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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
16 October 2012
Volume 551

House of Commons

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions

City of London (Various Powers) Bill [Lords]

Motion made, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

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Object.

Bill to be read a Second time on Tuesday 23 October.

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Act of Settlement

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1. What recent discussions he has had on the Act of Settlement 1700. [122130]

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As the House is aware, we have sadly lost two Members over the last few weeks. Before I reply to the hon. Gentleman’s question, let me say that both Malcolm Wicks and Sir Stuart Bell will be very sorely missed.

The right hon. Member for Croydon North was an example to all who entered the House. He always held to the highest standards of public life, and was a credit to the House of Commons. On a personal level, I—along with everyone else, I am sure—was struck by his modesty, compassion and commitment. He worked tirelessly for his constituents. Whether he was dealing with fuel poverty or pursuing legislation to support carers, Malcolm tackled it all with true dedication.

We also heard the sad news of the death of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough. While, as pro-Europeans, Sir Stuart and I agreed on the importance of Europe to the United Kingdom, I think he made it abundantly clear at every opportunity that on pretty well everything else he strongly disagreed with me. He was a strong champion of Church matters in his 13-year role as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and he clearly cared deeply about the House and its traditions, earning the respect of Members in all parts of the House.

Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and friends of both Members at this difficult time.

My officials continue to work closely with the Government of New Zealand in their co-ordination of the proposed reforms of royal succession throughout the 16 Commonwealth realms, which were announced by the Prime Minister at the time of the Perth agreement on 28 October 2011.

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I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer, and associate myself with his comments about our two former colleagues, recently departed.

The Deputy Prime Minister referred to the work of the New Zealand Government. He will know that legislation will soon be needed to enable those changes to be made, and that it will be initiated in the House of Commons. Given his unenviable record of success in relation to constitutional change, may I suggest that he pass responsibility for the legislation to another Minister, so that there will be some chance of its actually being introduced?

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So there are to be Christmas cracker jokes from the very beginning.

No; we will pursue this. As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are already pursuing it, along with 15 other Commonwealth realms, but the process is very complex legally. Although the idea is simple—ending male primogeniture in the succession rules and allowing successors to the monarchy to marry Catholics, removing that discriminatory rule from the current arrangements—it is proving to be quite difficult and time-consuming to align all the legislative processes across all the realms, but I know that the New Zealand Government are doing all they can to expedite that.

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Unlike the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), I have every confidence that my right hon. Friend will do a brilliant job in introducing these long-overdue reforms. Is it not ironic that, had the Queen had a younger brother, she would not be Queen at this moment? Is it not time to introduce the other reform to which my right hon. Friend referred briefly? At present, not only a monarch but anyone in the line of succession may not marry a Roman Catholic or, indeed, become one. That is an absurdity, and we must surely do away with it as soon as we can.

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I certainly agree that the current rules are anachronistic and explicitly discriminatory. That is the point of the reforms. It should be borne in mind that the new rules, particularly those on male primogeniture, came into effect from the moment that the declaration was made in Perth. Although some painstaking work is needed to extend the legislation to all the Commonwealth realms, it has already taken effect.

Recall of MPs

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2. What plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals on the recall of hon. Members. [122131]

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The Government remain committed to establishing a recall mechanism that is transparent, robust and fair. We are grateful to the Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform for its consideration of our proposals and we are now taking proper time to reflect on its recommendations.

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How does the Minister intend to define “serious wrongdoing” in the legislation?

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As I have noted, we intend to introduce a recall mechanism that is transparent, robust and fair. We have set out two different sets of triggers that apply and we are also working with the powers of the House of Commons on these matters, including the definition of serious wrongdoing.

House of Lords

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3. What his policy is on the House of Lords (Cessation of Membership) Bill [Lords], Lords Bill 21 of Session 2012-13. [122132]

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As my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister made clear to the House on 3 September, the Government consider that the provisions of the Bill do not address the issues that make reform of the House of Lords necessary.

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I suppose I am not surprised that the Deputy Prime Minister did not answer that question himself. He will be aware, probably more than most, that there are some gaps in the legislative programme for this Session of Parliament. Will he therefore arrange for Lord Steel’s Bill to come before this House and allow adequate time for discussion of that modest but useful measure, rather than allow the best to be the enemy of the good?

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That is rather rich considering that it was the Opposition who refused to commit to a timetable motion on the original legislation. We are focusing on economic matters.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that now we appear to have sent House of Lords reform off into the distance we should be using any parliamentary time available to concentrate on the most important thing, which is getting growth back into our economy?

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Yes, I certainly do.

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Nevertheless, does the Minister not agree that in spite of the foundering of the House of Lords Reform Bill there are still many residual issues on Lords reform for which there is all-party support and that there is no reason for the House or the Government not to accept that those reforms can be brought forward?

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Minimal alternatives such as those set out in the noble Lord’s Bill are, in the Government’s view, no alternatives at all. The Government have been clear that any changes must include the introduction of elected Members to the House of Lords.

Political and Constitutional Reform

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4. What the Government’s political and constitutional reform agenda is up to May 2015. [122133]

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The Government have already introduced fixed-term Parliaments, a significant constitutional change, and given people a say on the voting system for this House. We have established cross-party talks on party funding and work on individual electoral registration, recall and lobbying reform is ongoing. We have radical measures in train to shift power from the centre to local decision makers, whether that takes place through the reforms in the Localism Act 2011, the Local Government Finance Bill or the introduction of local enterprise partnerships and city deals. Although I imagine some people will say that withdrawal of the House of Lords Reform Bill marks the end of the Government’s constitutional reform agenda, it is clear that that is not the case.

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The Deputy Prime Minister originally said that his reforms would be ranked with those of the 1832 Great Reform Act, but given that the only legislation that is either through or nearly through—fixed-term Parliaments, the reduction in the number of MPs and individual voter registration—arguably demonstrates a lessening in democratic accountability, would not a better title be the “Great Reactionary” rather than the “Great Reformer”?

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If the hon. Lady is such an ardent reformer, why did she not get her party to push for House of Lords reform? That was something her party used to believe in, but it was not prepared to will the means to meet the ends.

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Given the right hon. Gentleman’s European credentials, will he find the time to bring the UK into line with many European states and ensure that the perpetual right to vote for expat UK citizens is enshrined in law?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is a time limit of 15 years. Various member states and other countries around the world have time limits on how long expatriates can vote in the nation they come from, whereas others do not. So far, although we keep the rules under review, we have not come to the conclusion that we will seek to change them in any significant way.

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Given the public response to electoral reform and the right hon. Gentleman’s disappointment over Lords reform, and given that the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland today published its revised proposals for further consultation, can he confirm the Government’s stated position on reducing the number of parliamentary seats?

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As the hon. Lady knows, yes, the boundary commissions have published their latest revisions. Equally, I have made it clear that because of a failure to deliver the wider package of reforms that we had agreed within the coalition Government, including House of Lords reform, when it comes to a vote the Liberal Democrats will not support these changes ahead of the election in 2015.

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Can my right hon. Friend confirm the progress on individual voter registration so that we can not only get an accurate register, but combat electoral fraud?

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We are now in the latter stages of the legislation. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that the central purpose of individual voter registration is to bear down on fraud. That is something with which I should have thought all Members would agree. The Labour Government had plans to introduce individual voter registration, to come into effect on a slightly slower timetable than the one that we are introducing, yet for some reason the Labour party has now decided that it is against this anti-fraud measure from first principles—a very curious change of mind.

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I note that the Government are happy for the Scottish Parliament to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the Scottish referendum, but surely to be consistent the Government should extend the franchise to all 16 and 17-year-olds throughout the United Kingdom. If the Government are prepared to do that, we on the Labour Benches will support them. Will they accept our offer?

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As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I personally am sympathetic to the principle of giving 16 and 17-year-olds the vote, but it is not something that we are going to proceed with as a Government because it is not agreed within the coalition. He should be precise about the powers that we have given to the Scottish Administration. We have given them a degree of discretion over the franchise that applies to referendums, which applies to all referendums because the franchise needs to be decided on a referendum-by-referendum basis. To that extent, the powers that we have granted to the Scottish Government are nothing exceptional to the decisions made on the franchise for each referendum, wherever that might take place.

Parliamentary Boundary Review

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5. When he plans to bring forward proposals to implement the parliamentary boundary review. [122134]

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The boundary commissions are continuing with the boundary review in accordance with the legislation, which requires them to report before October next year. It will be for Parliament to consider the recommendations and vote on them in due course.

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The Conservative Members of the coalition delivered AV—[Interruption.] They delivered the opportunity for AV, and the biggest majority in this Parliament on a Second Reading was for House of Lords reform, so how can the Deputy Prime Minister then vote against the boundary review and expect to remain in the Government? Is it his view that that is a principle of the highest integrity and in the interests of democracy?

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I am delighted that, if only fleetingly, the hon. Gentleman was in favour of AV and not just of the principle of holding a referendum on AV. As he knows, we are honouring the coalition agreement by leaving the boundary review legislation on the statute book. That is primary legislation from the past which Liberal Democrat Members passed, but for all the reasons that I have explained before, we are not going to introduce the changes ahead of the general election in 2015.

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12. The Deputy Prime Minister says that the Liberal Democrats will not vote for the boundary change proposals but the chair of the Conservative party, speaking for once using his real name, says that he has still not given up hope, so who should we have confidence in—him or the chair of the Conservative party? [122142]

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Yes, I have also read press reports that the chairman of the Conservative party wishes to strike a deal with us on boundaries in return for a party funding deal. I suppose that is finally a “get rich quick” scheme which he is prepared to put his name to. Let me be clear—[Interruption.]

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Order. We want to hear the words of the Deputy Prime Minister. I want a full hearing.

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Let me put it this way: a change of mind on my part on the issue as is likely as the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) going to Norway to accept the Nobel prize on behalf of the European Union. It is not going to happen.

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Why does the Deputy Prime Minister oppose the proposals by the Boundary Commission today when he was all in favour of them last September? Did anyone expect him to change his view by 180°?

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I was surprised when parties and Members in this House, having fought on a manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords, decided against simply voting in favour of a timetable motion to do so. These things happen, and I think that everybody in the country understands that a coalition Government is a deal. It is like a contract, and where one part of the contract is amended another part of the contract is amended as well, and we move on.

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I begin by welcoming the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) and congratulating her on her new role. We genuinely wish her well. I also welcome the fact that the Deputy Prime Minister has finally found some principle and backbone. We welcome his rigour in answering the last question raised in relation to the one asked by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). But bearing in mind that during the last year thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent on a boundary review that will be futile, and that there will be uncertainty and further taxpayers’ money spent during the next 14 months, why not use his power to put a stop to it now?

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As I have explained, the legislation is on the statute book and that will not change. I have merely made clear during the last few weeks and months the position of Liberal Democrat Members when the matter comes to a vote.

Economy (North-east)

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6. What terms of reference he has given to the commission of priorities for the economy of the north-east. [122135]

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The terms of reference for a strategic, constructively critical review of the economy in the north-east have rightly been set by the north-east local enterprise partnership itself, not by Government. The partnership has commissioned a high-profile team of leaders from UK finance, industry, public and civil society to produce this review, and I believe it will be an excellent means of helping to drive growth in the north-east. I look forward, as I believe my right hon. Friend does too, to receiving the report early next year.

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Is my right hon. Friend confident that this group, which has an important and valuable job to do, can take fully into account those things that matter to the economy of Northumberland, in particular the dualling of the A1 and the provision of broadband in rural areas?

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Absolutely. I can assure my right hon. Friend on that because the group, as he knows, is independently constituted and can address itself to the concerns surrounding broadband infrastructure and road transport, which I know are deeply felt and on which he has long campaigned in the north-east.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [122145]

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

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I am interested that the Deputy Prime Minister takes full responsibility. Given the waste of £12 million on the Boundary Commission review, which, from what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, will not go anywhere, and the £100 million wasted on the west coast rail franchise, is he proud of the Government’s record in wasting taxpayers’ money?

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It seriously beggars belief that an Opposition Member, whose Government drove this country to the edge of bankruptcy, tries to make a point about value for money. The Government are repairing, rescuing and reforming the British economy because the hon. Lady’s party wasted such monumental amounts of money over 13 years.

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T4. Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in saluting the fact that we now have a million new jobs in the private sector, largely through entrepreneurial activity? Will he further join me in suggesting that we need a greater focus on developing a culture for entrepreneurial activity in this country, and will he consider coming to my constituency to support my festival for engineering and manufacturing, where that is being put into practice now? [122149]

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I certainly agree that an entrepreneurial culture and a backing for engineering and manufacturing is crucial to the rebalancing of the woefully unbalanced economy that we inherited from the Labour party, which spent all its time on a prawn cocktail charm offensive in the City of London, letting the banks get away with blue murder. We have a manufacturing festival in Sheffield that is extremely successful and I am delighted to hear that there is one in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency as well.

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May I associate the Opposition with the Deputy Prime Minister’s remarks about Sir Stuart Bell and Malcolm Wicks? I draw attention to Sir Stuart’s work on the House of Commons Commission, which was not often seen by Members but was very important for Members on both sides of the House. When Leader of the House, I saw at first hand the painstaking commitment and dedication with which he carried out that work over many years. We will miss that work.

I also endorse what the Deputy Prime Minister said about Malcolm Wicks. He made an extraordinary and unique contribution to British politics. I believe that he was no less than the father of British family policy. His work moved us beyond what were sometimes stale arguments for or against marriage into substantive policy discussions about balancing work, bringing up children and supporting carers. Members on both sides of the House recognise that we will miss them both greatly.

Nobody can be in any doubt about the utmost seriousness of the vile abuse perpetrated by Jimmy Savile. It has come to light that Jimmy Savile committed these crimes at the BBC and at other public institutions. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that we need one inquiry that looks into what happened in each of the institutions to see whether there were patterns of systemic failure and so that we get a coherent picture? Does he agree that any inquiry must be completely independent? That is the very least that Savile’s victims would expect if we are to get to the truth and learn the lessons. Will the Government now set up an independent inquiry?

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I certainly accept that there might be a case for an inquiry and that, if one that is as broad as the right hon. and learned Lady suggests it should be were to be held, it should be independent and able to look at the full range of shocking revelations that have come to light. We are not ruling that out, but I think that the first priority must be to allow the police to conduct their work in relation to these deeply troubling and shocking revelations and allegations. Like her, I keep asking myself how on earth this was possible on this scale, over such a prolonged period of time and in so many different settings. In many ways it is the dark side of the cult of celebrity that might have intimidated people from speaking out earlier. Now that we know these things and they are coming to light, we should proceed in a way that is led by what the police find and keep an open mind on the issue of an inquiry.

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The police are carrying out important investigations that obviously should not be impeded, but that does not mean that an independent inquiry should not be set up now. I ask the Deputy Prime Minister to reflect on that and think again, because revelations are coming forward daily and the victims of this abuse need to hear firmly that the truth will be discovered. I can assure him that we stand ready to discuss terms of reference to ensure that we have the full and thorough inquiry that is no less than what the victims deserve.

