will my hon. Friend reject any pressures to change the policy on students coming here in the light of the fact that the OECD estimates that a quarter of students subsequently stay on, 120,000 of them settle and 120,000 seek and are granted extensions of their stay while they are here, and there are some 150,000 outstanding illegal immigrants who came here on university visas?
My right hon. Friend makes a number of powerful points. There is, of course, no cap on genuine students coming to study genuinely at genuine institutions, and some of our universities, which are indeed the best in the world, benefit hugely from that. Nevertheless, we have driven out a huge amount of abuse in the student visa system. More than 500 colleges that used to take foreign students can no longer do so because we put in a proper checking and accreditation regime.
Many colleges’ licences have been cancelled for several reasons. Many students have been issued visas at the British high commissions in Delhi, Pakistan and other places. How many were refused entry at the airport when they arrived due to the cancellations of their colleges’ licences?
I am afraid that I cannot give the figure off the top of my head, but I doubt whether most of them would have been refused entry at the airport. I would say to the hon. Gentleman, and indeed to prospective students, that because of the action that we have taken in driving out abuse it is very much less likely now than two years ago for any genuine student from overseas to arrive in Britain and find that they have registered with a bogus college. Removing these bogus colleges has an enormous benefit for the British taxpayer and the integrity of our immigration system, but it also helps genuine foreign students to know that from now on they will be coming to get a proper education in Britain.
Does my hon. Friend agree that while overseas students are vital for our universities, this has become an increasingly abused immigration route, and that the blanket removal of students from the statistics would drive a coach and horses through the excellent measures that he has introduced?
I agree completely with the final point that my hon. Friend made. He was right about the abuse. I am happy to report to him and the House that, as of today, we are introducing more widespread interviewing of students to check their ability to benefit from a course here. We ran a pilot between December and February, and discovered that 17% of those who had been accepted on a course in this country should be refused because they could not even speak basic conversational English. There is always more abuse to drive out and we will continue to do so.
Draft Communications Data Bill
We published the draft Communications Data Bill on 14 June. The draft Bill will now be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses and a parallel inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Joint Committee has begun its work and is due to report in November.
I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. He will know that the draft Bill, particularly in clause 1, gives very wide powers to the Secretary of State by order. Will he tell us whether the Secretary of State has yet written those orders? In any event, will he give the undertaking that they will be published at the earliest available date?
It is worth underlining that communications data are an essential tool in solving and prosecuting crime. It is important that that is not eroded by changing technologies, which is why we need the flexibility to respond to change. We are working closely with the Joint Committee. We are absolutely committed to the pre-legislative scrutiny and to ensuring that the Committee can conduct robust scrutiny of the Bill.
The Minister said that he was working with the Joint Committee on which I serve. He will be aware that the Joint Committee has not been given sight of the order. Will he promise that we will have a chance to see it while we are carrying out the pre-legislative scrutiny?
As my hon. Friend will know, scrutiny of the draft legislation is only just starting. I understand that the first sitting of the Joint Committee is due to take place this week. Officials from the Department will consider this matter and give evidence to the Committee. I will commit to keeping the issue under review as the legislative process develops, because we recognise the need to ensure that the Bill and the scrutiny that we will respond to are effective. We need to recognise that this is an important matter in ensuring that crimes continue to be prosecuted.
Crime (Rural Areas)
The Government fully recognise the vulnerabilities of rural communities to particular crimes. The central grant to police forces continues to take into account the needs of rural areas. The election of police and crime commissioners will give rural communities a voice in determining local policing priorities.
I thank the Minister for that answer. His is a strong voice in reassuring people that the Government take crime in rural areas seriously. Will he join me in welcoming the excellent work that Norfolk police authority has done to clamp down on crime in rural areas? Does he agree that the central tension that such rural authorities face is between centralising work to prevent hardened crime from taking hold in rural counties and decentralising to maintain a strong footprint? Does he agree that joint working, as between Norfolk and Suffolk, is important in targeting resources?
I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of joint working and collaboration between forces, as is happening between Norfolk and Suffolk. That is a good example of how savings can be made. It is one reason why Norfolk has been able to increase the proportion of its officers who are on the front line, according to last week’s report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.
Devon and Cornwall police made significant cuts in the run-up to 2010 and are now struggling under further and faster cuts from this Government. Policing rural areas, and indeed urban areas such as Plymouth, is proving to be difficult with the loss of manpower. Will the Minister look at how the area cost adjustment for Devon and Cornwall is reached, because we lose out to places such as Surrey?
We do not believe that there are fundamental problems with the way in which grant is provided. We are looking at the issue of damping, as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary mentioned earlier. The fundamental point is that Devon and Cornwall has not coped as well with the reduction in funds as similar forces that have continued to reduce crime. It is one of the three forces that HMIC said needed to look carefully at how they would make savings in future.
I know the Minister is busy, but will he meet the acting chief constable, soon to be chief constable, of Nottinghamshire, to see how he is working with Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire, and particularly at how he is managing to police rural as well as urban areas in these difficult times?
Yes, I would be happy to have such a meeting. I meet chief constables regularly and visit forces a lot, and I am sure that I will visit Nottinghamshire again in due course. Police forces up and down the country are showing that they are broadly coping well with the reductions in funding. They are making savings and continuing to reduce crime while protecting the front line. That was what HMIC’s report said last week.
In the county of the hon. Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), 162 police officers will be lost by 2015, yet if reports in the weekend press are to be believed, the Home Secretary is asking the Treasury for more money to invest not in officers to tackle rural or other crime but in the election of police and crime commissioners. Is that true, and does it not show once again that the Government’s priorities are wrong on this matter?
I am absolutely astonished by the right hon. Gentleman’s question, since only last week he and I were in a Committee of this House debating how much money should be spent on promoting police and crime commissioner elections, and he called for an increase in resources and for us to spend more money on those elections. It is frankly astonishing that he should ask me the question that he just has.
