House of Commons
Wednesday 13 March 2013
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business before Questions
The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household reported to the House, That the address of 4th March, praying that Her Majesty will appoint Gareth John Halliwell to be an Electoral Commissioner with effect from 13 March 2013 for the period ending on 12 March 2017, was presented to Her Majesty, who was graciously pleased to comply with the request.
I must advise the House that a deferred Division was omitted in error from the pink ballot paper distributed with the vote bundle today: four Divisions rather than three should have been shown. A corrected version has been issued and is available from the Vote Office and in the No Lobby. Members should use the corrected version to cast their votes. Votes cast using the incomplete version will be counted for the three Divisions included on that paper. Votes cast using the corrected paper will be accepted by the Clerks to replace any earlier votes cast using the incomplete paper, up to the close of the Divisions. I trust that is clear.
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What recent assessment she has made of the humanitarian situation in Mali. (147427)
More than 430,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in Mali. Access is improving to conflict-affected areas, but the humanitarian response remains challenged by insecurity and sporadic violence. UK humanitarian aid is supporting more than 400,000 Malians with food, medicine and support to refugees in neighbouring countries.
I thank the Secretary of State for her response. More than 250,000 people have been displaced inside Mali and 170,000 Malians have fled to neighbouring countries. What additional assistance will her Department be providing to internally displaced people and refugees?
To date, we have provided about £13 million of overall assistance and we will work with agencies such as the UN, the Red Cross and the World Food Programme to ensure that we have a balanced approach to dealing not just with people in Mali who need our support but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, with the refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries.
Given that the humanitarian situation is likely to get worse until there is a framework of peace, does the Secretary of State support steps towards a UN peacekeeping mission? If so, what does she make of its mandate and the proposed time scale?
My hon. Friend is right that discussions are under way on whether a UN peacekeeping mission can be put in place. Ultimately, if it can sit alongside a political process of reconciliation, that might be one way of starting to create the space not only to get security back into Mali but to provide the conditions for the country to develop in the longer term.
The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that 4.3 million people in Mali are in need of humanitarian assistance. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what her Department is doing to ensure access for humanitarian agencies in Mali and in neighbouring countries?
The best thing we can do is work through independent, impartial humanitarian organisations and, through the UN, continue our lobbying work to ensure we have access. Access is a real challenge in places such as Mali and is also, of course, a particular challenge in places such as Syria. Without access, we cannot get humanitarian support to people, and that is why we focus on it.
The total funding provided by the Department for International Development to WaterAid for the financial year 2011-2012 was £5.8 million. The figure for the funding allocated to WaterAid in 2012-13 will be available at the end of this financial year.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will she join me in preparing for world water day on 22 March? Will she also recognise the massive contributions from individuals and others, including water companies, who contribute to WaterAid, and from projects such as EcoLink, applied by Nestlé in South Africa, as that all benefits developing countries?
I thank my hon. Friend. I know of her interest in water as chair of the all-party parliamentary water group and I congratulate all those who make a contribution on the key issue of water in developing countries. My hon. Friend mentioned world water day. The Department for International Development will host events on that day, particularly on how water impacts on girls and women.
It is good that there has been progress on access to safe water and sanitation, but there has been much less progress in much of Africa, in both urban and rural areas. What are the Government doing to address that inequality?
The Government are taking a great many measures on water, sanitation and hygiene—WASH. We have so far enabled 1.9 million to gain access to clean drinking water and 2 million to gain access to improved sanitation, and 6.6 million have been reached through DFID support for hygiene promotion. We know more has to be done, particularly in urban areas as those areas increase.
I welcome the Minister’s positive comments on WaterAid and her commitments in respect of world water day, but does she recognise that, currently, UN statistics on the millennium development goals measure only who has improved water, not how many people actually have safe and sufficient water? Will she ensure that a more robust standard is used and is at the centre of DFID’s work?
I will certainly take up the hon. Gentleman’s point on how we measure such things, but the Government have doubled their commitment to reaching 60 million people with WASH funding. We are looking to scale up WASH, because we simply are not reaching enough people at the moment and the millennium goal is off track.