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The right hon. and learned Lady says, reasonably enough, that there is no reason why we cannot establish an inquiry while the police are doing their work, but I think that the practical issue is the other way around: what kind of work could an inquiry do while the police are conducting their investigations? We should not imagine that an inquiry that cannot pursue certain avenues of investigation because the police are conducting their own investigations would necessarily be the best answer for the victims at this time. Let us at least agree that we must first do everything we can to ensure that proper answers are given to the victims. I am grateful to her for her signal that she is prepared to work together on a cross-party basis as we get to the bottom of what on earth happened.

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Tim Loughton. Not here.

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May I ask the Deputy Prime Minister what he thinks politics in this country should be about? I remind him that he argued with some passion for more equal constituencies and fairer boundaries on their own merits. Is politics about arguing for what one believes in on a point of principle, or is it about getting what one can out of a particular situation for one’s own political advantage, in which case why should we ever believe anything he says?

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I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman has yet got his head around the politics of coalition. [Interruption.] He raises these questions month in, month out. His party did not win the general election; that is fact 1. Neither did my party; that is fact 2. Fact 3 is that we need to compromise for the benefit of the country as a whole; and when we compromise we enshrine that in a coalition agreement, which is like a deal. When one party does not abide by a certain part of that deal, it is perfectly legitimate for the other party to say that it will amend the terms of that deal. That is the meaning of coalition politics.

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T2. The Deputy Prime Minister, not for the first time, disappointed many people this week by refusing to support calls for the editor of The Sun to take the long overdue step of dropping page 3, saying that it would be illiberal to do so. Does his version of liberalism really prevent him from taking a public stand against the objectification of women? Whose interests is he most interested in protecting? [122146]

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Not for the first time, the hon. Lady has entirely twisted what I said. I said—I would be interested to know whether she agrees with this—that it would be wholly illiberal and wrong for this House to seek to compel any editor to determine the content of their newspapers. If that is the kind of authoritarian nonsense she believes in, then I am perfectly content to say that we entirely disagree.

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T13. In addressing concerns over the operation of the European arrest warrant, does my right hon. Friend agree with our police that we must not throw out the baby with the bathwater and that rather than scrapping the arrest warrant we should be reforming it? [122159]

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I think that there is widespread agreement in all parts of the House that the European arrest warrant is not perfect in its operation. There is clearly a legitimate concern about its disproportionate application to what are essentially judicially frivolous cases, and that is why it needs reform. The disagreement is between those who argue that we should reform it while remaining a full signatory to it, which is the Government’s current position, and those who feel that we should abdicate from it altogether. The reason I am strongly opposed to the latter position is that criminals do not recognise borders. Paedophiles, murderers and terrorists need to be chased across borders. It is not about whether one is pro or anti-European or likes or loathes Brussels; it is about whether one is for or against going after nasty, wicked people. That is why I support continuing to be a full signatory to the European arrest warrant while, of course, continuing to argue for its reform.

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rose

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Order. We have a lot to get through, so we need to speed up from now on.

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T3. As the man with his finger on the pulse of the nation, can the Deputy Prime Minister tell the House the level of the new CIL tax—community infrastructure levy—that is currently being introduced in his own Sheffield city region? [122148]

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I cannot answer that question; I will get back to the hon. Gentleman.

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In his answer to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), the Deputy Prime Minister spoke about the north-east local enterprise partnership. Will he confirm that he is aware that there is more than one LEP in the north-east, and that the Tees Valley LEP, which is doing a great job of working with businesses, the Government and the regional growth fund to deliver employment, growth and investment in the south of the region, will have a place at the table when discussing the north of the country?

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman that everybody who has a stake in the future success and prosperity of the north-east economy should have a voice in the important discussions that are taking place. As he will know better than I do, one of the great strengths of One North East was that it spoke for the region as a whole. One of the strengths of LEPs is where they work most effectively together on behalf of a region as a whole.

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T5. Six months ago the Deputy Prime Minister described the new energy tariff agreement as a “landmark deal” for UK consumers, but now Which? has found that there are still over 230 tariffs in existence and that three out of four consumers are paying the highest possible tariff. When are the Government going to act to end this rip-off of 5 million consumers by the big six energy companies? [122150]

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have announced new arrangements that will compel the big six utility companies to provide information to consumers about which tariff is best for them. That has not yet come fully into effect, but it will be a huge change. He is quite right: there is still far too much confusion and too much information, with too many contradictory messages being given to households and consumers about their energy bills and the tariffs available to them. This will, I hope, make a dramatic difference, because it means that in clear, simple terms people will be informed of the cheapest tariff that suits them best.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is very important that we tackle the threat to our economy and our society of climate change and that the messages given out by Ministers on both sides of the coalition are consistently and strongly pro-green, pro-green energy and pro-green manufacturing in order to give green business the confidence to invest?

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As my hon. Friend will know, the coalition agreement commits this Government—across all parties—to be the greenest Government ever. We have achieved many radical new things, such as the carbon budget, the carbon floor price, the green investment bank and the green deal, which will be the first of its kind anywhere in Europe and will be unveiled in the next few months. I say to my hon. Friend that this is not just about whether we think it is right for the environment, but about what is right for our economy. The green sector employs close to 1 million people, was growing at about 4% or 5% last year and is one of the few sectors that runs a trade surplus. That is why he is right that we should be working consistently to deliver more investment and more jobs for the people of Britain.

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T6. Is it not an affront to the Deputy Prime Minister’s party that the Tories are trying to buy Lib Dem support for boundary changes by offering financial enticements? Given his record on constitutional reform, does he agree that the only way to ensure that those proposals never see the light of day would be for him to give them his full backing? [122151]

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The hon. Gentleman probably writes his questions before he comes into the Chamber, but he will have heard me answer that question on three occasions over the past half an hour.

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Given the problems with the reform agenda so far, and given the fact that recall represents an opportunity for some real, meaningful change that voters will notice, many people are concerned that the assurances being given at the moment are vague at best. Will the Deputy Prime Minister give us a crystal-clear timeline and will he draw inspiration, as he rewrites it, from my private Member’s Bill, the Recall of Elected Representatives Bill?

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The hon. Gentleman and I have spoken and I pay tribute to him for his dogged sincerity and commitment to a radical, California-style model of recall. We have looked at it and, as he knows—we have discussed it—we have concerns about the danger of such a model of recall becoming a kangaroo-court process. There need to be some checks and balances. We recently received the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s report, which makes certain observations and, indeed, strong criticisms of our approach, and we are considering our response.

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T7. The Deputy Prime Minister has said that he will not support the implementation of the boundary proposals. Will he clarify whether that means he will vote against them or abstain? [122152]

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Against.

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In light of my right hon. Friend’s answer that he will vote against any boundary changes, will he confirm that he will, therefore, allow Government Ministers to vote against Government policy?

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As I have said, it is an excellent tribute to both sides of the coalition that, notwithstanding huge pressures to do otherwise, we have religiously stuck to the commitments that we made together to the British people in the coalition agreement. On this particular occasion, for reasons I will not rehearse now, one party in the coalition felt unable to deliver one very important part of the constitutional reform agenda—House of Lords reform—so, reasonably enough, the other part of the coalition has reacted accordingly on the issue of boundaries. Those are circumscribed circumstances which will not and do not prevent the coalition Government from working very effectively on a broad waterfront of other issues, the most important of which, of course, is cleaning up the economic mess left by that lot on the Opposition Benches.

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T8. I welcome the commission that has been set up on the north-east economy, because we need all the help we can get at the moment. Further to the question asked by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), does the Deputy Prime Minister understand that the commission must report to both local enterprise partnerships, and was it not a mistake by the Government to split our region into two? [122153]

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I do not think that it was a mistake for the Government to replace the layer of regional development agencies, many of which were disconnected from the communities, cities and towns that they sought to represent. I am sure that the hon. Lady, who is fair-minded, will accept that RDAs were too often distant from the businesses and people that they sought to represent. I know that there was a lot of backing in the north-east for One North East, and that is why it is very important that all the LEPs in the north-east continue to work together to promote a cohesive approach to economic development that represents the whole of the north-east region.

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One concern among voters is the alleged irregularities in postal voting, which have increased over the past few years. What changes does the Deputy Prime Minister propose to ensure that our elections are free and fair?

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The main change, other than some important rule changes to the administration of the postal voting system, which the hon. Gentleman will know about, is the introduction of individual voter registration. That is the biggest single weapon that we have against the worrying instances of widespread electoral fraud in parts of the country. That is why I hope that, instead of constantly complaining about our attempts to stamp out electoral fraud, the Labour party will support them.

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T10. The early intervention grant is used by local authorities to fund programmes that have the potential to transform the long-term life chances of deprived children. We discovered recently that hundreds of millions of pounds of that money will be diverted to fund the provision of nursery places for two-year-olds. We cannot tackle child poverty and improve social mobility by taking money from one set of essential services to pay for another. What steps does the Deputy Prime Minister propose to take to protect this specific pot of funding? [122155]

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I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s legitimate concern about an important area of Government policy, but he is just plain wrong when he says that money is being taken away from the EIG. We made it clear that some of the money under the EIG umbrella was dedicated to the two-year-olds offer. As he knows, that is a new offer of 15 hours’ pre-school support for two-year-olds from the most deprived families in this country. It is a radical and progressive step towards greater social mobility and early intervention. We have retained the total amount of money for early intervention, but allowed the EIG to be used in a more flexible way. I ask him not to be preoccupied with which pot the money is in, but to focus on the fact that we will do big progressive things with exactly the same amount of money.

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Specialist manufacturing is a huge growth opportunity for the economy. Surgical Innovations in my constituency is a great example of that. It is receiving £4.91 million from the regional growth fund. Will my right hon. Friend say when we can expect the next round to be announced, so that we can hear more good news stories like that?

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We will make the impending announcement on the third round of the regional growth fund in the coming days. Although there have been criticisms about the pace of the disbursement of the money under rounds 1 and 2, my hon. Friend will be delighted to know that 60% of the projects from the total envelope of £2.5 billion are up and running, creating thousands upon thousands of jobs directly and tens of thousands of jobs indirectly, and enhancing private sector as well as public sector investment in our economy.

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T11. Does the Deputy Prime Minister believe that abusing police officers at the gates of Downing street and calling them “f***ing plebs” would constitute serious wrongdoing for the purposes of recall? What representations has he made to the Prime Minister on this issue? [122157]

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My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has made it clear that he acknowledges that what he did was wrong, he has apologised to the police officer in question, and the police officer has accepted his apology.

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Will he apologise?

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I know a thing or two about apologies, musical and otherwise, and I think that when someone is big enough to say that they made—[Interruption.]

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Order. It is not a criminal offence to shout at the Deputy Prime Minister, but it is notably discourteous. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) is used to practising in the courts as a barrister. He is a senior and sober fellow, and should behave accordingly.

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My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip has made it clear that he acknowledges that what he did was wrong, he has apologised, and the police officer in question has accepted that apology. I hope that we can move on from there.

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My right hon. Friend is right to say, as he has many times, that one of the great achievements of the coalition has been to come together in the national interest. Will he not, therefore, reconsider the fact that reducing the number of Members of Parliament and equalising the number of electors in each seat is clearly in the national interest?

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As I sought to explain, the legislation on the boundary reviews remains on the statute book and there is no question of our seeking to repeal it. To that extent, we are honouring the coalition agreement commitment to introduce legislation to hold boundary reviews and reduce the number of MPs in this House. However, for all the reasons that I have explained, the legislation will not be introduced in effect before the next general election.

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T12. Earlier, the Deputy Prime Minister was asked about the economy, and he stated that he effectively had to enter into coalition to rescue the economy. Would that argument not be stronger but for the fact that none of the predictions about growth has actually happened over the past two and a half years? [122158]

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The hon. Lady may lightly dismiss the fact that the Government have created 1 million new jobs in the private sector. She may lightly dismiss the fact that we have some of the lowest interest rates in the developed world, saving ordinary households thousands and thousands of pounds. She may lightly dismiss the fact that the bond markets are not on our necks as they are in so many other over-indebted countries. Those are huge achievements which were not made any easier by the Labour party’s lamentable economic record in government.

Attorney-General

The Attorney-General was asked—

Hillsborough

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1. What steps he is taking following the publication of the report of the Hillsborough independent panel in September 2012. [122175]

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3. What recent steps he has taken to ensure that the Hillsborough families receive justice. [122177]

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4. What recent steps he has taken to ensure that the Hillsborough families receive justice. [122178]

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8. What assessment he has made of the recommendations of the Hillsborough independent panel. [122182]

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9. What steps he is taking following the publication of the report of the Hillsborough independent panel in September 2012. [122183]

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My consideration of the evidence in this matter is far from complete, but as I do not wish to cause the families affected by this disaster any greater anxiety, I have decided to take an exceptional step and announce that, on the basis of what I have already seen, I am persuaded that an application to the Court for fresh inquests must be made.

Ninety-six people died as a result of what occurred at Hillsborough that day, and 96 inquests were held. I believe that, as all those deaths arose from a common chain of events, it would be better for me to apply for all 96 cases to be considered again. I want to allow all the families affected the opportunity to make representations to me on that issue, and I will be in contact with them.

I wish to make it clear that, having announced my decision, I will still need further time to prepare the application so that the strongest case can be made to the Court. I have given that work priority and I will continue to do so. I have today laid a written ministerial statement in both Houses announcing my decision.

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All in the House and all the families involved will welcome the Attorney-General’s decision today; they have lived with a completely wrong verdict for far too long. Will the Attorney-General assist the House by telling us about the speed of the process, so that urgent justice can prevail?

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I need to complete my consideration of the evidence and, as I have said, I need to provide the families with the opportunity to make representations, and to consider any representations that are made. I need to complete my consideration of the legal issues, and I then need to make the application to the Court. When the case is heard will be a matter for the Court’s listings. It is very difficult for me to give a precise timetable for my hon. Friend; I will move as quickly as I can.

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I say a genuine thank you to the Attorney-General for what he has announced today. The families who have waited so long for justice are at least now within reach of that justice. Will he assure the House that sufficient resources will be made available so that work on getting a new inquest can proceed as quickly as possible? Can he say whether that inquest will be held in Liverpool, as the families have always requested?

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I am satisfied that there will be sufficient resources to take this forward. The venue of any eventual hearing is not really a matter for me. Should—I stress this for the House—the application that I make to the Court be successful, it will be for the Court and the coroner to decide where the inquests take place. I am sure that representations can then be made in respect of that, but it is not my decision.

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I thank the Attorney-General for his very important statement; he will know what a hugely important day this is for Merseyside and the many people around the world who care about putting right the injustice of Hillsborough. Will he meet a delegation of Members of Parliament, with the families, so that we can talk about some of the complexities of what he has announced today?

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I am always happy to see Members of Parliament. As for meeting with delegations, the hon. Lady will appreciate that one feature of my work is that I must take it independently. If there is a good reason for meeting people, I am certainly always happy to do so, but she will appreciate that I have already undertaken to consult representatives of the families. We will do that as a formal process, and I would obviously wish to avoid something that does not appear sufficiently structured.

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I genuinely thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his announcement, which will be of great comfort to my constituents whose family members died at Hillsborough, and particularly to the families of those who died after the 3.15 pm cut-off. Will he indicate whether he expects the Director of Public Prosecutions’ potential consideration of criminal charges to have any impact on the timing of the inquest?