Our immigration reforms will return migration to sustainable levels in the tens of thousands, reducing pressures on communities. Changes to family immigration rules will ensure that migrants are not a burden on the taxpayer but can speak English and pay their way, and a new “Life in the UK” test will have British history and culture at its heart. All of that will help ensure that migrants are better able to integrate in the UK.
I welcome the Minister’s comments. The cornerstone of successful integration in Bedford and Kempston for generations has been a clear focus on hard work and strong family values. Will the Minister assure me that he will continue to promote those values, rather than the pattern of welfare dependency that has emerged in recent years?
Absolutely. My hon. Friend makes an entirely valid point, because most immigrants come here to work and we should encourage them to do so. That is why our new “Life in the UK” test booklet will concentrate more on British history, British values and great people in British history and rather less than the previous Government’s version did on how to claim benefits.
When my parents left their homeland in the 1960s to settle in the UK, they brought with them a deep respect and love for Britain. Sadly, too few migrants share that approach today. I therefore welcome the changes to the “Life in the UK” test that my hon. Friend has outlined. Does he agree that they will help to underline the importance of immigrants learning the English language?
That is absolutely right. It is obvious that it is easier for someone to make a success of their life in a new country if they can speak the language properly. That is why we have increased the English requirements across the board for migrants who intend to settle here. That will help them not only to integrate better in the wider community but to make a success of their own lives. Opposition Members who campaign against the changes are letting down future generations of migrants to this country.
Does the Minister accept that a continuing huge backlog of unprocessed cases in the “legacy” category, along with arbitrary and at times unfair decisions against genuine and entirely meritorious applicants for visas to visit relatives in the UK, continues to make it very difficult to promote effective immigration among sections of ethnic minorities who believe that the rules are not being applied fairly?
On legacy cases, the right hon. Gentleman is entirely right. In the middle of the last decade, half a million cases were famously discovered, and we are sorting that out. The asylum archive is now down by 24,000 from the high of 98,000 that it reached in 2011, so this Government, unlike the previous one, are getting to grips with the terrible problems that we inherited. We are increasingly successful in providing not just sustainable levels of immigration but a system in which people can—
Olympic Games (Security)
7. What progress she has made on Olympic security preparations; and if she will make a statement. (115544)
The Government and everyone involved are focused on delivering a safe, secure and successful games. We are confident in our planning and are leaving nothing to chance in our aim to deliver games that London, the UK and the whole world can enjoy.
The Olympics are only 18 days away, but we learned over the weekend that G4S still needs to fill 9,000 security positions. Without those staff, security will surely be compromised. Will the Home Secretary therefore confirm that she has signed off G4S’s recruitment schedule? Will she also give a personal assurance to the House that those 9,000 security staff can be recruited, vetted and trained in the next 18 days?
As the hon. Gentleman may be aware, venue security is being delivered by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, G4S and the military. It is a huge operation to protect more than 100 different venues, and delivering it is a big challenge. The Home Office has put in place a number of assurance processes to ensure that we have effective and robust scrutiny of venue security planning. We have been testing our plans thoroughly and are confident that our partners will deliver a safe and secure games, but we are not complacent and will leave nothing to chance, so we will stay on the case.
The Home Secretary has not answered the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Gregg McClymont). First, will she confirm that she personally signed off the G4S recruitment schedule? Secondly, will these 9,000 people be recruited, trained and in place, and will they have gone through the proper security vetting, by the opening of the Olympic games?
8. How many police forces in England and Wales wait until five separate households have complained about antisocial behaviour before responding. (115545)
Police forces and their local partners should respond to every complaint about antisocial behaviour, and most take the issue very seriously, but if repeated complaints have been ignored, our proposed community trigger will allow victims and communities to require agencies to take action.
In some areas, people have to make at least three separate complaints of antisocial behaviour before getting a response. Is that not a symptom of police numbers being cut by 15,000—they are being cut to 1974 levels in Cleveland—and the fact that police powers are being weakened by this Government?
No, not at all. For a start, if the hon. Gentleman had read the HMIC report published last week, he would know that it makes it clear that front-line policing is being protected overall. He would also know that the service to the public has largely been maintained; the proportion of officers on the front line is increasing; the number of neighbourhood officers has gone up; crime is down; victim satisfaction is improving; and the response to emergency calls is being maintained.
Northamptonshire police are an excellent constabulary that is excellently run by Chief Constable Adrian Lee. It is doing great work fighting antisocial behaviour. Does my hon. Friend agree that police and crime commissioners will also do an awful lot to improve the fight against antisocial behaviour? Does she find it shocking that the Labour party does not support that?
I do find it shocking, given that so many of the Labour ilk are standing for the position of PCCs. The job of PCCs is to listen to what people want in their local communities and to give communities the powers to require agencies to act. That is happening under this Government, but it never happened under the Labour Government.
The Government have swept away central targets and cut police red tape. Our package of policies to reduce bureaucracy is saving up to 4.5 million hours of police time a year, freeing officers to focus on their core mission, which is to cut crime.
My right hon. Friend will know that in 2010 less than 15% of a patrol officer’s time, on average, was spent on patrol. What specific measures has he taken, and will he take, to cut the red tape at the police station that is keeping too many officers off the beat?
I mentioned the amount of officer time —the equivalent of more than 2,000 officers—that we have effectively released for front-line duties. For instance, we are returning charging decisions to the police, scrapping the national requirement for the stop-and-account form, reducing the burden of the stop-and-search procedures, employing new technology to ensure that police officers can give evidence from their police stations rather than having to go to court, and championing a simplified crime-recording process. I could go on, but the list is an impressive one and reflects our determination to free up officer time so that they can do the job we want them to do, which is to fight crime.
I have been working with Asda and Avon and Somerset police on setting up a police booth in Asda in Longwell Green to ensure an increased police presence in the area and to empower police officers to help reduce crime at little cost. Will the Minister welcome such innovative measures and encourage all forces to consider how to engage with local businesses that might be keen to fight crime?
I welcome that initiative, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. It is a very good example of how police forces are using innovative means to maintain, or indeed increase, their presence in local communities. Setting up such booths in supermarkets can bring a large number of people into contact with the police—far more than might choose to visit a police station.