We estimate that the Palestinian Authority’s funding gap in 2013 is likely to be at least $500 million, which will continue to make it hard for it to pay salaries and deliver essential public services. The PA must of course show financial discipline itself, but for it to become stable it is essential that international donors support it in a consistent manner, and that Israel eases its restrictions and meets its legal obligations to transfer tax revenues.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but is he aware that British aid donations to the Palestinian Authority general budget are being used to pay salaries of up to £2,000 a month to convicted Palestinian terrorists, many of whom have been properly convicted? What assurances can the Government provide that no further UK aid donations will be spent in that way?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we have a system in place under which DFID’s support to the Palestinian Authority is used specifically to pay for the salaries of civil servants. The list of approved recipients is subject both to vetting processes and to independent audit.
Does the Minister agree that the best way to improve the financial stability of the Palestinian Authority would be to lift the blockade of Gaza and movement and access restrictions on the west bank? Does he also think that the EU should be trading with the Palestinians and not with the illegal Israeli settlements?
Is there not a more general question about international donor money being used to support Palestinian institutions that have taken violence against Israel? What steps are the Government taking to ensure that that money genuinely contributes to financial stability and is not used in a way that undermines the peace process?
We rigorously monitor any danger there might be that the Palestinian Authority in any way incites violence, but it is committed to doing exactly the opposite, and it is right that we support it, the potential Government of a Palestinian state. We wish to see further progress towards the peace process over the months ahead.
We all support the creation of a viable two-state solution in the middle east, but that will come about only if the Palestinians are able to run an effective country. What assessment have the Government made of the structures available in the Palestinian Authority to make that happen?
The structures are sorely stretched, which is why we continue to support the Palestinian Authority, and of course we also urge other donors, particularly the Arab states, to carry their fair share of commitment, because if the Palestinian Authority were to collapse there is a serious danger that all prospects of proper peace negotiations would collapse as well.
The UK Government do not have a bilateral aid programme in Mali, but we are the second-largest humanitarian donor, providing £13 million in 2013. We have had discussions with our EU and multilateral partners, including the UN, on the importance of co-ordinated resumption of aid.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are encouraging the resumption of aid by bilateral partners. In May, there will be a donor conference on Mali, which is an important step, not just as a pledging conference. There is a political crisis in Mali, and the solution is political, which is why we welcome the recent announcement by the Malian authorities to initiate a commission on dialogue and reconciliation.
I thank my hon. Friend for her encouraging answer, but may I ask her to go further and consider whether the UK Government could work with France and the EU to address the fragility across the region and deliver co-ordinated and sustained development assistance to the Sahel and the whole region?
I thank my right hon. Friend. This very issue was discussed at the recent Development Ministers meeting. Stability in the Sahel—the wider region—is of absolute importance. The UK has committed £78 million in humanitarian support to the Sahel through various United Nations agencies, and we continue to work right across the region to create stability and peace.
Last week saw the terrible landmark of 1 million Syrian refugees registered or awaiting registration in the region. A further 2 million people are displaced within Syria. Last week, I raised with the UN the issue of preventing violence against women and girls in this and indeed other humanitarian situations and ensuring that funding supports this.
I welcome the reply from the Secretary of State and the UK’s commitment, but World Vision tells me that counting those unregistered as well as registered there could be as many as 1 million refugees in Lebanon alone. Does she agree that if catastrophe is to be prevented for those people and their host countries we need to make sure that donor countries such as the Gulf states play their part and that assistance reaches unregistered as well as registered refugees?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. When I visited Jordan earlier this year, I saw for myself how many refugees were not in the camp. Indeed, the majority are in communities outside the camp, which is one reason why we have earmarked specific funding to support, both in Jordan and Lebanon, those refugees who are not in camps. Clearly, as the crisis continues, the pressures on neighbouring countries will grow. The Government are deeply concerned about that, which is why we have urged members of the international community to work together to take action.
Keeping in mind the fact that more than half the refugees in Syria are children, will the Secretary of State tell the House exactly what the Department is doing to support child health, protection and education in this humanitarian disaster?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that issue. About 75% of the refugees are women and children. As I said in my opening answer, we are formally pressing the UN to make sure that the most vulnerable refugees are taken into particular consideration in the construction of plans to support them. We have worked with UNICEF, for example, to provide not just medical assistance but care and counselling for many families, including children who have been through utterly traumatic events.
As my hon. Friend points out, the journeys that many people make en route to refugee camps are fatal in some cases or near fatal in others. It is extremely worrying that, for example, the Syrian Government continue to refuse humanitarian access from Turkey into Syria. We have to work through political and diplomatic routes, but I can assure him that the Government are playing a leading role in making sure that when refugees get out of that country we support them and that, through impartial, independent humanitarian organisations we are still getting support to people who remain in Syria too.