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Clearly, the consideration of charges is done independently by the DPP and I have no role in it. It is perhaps trite to say—I think I have said this before—but were there to be criminal proceedings, that could undoubtedly impact on when an inquest could take place. However, I do not think that it has any impact on the timing of my making an application to the Court for it to order inquests to take place if it is so minded.

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The Attorney-General’s announcement is indeed welcome news. Will he assure me that adequate parliamentary time will be given for the fullest of debates into the shocking revelations that we heard last month?

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It is my understanding that there will be the opportunity for a debate on this matter next Monday, 22 October, which I believe will be led by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. Obviously, I will be present for as much of the debate as possible to listen to what is said.

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The Attorney-General’s statement is greatly to be welcomed, and the families had a very positive meeting with the DPP yesterday. All hon. Members hope that justice for the Hillsborough families is finally in sight. However, the Crown Prosecution Service faced criticism for failing to act 14 years ago when it was presented with evidence of the wholesale alteration of witness statements by South Yorkshire police and their solicitors. In order to build further public confidence in the process launched by the DPP last week, will the Attorney-General consider discussing with the DPP the value of instructing, at the outset, a senior and independent-minded Queen’s counsel to lead the review of evidence and the decision-making process on any possible prosecutions? Does he agree that such an additional check and balance would be helpful and positive?

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I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I understand that she wrote to the DPP on 8 October, which I believe his office received last Friday, to raise some of those issues. I understand that she will get a reply from him as soon as possible.

May I reiterate that the DPP, under our constitutional system, acts entirely independently from myself, although I have superintendence. I am sure he will have noted the hon. Lady’s comments. The question as to how he best goes about conducting his operations within the CPS, bringing prosecutions or reviewing any matter that is historic, is a matter for him, but it is always open to him to discuss it with me.

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The Attorney-General’s announcement will be welcome not just on Merseyside and in Yorkshire, but by football supporters in the whole country. Will he, at an appropriate time, and perhaps with colleagues from the Ministry of Justice, talk to the new chief coroner to ensure that the lessons of this experience are learned for all future inquests?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for what he said and I think I agree with him. It is worth bearing it in mind that the world has moved on quite a lot since the events surrounding the original inquests. We have much better systems in place. One of the challenges, should the Court be minded to grant my application, will be how to structure the new inquests, if they are to take place. I have no doubt that tried and tested methods—they have already been used with great success in other recent, high-profile matters—are in place.

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Can the Attorney-General guarantee that the costs of any new inquests will be borne by the state?

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That is a rather difficult question for me to answer. Ultimately, costs can be a matter for the Court. As I have indicated, at the moment, the costs of the preliminary work that is taking place are borne by my Department. I cannot assess how much those will be. Once the matter is within the court process, the courts have discretion, but I suspect—it is probably inevitable—that the taxpayer will pay a considerable amount of the cost.

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I note the Attorney-General’s comments about where the inquest might be held, but is it his view that the inquest should definitely not be held in Sheffield?

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The hon. Lady has made her point, but it is not for me to start giving views or instructions to the Court or coroner about how they should conduct an inquest, if one is held. I have no doubt, however, that representations made by hon. Members and representatives of the families will be noted by those concerned.

Disability Hate Crimes

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2. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of disability hate crimes by the Crown Prosecution Service. [122176]

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The whole country marvelled this summer at the achievements of the Paralympians, which provided a huge opportunity for changing attitudes towards disability. The CPS takes disability hate crime very seriously and the DPP has made his own commitment very clear. I have not had the opportunity to discuss the matter with him yet, but I can assure her that the CPS prosecutes these cases whenever it can.

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I start by welcoming the Solicitor-General to his new position.

In 2011, the number of disability hate crimes rose by one third to 2,000, but only 523 convictions were upheld. When he has such conversations, will he talk through how that conviction rate might be increased?

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The hon. Lady has spent much time and effort campaigning for disability rights, including within the criminal justice system, and I respect the point she makes. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that progress has been made: the number of convictions has risen steadily from 141—I believe—in 2007-08 to the 480 concluded in the past year. However, yes, more progress needs to be made, and the DPP has explained in the past that he thinks a lot more needs to be done.

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According to the CPS website, there is no legal definition of a disability hate crime. Will the Solicitor-General look into this matter and see whether it can be reviewed?

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My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is important to monitor and identify crimes, particularly violent and public order crimes involving an element of disability hate. The CPS has issued new guidance on this matter to its prosecutors, who of course have the right in appropriate cases to ask, under section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, for an uplift in the sentence. That needs to be done in appropriate cases.

Media Prosecutions (Guidelines)

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5. What changes he expects following the publication of the Director of Public Prosecution’s final guidelines for prosecutors in cases involving the media. [122179]

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The guidelines issued on 13 September by the DPP should ensure a more consistent approach by prosecutors and provide transparency to the public over how such cases are handled.

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Weighing the competing elements of public interest and criminality in this area of the media will always be a nuanced matter. Is my right hon. and learned Friend confident that the new guidelines bring greater clarity to prosecutors and will lead to increased robustness in decision making?

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Yes, I am. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the guidelines arose from a response by the DPP to the Leveson inquiry and from evidence he gave before it. Essentially, the guidelines encapsulate in a transparent fashion the practice of the CPS in this area. I therefore have every confidence that they provide, and will continue to provide, a robust application of the law. There is no special law for journalists in this context, but there are public interest considerations which, as the DPP has shown in the guidelines, will be taken into account.

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As I read the guidelines, it is unlikely that they will make much difference to two of the ways in which social media have been horrifyingly used for criminal purposes. One is paedophiles using Twitter and the other—perhaps not criminal, but certainly shocking to large numbers of our constituents—is the use of YouTube to mock Islam. What more has the Attorney-General done to prevent that kind of crime, as opposed to prosecuting it?

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Crime committed on social media is crime. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that if there are examples of criminal behaviour taking place on social media—incitement, sex crimes or incitement to religious or racial hatred—it is for the police to investigate initially, as she will appreciate. However, if that evidence is then brought to the Crown Prosecution Service, it would be surprising if it were not in the public interest to bring a prosecution. As she will be aware, there are already instances of individuals who have committed crime on social media having been successfully prosecuted.

Advanced Language Solutions

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6. What progress Advanced Language Solutions has made on reporting to the Crown Prosecution Service the results of checks to ensure that all of its interpreters have been security vetted. [122180]

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Advanced Language Solutions has completed its review and has provided assurances to the Crown Prosecution Service that a full audit trail is now held in respect of the 1,100 interpreters on its list and that all vetting information has been fully verified.

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The Government have overseen a shambles in the provision of interpreting services. They have procured an IT system, at a cost to the taxpayer of £42 million, to ensure that interpreters turn up in court, but they are not turning up. Justice is being delayed, and in many cases it is being denied. What action is the Attorney-General taking to ensure that the Ministry of Justice is taking proper action to ensure that justice is not ill served by such chaos?

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It is important that there should be strong performance in this area. There has been a major improvement since the early months of the contract, when there were the problems that the hon. Lady has rightly outlined. The picture is one of improvement and one where the Government are saving £15 million a year, so we are also ensuring good value for money. There has been an improvement, and we will continue to monitor the area closely.

Burglary (Prosecutions)

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7. What proportion of prosecutions for burglary were successful in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement. [122181]

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The Crown Prosecution Service’s records show that the proportion of defendants prosecuted successfully for burglary in each of the past three years was 86.1% in 2009-10, 85.8% in 2010-11 and 85.6% in 2011-12.

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on his new position and thank him for that answer. Does he believe that fewer prosecutions will be brought if the new offence of using grossly disproportionate force, which the Justice Secretary intends to introduce, is brought in?

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No. The intention is to be firm on burglary. In fact, the number of successful prosecutions increased from 23,700 to 25,077 between 2009 and the most recent figures. The approach is to be firm on burglary.

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Is there any systematic review examining the causes where prosecutions fail? Obviously it could be quite right that the court should find a person not guilty, but sometimes there is a failure to pursue the prosecution adequately, either because witnesses do not match up or the case is not properly put, so is there any systematic review of where prosecutions fail?

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Yes, this is something in which the Director of Public Prosecutions takes a particular interest. As Law Officers, we are in the position of superintending the process, and we ask the sort of probing questions that the hon. Gentleman would wish us to ask.

European Court of Human Rights

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10. What assessment he has made of progress in reforming the European Court of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement. [122184]

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Good progress has been made in clearing the backlog of inadmissible cases before the Court. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Government have approached the need to reform the European Court of Human Rights through the Brighton declaration. Reaching agreement on the declaration represents a substantial step towards realising the Government’s ambitions, particularly on the extent to which the Court should get involved in questions that national courts have already fully considered. We need now to ensure that the reforms are implemented swiftly. The first key step—preparation of a draft protocol to reflect the required amendments to the convention—is due to be completed by April 2013.

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I thank the Attorney-General for that answer, but will he give a complete and categorical assurance to the House that there is no question of Britain withdrawing from the European convention on human rights? Doing so would mean being the only country, alongside Belarus, that was not part of the convention, which has performed an important role in promoting and defending human rights across every one of its member states. We should be part of that process, not turn away from it.

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I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is no question of the United Kingdom withdrawing from the convention. We helped to draft it and we support it strongly. It has already contributed to widespread changes across Europe, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the recognition of the freedom of religion in the former Soviet countries, the prevention of ill treatment in police stations and elsewhere, and the removal of military judges from civilian courts. Those are all very good reasons for it continuing its very good work.

Speaker’s Statement

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Nominations closed at midday for candidates for the post of Chair of the Procedure Committee. Two nominations have been received: Mr James Gray and Mr Charles Walker. A ballot of all Members of the House will therefore be held tomorrow between 11 am and 1 pm in Committee Room 16. I expect to be able to announce the result to the House later tomorrow.

Extradition

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With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the case of Gary McKinnon and the Government’s response to Sir Scott Baker’s review of our extradition arrangements. I will turn first to Mr McKinnon’s case. I should explain to the House that the statutory process under the Extradition Act 2003 has long ended. Since I came into office, the sole issue on which I have been required to make a decision is whether Mr McKinnon’s extradition to the United States would breach his human rights.

Mr McKinnon is accused of serious crimes, but there is also no doubt that he is seriously ill. He has Asperger’s syndrome and suffers from depressive illness. The legal question before me is now whether the extent of that illness is sufficient to preclude extradition. As the House would expect, I have very carefully considered the representations made on Mr McKinnon’s behalf, including from a number of clinicians. I have obtained my own medical advice from practitioners recommended to me by the chief medical officer, and I have taken extensive legal advice.

After careful consideration of all of the relevant material, I have concluded that Mr McKinnon’s extradition would give rise to such a high risk of him ending his life that a decision to extradite would be incompatible with Mr McKinnon’s human rights. I have therefore withdrawn the extradition order against Mr McKinnon. It will now be for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether Mr McKinnon has a case to answer in a UK court. This has been a difficult and exceptional case, and I would like to pay tribute to all the Home Office officials and lawyers who have worked on the case over the years.

Extradition is a vital tool. In a world in which criminals and crimes can easily cross borders, it is vital to the interests of justice and public protection that criminals cannot avoid justice simply by sheltering behind a border, but concerns about the working of our extradition law have grown over recent years. There has been public concern about the extradition regime operating in the European Union, about the European arrest warrant, and about the extradition arrangements outside the EU, principally with the United States.

That is why, in September 2010, I commissioned a review into our extradition arrangements. That review was undertaken by Sir Scott Baker—a former judge in the Court of Appeal—and a distinguished and expert panel including David Perry QC and Anand Doobay. I am extremely grateful to them for the professional and thorough way in which they went about their work. Nobody who has read their near-500 page report can be anything but impressed by the depth and clarity of its analysis.

At the same time, there has been considerable parliamentary interest in extradition. In a debate last December, Parliament agreed unanimously that it believed there were problems with our US and EU extradition arrangements. In coming to a decision on how the Government should respond to the Baker review, I have taken full account of the review’s recommendations as well as of the views of Parliament. Yesterday, I announced that the Government’s current thinking is that we will opt out of all pre-Lisbon treaty police and criminal justice measures. The Government will give careful consideration to those measures, including the European arrest warrant, and will then seek to opt back into those individual measures where it is in our national interest to do so.

The European arrest warrant has had some success in streamlining the extradition process within the EU, but there have also been problems. There are concerns in particular about the disproportionate use of the EAW for trivial offences, and for actions that are not considered to be crimes in the UK. There are also issues around the lengthy pre-trial detention of some British citizens overseas. We know these concerns are shared by other member states. We will therefore work with the European Commission and with other member states to consider what changes can be made to improve the EAW’s operation. I believe this is necessary to ensure that the EAW provides the protections that our citizens demand.

There are also concerns about our extradition arrangements with countries outside Europe. A key reason for the loss of public and parliamentary confidence in our extradition arrangements has been the perceived lack of transparency in the process. I believe extradition decisions must not only be fair, but must be seen to be fair, and they must be made in open court where decisions can be challenged and explained. That is why I have decided to introduce a forum bar. This will mean that where prosecution is possible in both the UK and in another state, the British courts will be able to bar prosecution overseas, if they believe it is in the interests of justice to do so.

I have been conscious, however, of Sir Scott Baker’s concern that the introduction of the existing forum legislation would lead to delays and satellite litigation. So rather than commence the existing provisions, I will bring forward, as soon as parliamentary time allows, a new forum bar that will be carefully designed to minimise delays. In parallel, the Director of Public Prosecutions will independently publish draft prosecutors’ guidance for cases of concurrent jurisdiction, and a bilateral protocol governing the approach of investigators and prosecutors in the UK and the US is being updated alongside this guidance.

As for the United States-United Kingdom extradition treaty, I agree with the Baker review that our arrangements are broadly sound and that the treaty brings benefits to both our countries. Less than two weeks ago, for example, we saw the extradition to America of Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects. Although there is a perception that the evidence tests used by the US and the UK —probable cause and reasonable suspicion respectively—are unbalanced, Sir Scott Baker found that there is no significant difference between these two tests.

I have also accepted the Baker review’s recommendations that a prima facie evidence test should not be reintroduced for those countries where it is not currently required. The courts are already able to subject requests from all countries to sufficient scrutiny to identify and address injustice or oppression. Reintroducing prima facie evidence would be likely to lead to further delays, and it is absurd to propose that we should require prima facie evidence from countries such as the United States, Canada and Australia, when we do not require such evidence of other countries with far less mature judicial systems.

I also agree with the Baker review’s recommendation that the breadth of the Home Secretary’s involvement in extradition cases should be reduced. Matters such as representations on human rights grounds should, in future, be considered by the High Court rather than the Home Secretary. This change, which will significantly reduce delays in certain cases, will require primary legislation.

Finally, I propose to reduce delays in the extradition system, in the light of the recent extradition of terrorist suspects to the United States. In addition to the measures I have just announced, the Government will look further at proposals in the Baker review to introduce a permission stage for appeals to the UK courts. We will work closely with the European Court of Human Rights on a programme to reduce the wholly unacceptable delays that have occurred there, and we have also been considering how we can reduce delays in the deportation of foreign nationals who pose a threat to our national security. There is scope for reforming rights of appeal, streamlining the stages, expediting cases through the court and looking again at the provision of legal aid for terrorist suspects.