I declare an interest as a candidate to be a police commissioner in south Wales. Does the Minister not accept that the best way of empowering police officers to reduce crime is to prevent reoffending? Instead of concentrating on bureaucratic requirements, such as having several reports before action can be taken, will he strengthen the use of antisocial behaviour orders, which have succeeded in preventing reoffending?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that we are strengthening the powers available to the police with new tools to deal with antisocial behaviour. Police and crime commissioners will play a lead role in giving a voice to the people and will be under statutory duties to co-operate with other elements of the criminal justice system to ensure a focus on preventing crime and reducing reoffending.
Crime is falling in Leicestershire, which reflects the fact that, despite the challenge set for police forces in reducing their spending, they can do so while maintaining their front-line service and the service to the public, as the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), made completely clear. The majority of forces continue to cut crime, showing that it can be done.
24. The Minister is aware that a deeply distressing child sexual exploitation case is currently being prosecuted in my constituency. What training and support are being offered to police forces to ensure that they can spot the signs of exploitation early and have the confidence to share and act on intelligence so that we can prevent these terrible crimes? (115562)
The Government’s progress report on tackling child sexual exploitation, published on 3 July by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education, who has responsibility for children and families, makes it clear that the Association of Chief Police Officers and the National Policing Improvement Agency are taking forward proposals for the training of front-line police officers in tackling child sexual exploitation. ACPO intends to do further work in this area.
There has been a 6% fall in crime in Greater Manchester. That shows that the force is able to deal with the necessary spending reductions while continuing to reduce crime. That is a credit to the force, its leadership and its officers. The hon. Gentleman, in common with his Labour colleagues, continues to call for increases in public spending, which is exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
Yes. I am happy to reassure my right hon. Friend that we will be—indeed, we are—looking at that proposal. We are working constructively with the police to set up a professional body for policing, about which we will have more to say shortly. Tomorrow I shall be speaking in Cambridge about evidence-led policing, and about the importance of police forces developing links with academia, which includes the potential for faculties of policing.
Last week Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published “Policing in austerity: One year on”. The report showed that front-line policing is being protected, and that the vast majority of police forces are rising to the challenge. The report raised some important issues, including for the Metropolitan Police Service. I am confident that the Deputy Mayor for policing and crime, and the commissioner will deal with those issues firmly.
Speaking on “Newsnight” last week, the Policing Minister described the impending loss of 6,000 Metropolitan police officers as a relatively marginal reduction. Is the £232 million black hole in the Metropolitan police’s finances also marginal? What guarantee can the Home Secretary give me that my constituents in Lewisham will not have their safety and security put at risk as a result of this financial crisis?
First, the hon. Lady makes a claim in her question about what my right hon. Friend the Policing Minister said, but he is absolutely clear that he did not say what she has said he did. Also, I challenge her use of the figure of 6,000 in relation to the Metropolitan police. I think she has used a figure that relates to certain officers across the whole country, rather than in the Metropolitan police. However, I can probably do no better than to quote Sir Denis O’Connor, who is currently Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary. Commenting on what has been reported about the Metropolitan police, he said:
“Are there some concerns? Yes. Should they be able to get on top of it? Yes.”
Technology is crucial in helping the Metropolitan police and other police forces to tackle crime. I know that the Home Office has not quite grasped yet the importance of DNA and CCTV in tackling crime, but may I commend to the Home Secretary the use of SmartWater, a great UK success story that helps the police to reduce crime? The company is based in London. May I suggest that she goes to visit, to see what a great job it can do in helping to reduce crime?
I will not be tempted down the route that my hon. Friend is attempting to take me on some of the issues he referred to in his question—issues on which he has a different opinion from me. However, in answer to his question, we are very open and willing to look at any new technology that will help the police to do their job, which is to cut crime. I can assure him that either I or another Home Office Minister will be pleased to make the visit that he has requested.
The Home Secretary’s decision to replace control orders with TPIMs—terrorism prevention and investigation measures—has put additional pressure on the Met’s resources. It now cannot keep dangerous terror suspects out of London, and this weekend it was revealed that a suspect who the Home Office itself says wishes to
“re-engage in terrorism-related activities”
had been to the Olympic park site five times before being arrested. Can the Home Secretary guarantee that none of the other terror suspects currently being monitored has been near to the Olympic park, and will she say whether she regrets her decision to downgrade terror powers in the Olympic year?
First, in relation to the case that the hon. Lady quoted, it is the case that on 27 June an individual known by the court initials CF was charged with breaching his TPIM notice. He is accused of travelling through the Olympic park area in Stratford, from which he is prohibited, on five occasions. However, the package of measures relating to TPIMs, including the requirement to wear a GPS tag, enables the police to respond and investigate any breach of a TPIM notice quickly and effectively. I cannot say more in detail about that case, because that would risk undermining the prosecution. However, TPIMs, which we have put in place, are a good tool and are being used effectively. The hon. Lady talks about the impact on the Metropolitan police, but she knows full well that extra funding has been provided to the Metropolitan police to cover any extra resources it needs.
Crime (Local Communities)
The Government are radically reforming the approach to tackling crime, shifting accountability away from Whitehall and directly to communities. We have provided the public with greater information, invested in neighbourhood policing and police community support officers, and increased direct accountability through beat meetings. This year, the public will be empowered through the election of police and crime commissioners—a landmark reform of policing that will increase accountability at the local level.
I am sure that all Members have people coming to their surgeries with noise complaints that have gone on for years uninvestigated. As part of the reforms set out in the recent White Paper on antisocial behaviour, we propose to introduce the community protection notice, which will give front-line professionals a single flexible power to deal quickly with any inconsiderate behaviour that is affecting a community’s quality of life. The notice will also give the police new powers to deal with antisocial noise. We are putting power into the hands of local communities with the new community trigger—
In Codsall, we have had to deal with a recent traumatic event when our scout hut was subjected to an arson attack following a period of antisocial activity in its vicinity. Does the Minister agree that the community triggers will go a long way towards empowering local communities such as those in Codsall to make sure that such things do not happen in the future?