We have so far earmarked £140 million of aid overall. That is split partly as support for refugees outside Syria but, as the hon. Gentleman points out, a substantial portion is aimed at supporting people within Syria. It provides support in the form not just of food and shelter but of medical assistance.
Peacekeeping and Defence Operations
The Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence are working together within existing international rules on official development assistance spending to consider how we can better use Government resources in dealing with the humanitarian and development aspects of conflict and instability around the world.
The National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact have both been critical of the effectiveness of the conflict pool. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to reform and strengthen these mechanisms in the cross-departmental work?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the conflict pool is a relatively new mechanism to ensure that the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and my own Department work more closely together in fragile and conflict-ridden situations where we know that partnering up can make a difference. We look with interest at the reports from ICAI and the National Audit Office, and we are looking in the next spending review to see how we can strengthen the process and the effectiveness of the way in which the conflict pool works.
Will the Secretary of State welcome the comments by the Prime Minister that ODA funding can, in some dangerous environments, be used by the military to provide overseas humanitarian aid and development assistance and begin the process of stabilisation?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The Prime Minister is right to say that we should be open to new ideas about how my Department and the MOD can work more closely together. As my hon. Friend will be aware, the existing ODA guidelines clearly set out what spend can be counted as ODA and what cannot be, but things such as peacekeeping fall within the ODA definition and we should look at how we can work more closely with the Ministry of Defence.
13. Will that policy not simply take us back to the trade for aid days of the 1990s, when predatory western Governments behaved like payday loan companies and developing countries spent more on servicing debt than on helping people? (147439)
7. What processes are in place to ensure that non-governmental organisations in the Palestinian Authority that are funded by the UK, the EU and the UN do not promote incitement of hate. (147433)
We deplore incitement on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including any comments that could stir up hatred and prejudice. UK, EU and UN-funded NGOs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are subject to rigorous due diligence assessments designed to ensure that funds are used only for legitimate development purposes.
I welcome the Minister’s answer, but in East Jerusalem last year a UN-funded Palestinian NGO performed a puppet show promoting non-smoking. This well-intentioned educational message was corrupted somewhat when the children were urged to replace cigarettes with machine guns. Will the Minister assure me that no British financial aid donations, direct or indirect, are being used to fund such propaganda?
I am aware of that puppet show, put on in a funded community centre, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it. It was an utterly stupid and irresponsible way of corrupting an otherwise sensible no-smoking message. It was performed not by an NGO, but by a visiting organisation. No UK or UN funds had anything whatever to do with sanctioning this performance, and the community centre itself was angered by the content and made its own disapproval very clear.
I agree with the Minister that it is very important that we oppose all those who promote hate in the middle east. May I invite him to say that we must also stand with those human rights organisations in Israel and in Palestine that stand out against hate crimes such as the so-called price tag attacks?
Since the last oral questions, I have updated the House on the Syrian humanitarian conference in Kuwait and on the Department’s work to support girls and women. This week I made a speech to the London stock exchange and answered in the House on how my Department will up its game on driving economic development in new and emerging markets. I attended the informal meeting of Development Ministers in Dublin in February and the high-level panel meeting on the millennium development goals after 2015 in Monrovia at the end of January, and I look forward to attending the next high-level panel and global partnership steering committee meetings in Indonesia at the end of this month.
It will feature technical assistance to help the Indian Government get the most out of their own £50 billion investment in health and education. It will involve returnable capital projects, which will help to drive economic growth in India. I will also work across Government to ensure that our trade relationship develops.
T4. As the Secretary of State knows, I am hugely encouraged by the Government’s commitment to fighting female genital mutilation, a commitment that has been warmly welcomed by the Inter-African Committee and other grass-roots campaigners. I urge her to continue to be guided by their evidence on what works best in combating this deeply harmful practice. (147445)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is critical that efforts to end FGM are evidence-based, which is why we are investing in research to build the evidence base on what is the most effective approach to ending FGM. FGM is unacceptable wherever it happens in the world, including the UK, and we should never turn a blind eye.
On Monday I asked the Secretary of State whether private companies receiving DFID support will have to demonstrate transparency on their tax arrangements and good practice with regard to employment practices, including pay, throughout their supply chain. She did not give me an answer. Will she now put that right?
The hon. Gentleman seems to have failed to listen to the speech I made and the answers I gave to his urgent question earlier this week. The bottom line is that we know that economic development is ultimately the way to end aid dependency. We want to see an end to aid dependency through jobs. He is writing off the contribution our companies are making, which I think is wrong. Ultimately, he sees only the risks of business, which of course we want to work to mitigate, but we also have to see the opportunities.