As Sir John Thomas, the judge in the Abu Hamza case said, it is in the overwhelming public interest that our extradition arrangements function properly. They must also be fair. We must balance both strong safeguards for those accused of cross-border crimes with assurance that justice will be done. That is the Government’s aim; that is what our proposals will produce, and I commend this statement to the House.

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This was clearly not an easy decision for the Home Secretary to make. I know that she has asked for additional legal advice, medical advice and other evidence over the two and a half years in which she has had to consider this matter. That is testimony to the difficulties she has faced and to the challenges of the case. I have not seen any of the papers—the legal advice, the criminal evidence or the medical evidence—and it is for the Home Secretary alone to make a judgment that people will respect. She will know that it is not for me to second-guess her decision on this matter today. I do, however, want to ask her about the wider reforms that she has proposed, and also about the consequences of this judgment for other cases.

Let me first ask the right hon. Lady about the forum bar that she has proposed. As she will know, the last Government legislated for a forum bar, but the legislation has not been implemented. I think that that is because of concerns raised not only by Scott Baker but by the present and the last Government about some of the practical implications. Clearly delays, and the risk of delays, are important issues, but we shall be happy to work on the detail with the Home Secretary, through Parliament, and to discuss how the problems could be solved. However, I think that there is a wider issue that may not yet have been considered in the legal debate about forum bars. I refer to internet crimes, which constitute a growing proportion of overall crime. Conceivably such crimes could be committed in several jurisdictions at once. Wider discussions are needed about where they should be dealt with, and about ways in which our traditional extradition arrangements may not have caught up with a different kind of crime that is going to increase.

There will clearly need to be international co-operation and consideration of how the problem should be addressed. I urge the Home Secretary to set up a high-level group with the United States, the European Union and other main countries with which we have arrangements specifically to consider internet crimes. However, I should like to know whether she feels able to do that, given her diplomatic relations with other countries.

We need a fair framework for justice in relation to cross-border crimes. We need to be able to bring people back to Britain to face justice, and we need a fair framework for extraditions from the UK. However, that fair framework will be possible only if it is drawn up through negotiation and co-operation with other countries. As the Home Secretary will know, there is already considerable concern about whether her approach to the EU, the opting out and opting in and the current relationship between the Government and the EU will make it harder to secure the sensible reforms of the European arrest warrant that we need.

Obviously our historic relationship with the United States gives us an opportunity to work together, whether on the bilateral protocol to which the right hon. Lady referred or on other arrangements. May I ask her whether there is a positive relationship between the Home Office and the US Government to ensure that such arrangements and reforms can be agreed to?

May I also ask whether today’s judgment has implications for other cases? Other people who are subject to extradition or immigration proceedings cite medical conditions as a reason for them not to be extradited. It would be useful for Parliament and the courts to understand the test that the right hon. Lady has applied, and to know whether it will set precedents for other cases.

Have the right hon. Lady’s medical advisers proposed any threshold for these decisions? She said that she had sought her own medical advice. Did that constitute a separate medical assessment of Gary McKinnon, which I understand she had sought, or a review of the assessment made by his doctors? Does the test have any implications or set any precedent for other extradition cases, such as the case of Haroon Rashid Aswat? The US Government have sought his extradition alongside that of Abu Hamza and others which the Home Secretary has supported. He is in Broadmoor at present, having, I understand, been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Has the Home Secretary changed her position on his case, or does it remain the same? Clearly there were issues involving his medical condition that she had to consider. Finally, let me ask her about the case of Richard O’Dwyer, whose extradition she has confirmed and who has not raised any medical issues. Will his case be affected by any of the changes that she has announced today?

I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is sensible to remove the role of the Home Secretary from decisions such as this. It has taken a very long time for this decision to be made. I think we would all agree that such cases take too long, and that it is in the interests of justice, the families involved and the victims of crimes for them to be dealt with far more speedily.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for her approach in response to my statement. She raised three key issues. The first was about the forum bar and our ability to work together to consider these issues across the House and I welcome her suggestion of cross-party work. We all want to ensure that the measure can be introduced in a way that does not introduce delays to extradition proceedings and does not permit significant satellite litigation. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will have noted her offer.

The right hon. Lady then raised the question of cyber and internet crime, which is a key issue. We are conscious of the growth of cybercrime. That is why there will be a cybercrime unit in the National Crime Agency and why, when the Government took office, we set aside a significant sum of money over the four years of the comprehensive spending review to deal with both cyber-security and cybercrime. It is important to work internationally and I have already been party to a number of discussions with other member states in the European Union and with the United States; those discussions are ongoing. We all have a mutual interest in ensuring that we address cybercrime.

Finally, she asked a number of questions about my decision on Mr McKinnon. I have given the most careful consideration to all the material, medical and otherwise, in this difficult and exceptional case and I have concluded that the ordering of his extradition and his subsequent removal would give rise to such risk to his health and, in particular, to a high risk of his ending his life that a decision to that effect would be incompatible with his human rights under article 3. My decision is based on Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3.

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I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on saving the life of my constituent, Gary McKinnon, today. I also praise the tireless campaigning of Gary’s mother, Janis Sharp, and the huge public support. Today is a victory for compassion and the keeping of pre-election promises. May we make another promise that after the reforms announced today, a vulnerable UK citizen will never again have to endure 10 years of mental torture, as Gary McKinnon did, and that the British principles of justice and fair play will return to extradition?

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May I commend my hon. Friend, who has been assiduous in his work on behalf of his constituent, which is recognised and respected across the House? On his second point, I have become increasingly concerned, and not just because of the recent cases of Abu Hamza and others. Obviously, Mr McKinnon’s case has been under consideration for some time. It is important that the Government consider the whole extradition process so that while we make sure that people can obtain their proper legal rights, we also ensure that there is no excessive delay in the system, so that decisions are brought to a conclusion at an earlier stage.

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Does the Home Secretary agree that although a lot of people on both sides of the House might want to take some credit for the decision—and they would be right to do so, based on the part they have played—there is no doubt that without the extra-parliamentary activity of my constituent Janis Sharp, Gary McKinnon’s mother, this decision could not have been made in the way that it has been made today? I want to thank my constituent for all that Bolsover fighting spirit. She has won the case after a long, drawn-out 10 years and when she gets on that television, she never misses a chance.

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The hon. Gentleman is also assiduous in standing up for his constituent and I recognise the campaign that has been fought over the years by many people. As I said earlier, however, my decision was based on the material that was available to me.

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I understand the difficult nature of the decision that my right hon. Friend has had to take. Extracts of some of the medical reports have been circulating in the House of Commons today and it seems to me that under the terms of the medical advice she received there was no other conclusion to reach that was consistent with Mr McKinnon’s human rights but that she should bring an end to the extradition process. As we have already heard, that is subject to universal acceptance.

I also agree with what my right hon. Friend said about a forum bar and the need, even with such a procedure embodied in our law, to ensure that it does not become the source of undue delay. Regrettably, however, I must disagree with her on the question of standard of proof. Once again, I respectfully disagree with the conclusions reached in the Baker report. In that, I am supported by a large body of credible legal opinion, not to mention many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. Does she understand that sooner or later it will not be the perception that will be challenged but the substance of the distinction? Would not the protocol to which she referred as being necessary between the United Kingdom and the United States be an exact and appropriate vehicle in which to state that no one will be extradited from Great Britain to the United States unless there is probable cause for doing so?

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I am grateful for my right hon. and learned Friend’s remarks on a number of my announcements today. I fully recognise the concern expressed in this House and elsewhere about the perception that there is a difference. Sir Scott Baker considered the issue very carefully and came to the conclusion that there was no significant difference between the requirements on either side of the Atlantic and that in effect there was no practical difference between the two. I recognise, however, the opinion expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend today.

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Given the politically and emotionally charged atmosphere around this case, I think that we all understand why the Home Secretary has taken the decision she has. There have been efforts—of which she and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), her predecessor, are aware—to try to find a way around the situation so that it does not create a precedent for the future, particularly in relation to the cybercrime issues raised by the shadow Home Secretary. That has involved trying to organise video-conferencing and for sentences to be served in the United Kingdom. Without that, surely we will create a rod for our backs in that individual cases will be judged on the support they get from the public rather than on the logic and legal requirements that must be applied in any extradition case.

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I have taken this decision after, as I have said, the most careful consideration of all the material—medical and other—that has been available to me. Having considered that material, I took the decision announced to the House this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned video-conferencing. The American Government have made it clear that undertaking such video-conferences would not be possible under their constitution. Cybercrime is an issue, obviously, but he hints at the question of whether someone should physically be tried in the UK or prosecuted and tried in another country, be it the United States or elsewhere. Of course, the introduction of the forum bar will offer a transparent process whereby people will see how decisions are taken on whether it is right for someone who is subject to an extradition request to be tried here in the UK or in the US.

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I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s wish to improve our extradition arrangements. Does she accept that many of us in this House feel that the US-UK arrangements were unfair to the UK and that the European arrest warrant is unfair to the UK? We look to her to reform to give Britain and her people a better deal.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for his comment. As I said in my statement, I think that the UK-US treaty is, as Sir Scott Baker found, broadly sound. It is important that we have a robust treaty on extradition with the United States and that we ensure that extradition can take place both ways across the Atlantic. As I have said, there are a number of ways in which we need to change how we operate so that people can see that the extradition arrangements are fair and can take comfort and have confidence in them. The British people need to have confidence in our extradition arrangements.

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As the Home Secretary said, Gary McKinnon is accused of very serious offences. The US was perfectly within its rights and it was reasonable for it to seek his extradition. We now do not know whether Gary McKinnon will ever have to face justice on those accusations. Can the right hon. Lady confirm that US authorities were willing to allow him to serve any sentence in the UK? On the issue of High Court judges making these decisions, Lord Justice Burnton said in the High Court in July 2009 that Gary McKinnon’s case did not even “approach Article 3 severity”. He quoted all the precedents for this. What does the Home Secretary think she knows that Lord Justice Burnton did not? She has made a decision today that is in her party’s best interest; it is not in the best interests of the country.

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I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman had a decision to take in this case in his time as Home Secretary. I respect the decision that he took on the material that was available to him at the time. I believe that the decision of the judge that he referred to was in 2008.

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It was in 2009.

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I stand corrected. It was said that it was 2008, but I recognise that the right hon. Gentleman says 2009. As I said, I have given very careful consideration to the material, medical and otherwise, that has been available to me and I have come to the decision that extradition would not be appropriate in relation to Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3. That is the decision that I have taken on the material available to me.

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I call Mr David Davis.

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rose—

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rose—

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Order. We will hear from Top Cat in a moment, not just yet. I should have explained. Mr David Davis—he with the slightly greyer hair and the longer service in the House.

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I, for one, congratulate the Home Secretary wholeheartedly on her decision on Gary McKinnon today, but I also share some of the concerns of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell). There are a number of cases where there are concerns over justice being done, with respect to both Europe and the USA—in particular, in respect of the USA, there are fears that the intimidatory use of the plea bargaining arrangements force possibly innocent people to make guilty pleas, and similar problems in the justice systems of other European countries. Will the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that what she proposes to bring about today will give protection to UK citizens equal to that which American citizens get from their constitution?

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As I said in response to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), I understand that a number of Members, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), still have concerns about the perception of the imbalance between the probable cause and reasonable suspicion tests. As I say, Sir Scott Baker looked at this and found that there was no significant difference between them—that in practice the application of those two tests was not significantly different as between the US requests and the UK requests. I can assure my right hon. Friend that Sir Scott Baker’s decision was relevant to those from the UK whose extradition to the United States was requested, and vice versa.

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I warmly welcome the decision that the Home Secretary has made today, which is fully in keeping with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee over the past three years, and I commend the work of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and Janis Sharp. I agree with the Home Secretary that a forum bar has to be introduced but I disagree on the evidence test. We need an evidence test and we need to renegotiate the treaty, which is unfair and unbalanced. I disagree with those on both Front Benches on ministerial discretion. As the Home Secretary has ably demonstrated today, Home Secretaries must make these decisions. We cannot hand all the decisions to the judges to make on our behalf.

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The right hon. Gentleman knows that I have set out my position in relation to the Secretary of State’s discretion, so on that matter we will have to disagree. As I said, I recognise that there may continue to be some concerns in the House in relation to the perception of the information or evidence available on both sides of the Atlantic when an extradition case is being considered one way or the other. I think I am right in saying that the United States has never refused an extradition request from the United Kingdom, and that should be recognised. Very often people look at the treaty and assume that all it ever does is extradite UK citizens to the United States. Of course, the opposite is true. A good number of people have been extradited from the United States to the UK to stand trial.

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As a member of the Home Affairs Committee which considered the matter, I offer my warmest congratulations on behalf of all those who feel that the Home Secretary has stood up for the rights of British nationals and, in her subsequent comments, for the wider British national interest.

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I think I am grateful, Mr Speaker, that you allowed both Members with the surname Davis or Davies on our Benches to speak.

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Despite the comments of my right hon. and respected Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), a former Home Secretary, is the Home Secretary aware that the decision that she has made on this individual case will be widely and warmly welcomed, not only in the House but outside? It is a very good decision and she should be proud of it. However, on the extradition treaty with the United States, may I remind her how critical she and the Liberal Democrats were in opposition? Like a number of Members, I remain of the view that the treaty needs to be looked at again.

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I had a hopeful moment there when the hon. Gentleman was speaking! I thank him for his earlier remarks. I am well aware that this was a matter on which there was considerable discussion when it went through the House. I am also aware that the forum bar arrangements that are in the Police and Justice Act 2006 were moved by the then shadow Home Affairs team, led by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), who is now the Attorney-General, so we are well aware of the issues that were raised at the time. I believe that the introduction of the forum bar will ensure that people see that justice is being done in relation to the decision whether extradition should take place and where prosecution should take place. Other changes that we will introduce on the extradition proceedings will ensure that people can see that this is a process in which they can take comfort and have confidence.

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I congratulate my right hon. Friend on making an excellent decision, and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who has been tireless in his support of Gary McKinnon and his family. The decision today will move forward the understanding of people with autism. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that the benefits are spread more widely by undertaking a review of the treatment of people with autism within the criminal justice system as they often suffer disproportionately because of their condition?

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I thank my right hon. Friend for her comments and commend her for the work that she did in introducing her private Member’s Bill that became the Autism Act 2009, which has had a significant impact. When she talks about the criminal justice system, part of that is for the Home Office, but some of the issues that she is thinking about may be more appropriate for the Justice Secretary in relation to the treatment of those individuals with autism in prison and in other custodial circumstances. I have certainly noted her comment and will bring it to the attention of the Justice Secretary.

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The Home Secretary says that the matter is now for the Director of Public Prosecutions. Has she referred the case to him? Given her extensive knowledge of the medical evidence, does she think it likely that Mr McKinnon will be fit to stand trial in this country?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: it is now for the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether the case should be prosecuted. Very simply, it is not the case that politicians tell the Director of Public Prosecutions what to do, who to investigate or who to prosecute, so he will come to his decision based on the information available to him.