It is upsetting when, after a number of complaints, a situation ends in something like an arson attack on a scout hut. It is very upsetting for the local community. Many police forces, councils and social landlords are working hard to deal with antisocial behaviour, but there are cases where communities report this same problem over and over again, and nothing is done. My hon. Friend is exactly right: the community trigger will ensure that, if necessary, everyone has a clear and simple way of making sure that the authorities take a problem seriously before it escalates.
Guidance for door supervisors on the seizure of identification documents such as passports and driving licences from those suspected of using friends’ passports or driving licences to enter pubs and clubs was withdrawn some months ago, pending revision. There is no interim guidance and no date for new guidance, so how can we be assured that, without such guidance, these documents will not be unlawfully seized and destroyed or enter the criminal or terrorist underground?
Faced with the impossible pressures generated by a 20% cut to its budget, leading to 1,200 police officers going, the admirable west midlands police service has told the community of Quinton in Birmingham that the local police station can stay open, but only if they agree to man it. Is this the Home Secretary’s vision for the future: a new approach towards community policing that says to local communities, “Man your own police station”—and ultimately, I presume—“Arrest your own criminals”?
Draft Communications Data Bill
As I told the House some moments ago, the Government published the draft Communications Data Bill on 14 June. It was accompanied by an impact assessment, which estimated overall cost for the likely areas of expenditure.
That estimate of overall costs was £1.8 billion. When the last Government first introduced plans for identity cards, the Home Office estimated costs at between £1.3 billion and £3 billion. By the time the coalition Government wisely cancelled ID cards, that estimate had passed £5 billion. How can we have confidence that these proposals will not also prove to be a burden on industry and the taxpayer alike?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the ID card scheme was disproportionate and intrusive, and a waste of public expenditure. Our proposals for communications data are critical to support for essential day-to-day police operations. The alternatives—covert human intelligence sources, directed surveillance and undercover officers—are more expensive, more intrusive and less effective.
The whole point of the Bill is that it provides flexibility. The key aspect of it is that it allows co-operation and collaboration with internet service providers to ensure that we respond to the changing nature of criminal operations. Criminals are changing their tactics, and the legislation needs to move with them.
Deportations (Human Rights Legislation)
The Statement of Changes in Immigration Rules that I laid before the House on 13 June has come into effect today. It introduces clear new rules to protect the public from foreign criminals who try to hide behind family life as a reason to stay here. In respect of the most serious offenders, only in exceptional cases will the public interest in deportation be outweighed by other factors.
Notwithstanding the excellent work that my right hon. Friend has done, does she not agree that the only real solution to the problem is to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998? Given that it is our Liberal friends who are blocking such action, may I, in the privacy of the Chamber, suggest this course of action to her? Why do we not all vote against House of Lords reform tomorrow, and end the sad, unmourned life of the coalition? Then we can have a general election and a Conservative Government, and we can repeal this hopeless Act.
I am not entirely sure where my hon. Friend was going in linking the House of Lords with deportations, but I do not share the opinion that he has expressed. Personally, I shall be voting in favour of House of Lords reform, as I have done previously. As for the Human Rights Act, I have made my views known publicly on a number of occasions. What the Government are doing, crucially, is taking action to ensure that we can set out the criteria for article 8 so that fewer foreign criminals will be able to call on it in order to stay in this country.
Border Controls (Waiting Times)
We will not compromise border security, but we always aim to keep disruption to a minimum by using our staff flexibly to meet demand. Our sampling of queues shows that the vast majority of passengers from the European economic area pass through immigration control quickly, but queue lengths have reached unacceptable levels on occasion, and we have introduced a range of measures to combat that.
Data from Heathrow’s terminal 4 show that non-EEA queues exceeded the Government’s target on 21 days out of 30 in June, while at terminal 5 the targets were breached on 18 days. This continued chaos comes at a time when the eyes of the world are on the United Kingdom, and when the increased tourism created by the Olympic games should be incredibly important to our economy. What are the Government doing to deal with this shambolic situation and get a grip on our borders?
The times were unacceptable in April, and anything beyond the service level clearly remains unacceptable. For non-EEA passengers we met our targets 90% of the time in June, an increase from 75% in April. In response to those large passenger volumes, we increased the number of staff at Heathrow by more than 50% this weekend. We now have a new central control room to enable us to deploy people more quickly and efficiently, and we have mobile teams to fill the gaps more speedily than ever before.
I do not trust those statistics, to be honest. [Interruption.] I trust the Minister, but I do not trust the statistics. I went to Stansted last week, and I know that UK Border Agency staff start counting the people in the queue only when they arrive in the hall itself, which physically cannot take more than 20 minutes. They do not count the people who are waiting on the escalators, or the people in the corridor, or the people round two bends or over the bridge or all the way back to the aeroplanes. When will the Government publish proper statistics, involving proper, independent counting, which would show that they are failing in their primary duty?
I am happy to reassure—and, hopefully, calm down—the hon. Gentleman. The figures I was citing were not border force or Home Office figures; they were BAA figures. BAA publishes the monthly figures every month on its website. Those June figures were figures from BAA, not the Government. I hope the hon. Gentleman trusts BAA to produce reliable figures.
The Olympic games opening ceremony is now just over two weeks away. The Olympic torch relay continues to inspire the nation, and I pay tribute to all involved, including the police officers who are providing such effective, yet discreet, security. Sadly, I will not be able to see the torch when it passes through my constituency tomorrow morning. The eyes of the world will be on us during what promises to be a real celebration of sport. I am confident that our police and security services will deliver a safe and secure games that the whole country—indeed, the whole world—can enjoy.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has she had a chance to look at Leicestershire constabulary’s proposals to change its force shift patterns? How will that improve the policing in Hinckley in my constituency and the surrounding area, and will other forces also be looking at changing their shift patterns?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the shift patterns issue, and I welcome the work that a number of police forces across the country, including Leicestershire, have taken forward, so that they can use their resources rather better to ensure they can prioritise front-line services to the public while making the necessary savings. I would expect my hon. Friend’s force to be prioritising front-line services in exactly that way in his constituency.