No answer, yet again. Turning to another private sector issue, the Secretary of State has refused to publish the findings of the report she commissioned into the use of private consultants. Can she explain why in October last year, three months after the £90 million Growth and Employment in States project in Nigeria was assessed as having produced virtually no results at all, Ministers authorised the payments of an additional £7 million for GEMS 3 to the consultant responsible? How many other consultants have received further funding despite extremely poor performance?
I will take no lectures from the hon. Gentleman on how we use consultants. He never signed off a single consultancy contract when he was a Minister in the Department. The reality is that I have brought forward clear expectations and guidelines on how we work with suppliers. Ultimately, I sign off on the contracts. I will take no lectures from someone who spent £7,000 in his constituency using consultants to help organise public meetings. [Interruption.]
I took it as personal support, Mr Speaker, and was very grateful for it.
Will the Department ensure that it considers the position of the Berber people in Mali and the surrounding countries, because those who feel that their culture and language are secure are far more likely to want to be part of a lasting peace and development for the region?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that reconciliation will ultimately come from all the parties around the table having a clear understanding of one another. Mali is an incredibly large country, which is one of the reasons we need to work hard on the process. Ultimately, we need to seek a political resolution; a military one is only a short-term option.
We have had many, many discussions. The hon. Lady will be delighted to hear, I hope, that tax avoidance and tax evasion will be one of the agenda items that this country will put on the table when we host the G8 this year as part of our presidency. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will lead on that effort.
T7. Representatives of the IF campaign whom I met at Lancaster university last week expressed their gratitude for this Government’s continued commitment towards a 0.7% spend, but they also wondered about our progress with the international voluntary guidelines on the good governance of land, fisheries and forestry. (147448)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The UK welcomes the successful global negotiation of the voluntary guidelines on land tenure and is now pushing for their national implementation, including through the G8, so that we can help share best practice and improve land governance.
T3. According to figures from Amnesty International a staggering 87% of women in Afghanistan will experience violence in their lives. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to prioritise and adequately focus efforts to combat violence against women and girls in Afghanistan? (147444)
The hon. Lady will know that this is an issue about which I am particularly concerned. It is vital that we do not lose the gains that have been made in women’s rights in Afghanistan as we see troop draw-down. That is one of the reasons why I have made the issue of women and girls and, in particular, violence a country-strategic priority for our work in Afghanistan.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Q1. If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 13 March. (147452)
What this Government are delivering are 1 million private sector jobs and the fastest rate of new business creation in this country’s history. We have paid down the deficit by 25% and have cut immigration by a third. We have a long, hard road to travel, but we are going in the right direction.
I am sure that the Prime Minister will wish to add his condolences to the family and friends of Christina Edkins, who was murdered on a bus to school in my constituency last Thursday morning.
The Government have rightly introduced minimum custodial sentences for people convicted of threatening someone with a knife, but does the Prime Minister agree that it is time to introduce a legal assumption that people carrying a knife intend to use it and should attract a prison sentence, so that we can redouble our efforts to rid our communities of the scourge of knives?
I think that my hon. Friend speaks for the whole House and, indeed, the whole country on the absolute revulsion at this horrific crime. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our sincere condolences to Christina Edkins’s family.
We take knife crime extremely seriously, which is why, as my hon. Friend has said, we changed the law so that any adult who commits a crime with a knife can expect to be sent to prison, and for a serious offence they should expect a very log sentence. I will happily look at what my hon. Friend suggests. My right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary is currently reviewing the powers available to the courts to deal with knife possession and will bring forward proposals in due course.
The right hon. Gentleman obviously could not tell us about his policy on minimum unit pricing for alcohol. The reality is that he has been overruled by the Home Secretary on that one.
Let us turn to another thing that the Prime Minister has said that we cannot trust. In his speech last Thursday, he said that the independent Office for Budget Responsibility is
“absolutely clear that the deficit reduction plan is not responsible”
for low growth. That is not what the OBR says. Will he acknowledge that today?
Just returning to the right hon. Gentleman’s earlier question, the interesting thing—[Interruption.] I will answer his question. The interesting thing about British politics right now is that I have the top team that I want and he has the top team that I want too. Long may they continue.