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Further to my question to my right hon. Friend yesterday and in the interests of those of us who have or have had constituents who have been held for long periods in European and foreign prisons—people who are United Kingdom citizens—will she seriously consider ensuring that no United Kingdom citizen may be extradited to another country where the period of detention before trial is very considerably longer than that in the United Kingdom?

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We will seek to consider with the Commission and other member states the issues that have arisen in relation to the operation of the European arrest warrant. This view is not held solely by the United Kingdom. Across a number of member states, there are concerns about the way in which the EAW has been operating, and we shall be working on that matter as part of our consideration of closed measures that we may choose to opt back into, or wish to opt back into, in relation to the 2014 justice and home affairs powers. However, I have certainly heard the point that my hon. Friend makes.

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I too warmly welcome the decisions on Gary McKinnon and the forum bar, and only wish that they had been made sooner. Why, if the Home Secretary accepts that the law needs to change, did she sanction the extraditions of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan? Surely they should also be benefiting from a fair extradition process. They were extradited on 5 October, and it will be a year at least before they even come to trial. They are British citizens accused of committing crimes here in Britain, and they should be tried in Britain, not in the United States.

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I consider that the process that Abu Hamza and the other four individuals went through was fair. Where it was relevant, consideration would have been given to the issue of prosecution in the UK and the decision taken that that was not appropriate.

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I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) about plea bargaining in the US and the effect that that has on British citizens extradited there. In her discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of changes to the appellate process, will she please take into account that domestic proceedings can be exhausted in the county court, which is a very low level for appeals from the magistrates court?

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I note my hon. Friend’s point. As I said, and as he recognises, the matter is being considered between the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and other relevant Ministers, and we will seek to ensure that we can produce a process that does not involve excessive delays, but which gives appropriate fairness and proper regard to individuals’ legal rights.

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The Home Secretary says that she agrees with the Baker review recommendations that the breadth of the Home Secretary’s involvement in extradition cases should be reduced, and that will need primary legislation. Can she give us an idea of when that primary legislation will come before the House?

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We will be exploring a number of options for that primary legislation to come before the House. Obviously, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, I cannot say at this moment when that will be. It will be when parliamentary time allows.

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On behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on autism, I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision today. Will she make sure that her Department redoubles its efforts to ensure that all people with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and related conditions are treated properly and their needs addressed when they are detained and arrested prior to any charge?

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I note my hon. Friend’s point, which echoes that made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). I will take it away and consider it.

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On behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s decision on Gary McKinnon. Will she look again at the JCHR’s report on extradition, particularly with regard to the evidence given to us on the European arrest warrant?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question and thank him and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) for the work that their two Committees did on extradition arrangements. The Government will respond, I hope later today, to his Committee’s report, and obviously will refer to the issue that he has raised.

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I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on her decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon and to introduce a forum bar, and join all those paying tribute to Gary and to Janis Sharp for their extremely long 10-year struggle.

The Home Secretary made her correct decision, based, as she explained, on the European convention on human rights. Will she ensure that all her other decisions are also founded on that excellent bedrock? [Interruption.]

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The Attorney-General has just said that they have to be. Any legislation that I bring before the House I have to sign to say that it is indeed compatible.

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I commend the Home Secretary for her welcome decision on Gary McKinnon and all those who campaigned for so long for this justice.

In answer to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), the Home Secretary referred to the case of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan. They have been deported to the USA, they faced no prosecution in this country and they were in prison for a long time in this country. Under the new procedures that she envisages, could such a deportation take place in the future? Does she not accept that their case is materially different from those who were deported at that time and that we should have some respect for the fact that they were never prosecuted in this country yet they are now being prosecuted in the USA?

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The cases that the hon. Gentleman raises were considered through a series of proceedings in the courts in the United Kingdom and by the European Court of Human Rights. All those courts determined that it was perfectly appropriate for those individuals to be extradited to the United States.

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The correct decision to which my right hon. Friend has come has been warmly welcomed across the House, and I join in welcoming it. She referred to the fact that she is having discussion internationally, both with the United States and with EU member states, in relation to our extradition arrangements. Are any changes to the European arrest warrant being suggested by other EU member states, and what does she propose to do to carry those forward?

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If I may just clarify, I think that my hon. and learned Friend has picked up on the discussions that I referred to in response to the shadow Home Secretary, which were international discussions about cybercrime. We will indeed be having discussions with other member states on the European arrest warrant. It is already the case that other member states have raised issues, for example, on proportionality. This is a matter of concern for other member states, not just the United Kingdom.

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We must welcome the fact that decisions in these cases are based on fairness and justice, and I welcome the decision today if that is the case. But is the Home Secretary aware of the number of cases involving fugitives who have fled to Pakistan? It seems almost impossible to get an arrangement with the Pakistan Government to bring back people such as Shahid Mohammed, who was alleged to be part of a gang that killed a family of eight children in a firebomb incident. The rest of the accused have been committed to prison, but he is still at large in Pakistan and there is no arrangement whereby he can be extradited. Will she look into this case so that we can have fairness and justice for the Chishti family in my constituency?

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I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that particular case. He is right to say that no arrangements are in place to enable us to deal with that matter. I assure him that I and the Attorney-General have heard his comments and I will look into the circumstances of the case that he raises.

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Confidence in our extradition arrangements had fallen so low that few members of the public would have been surprised if Gary McKinnon had been extradited yet Abu Hamza had been allowed to stay. Does the Home Secretary believe that her statement today, combined with her statement yesterday on the European arrest warrant, provides a sufficient basis on which she can restore confidence in our extradition processes?

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Yes, I sincerely hope that that is exactly what will happen as a result of the changes that the Government will bring about. People have been concerned. There has been general public disquiet about some of our extradition arrangements. The proposals that I have put before the House today and that will come before the House in primary legislation will give people confidence in our extradition system.

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Will the Home Secretary answer the question that she has avoided twice in relation to forum and the cases of Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan? In both those cases, forum was the key issue; it was not in the other cases that she conflates them with. How does she explain her timing in introducing the forum bar only days after they were removed from the country?

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The decision that those individuals be extradited went through all the proper and appropriate processes, including the European Court, and in all those stages extradition was considered appropriate. We have a process already whereby decisions are taken as to whether individuals should be prosecuted in the UK or in any other country asking for extradition, and those decisions are properly taken by the courts. We will in future be changing the way that that takes place so that it is more open and transparent.

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I welcome the fact that we have a Home Secretary with the backbone to stand up for British citizens and British principles of justice. I also welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s acknowledgment—her first, I think—that the European arrest warrant needs reform, because in quantity and quality those cases have proved far more serious than our arrangements with the United States, including in relation to my constituent Colin Dines. Does the Home Secretary agree that the best bet for common-sense reform of the EAW would be to exercise the block opt-out and then use our leverage to press for modest safeguards so that we do not continue to hang innocent citizens out to dry?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his observations and comments. As he knows, the Government’s current thinking is that we will exercise the block opt-out and then seek to opt in to a number of measures. We will obviously consider the matter carefully and, as I said earlier, discuss the whole question of the European arrest warrant with the European Commission and other member states. As I have indicated, I am aware that other member states are also concerned about certain aspects of the European arrest warrant’s operation.

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I fear that the Home Secretary is gambling with the justice for British victims of foreign criminals who flee to their home countries in Europe. She has chosen to opt out of the EAW, with no guarantee that we can opt in again, which could mean that British citizens will be denied justice. Will she outline in more detail what conversations she is having with other EU member states and what plan B is? Is it bilateral treaties with every single member state?

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I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not understand the process a little better than her question suggests. I announced yesterday that the Government’s current thinking is that we will exercise the block opt-out. It is not open to us to opt out of individual measures; we can only block opt in or block opt out and then seek to rejoin certain measures. That is the process that the Government are currently going through. We will be talking with the European Commission and other member states about arrangements for the opt-ins and the specific measures that the Government choose to opt in to. The circumstances she sets out in her question are quite far from the reality.

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I warmly congratulate the Home Secretary on her decision on Gary McKinnon and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on his efforts; there are now two Enfield constituents who have benefited directly from the Home Secretary’s interest in and positive response to extradition matters. On the problem of British nationals languishing in jails for unacceptable periods of time pre-trial in Europe, does she recognise that that is in large part because the EAW is based on the rather flawed principle of mutual recognition of each others’ judicial systems, and will she ensure that she challenges and examines that in any future negotiations?

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I recognise my hon. Friend’s concern about that issue, which he has expressed on a number of occasions. I can assure him we will be looking in detail at the operation of the European arrest warrant, not only as part of our internal consideration but as part of our discussions with the European Commission and other member states.

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I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s decision regarding Gary McKinnon. When she reviews these particular provisions, I want to ask her to consider three things in relation to extradition: whether extradition to another country can be for actions that are not criminal offences in this country; whether a proper case has to be made in a British court before someone can be extradited; and, if a significant part of the alleged conduct has occurred in the United Kingdom, whether the trial must be heard in the United Kingdom.

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The point of introducing the forum bar is that there will be a transparent process for considering, challenging and examining whether a prosecution should take place in the UK or in another country. The decision taken by the courts will be transparent and open, and that is what I believe will give people more confidence in our extradition arrangements.

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My right hon. Friend must of course look at such cases individually, but does she agree that the Anglo-American extradition treaty is sound, fair and balanced between our two countries, which are on a generally equal footing, as Sir Scott Baker found in his extensive report; that there is no imbalance in the evidence tests that currently apply; and that there is no need for a prima facie test, which after all we do not apply to other countries that have far less mature justice systems? Will she also take the opportunity to indicate that she has full confidence in the American justice system, which is infinitely preferable to those of many other countries with which we have extradition arrangements?

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Order. I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman, but I must say to him that if he had been paid by the word when practising in the UK courts he would now be an immensely wealthy man.

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I do indeed agree with my hon. Friend that the UK-US extradition treaty is broadly sound. It is important that we have good, well-working extradition arrangements between the UK and the US, and we have seen the benefit of that in relation to a number of cases in which people have been extradited to the US or back to the UK. He is right: Sir Scott Baker did say that there was no need for a prima facie test, which is why I do not propose to introduce such a test in the new arrangements we are proposing. I repeat that it is important that we have well-working extradition arrangements with the US that people can have confidence in. I believe that the limited changes I have announced today will give people that confidence.

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Is the Home Secretary aware that it is not a crime in France to have sex with a 15-year-old child but it is here; and that it is not a crime here to wear a Nazi uniform, throw up Heil Hitler salutes and swagger around talking about the Third Reich but it is in Germany? I worry that Interior Ministers in our partner countries will hear her statement and think, “Well, if something is not a crime here, why send someone back? If someone brings in a chit stating that they are depressed and not very well, why send them back?” I am not disputing the sincerity and integrity of her decision, but I hope she thinks a bit longer and harder before in effect telling many other countries that they do not need to extradite people back to us.

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There is no hint in anything I have said that that will be the case. The right hon. Gentleman raised a concern yesterday about the European arrest warrant, and I will repeat what I said yesterday: we will be looking, with the Commission and other member states, at the operation of the European arrest warrant because, although there have been benefits, there have been problems. That is exactly what I said in my statement, and I think that it is right that we look at it properly and carefully.

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I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and think that her lustre will have been burnished further in the Bone household, if I may say so in the absence of our hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone). Has she made any estimate of the number of people who are currently extradited but who in future are likely to be tried in this country rather than abroad after the introduction of a forum bar, and who will decide the criteria on which the judges will make those decisions?

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Every individual case must be considered on its merits, so it is not possible to look ahead to future cases and predict how many people would be prosecuted here in the UK rather than abroad. We will obviously look at the arrangements for the forum bar and how it will operate when we introduce it in primary legislation. As it is necessary to introduce it in primary legislation, the House will be able to scrutinise the arrangements that are put in place.

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I, too, welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and congratulate her on a victory for the democratic process and for fair play. Can she confirm that a precedent has not been set with regard to the reasons to stop an extradition? What assurance can she give that the two outstanding extradition requests from the US, and indeed any future extradition requests, will not be affected by this decision?

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My decision is based on the issue of Mr McKinnon’s human rights under article 3 and, as I have just indicated in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), each individual case will be determined on its own merits.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to be the last Member here to congratulate my right hon. Friend on her decision and on bringing Gary McKinnon’s 10-year nightmare to an end. I can assure her that my constituents will welcome today’s announcement, both the specifics and the more general reforms she has proposed. I encourage her to bring those forward as soon as possible so that cases do not drag on like this in future.

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I recognise the eagerness with which my hon. Friend, and indeed others, wish the Government to bring forward these changes. I can assure him that we, too, are eager to bring them forward as soon as possible, but that will of course be as parliamentary time allows.

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I am grateful to the Home Secretary and to colleagues.

Vehicle Fuel Receipts (Transparency of Taxation)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for receipts for vehicle fuel to display the amount of fuel duty paid and the amount of that duty to be spent on road building; and for connected purposes.

Before I begin, Mr Speaker, I am grateful for your permission to mention that in Harlow on Monday there was a tragic fire in which four children and their mother lost their lives. I want to express my heartfelt condolences to their extended family and to their community and to thank the emergency services for all that they have done.

The principle of the Bill is very simple—that taxes should be clear to the people who pay them. At the moment, they are not. To their credit, the Government believe in transparency. As the Prime Minister has said,

“We want to be the most open and transparent Government in the world…With a presumption in favour of transparency”.

I am glad to say that this Government have moved towards a “right to data”, putting on to the internet information on Whitehall spending, as well as on ministerial meetings and procurement contracts. They are rightly supporting the idea of my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer) and giving taxpayers a statement of where their tax goes. These are important steps towards transparency.

Why not do that for fuel duty as well? After all, this Government believe in cheaper petrol. Ministers have done more to cut fuel duty in two years than the previous Government managed in 13. Petrol is now 10p cheaper than planned in Labour’s last Budget, but the problem is that fuel duty is still a stealth tax. At the moment, when we fill up our car our receipt says “Fuel £50, VAT £10”. This is wrong. If my receipt was accurate, it would say how much fuel duty I am paying, which is currently disguised in the price. It would say something more like: “Fuel £25, duty £25, VAT £10”. There should also be some mention of how much of that tax is spent on our roads.

I want to explain three things: first, that fuel duty was never meant to be a millstone around our necks; secondly, what I am proposing; and thirdly, why transparency works. The history of car taxation is a textbook case of how a tax becomes entrenched. First, it is temporary and hypothecated for a specific purpose, then it is expanded, and finally it is folded into general taxation. As I have set out to the House before, this is exactly what happened to fuel duty between 1909 and 1937. In the early years of the 20th century, funding for roads was drawn mainly from local ratepayers. The 1909 Budget put a new duty on motor spirit—that is, petrol—but it was ring-fenced for a road improvement fund, and David Lloyd George promised that it would always be devoted exclusively to the roads. However, through the 1920s the road fund was repeatedly raided to prop up the Treasury, and from 1937 it was treated as a general tax.