The Home Secretary has to make sure that there is proper border security without long queues. In April, Ministers promised that all immigration desks at Heathrow would be fully staffed during peak periods over the summer. Instead, June BAA data show that in the early-morning peak at terminal 3, there were only seven staff and at least half the desks were closed, and queues reached almost two hours long as a result. There are only 18 days to go until the Olympics; why is it still such a mess?
The right hon. Lady should have listened to the response that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration gave to the shadow Immigration Minister just now. Over recent months we have been increasing the number of staff who are available at Heathrow and elsewhere, including the number of contingency staff, in response to what were, when we looked at them in April, unacceptably long queues. The right hon. Lady refers specifically to the Olympics. Extra arrangements will be in place for the Olympics. That was always what was planned. They will come into play before the Olympics opening ceremony, and therefore before significant numbers of tourists arrive for the Olympics.
But BAA has said the queues over the last few days have been unacceptably long. Targets have been breached throughout June. There has been chaos again this morning. Olympics visitors are already starting to arrive. The rest of the country is working hard to show the world the best of British. All the right hon. Lady is doing is showing visitors how to queue. She has had years to plan this, but now she has got only two weeks to sort it out and make sure the Home Office does not embarrass everybody else.
I repeat to the right hon. Lady that, under the plans for the contingency numbers during the Olympics, there will be an increase in the number of staff at the borders. We will be manning all desks at peak times during the Olympics. The numbers will be there to do that. It is important that we ensure that we are providing security and a good experience for people arriving at Heathrow, and I was very pleased when I was at Heathrow a couple of weeks ago to be able to welcome five members of the Chinese team and ensure that they were put through the games family member lane.
My hon. Friend is right that collaboration is important. That is the case in respect of not only back-office functions, but operational functions, particularly to deal with serious and organised crime. That is increasingly what forces are doing, as the inspectorate of constabulary confirmed last week, and we have placed forces under new statutory duties to consider that.
T2. The Crown Prosecution Service is proposing to withdraw its staff from Athena House, the office it shares with the North Yorkshire police in York, where cases are processed for the courts. How many offices around the country are joint offices for prosecutors and police? Are the prosecutors being withdrawn from all those offices? What representations has the Minister made to the Law Officers? (115564)
I have discussed this matter with the hon. Gentleman. We are increasingly moving to integrated working between the Crown Prosecution Service and police force teams, but the specific operational decisions and how these units are resourced are matters for local decision making.
T6. Many of my constituents have raised with me, time and again, their concerns about immigration. Like me, they welcome the progress being made by the Government but are concerned about the abuse in the student immigration route. Given that 26% of students at private colleges were overstaying their visas compared with a figure of just 2% for universities, does the Minister agree that it is right for the Government to focus their reform on private colleges? (115568)
I thank my hon. Friend for that question, and he will have heard my hon. Friend the Immigration Minister making exactly that point earlier this afternoon. We think it is absolutely right that we focus on having the brightest and the best coming to the UK, and that we root out the abuse that, sadly, was allowed to occur in the system for too long under the previous Government, so that students are genuinely coming here for an education. That is exactly what we are doing by ensuring that colleges that have abused the system are not able to bring people in.
T3. The UK Border Agency recently produced information showing that children from Vietnam, China and Nigeria were significantly less likely to be recognised as trafficking victims by the national referral mechanism. Will the Minister take seriously the concerns raised with his Department by non-governmental organisations that this system is failing to protect those children adequately? (115565)
I met the various anti-trafficking NGOs recently, as I am sure the hon. Lady knows, given her background in this sector. We are trying very hard to get better at recognising children who are genuine victims and not potential criminals, and there are now signs that our training of officers is having a good effect in this regard.
T7. I recently visited the United States police hall of fame in Florida, which educates people and celebrates the work of the US police force, as well as providing a memorial to US police officers who have died in service. Building on the fantastic work of Michael Winner, does the Minister agree that having a UK police hall of fame would be very appropriate? Will the Home Office support setting one up? (115569)
I am sure the whole House would agree that we should honour those police officers who lose their lives while doing their duty for their country. There is a police memorial at the national arboretum, which I visited this year for the Care Of Police Survivors service. There is also an annual national police memorial day service, which Ministers attend and which will take place on 30 September, and there are police bravery awards. It is right that we do a great deal to recognise police bravery, and I am happy to discuss this with my hon. Friend.
T4. One of my constituents is currently living abroad with his Chinese wife, but they both want to return to the UK to look after his seriously ill mother. Unfortunately, due to the change of rules this month, he is not going to be able to make the income limit, even though his return would prevent his mother from going into care. Should we not be practising the Christian values of this country before preaching them to others? (115566)
T8. Will the Immigration Minister look at the current practice whereby applications are sometimes turned down for technical reasons and are then resubmitted but may be out of time? We could, thus, save the Government loads of money and effort, and help applicants, who are often disadvantaged through no fault of their own. (115570)
I am very happy to do that for my right hon. Friend. Indeed, in many parts of the immigration system we are now able to process applications faster than ever before. That is particularly the case in the asylum system, where the worst delays used to happen and where we are now taking more than 50% of decisions within 30 days.
T9. The Home Secretary will be familiar with the case of my constituent Nosratollah Tajik, who has been under arrest, tagged and subject to restrictive bail conditions for six years, pending extradition. For the majority of that time the Home Secretary has purportedly been considering medical reports. Will she now either make a full statement or meet me to discuss this very unsatisfactory situation? (115571)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in cases of drink-related antisocial behaviour in hospital A and E departments hospital staff should be given further powers to hit troublesome drinkers with sufficiently stiff fixed penalty notices to crack down on what is becoming an endemic problem?
My hon. Friend raises the issue of A and E departments and the penalties therein. We have introduced a simplified system, going from 19 orders to six, and criminal behaviour orders provide criminal sanctions if needed and also put people on a better behaviour route.