The point of the Office for Budget Responsibility is that it is independent. Everyone should accept everything that it says, and I do. We should look at what it says about why growth has turned out to be lower than it forecast. It said that
“we concluded from an examination of the…data that the impact of external inflation shocks, deteriorating export markets, and financial sector and eurozone difficulties were more likely explanations.”
To be fair to the shadow Chancellor, his own press release says:
“The OBR says they are yet to be persuaded”
by the case that he makes. Given that his plans are more spending, more borrowing and more debt, the country will never be persuaded.
The Prime Minister is clearly living in a fantasy land. He wants us to believe that the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility wrote him an open letter the day after his speech because he enjoyed it so much and agreed with it so much. Actually, what he said in the letter was:
“we believe that fiscal consolidation measures have reduced economic growth over the past couple of years”.
Yesterday, we learned that industrial production is at its lowest level for 20 years. That sets alarm bells ringing for everyone else in this country; why does it not for the Prime Minister?
The first point is that manufacturing declined as a share of our GDP faster under the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member than at any time since the industrial revolution. That is what happened: the decimation of manufacturing industry under 10 years of a Labour Government. He quotes from the Office for Budget Responsibility and I accept everything that it says, but let me quote from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. It says that borrowing under Labour would be £200 billion higher. Does he accept that forecast?
It is good to see, for a second week running, that the right hon. Gentleman is getting into practice for Opposition. He had nothing to say about industrial production, but his own Business Secretary—the guy who is supposed to be in charge of these issues—is going around telling anyone who will listen that the plan is not working. He says that
“we are now in a position where the economy is not growing in the way it had been expected.”
He goes on:
“We don’t want to be Japan with a decade of no growth.”
When the Prime Minister’s own Business Secretary calls for him to change course, is he speaking for the Government?
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what is happening in industrial production. We are now producing more motor cars in this country than at any time in our history. Exports of goods to all the key markets, such as India, China, Russia and Brazil, are increasing very rapidly. None of those things happened under a Labour Government when they trashed our economy, racked up debts and nearly bankrupted the country.
On capital spending, I think that we should spend more money on capital. That is why we are spending £10 billion more than was in the plans of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. We should be using the strength of the Government balance sheet to encourage private sector capital. That is why, for the first time in its history, the Treasury is providing those guarantees. The fact is that he wrecked the economy and put in place plans for capital cuts, and we are investing in the country’s infrastructure.
Never mind more car production, it is “Taxi for Cameron” after that answer.
Things are so bad that the Government sent out Baroness Warsi at the weekend to say that she had “full confidence” in the Prime Minister and that he had support from
“large parts of his party.”
Maybe he even has the support of large parts of his Cabinet, I am not sure. Just a week from the Budget, the Home Secretary goes out making speeches about the economy—I think the part-time Chancellor should concentrate on the Budget—then she gets told off by the Children’s Secretary, who is hiding down there by the Chair, for jockeying for position. Is not the truth that it is not just the country that has lost confidence in the Chancellor and his economic plan but the whole Cabinet?
What is remarkable, yet again, is this—where is the argument on welfare? He has got no argument on welfare. Where is the argument on the deficit? He has got nothing to say about the deficit. Where are his plans for getting the economy moving? He has got nothing to say. That is what is happening under his leadership—absolutely nothing apart from debt, debt and more debt.
The Prime Minister is absolutely hopeless, and today’s exchanges have shown it. A week out from the Budget, they have an economic policy that is failing, a Prime Minister who makes it up as he goes along and a Government who are falling apart, and all the time it is the country that is paying the price.
Six questions, and not a single positive suggestion for how to get on top of the deficit that the right hon. Gentleman left, not a single suggestion for how to deal with the massive welfare bills that we were left, and not a single suggestion for how to improve standards in our schools. But I do know what he has been doing over these last months, because I have been passed—[Interruption.]
And it is a particularly interesting one, because I have here a copy of the right hon. Gentleman’s diary and I know what he has been up to. These are the dinners that he has held to raise money from the trade unions in the last few weeks: the GMB, USDAW, ASLEF, the TSSA, UCATT—£2.7 million, dinosaur after dinosaur, dinner after dinner. They pay the money, they get the policies, but the country would end up paying the price.