By 1966, the result was that just one third of the revenue was actually spent on roads; by 2008, it was just one fifth. The proportion being spent on roads has shrunk hugely, but at the same time fuel duty has risen. Over the years, a series of temporary increases were brought in. The fuel duty escalator began in 1956 with the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties (Temporary Increase) Act 1956. At that time, duty was fluctuating between 5p and 6p a litre, and VAT did not exist because we had not yet joined the European Community. The temporary increase was a mirage. Fuel duty is now 58p, with 20% VAT on top—an increase of more than 1,000%. My argument is that on every receipt of every fuel bill the tax burden should be clear and transparent, and there should be some indication of how much is being spent on our roads. So my receipt would say: “Fuel £25, duty £25, VAT £10, amount spent on roads approximately £7.”

This campaign has been supported by FairFuelUK, which has gained 15,000 signatures on a petition specifically on this issue, and hugely by the TaxPayers Alliance, which has put leaflets out on forecourts around the country, as well as by the independent fuel retailers, led by Brian Madderson.

Some Treasury officials may be sceptical about this Bill. “Isn’t this up to the retailers?”, says Sir Humphrey. To them I say that the Government have complex rules about what one can and cannot put on a receipt, especially if VAT is involved. On Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ website, there is a 15-bullet-point list of what precisely a VAT receipt must show. The point of my Bill is to bake transparency into the system, to give clarity to retailers, and to make it standard across the whole country. That is something that only a Bill could easily achieve.

Why is this necessary? First, we need to be honest with motorists. The average family in my constituency of Harlow spend a tenth of their income on fuel—more than they spend on the weekly shop. In essence, they are facing petrol and diesel poverty, and morally they have a right to know why their bills are so high. Secondly, tax transparency would act as a deterrent to stop any future Government hiking fuel duty without good reason, because people will see the increase on their receipts. Thirdly, it would make it easier to hold the big oil companies to account. The Government say that their actions have a low impact compared with huge swings in the oil price. My proposal would give people the hard evidence, on a weekly basis, to know that falls in the oil price are being passed on to consumers, as campaigned for by PetrolPromise.com. As an aside, I should say that earlier today I, and many colleagues, met Clive Maxwell of the Office of Fair Trading. I am glad that he is now looking very carefully at the petrol and diesel market and will report in January.

This proposal would be a small step towards the kind of white van Conservatism that the Prime Minister talked about in his conference speech. At least those of us on these Benches are all white van Conservatives now. It might even help to make the case for ditching Labour’s 3p rise in fuel duty, which this Government have so far delayed to January 2013. I urge Front Benchers to delay the rise further, because too many people are still suffering from the high cost of petrol and diesel.

This is a simple Bill that does what it says on the tin. It would give us basic transparency on fuel duty, about what people pay, and where the money goes. It would make the system more honest, act as a deterrent against tax rises, and add pressure on the oil companies to be fair. I hope that the whole House will support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Robert Halfon, Martin Vickers, Jason McCartney, Anne Marie Morris, Caroline Nokes, Nick de Bois, Jim Shannon, Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil, Nadine Dorries, Charlie Elphicke and Mr Marcus Jones present the Bill.

Robert Halfon accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 30 November and to be printed (Bill 72).

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2)

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I beg to move,

That the Order of 11 June 2012 (Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed in two days.

3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

4. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.

TABLE

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses relating to civil liability for the breach of health and safety duties; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to the determination of bankruptcy applications by adjudicators.

4.15 pm on the first day

New Clauses relating to the Equality Act 2010.

6.00 pm on the first day

New Clauses relating to the regulation of estate agents; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to listed buildings and amendments to Schedule 16; new Clauses relating to the Osborne estate.

7.00 pm on the first day

New Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 2; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 1.

4.00 pm on the second day

Amendments to Clauses 61 to 64; amendments to Part 6 (other than amendments to Clauses 61 to 64); remaining new Clauses and remaining new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Part 5 (other than amendments to Schedule 16); new Clauses and new Schedules relating to, and amendments to, Parts 3 and 4; remaining new Clauses; remaining new Schedules; remaining proceedings on Consideration.

6.00 pm on the second day

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 7.00 pm on the second day.

The Bill aims to promote long-term growth and simplify regulation. The Government have tabled new clauses, introducing a number of further measures to improve regulation, and amendments, which followed from the useful and detailed deliberations in Committee. The Government recognise the importance of the Bill and of the new measures that have been added, so we have provided two days for Report and Third Reading. The first day is for the consideration of new areas that we propose be added to the Bill. On the second day, we will deal with amendments to the existing clauses, as well as other new clauses that have been suggested. We have provided for an order that takes into account the issues that Labour Members have told us they particularly wish to focus on.

We have provided for timetabling of the two days. We can, of course, go faster than the timetable set out, but this arrangement will ensure that the debate is not too drawn out on any specific areas and so we will be able to cover the entirety of the Bill appropriately. We have provided to Opposition Members, and also placed in the Library of the House and on the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills website, an explanation of all the Government amendments, which is in line with the new procedures that the Leader of the House has been keen to encourage on Report. Such an approach builds on the requests made and the work encouraged by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), as well as others from across the parties in this House. We have also provided a short summary, as will now be done for all Bills in the future. We hope that that will help to facilitate understanding and the debate.

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I do not intend to speak for long. As I said on Second Reading, this really is a mishmash of a Bill; it is a missed opportunity and it certainly does not provide the compelling vision or plan for growth that we need. Its provisions range widely from the setting up of the green investment bank to extending the primary authority scheme; and from reforming our entire competition regime to implementing measures relating to the Osborne estate—for the avoidance of doubt, I should say that that does not refer to the estate of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In what has been labelled an “enterprise Bill”, this Government are seeking to make fundamental changes not only to the rights at work of every person in this country, but to the remit of the body charged in this country with promoting human rights and a society free from discrimination.

I am grateful that two days have been given for the debate of the remaining stages of this Bill, including the extra 15 minutes afforded for the debate of the measures relating to the Equality and Human Rights Commission —we must be grateful for small mercies. However, given the sheer variety of issues covered, which do not all hang together, and the seriousness of the changes envisaged to people’s basic rights in this Bill, the time that has been given to debate it is simply insufficient. That is all the more the case in the light of the Government’s last-minute new clauses, which seek to abolish the provisions of the Equality Act 2010 relating to third-party harassment of employees—no trivial matter—and other provisions, including those relating to discrimination questionnaires. Those provisions relate to ensuring that employees can work free from sexual, racial or other harassment, and they should be properly debated in a timely fashion.

In the light of everything I have just said, the lack of time afforded is thrown into particular sharp relief when we look at the running order for the second day —tomorrow—when a raft of provisions relating to people’s rights at work will be debated in the same breath as measures establishing a green investment bank. The House is expected to do all that in less than two hours. So it is for this reason that the Opposition oppose today’s programme motion.

Question put,

Division 71

16 October 2012

The House divided:

Ayes: 273
Noes: 217

Question accordingly agreed to.

View Details

Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill

[1st Allocated Day]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.

New Clause 14

Civil liability for breach of health and safety duties

‘(1) Section 47 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (civil liability) is amended as set out in subsections (2) to (7).

(2) In subsection (1), omit paragraph (b) (including the “or” at the end of that paragraph).

(3) For subsection (2) substitute—

“(2) Breach of a duty imposed by a statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) health and safety regulations shall not be actionable except to the extent that regulations under this section so provide.

(2A) Breach of a duty imposed by an existing statutory provision shall not be actionable except to the extent that regulations under this section so provide (including by modifying any of the existing statutory provisions).

(2B) Regulations under this section may make provision about the extent to which breach of a duty imposed by other health and safety legislation is actionable (including by modifying that legislation).

(2C) The reference in subsection (2B) to “other health and safety legislation” is to—

(a) any provision of an enactment which relates to any matter relevant to any of the general purposes of this Part but is not among the relevant statutory provisions; and

(b) any provision of an instrument made or having effect under any such enactment as is mentioned in paragraph (a) other than a provision of a statutory instrument that contains (with other provision) health and safety regulations.

(2D) Regulations under this section may include provision for—

(a) a defence to be available in any action for breach of the duty mentioned in subsection (2), (2A) or (2B);

(b) any term of an agreement which purports to exclude or restrict any liability for such a breach to be void.”

(4) In subsection (3), omit the words from “, whether brought by virtue of subsection (2)” to the end.

(5) In subsection (4)—

(a) for “and (2)” substitute “, (2) and (2A)”, and

(b) for “(3)” substitute “(2D)(a)”.

(6) Omit subsections (5) and (6).

(7) After subsection (6) insert—

“(7) The power to make regulations under this section shall be exercisable by the Secretary of State.

(8) The Secretary of State must obtain the consent of the Welsh Ministers before making any regulations by virtue of subsection (2B) that contain provision which would be within the legislative competence of the National Assembly for Wales if it were contained in an Act of the Assembly.”

(8) In section 82 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (general provisions as to regulations)—

(a) in subsection (3), after “subsection (4)” insert “or (5)”, and

(b) after subsection (4) insert—

“(5) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) regulations made by virtue of section 47(2B) shall not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

(9) Where, on the commencement of this section, there is in force an Order in Council made under section 84(3) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 that applies to matters outside Great Britain any of the provisions of that Act that are amended by this section, that Order is to be taken as applying those provisions as so amended.

(10) The amendments made by this section do not apply in relation to breach of a duty which it would be within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to impose by an Act of that Parliament.

(11) The amendments made by this section do not apply in relation to breach of a duty where that breach occurs before the commencement of this section.’.—(Matthew Hancock.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment 34.

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Government new clause 14 relates to civil liability for breaches of health and safety duties. It fulfils our commitment in the Budget to introduce measures to reduce the burden of health and safety, following the recommendations made in the independent Löfstedt report. Professor Löfstedt considered the impact that the perception of a compensation culture has had in driving over-compliance with health and safety at work regulations. The fear of being sued drives businesses to exceed what is required by the criminal law, diverting them from focusing on sensible preventive health and safety management and resulting in unnecessary costs and burdens.

Professor Löfstedt identified the unfairness that can arise when health and safety at work regulations impose a strict duty on employers that makes them liable to pay compensation to employees injured or made ill by their work, despite all reasonable steps having been taken to protect them from harm. Employers can, for example, be held liable for damages when an injury is caused by equipment failure, even when a rigorous examination would not have revealed the defect. The new clause is designed to address that and other unfair consequences of the existing health and safety system.

We all have different reasons for coming into politics. When I was growing up, I had one of the experiences that brought me to this place, concerning the over-burdensome intervention of health and safety officers. I worked in a family computer software company when an over-long health and safety investigation took place, which took up huge amounts time for the officers and senior management. The only result at the end of it was the recommendation that some bleach in a cupboard must be labelled correctly. After a sign was put up saying, “There is bleach in the cupboard. Please do not drink it,” the company was passed under the health and safety regulations.

These changes will ensure that there is a reasonableness defence in the consideration of some health and safety cases.

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I am enjoying the march back through time to the Minister’s computer existence. I speak as a former health and safety barrister—on behalf of the prosecution, I should say. I welcome the changes recommended in the independent report. Is not what we are trying to do to bring flexibility and fairness to a system that is too old and defunct?

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We are ensuring that due health and safety measures are protected, but that there is a test of reasonableness for the actions of employers, so that those who have taken all reasonable precautions cannot be prosecuted for a technical breach. That will reduce the impression among many businesses, especially small businesses, that they are liable to health and safety legislation in many cases when they are not. It will reduce that impression while ensuring that taking reasonable steps to abate health and safety difficulties remains a vital part of everybody’s responsibilities. Indeed, the new clause does not change the criminal procedures in relation to health and safety.

How do we propose to do this? Civil claims for personal injury can be brought by two routes: a breach of the common-law duty of care, in which case negligence has to be proved, or a breach of statutory duty, in which case the failure to meet the particular legal standard alleged to have been breached has to be proved. The new clause will amend the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to remove the right to bring civil claims for breach of a statutory duty contained in certain health and safety legislation.

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As I am sure the Minister knows, the 1974 Act is riddled with the phrase

“so far as is reasonably practicable”.

Does that not give the protection against flimsy claims that he has been talking about?

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The 1974 Act does not give that protection, because a test of negligence is not required to proceed with a prosecution. In future, proof of negligence will be required to bring a case. It will be possible to bring a civil action for a breach of common law duty of care only on the basis that the employer has been negligent.

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I am enjoying the Minister’s attention to detail on this important matter. Will he reassure us that this provision will not add to the burden for small businesses because of the process of providing proof? Has he done any number crunching to show what it will mean for the businesses that matter so much to Britain?

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My hon. Friend anticipates my speech, because this provision will reduce the burdens on business. It is difficult to know precisely by how much because businesses react not only to the letter of the law, but to the perception of the law. There are perceived health and safety requirements that go beyond technical breaches of the law, and we want to remove them. One can go to the new Government website and ask whether something is required by health and safety legislation. Many of the cases that are brought to the Government’s attention are not required by health and safety legislation. The problem is the perception of health and safety legislation. By including a reasonableness defence, we will help to remove the implied, expected and perceived burdens on business.

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When my hon. Friend became a Minister, what assessment did he make of the previous Labour Government’s attempts to lift the burdens on business and the perception of those burdens over the 13 years that they were in office?

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I have found no evidence of that. If my hon. Friend can point any out to me, I would be extremely grateful.

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I welcome the direction in which the Minister is taking the debate and the policy. I will never forget a conversation that I had in Macclesfield marketplace, a place with which I know he is familiar. A lady told me how disturbed she was that the perception of health and safety was giving it a bad name. I asked who she worked for and she said the Health and Safety Executive. The situation is going too far. Does the Minister agree that it is important to move to a common-sense approach, which I think is the direction in which he is taking Government policy?

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It is important to have a health and safety framework in which responsible businesses act in a way that supports and enhances the safety of the people who work for them. Indeed, it is vital that we all have a duty to behave reasonably on questions of health and safety.

I hope that making negligence a requirement before a health and safety case can be brought will mean that those who behave reasonably have no reason to fear health and safety legislation and that those who think carefully and responsibly about the businesses that they run will know that they are behaving not only reasonably, but lawfully.

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I thank the Minister for his speech. Does he agree that the managers of companies who are acting reasonably will be freed up to go out and win more export business, including those in the manufacturing and engineering companies in my constituency of Dudley South?

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Indeed, this action will reduce the burdens on business and help Britain to compete. It also provides important reassurance to employers that they will be liable to pay compensation only when it can be proved that they have been negligent.

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I well recall when I worked in the shipyards watching the white particles of dust and asking whether they had any health and safety implications, only for the employer to tell me, “Don’t be stupid. Get on with your lot, young man. It won’t do you any harm.” Hundreds of thousands of people are now suffering from mesothelioma. Is that the kind of employer that the Minister wants to support?

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The hon. Gentleman gives a good explanation of why there is cross-party support for health and safety measures that are reasonable. After all, it was a Conservative Government who brought in the Factory Acts. On the specific point that he raises, the provision is forward looking and is not retrospective. It will not have an impact on acts that were committed in the past, but is about actions that take place in the future. He raises an important question and I hope that I have reassured him.