T10. The recent conviction of rioters from Nottingham was secured in part by forensic evidence recovered from the wicks of smashed petrol bombs, but the Forensic Science Service has been abolished, staff numbers have been slashed and local forensic services still face multi-million pound cuts. What assurance can the Secretary of State give my constituents that front-line forensic services will not be harmed by her Government’s cuts? (115572)
We had to address the problems with the Forensic Science Service, which was, sadly, making unsustainable losses. New arrangements have been put in place with private contractors and we are confident in the robustness of those measures.
I think it is very important that Ministers visit Heathrow at peak times. I was there at seven o’clock this morning and was appalled to see people being held in corridors, a full immigration hall and that half the kiosks were not open. May we please start the additional measures for the Olympics immediately?
Of course Ministers visit Heathrow and other ports at various times to see the operation of those ports in a variety of circumstances. At terminal 4 today, queues were in fact not over an hour long, as I understand the right hon. Gentleman has said that they were, staff were quickly redeployed and more than 80% of desks were open to process passengers as quickly as possible. That is what we have been doing by increasing the staff in recent days and in a week or so, the Olympic numbers will kick in, which will bring even more staff to Heathrow and ensure that people are processed properly and quickly.
Will the Home Secretary please review her decision to approve the extradition of Richard O’Dwyer to the US, where he faces up to 10 years for an alleged breach of copyright rules, an offence, if it is one, that our own authorities did not think merited a prosecution?
If, as the Home Secretary maintains, increased surveillance is as effective as the power to relocate terrorists, why was CF, a suspected serious terrorist, allowed to travel freely across the Olympic park five times before being arrested?
The right hon. Lady should have listened carefully to the answer I gave earlier. The individual has not been allowed to travel across the Olympic park. I am not able to go into further details about the case, as it is before the courts and we do not wish to undermine the prosecution case, but I am confident in the TPIMs we have introduced and in the work of our police and security services.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would you be willing to rule on the question of hybridity relating to the House of Lords Reform Bill, which we are about to consider on Second Reading? The Speaker has previously defined a hybrid Bill as
“a public bill which affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class”.
Clause 19 of the Bill treats some bishops of the Church of England in a different way from the class of bishops in the Church of England. I therefore wonder, Mr Speaker, as this matter is very important in relation to the Parliament Acts, whether you would consider referring it to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills to see whether the Bill is hybrid.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for notice of his point of order. As he will know, and as, I think, he has just indicated that he knows, a hybrid Bill is a public Bill that affects a particular private interest in a manner different from the private interest of other persons or bodies of the same category or class. The key phrase here is “private interest”. The only interest of bishops affected by the Bill is that of being part of the legislature. That is a public interest, not a private one. Accordingly, no question of hybridity arises. I hope that that is helpful both to the hon. Gentleman and to the House, not to mention the bishops.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answer to my question during Home Office questions on the withdrawal of guidance to door supervisory staff at licensed premises, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), said that she would look into the issue and get back to me. I put parliamentary questions on the issue to the same Minister on 11 and 25 June, and received an answer from another Home Office Minister on 15 May. Can the House be assured that the issue will be seriously looked into and appropriate guidance issued in future, before guidance is withdrawn?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. It sounds to me as though she has had, thus far, an interesting but inconclusive exchange, but I know her and she has a terrier-like quality that is unsurpassed in any part of the House. I can advise her only to redouble her efforts—not to settle for what she regards as an unsatisfactory answer, but to pursue the matter vigorously—although for the time being not through a point of order, but perhaps outside the Chamber.
House of Lords Reform Bill
[1st Allocated Day]
I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
I am extremely grateful, as will be the House, to the Deputy Prime Minister. Before we get the debate under way, I can inform the House that several dozen right hon. and hon. Members are today seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. The Deputy Speakers and I have compiled a list, very painstakingly. We are doing our best to accommodate as many colleagues as possible, but let me say at the outset that I ask colleagues please not—repeat, not—to come to the Chair inquiring whether and, if so, when they will be called to speak. Colleagues must display some patience. Just wait, attend to the debate and hope for the best. The Chair is trying to accommodate colleagues. To that end, in view of the level of interest, there will be a six-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
No one doubts the commitment and public service of many Members of the House of Lords, but dedicated individuals cannot compensate for flawed institutions. The Bill is about fixing a flawed institution, so let me begin by setting out why our upper Chamber is in need of these reforms—the three simple reasons why I hope Members will give it their full support. The first is that we—all of us here—believe in democracy. We believe that the people who make the laws should be chosen by the people who are subject to those laws. That principle was established in Britain after centuries of struggle and it is a principle that we still send our servicemen and women halfway across the world to defend, yet right now we are only one of only two countries in the world —the other being Lesotho—with an upper parliamentary chamber that is totally unelected and instead selects its members by birthright and patronage.
I should like to make a little progress.
The House of Lords is an institution that offers its Members a job for life; an institution that serves the whole of the United Kingdom, yet draws around half its members from London and the south-east; an institution in which there are eight times as many people over 90 as there are people under 40; an institution that has no democratic mandate—none whatsoever—but that exercises real power. The House of Lords initiates Bills, it shapes legislation and, as Governments of all persuasions know, it can block Government proposals, too. These reforms seek to create a democratic House of Lords, matching power with legitimacy.
I shall make a little progress before giving way again.
Under our proposals, 80% of Members would be chosen at the ballot box, with elections taking place every five years, and the remaining 20% would be appointed by an independent statutory commission. There would be no more jobs for life—we propose single, non-renewable, limited terms of about 15 years—and our reforms would guarantee representation for every region of the United Kingdom. At the heart of the Bill is the vision of a House of Lords that is more modern, more representative and more legitimate—a Chamber fit for the 21st century.
A moment ago, the Deputy Prime Minister said that one of the functions of the House of Lords was to introduce legislation. Can he give us an example—of importance—of a Bill introduced in the other House that has affected this country but that did not have the Government’s permission to be introduced and seen through? Is not the Lords job different from ours? Our job is to initiate and pass legislation on the condition of the Government; the Lords job is to deliberate on that legislation.
All legislation, whether it originates here or in the other place, of course requires the support of the Government of the day to make its way on to the statute book.
The second reason that the reforms will lead to better laws—this may help to answer the right hon. Gentleman—is that the Bill is not just about who legislates, but about how we legislate. Right now in our political system, power is still over-concentrated in the Executive. Governments, quite simply, can be too powerful. During their political lifetime, many Members have seen landslide Administrations able to railroad whichever Bills they like through the Commons, and we have all heard colleagues complain about different Governments trying to ram Bills through the other place when they should have been trying to win the argument in both Houses. Despite its assertiveness, too often Governments believe they can disregard the Lords.
My intervention was prompted by the Deputy Prime Minister’s statement of the principle that those who make the law should be elected by those who bear it. Of course, the older and greater principle is that those who make the laws should be accountable to those who bear the laws, and there is no accountability in the process that he is introducing.
In answer to the hon. Gentleman, I would say that there is neither accountability nor legitimacy in the status quo. These are jobs for life, which are entirely discharged without any reference to the British people. Surely, it is simply time to trust the British people.
I shall make a little more progress, if I may.
The Bill, by creating a more legitimate House of Lords, gives it more authority to hold Governments to account—a greater check on Executive power. That does not mean emboldening the Lords to the point that it threatens the Commons—I shall come on to those concerns shortly—but it does mean bolstering its role as a Chamber that scrutinises Government. It means forcing Governments to treat an elected upper Chamber with greater respect. The aim of the Bill, to quote the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell), is to create a second Chamber
“more independent of the executive, more able to exercise independent judgment”.
That will mean not only better laws, but fewer laws, restricting, again in the words of my right hon. Friend,
“the torrent of half-baked legislation”
that Governments are capable of.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. The Blair Government were defeated four times in the House of Commons and 460 times in the House of Lords. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that an elected House of political placemen will do a better job of opposing than does the current House of Lords?
It will be able to discharge that considerable authority with greater legitimacy, and therefore it will be harder for the Executive to ignore the opinions of the House of Lords. I would have thought, if I may say so, that it was a long-standing Conservative principle that it is the people who should be in the driving seat and the Executive who should be kept on their toes.
The third reason to support the Bill—
I will give way in a minute, if I may make this point.
Right now, we have an upper Chamber that is ever-expanding. That is one of the main consequences of the unfinished 1999 reforms. Very simply, after a general election, new Governments will always seek to reflect the balance of the vote in the Lords. But it is impossible to get rid of Members: the only way to leave is to die. So new Administrations inevitably have to make more appointments to get the balance right. [Interruption.] The current membership is 816. That will soon be over 1,000. Clearly, the status quo is unsustainable. [Interruption.] The House of Lords is already—
Order. I apologise for interrupting the Deputy Prime Minister. There is a permanent cacophony in the Chamber and Members might think that it is some sort of laughing matter, but as far as a lot of people observing our proceedings are concerned, it is just discourteous. The right hon. Gentleman has a right both to speak and to be heard with reasonable decorum. That is what Members would want for themselves; that is what Members should extend to the right hon. Gentleman.
If, for whatever reason, the Deputy Prime Minister is unsuccessful in getting the White Paper through this afternoon—[Hon. Members: “It is a Bill.”]—will he pledge today that he and other senior Liberal Democrats will not take their places in an unreformed House of Lords?
I am making the case for the Government’s Bill. I am not going to make predictions about a vote tomorrow, which I firmly believe will be carried.
The Bill reverses that trend. It gradually reduces the membership and caps it at 450, plus 12 bishops. Some people have said that the numbers could be dealt with much more easily, that we can slim the other place by disqualifying convicted criminals or allowing Members to resign.
I will give way shortly.
The first solution would bring the total down by a handful, potentially; the second perhaps by none. Others have said, “Yes, cap the House at an appropriate limit, but make it fully appointed.” But how could we possibly justify dramatic reform of the Lords that did not introduce a democratic element? That would be unthinkable. It would be in direct contravention of each of the three main parties’ manifestos, flying in the face of our collective promise to renew our politics. The only way to get to grips with the numbers is fundamental democratic reform. That is what the Bill does.
I think that a referendum is not justified in this instance, for the following reasons: first, unlike other issues that are a source of great disagreement here, all three main parties are committed to delivering House of Lords reform, by way of their own manifestos, which they put to the British people at the last election, the one before that, and the one before that; secondly, it would be very expensive—£80 million—for something on which we are all supposed to agree; and thirdly, it would detract attention from the much more important referendum taking place in this Parliament: the referendum on the future of the United Kingdom.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the Bill in the name of his right hon. Friend Lord Steel, the House of Lords (Cessation of Membership) Bill, which addresses the issue of over-membership in the other place and has widespread support there?
Of course I have examined that Bill and discussed it with Lord Steel extensively. Any reasonable person who subjected it to any scrutiny would conclude that it would not deal with the practical issues to which I have alluded—the House of Lords getting bigger and bigger—because voluntary resignation or the kicking out of convicted criminals simply will not deal with the unsustainable trajectory of the size of the House of Lords.
I will make a little more headway, and then of course I will give way.
Democracy, better laws and the urgent and practical need for reform are the three reasons why Members of this House should give the Bill their blessing and wish it a swift passage into law. Before addressing some of the concerns about the Government’s proposals, I would like to make the point that the Bill, although it has been introduced by the coalition Government, in many ways is not just the Government’s Bill. These reforms build on the work of our predecessors on both sides of the House. As with all the best examples of British constitutional reform, the proposals look to the future but are respectful of the past. Veterans of these debates will know that the coalition parties cannot claim full credit for the reforms presented here. If we go back to the White Paper produced by the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) in 2008, the late Robin Cook’s “Breaking the Deadlock”, the House of Lords Act 1999, Lord Wakeham’s royal commission and everything that went before over the past 100 years, it is clear that these reforms have a long bloodline that includes all our parties and political traditions.
Does the Deputy Prime Minister not see that there is a degree of inconsistency between his view that we in this House are too powerful and therefore need neutering by the House of Lords and his voting to maintain the strengthening of the Executive and the boundary changes by keeping the number of Ministers yet reducing the number of Back-Bench Members of Parliament?