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I thank the Minister for giving way; he is being very helpful. Will he clarify whether there is currently—or will be in the legislation—a legal definition of what “reasonable” actually means?

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The definition of reasonableness will come from the common law interpretation, and the concept is already well regarded and specified in law.

The new clause makes a significant contribution to the Government’s reform of civil litigation to redress the balance between claimants and defendants. It is good for Britain’s competitiveness, reduces burdens on businesses, and strengthens and underpins our health and safety system, thereby ensuring that people think it is fit for purpose.

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I am concerned by the Minister’s remarks because far too many people are already killed at work each year, and people are also injured through faulty or wrong seating and other things that happen. The office is not a safe working space, and when the Minister says that we worry too much about health and safety, I am worried that we will make things far worse for people not only in heavy industry but in other working situations. Health and safety legislation exists to protect those people from back injury, repetitive strain injury and all the other things that occur. This legislation will completely reduce that issue in people’s minds.

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On the contrary, although I share the hon. Lady’s concerns to ensure that health and safety legislation is regarded and reasonably interpreted throughout work forces, whether in industry, agriculture or offices, and although such legislation is an important part of the modern workplace, it is unhelpful when health and safety becomes a byword for regulations that get in the way and stop businesses competing or, for instance, children from being taken on school trips once reasonable precautions have been put in place, and instead bring the whole system into disrepute. That is what the Government are trying to stop. The key defence of negligence ensures that if people breach health and safety rules or have not acted reasonably, that will—of course—be taken into account under the system, and the new clause will not change criminal health and safety procedures. We must, however, ensure that unreasonable claims, and the existing perception of health and safety legislation, do not get in the way of Britain’s ability to compete.

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The Minister is pushing the point about perception. He is right: businesses do respond to perception, and sometimes go further than is legally required. However, if they respond to perception in one direction, they may well respond to a new perception in another direction and do less than is required. If that is the case, how many injuries or deaths will it take for the Minister to be back at the Dispatch Box rewinding some of the changes?

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If businesses behave unreasonably and are negligent, they will be caught by the system. That proves the point about why we have to strike a good balance between a health and safety system that everybody supports and under which employers—and others—have to behave reasonably and take reasonable precautions, and a system in which the test of having acted reasonably is not a defence in civil law. That is the change being made; it will help to free up business, and I commend the new clause to the House.

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I call the Minister [Interruption.] I meant the shadow Minister.

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If only, Mr Deputy Speaker.

This is my first opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) on his promotion. It is a pleasure to see him at the Dispatch Box, as he has been many times in his guise as Disraeli, Churchill, or perhaps Sir Robert Peel, and it is good to see him in his current incarnation.

In his opening remarks, the Minister mentioned that the new clause seeks to deal with perception. We should not, however, be legislating on the basis of perception, and as he spoke I became increasingly concerned that this is yet another example of an insensitive, out-of-touch Government who somehow deem all regulation as inherently bad, and health and safety legislation as all-encompassing, bureaucratic and often unnecessary.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I have missed the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) over the course of the summer, and I remember with affection some of his interventions in Committee. I welcome him back; it is good to see him.

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I reciprocate the hon. Gentleman’s remarks. Does he agree with the Government that perception is important in health and safety legislation in almost the same way as in employment law? Does he claim that there is no issue with perception, and does he totally disagree with what the Government are trying to do?

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On perception, there is a feeling in the country—it is often fuelled by the media—that the so-called health and safety culture is inevitably a drag on economic growth and recovery. We must, however, set the context, and I want to make an important point to the Minister. The TUC estimates that every year at least 20,000 people die prematurely as a result of injuries, illnesses, or accidents caused by or in their place of work. That is far too many. The shocking figure from the Health and Safety Executive of 173 workers who were fatally injured at work often excludes a large number of other work-related deaths, but that figure alone means that 173 people went to work and did not come back, and that should not happen in a modern, compassionate society.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that improvements to the health and safety regime were out there for all to see during the construction of the Olympic site? There were no deaths and few injuries, which was because the health and safety regime had been properly applied.

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I agree with my hon. Friend. In the great and almost universal celebration of the London Olympics this summer, we should never forget that we saw the first Olympic stadium and village in the history of the games to be built without a single fatality. That is something to be proud of and was a result of the good partnership between Government—of all political persuasions—management and trade unions, together with workers, working to ensure that nobody was injured or killed while doing such important work.

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rose

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rose

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rose

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I will give way to a fellow member of the Public Bill Committee, and then to a fellow north-eastern MP.

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Not only did I serve on the Public Bill Committee for this important Bill, but I served on the Löfstedt review into health and safety reform, as did a representative from the Trades Union Congress, Sarah Veale. I assure the shadow Minister that there was absolute agreement among those on the Löfstedt review, including the TUC, that the perception of health and safety legislation—indeed, over-perception—is wrong in this country, and is holding back business and giving health and safety a bad name. The new clause goes some way in addressing that.

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I will go on to address the Löfstedt report in specific terms, and say where we agree with it and where we disagree, particularly with regard to the new clause, and if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will expand on that point. I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), a proud member of the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians, also wants to intervene, but I will first give way to the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman).

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I am most grateful. All hon. Members will support the fact that the Olympics produced a death-free environment during the construction phase. However, changing laws on limited civil issues from strict liability to a balance of proof civil liability would not necessarily have affected or changed that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with and acknowledge that.

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I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. In his opening remarks, however, the Minister mentioned a degree of concern about perception. Health and safety is first and foremost an important means to achieve safety for the worker, but a safe and healthy work force and workplace can also be efficient and productive. I wish to expand on that point, but I will first give way to my hon. Friend.

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My hon. Friend is generous in giving way, and I echo his welcome for the fact that there were no deaths during the construction of the Olympic site. However, there were 50 deaths in this country last year on construction sites, and as he said, 173 fatal injuries, which was only two fewer deaths than the previous year, which indicates that we have a long way to go; 173 families have been affected. The Minister spoke of perception, but I am concerned about the reality for the families of those who have tragically died at work.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that the House and the country has 28 April—workers memorial day—as a focus for remembering that people should not go to work and not come back, and that families should not be disrupted by death and injury at work. We need to pull together to ensure that health and safety is considered not as peripheral and a nice thing to have, but as central to our society and a productive economy.

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rose

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If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will move on.

There are benefits to business from an effective and proportionate health and safety regime. As I mentioned, a safe and healthy work force can be a productive and effective work force. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health estimates that, by having an effective health and safety regime, employers could save up to £7.8 billion, individuals could save up to £5.12 billion, and the economy, each and every year, could save up to £22.2 billion. It is important that health and safety is classed not as unnecessary and bureaucratic, but as conducive to good, effective and sustainable economic growth.

It is with those figures in mind that we should consider the merits of health and safety regulations and legislation, and the long-established premise of strict liability. As we know and as the Minister said, Professor Löfstedt reported in November last year. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), who speaks for the Opposition on health and safety, welcomed many aspects of Löfstedt’s review. As my right hon. Friend said, most of it was positive, sensible and evidence-based, which is not a phrase we have heard often in deliberations on the Bill, and reinforced the view that health and safety is not a burden.

Over a number of years, the Health and Safety Executive has undertaken simplification exercises, which had support from both trade unions and employers. There are 46% fewer regulations than 35 years ago, and there has been a 57% reduction in the number of forms used. There is a perception that firms, and particularly small firms, spend disproportionate time on health and safety to the detriment of business and growth, but the average business spends 20 hours and just over £350 a year on health and safety risk management and assessment, according to the Minister’s Department. Such activities therefore do not exactly take up a huge amount of businesses’ time.

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The shadow Minister might be about to say this, but does what he just said mean he will get on the side of the small business in Britain, as the Government are doing, and vote with them on new clause 14, or will he oppose it?

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The Labour party has always been on the side of small businesses, and Labour Members will continue to be so. In the 13 years of Labour government from 1997 to 2010, 1.2 million businesses were created, whereas 50 businesses each and every day are folding as a result of the current Government’s macro-economic polices and the double-dip recession. I shall therefore take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman.

Professor Löfstedt suggested that the UK needs a greater understanding of risk. We need to reject tabloid claims and the perception at the centre of the debate so far that health and safety legislation has somehow gone too far. He also recommends that education is provided to employers, workers and students on the dangers they face. However, the short section on strict liability in Professor Löfstedt’s report offers no argument or evidence for changing the current legislative arrangements, but rather an assumption that strict liability is unfair on employers. In fact, Löfstedt refers to three cases, but two were not strict liability cases, so would not be affected by the new clause. The assumption that the Government are guilty of making—they have been guilty of making many such assumptions on employment rights—is that the removal of that type of liability in some cases will boost the economy. That is economically illiterate, however, and not the solution that businesses, including small businesses, want to get us out of the double-dip recession that has been made in Downing street.

I mentioned the accusation of there being no evidence—we have heard that phrase time and again during the consideration of the Bill. There has been no consultation on the measure, which means that there could well be unintended consequences, because the Government have not sought the expertise of those who deal intimately with such issues. There has been no impact assessment on the measure, but can the Minister say why not? What are the expected costs and benefits of implementing the measure, which is supposed to liberate businesses to concentrate on economic growth? Does he have tangible, quantifiable, empirical evidence to support such claims?

Health and safety regulation has always contained a balance between different types of obligation—the majority are qualified by the phrase “reasonable practicability”, but some are strict. Although Professor Löfstedt had the insight that “reasonable practicability” has underpinned health and safety regulation, it has never been the key concept. A central point of the Opposition’s argument is that the balance has existed since the Factories Act 1937, which has been mentioned. In that three quarters of a century, the balance has been generally considered fair. Removing it risks taking us back to a 19th-century mill owner’s view of health and safety, which the Opposition could never support.

If someone is injured because of a defect in a piece of equipment provided by their employer, the law is that it is no defence for the employer to say that they had a proper system of maintenance and inspection. Most people would think that right and fair, so it is unfortunate that the Government do not. They believe it is unfair for an employer to be the subject of civil action and pay compensation when they are not at fault, but what about fairness and justice for the injured worker? They are not at fault and did not ask to be injured. The new clause would remove the right to compensation for workers in those circumstances unless they can prove fault. The Government seek to place the burden on vulnerable employees, but the employer, and not the employee, selects and provides the work equipment. Regardless of fault, it is therefore the employer and not the employee who creates the risk. That is important.

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Prior to my previous question, I should have declared an indirect interest, which is already on record.

Given the emphasis placed on business concerns by Conservative Members, does my hon. Friend agree that it is slightly surprising that the Federation of Small Businesses briefing to MPs does not mention them? Perhaps that suggests that the line he is taking is the correct one.

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The FSB has been incredibly important throughout the consideration of the Bill, including on the green investment bank and ensuring that the supply chain can derive benefit from the potential in the new green economy, but it did not mention such concerns. The measure is not a priority for business and its absence is not a hindrance to economic growth. The balance, which has been well established for three quarters of a century, works well and will not hinder growth or recovery.

I mentioned that it was the employer, not the employee, who creates the risk. Importantly, however, it is also the employer who can better distribute the cost that the risk creates. Indeed, the employee has no ability to distribute the costs at all. Removing strict liability does nothing to remove unfairness or to mitigate risk. All it does is move it elsewhere to the detriment of the vulnerable employee. There is an inevitable unfairness in that scenario that requires such a policy choice—between innocent employee and innocent employer—and there seems to be no compelling reason why the loss should fall on the employee.

Where there is no fault among the employer or employee, one sensible solution would be to allow employers to sue third parties—for instance, manufacturers or suppliers of potentially defective goods—because it would allow them to manage risk and effectively recoup compensation made to employees. What consideration has the Minister given to this sensible approach in an area that has been overlooked? I urge him not to pursue it by tampering with an approach to regulation that has served us well since the 1937 Act and certainly since the 1974 Act.

This is yet another example of Ministers seeking to water down vital civil redress on the basis of anecdote, ideology and perception. Such a measure should not be in what the Government deem to be an enterprise Bill.

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In Committee, mention was made of anecdote, a lack of evidence and perceptions, but we have to add a new one, which the Minister led with—impressions. We now have a Government run by impressions, but they are not very good at making impressions.

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The Minister is the Mike Yarwood of the House of Commons. It is nice to see a good, relevant, pertinent and timely reference to popular culture, from my own point of view.

The new clause will do nothing to enhance recovery and enterprise, and might have the unintended consequence of making the health and safety environment less safe and therefore less productive and efficient. I ask the Minister to think again, because this does nothing to aid the recovery that the country so badly needs.

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The Minister started with his experience in the world of health and safety. My experience is based not only on my life as someone who worked for 20 years in the coal mining industry and then as a care worker but before that on the experience of my father, who worked the coal mines in the 1930s, when, in this country, one coal miner was killed every six hours on average. Think about that. One thousand men a year did not go home, in part because health and safety was a laughing matter and put to one side, because production was all. My father was twice buried alive—thankfully, he got out both times—and had a very close friend die in his arms, having had his head crushed between two mining coal tubs. It was not a satisfactory way to spend your life.

As a result of that history, the Government in 1947 nationalised the coal mines, set up a train of processes that included health and safety committees in the mining industry and joint consultative committees, and started planning for legislation that produced the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. That Act was actually put in place by a one-nation Tory Government, but they did it for the right reasons—to improve the conditions of people who were vital to the economic success of this country. As a result of that legislation and the improved techniques and machinery, the number of people dying in mines in the 1980s could be counted in single figures. The work force was depleted by about 70% between the 1930s and 1980s, but the number of health and safety measures fell from 1,000 to fewer than 10. For me, that history is vital to understanding how important health and safety issues are.

In 1989, I moved from the mines to become a care worker taking care of elderly people. Members might think that that is a completely different scenario, but let us think about it. The Minister gave the example of the bottle of bleach in the cupboard. It is important to know what is in cupboards to which people might well have access, particularly older people who might not have the capacity to understand what they are dealing with. That is why we introduced measures such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002, which were about protecting people dealing with dangerous liquids.

There were issues around the lifting and handling of people who were not mobile. The impact on care businesses was huge. People accepted, however, that if they wanted to do things properly and protect not only the workers but the people they were taking care of, they needed to introduce such measures. There were other issues around medication—how to supply it, how to make it safe, how to make sure it was not given to the wrong person, how to make sure that medication records were kept up to speed—that were all part and parcel of the health and safety measures that we should all be pleased are in place.

The discussions on the Bill have been marked, certainly in Committee, by a lack of real evidence. The man tasked by the Prime Minister with reviewing employment law, Adrian Beecroft, was questioned during the evidence-taking sessions, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane). In response to the question about what the empirical evidence and research was based on, Adrian Beecroft said:

“I accept the accusation that my views on whether the change would improve the efficiency of people working in businesses are based on conversations with a sample of people, which is not statistically valid.”––[Official Report, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2012; c. 145, Q330.]

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The hon. Gentleman is making some important points, but, regarding evidence, perhaps we could learn lessons from our European partners. For example, the nursery staff ratio in Germany is considerably less than here, which has driven down the costs while maintaining safety. So there is evidence, if we look further afield.

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I am more than happy to follow that knowledge. If we want examples, let us look at Germany right across the board—at its employment legislation and practices, including on health and safety. It is a good example of an economy that is growing while having much tighter working rights and better regulation than this country does.