One of the Bill’s intentions is absolutely not to neuter the House of Commons, but to work in partnership with the House of Commons in holding the Executive to account. I would have thought that Members on both sides of the House would celebrate and support anything that means that Parliament as a whole can hold the Executive more fully to account. Indeed, in 1910, when Government proposals to limit the power of the House of Lords were introduced, it was Winston Churchill who said:
“I would like to see a Second Chamber which would be fair to all parties, and which would be properly subordinated to the House of Commons and harmoniously connected with the people.”
He ended by saying:
“The time for words is past; the time for action has arrived.”—[Official Report, 31 March 1910; Vol. 15, c. 1572-83.]
More than 100 years later, I could not agree more.
Many of us who have sympathy with the need to reform the other place are still deeply concerned about these proposals. Will the Deputy Prime Minister tell us what it was in his recent experiences that has suggested that the kind of democracy we need is one where politicians can say what the hell they like, stay for 15 years and never have to face the voters again?
I think that it is preferable to their being there, making the laws of the land and never being put before the British people. I would hope that the hon. Gentleman, if he believes in House of Lords reform as strongly as the Labour party always has—it used to be a long and noble campaigning tradition for the party—will not only will the ends by backing Second Reading, but will the means by backing the programme motion.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, but will he cease to quote Churchill on these matters, given that they relate to Churchill’s views on the House of Lords at a time of great conflict between the House of Commons and the House of Lords in the 1920s? As he grew up through his political life, he dropped those views and had great reverence and respect for the institution of the House of Lords—something that I suggest my right hon. Friend should have as well.
Of course I will always refer to the views of Winston Churchill with a great deal of respect, but I point out only that he expressed those views in 1910, when of course he was a Liberal, not in the 1920s. I know that he changed his views later, and they are a matter of record.
If the Labour party’s views have evolved over the past 100 years, which in this matter, if not in others, they may have, I hope none the less that the right hon. Lady will confirm that there was a clear manifesto commitment from the Labour party not only to support the principle of House of Lords reform, but to deliver it in practice.
I shall make a little more progress, if I may.
In 2007, the Commons voted overwhelmingly for a mostly elected second Chamber. Each of the main parties stood on a platform of Lords reform at the last election, and since coming into Government the Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), and I have looked for every way to take it forward by consensus.
We convened a cross-party Committee, which I chaired. We then published a White Paper and a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.
I shall make a little more headway.
A Joint Committee of both Houses spent nine months considering that White Paper and draft Bill, and I remain extremely grateful for the Joint Committee’s forensic and detailed analysis. We accepted more than half its recommendations and reshaped the Bill around its advice.
This Bill is therefore the sincere result of long and shared endeavour. Its history belongs to us all: to Liberals, to Conservatives, to Labour and to all other parties in this House, as well as to the great political reformers and pragmatists of the past.
The Deputy Prime Minister is making an articulate case for a position to which he holds with great conviction, and I respect his integrity in that, but does he accept that many of us fear that by electing the second Chamber and giving it the greater legitimacy he talks about, we will end up creating a rival to this Chamber, rather than the revising Chamber that we all want.
I know that the hon. Gentleman holds his views, although different from mine, with great sincerity, and I respect him for that, but in a bicameral democratic system there is nothing unusual about having two Chambers, both of which are either fully elected or mainly elected, and in which there is a clear imbalance, an asymmetry—a hierarchy, if you like —in the relationship of one Chamber with the other. I am sure that we can manage it here. The predictions that it would lead to gridlock and to rivalry between the two Chambers were made when reform took place in 1958 and in 1999. They did not materialise then; I really do not believe that they will this time, either.
If I can make a little more progress, I will give way.
Of course, this does not mean that every Member of this House agrees with every clause—[Laughter.] That is an understatement! There is no perfect blueprint for a modernised second Chamber. Even within each of the main parties, differing visions of reform can be found, and this Bill reflects a number of compromises that have been made to accommodate differences across the House. I say to Members of this House who have specific worries about particular aspects of this Bill that this is precisely what further scrutiny of the proposals, in both Houses, will be about. The concerns that remain fall into two main camps: the myths, which I will now seek to dispel; and the fears, which I hope to address. But before doing so, I give way to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant).
The Deputy Prime Minister knows that I support reform and have done for a very long time, but there are elements of the Bill that I do not like, such as the 15-year term and the fact that it is not clear enough about the respective powers of the two Houses. If the Government are going to end up Parliament-Acting the Bill because the Lords refuses to deal with it, it is all the more incumbent on us to get it right before we send it down the corridor. That is why I say to him, regretfully, that his programme does not fit the bill.
I would be intrigued if the hon. Gentleman could tell me—if not now, afterwards —exactly how many days Labour Members want.
The right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) said today in The Guardian that the reason he is opposing the programme motion has nothing to do with scrutiny of the Bill:
“Within the rest of the legislative programme are loads of right-wing bills which will damage people in Britain. So I don’t think it is any part of our responsibility to try and get those bills into statute.”
In other words, Labour’s ulterior motive appears to be to disrupt the rest of the Government’s business. That is not a legitimate way of dealing with a programme motion, which is a perfectly reasonable way for the Government to try to make progress on this important piece of legislation without disrupting all other parts of our business.
I will make a little more progress and then give way again.
First, let me take the myths in turn. I have heard the accusation that the reforms will be too quick and too abrupt and that the Bill amounts to some frantic act of constitutional violence. The truth? These reforms would be implemented over about 15 years. New Members would be appointed or elected in three tranches over three elections. The political parties and groups would have maximum discretion over how to reduce their existing numbers.
I have heard it said that the modernised Lords will cost the earth. The truth? Taken as a whole, and once completed, the Government’s reforms of Parliament will be broadly cost-neutral.
I will give way later.
The additional costs attached to running a reformed House of Lords—which, incidentally, are much more modest than some of the estimates doing the rounds—will be offset by the saving from reducing the number of MPs. Once all this is implemented, the real-terms cost of running Parliament is expected to be roughly the same as it is now; the only additional cost will be conducting the elections themselves.