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I was interested in what the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) said about Germany, but he forgot one thing—after the war, it was a Labour Government who, along with their allies, set up the German industrial and other structures.

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That is absolutely right. We took the best of what we had in this country, and thankfully the Germans picked it up. It would be a good idea if we looked at what they did and brought it here.

To repeat, Adrian Beecroft talked about

“conversations with a sample of people, which is not statistically valid.”––[Official Report, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Public Bill Committee, 21 June 2012; c. 145, Q330.]

So there is no evidence base. It is a couple of guys talking in the pub, at a football match or out playing golf. It is two old guys sitting in deck chairs, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we got rid of all this health and safety stuff and all these employment rights? Then everyone could make more money.”

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Whether perception or reality, one thing we know for certain is that nearly 200 people were killed in the workplace last year and that in excess of 20,000 people were killed or died as a result of work. That is the evidence base. That is factually correct. There is little evidence other than that. Does my hon. Friend agree?

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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He speaks from the history of the real world, not from just reading books and studying things at university. He has been in the real world and seen how people are affected when health and safety is allowed to go by the board. The words that were used continually in Committee were: “The perception is this”, “The impression is this.” It was based on anecdotes and assumptions. There was no evidence. If we create laws without evidence, we create nonsense.

In conclusion, I return to the word that I asked the Minister to define—“reasonableness”. In 20 or 30 years of negotiating contracts for people at work, that is one of the words I used to hate in any contract, because “reasonable” is made of elastic. It is a word used by lawyers and others to get around things. I will give hon. Members a real example. I used to represent home care workers, who went into people’s houses and took care of some of the most vulnerable people in this country. Their contracts included a range of duties, and included the words, “and other reasonable things”. There were questions: is it reasonable for a home care worker to bathe an old man or old woman? Is it reasonable for a home care worker to distribute medication to a man or woman? One would think, “Well, of course it is,” but if something went wrong, the employer would say, “You shouldn’t have been doing that. You’re not paid to do that. You shouldn’t have given that medication; you didn’t know whether they’d had it earlier in the day.” I am therefore concerned when the Minister says that the word “reasonable” can apply in that way, because it is a word that will be argued over and tossed around whenever there is a dispute.

Let me return to the point, which was mentioned earlier, that the Bill will create a “new impression”. It will create the impression that all bets are off—that employers do not have to care about health and safety, and that people can do what they want as long as they believe it is reasonable. It will not be reasonable when the statistics that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) spoke about earlier are not 200 people but 300 people a year killed in the workplace. Indeed, it will not be 20,000 people dying from injuries, but 30,000 people. We will come to regret this; it should be stopped at this stage.

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I rise to speak as chair of the all-party health and safety group. Unfortunately there are no active junior coalition partners on the group; hence the reason we have such a poor turnout from the junior coalition partners for this debate. I have no doubt that at the next election the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—who is in her place on the Front Bench—will be telling people in the west of Scotland that she stood up for workers. However, we will be reminding her of what her party has been doing for the workers.

The all-party group’s activities include producing reports. Just recently we published a report in conjunction with the TUC on asbestos in schools. I would encourage the Minister to get a copy of that report, which basically suggests that we have to challenge perceptions. Who would have thought that there was a health and safety issue in our schools? But there is. Some of our decaying schools are riddled with asbestos, and pupils, teachers, janitors and other people working in schools are being exposed to it. People do not see it, so they think there is not a problem, but there is in fact a major problem. Despite representations to the coalition Government to take action, they have so far refused to do so, which is unacceptable. Indeed, I am told that this place is being shut down for a number of years to deal with asbestos, so it is quite okay to clear the asbestos in this place, so that we can all live safely, but we cannot do it for our children in the schools. That for me tests the perception of this coalition Government when it comes to health and safety.

As I have said, in my earlier days when I worked in the shipyards in the west of Scotland in Glasgow, I remember seeing white flakes floating down and being told by the employer, “You’re just a trouble maker. There’s nothing wrong with them; it’s just rays of sunshine coming through.” I have to admit that we do not get many rays of sunshine in Glasgow, but on the days that we did, we could see those white flakes floating down. We raised concerns, but we were told that we were just being stroppy and obtrusive, when in fact we were talking about something that caused a real disease that people could not see. Since then I have attended far too many funerals of people who worked in the shipyards and had died a horrible death from mesothelioma. Indeed, even insurance companies are now refusing to pay out. Those poor people and their families who are chasing compensation are having to deal with unscrupulous insurance companies that even today are denying them the opportunity of compensation. I hope that those on the Government Benches will be able to tell their constituents who are suffering from asbestos-related disease that they are doing the right thing for future generations, because at the moment that is exactly what they are not doing.

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Does my hon. Friend accept that asbestos is not only a hazard in the workplace? I know of numerous cases where people who just used to give their dad a cuddle when he came home in his work clothes died some years later of mesothelioma or asbestosis. Indeed, we have not yet reached the peak incidence of such cases, because it takes so long before the disease manifests itself. Will the changes being proposed today not make the problem so much worse?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is nothing more concerning for people who work with asbestos than to see their relatives catching such a serious disease as mesothelioma. Indeed, I know of one person who worked in a shipyard who had the displeasure of burying his daughter who had died from mesothelioma, simply because when he came home at night she used to sit on his knee. The dust was still there and she was swallowing it, but they did not see it and she was suffering. It was horrible to watch that father bury his daughter.

Every week in this House the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition pay tribute to our armed forces in conflicts throughout the world, and quite rightly so. However, when it comes to fatalities and near fatalities, there are more people killed or injured in the workplace than there are members of our armed forces affected in conflict areas around the world, yet we do not talk about them. Indeed, instead of talking about those people, we want to introduce legislation that will increase their number. When we talk about the armed forces and people losing their lives, please let us remember the workers who are losing their lives, of whom there will be more as a direct result of the Government’s legislation.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that this debate is not just about those terrible deaths and injuries? It is also about the long-term conditions that people develop—for example, because their desk is crammed in a corner and they cannot sit at it properly, or because they get repetitive strain injuries. The Bill will make things worse for the conditions that give rise to such long-term problems. Ministers may say that the Bill will not affect deaths and injuries—we question that—but I am sure that my hon. Friend is convinced, as I am, that it will make things much worse for those long-term conditions.

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, there is a school of thought that says, “If you work in an office, there are no health and safety hazards,” but that is not true. Indeed, the reality is quite different.

We also have to consider the excessive burden put on the NHS as a result of accidents in the workplace. However, we are only talking about the accidents that are reported. We need to understand that more accidents happen in the workplace that go unreported, because the individuals do not want to report them in case they get the sack. We are therefore not getting the true figure for people injured in the workplace.

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With regard to mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases, at any one time we have roughly 9 million children in school, which is a huge concern. There are also about 800,000 to 900,000 teachers in schools where there is asbestos. Should we not be looking immediately for the full withdrawal of asbestos from schools? It has been done in other countries, by the way, Northern Ireland being one. Should we not be looking for a phased removal and, in the meantime, managing asbestos properly in schools to prevent people from dying? The problem is that such diseases have a latency period of between 30 and 40 years, so people do not report them. They do not develop diseases until 30 or 40 years later, and even then they are not sure where they have come from.

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Order. I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who I know was making an important point, but I should just remind the House that this is not a general debate on health and safety; rather, we are talking about new clause 14.

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I appreciate that, Mr Deputy Speaker. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), who is secretary to the all-party health and safety group. He is absolutely right about asbestos and schools. He has done an extensive job of work on that and the point he makes is absolutely right.

On the overall question of accidents or fatalities in the workplace, may I remind the Minister of the extensive amount of money that it will cost the NHS to treat people who have been injured at work through no fault of their own? It is a false economy to have unscrupulous employers putting their workers in danger and then for the NHS—that is, the taxpayer—to have to pick up the bill. That is completely wrong.

On the perception of employers, I worked for a number of years for an excellent and progressive employer, Thales, in the defence industry. It looked after its employees and had a health and safety director, and people reacted accordingly. If we treat people sensibly, we get a sensible response.

I recently asked my local chamber of commerce what problems it had in creating jobs and moving the economy forward, and what barriers were caused by the current health and safety situation. It told me clearly that it did not have a problem with health and safety legislation in the workplace, and that it wanted the Government to concentrate more on restarting the economy, creating jobs, getting money back into the economy and employing people. It said that the Government should focus on that, not on going back to the old Conservative days of saying that the trade unions are the enemy within and should be dealt with accordingly.

The Minister mentioned a bottle of bleach in a cupboard, but there are occasions when children are in offices or other places where there are bottles of bleach lying about, perhaps because of a lack of child care facilities. If those bottles are not clearly identified, there is every possibility that a child could lift one up and drink from it. I would not like to think of any child suffering as a result of that. The new clause is a complete diversion from where the country has been going. There is no appetite in the country for this type of waste of parliamentary time.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that when the Conservative manifesto at the last election mentioned cutting red tape, as previous Conservative Governments have, it actually meant an attack on working people’s rights in the factories and coal mines?

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There is no doubt about that. We know the rationale behind it—it is just a backhanded attack on trade unions and health and safety representation in the workplace. I worked in the construction industry for many years, and there is clear evidence that where there is trade union organisation on construction sites, safety is considered paramount and the number of accidents is far lower than on non-organised sites.

I do not believe that there is any appetite for the new clause among either our constituents or our businesses, large or small. They want the coalition Government to focus on doing what they were elected to do—getting us through these difficult times, getting people back to work, getting our kids educated and rediscovering our health service. This self-indulgent new clause is not worth the paper it is written on, and there are far more important things to be discussed.

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We have had impassioned contributions to the debate, not least from the hon. Members for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan). Several Opposition Members have made the point about a lack of consultation with the Opposition Front Benchers. However, the Löfstedt review involved a consultation, to which there were something like 400 submissions. That review published some of the evidence on which our proposal is based, not least evidence showing that most employers do not make a distinction between health and safety measures on a civil and a criminal basis. They are therefore more likely to waste time over-complying—the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North mentioned the problem of time being wasted—than to focus on the need to ensure rigorous health and safety so that they can reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries in the workplace. That is what is valuable, and Opposition Members have spoken powerfully about it. That is where the focus should be, rather than on over-compliance with the details and technicalities that are often put in place, which are not required and not helpful for safety purposes. Instead, they give health and safety a bad name.

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Is not the danger, though, that we will end up with under-compliance, which will lead to more people dying? I would rather waste time, as the Minister puts it, than waste lives.

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I assure the hon. Gentleman that if there is under-compliance, people will have been negligent and the full force of both the criminal and civil law will be available.

The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) mentioned the Federation of Small Businesses, but it has stated:

“A wider problem for small businesses is that many do not feel confident that they are compliant owing to confusion about what is absolutely necessary, and so feel the need to gold-plate the law to protect them.”

Indeed, an FSB survey showed that 87% of its members supported the Löfstedt approach. Given that figure, and given that the FSB is clear about the lack of confidence caused by the current confusion in the law, I hope he will accept that it is very much behind the Government’s approach.

Likewise, EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, has stated:

“The current compensation system is serving the needs of neither employees nor employers and is the source of many of the media stories and public concern about excessive health and safety.”

That concern has been part of our debate. Of course, the substance of when technical breaches occur is a crucial part of the change that we are making, but I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that there is also the problem of perception, which leads to over-complication. Both those problems need to be addressed, and they will be by our changes.

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I was moved, as I am sure everyone else in the House was, by the earnest statements that Opposition Members made about how members of their families and other people they knew had been killed by industrial diseases. However, difficulties such as those that we find in the current legislation do not help to prevent such cases.

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Indeed, and over-compliance and the fear of technical breach bring the wider health and safety law into disrepute. All parties support that law. As has been acknowledged, it was introduced by a Conservative Government, and it has been vigorously supported by Labour Governments over the past century or so. However, it is undermined when the impression is given that the system is over-complicated, confusing and aimed at technical, rather than substantive, breaches.

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I, too, was impressed with the genuine passion of Opposition Members who talked about health and safety, but I honestly believe that they missed one fundamental point. They seem to believe that there is no cost to over-compliance with regulations, but there is not only a cost to our economy and the Exchequer, which is important at the moment, but a cost borne by the long-term unemployed and the workless. They pay for over-compliance by not having access to the workplace, which vastly decreases their life expectancy. They are the people paying the price.

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My hon. Friend makes the point with great power that those who are out of work pay for an uncompetitive economy. They are the people whom we need to support.

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If this is about costs and benefits, why is there not an impact assessment for the new clause?

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The benefits are set out clearly in Löfstedt. Most importantly, because it is necessarily difficult to ascertain the amount of over-compliance, Britain’s health and safety system will benefit from being able to compete and focus its resources on avoiding substantive breaches of health and safety law rather than on technicalities and over-compliance. All parties should focus on problems such as death in the workplace due to negligence. The hon. Member for Paisley and North Renewfreshire—[Laughter.] North Renewfershire—

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If the proposals are passed by Parliament, does the Minister envisage a great reduction in the number of fatalities in the workplace next year?

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I would expect the focus to be on the substantive breaches and negligence that, sadly, bring about the injuries and deaths in the workplace that we all want to minimise.

The hon. Member for Paisley and elsewhere mentioned the problems with asbestos in educational institutions, and especially in further education colleges. I want to give him the reassurance that past actions will not be affected by the changes in the law, should it be passed according to the will of Parliament. Now that the problems with asbestos are widely known and documented, I anticipate that people who ignore those problems will be ruled negligent by the courts, rather than such instances merely being considered technical breaches. I therefore do not see that question applying in such circumstances.

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For the benefit of Hansard, I should like to point out that my constituency is Paisley and Renfrewshire North. Concern has been expressed that this whole debate has been driven by B-list celebrities and B-list journalists on The Daily Mail who have probably never worked in such a workplace in their lives. Can the Minister name one company that has clearly told him that it will employ more people if the Bill goes through?

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As I have said, 87% of FSB members support the Löfstedt approach—[Hon. Members: “Name them!”] I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman asks the FSB, it will give him the names of some of those supporters. I prefer to be driven by evidence such as that survey, rather than by unnecessary concerns, given that precautions are being put in place through these amendments. The hon. Gentleman mentioned sunshine in Glasgow, and I hope that the new jobs and benefits to business that will result from the ability to remove the perception of a fear of health and safety will bring that sunshine not only to Glasgow but to the rest of the country. I hope that the new clause will reduce the effects of the perception of a need for over-compliance with health and safety measures, and that instead the focus can be placed on substantive breaches of health and safety regulations. I commend the new clause to the House.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division 72

16 October 2012

The House divided:

Ayes: 295
Noes: 215

Question accordingly agreed to.

View Details

New clause 14 read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 16

Adjudicators

‘(1) In Part 14 of the Insolvency Act 1986 (public administration (England and Wales)), before section 399 and the cross-heading which precedes it insert—

“Adjudicators

398A Appointment etc of adjudicators and assistants

‘(1) The Secretary of State may appoint persons to the office of adjudicator.

(2) A person appointed under subsection (1)—

(a) is to be paid out of money provided by Parliament such salary as the Secretary of State may direct,