Q2. It is national apprenticeship week. More than 1,500 businesses in Kirklees are now offering apprenticeships, and we are becoming an official apprenticeship hub. Will the Prime Minister join me in praising all the businesses in my area that are taking on apprentices, Kirklees college under the leadership of Peter McCann, which is offering vocational training, and all the great young people who are going to see a positive future for our great nation? (147453)
I will certainly join my hon. Friend in what he says about national apprenticeship week. It is an important moment for our country, because over the past two and a half years we have seen 1 million people start apprenticeships, and the run rate is at more than half a million a year. That is very important for our country, and what I want to see is a new norm where we recognise that people who leave school should either be going to university or taking part in an apprenticeship. That is the agenda and the ambition that we should set for young people and our country.
Q3. Is it not the case that a couple who have separated could still live in the same home without bedroom tax rules applying? Given that glaring loophole discouraging marriage, should not the Prime Minister’s next U-turn be axing this cruel and shambolic tax altogether? (147454)
First of all, let me say once again that only the Labour party could call welfare reform a tax. A tax is when you earn money and the Government take away some of your money. This is a basic issue of fairness. There is not a spare room subsidy for people in private rented accommodation in receipt of housing benefit, so we should ask why there is a spare room subsidy for people living in council houses and getting housing benefit. It is a basic issue of fairness and this Government are putting it right.
Q4. Glossop Cartons in my constituency has just invested significantly in placing the world’s first order for the Euclid digital cutting and creasing machine. Tomorrow, Nestlé opens its brand new, state-of-the-art bottling plant for the famous Buxton water, also in my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that those significant investments show that this Government are making Britain well equipped to win the global race? (147455)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We do see investment by large multinational companies, such as Nestlé, which now recognise that we have one of the most competitive tax systems anywhere in the world. KPMG recently reported that in just two years we have gone from having one of the least competitive corporate tax systems in the world, to having one of the most competitive. What has changed is the arrival of this Chancellor and this Government who have put right the mess made by the Labour party.
Millennium Development Goals
Q5. What progress has been made by the high-level panel on the development of priorities for the millennium development goals after 2015. (147456)
I am proud to be leading the United Nations high-level panel on what should replace the millennium development goals when they expire in 2015. In my view, we should put the strongest possible emphasis on attempting to banish extreme poverty from the world, and that focus on extreme poverty should come first and foremost. I also hope that, in replacing and enhancing the millennium development goals, we can for the first time look at what I call the golden thread of things that help people and countries out of poverty, which includes good government, lack of corruption, the presence of law and order, justice and the rule of law. Those things can make a real difference.
In view of proceedings so far I did not expect to hear myself saying this, but I commend the Prime Minister on the work he is doing on that panel and in seeking to hold to the international development budget. At a moment when we are asking people to give generously through Comic Relief this weekend, will he identify one group of people who were not included in the millennium development goals and who are often excluded from society and education—those severely disabled young people who face grinding poverty, ill health and the disadvantage of those disabilities? Will the Prime Minister give priority to them in developments over the next two years?
The right hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about helping disabled people across the world, and we should make sure that the framework we look at properly includes those people. On the wider issue of our aid budget, I know it is contentious and I know it is difficult, but I believe we should not break a promise that we made to the poorest people in our world. To those who have their doubts I say that of course there is a strong moral case for our aid budget, but there is also a national security case. It is remarkable that the broken countries—countries affected by conflict—have not met one single millennium development goal among them. By helping to mend those countries, often through security work as well as aid work, we can help the poorest in our world.
Q6. In 1997 there were no excess deaths in the mortality data at Mid Staffordshire hospital, but as early as 2002 there were 120 excess deaths. That figure rose year on year, yet Labour Health Secretary after Labour Health Secretary did nothing apart from award the trust foundation status in 2009. In total, 1,197 excess deaths occurred, some of which were patients who died in their own faeces. Does the Prime Minister believe that the Mid Staffordshire scandal underlines the fact that Labour’s supposed claim to be the party of the NHS is the greatest lie in British politics— (147457)
My responsibility is to respond properly to the Francis report, and I commend Francis for what he did. It is important to remember that it is this Government who set up a proper, independent inquiry into the disgraces that happened at Mid Staffs. Everyone has to learn their lessons from what went wrong, including Ministers in the previous Government, but I think we should listen to Francis when he says that we should not seek scapegoats. What we need to do, right across politics, the House and our country, is end any culture of complacency. I love our NHS; there are some fantastic parts to our NHS, but in too many parts we do see—as my hon. Friend said—very bad figures and we need to deal with them.
Q7. In a few weeks we will be 15 years on since the signing of the Good Friday agreement, and although devolution is in place, significant challenges remain in delivering on the agreement’s full potential and the commitments contained within it to build reconciliation, unequivocal support for the rule of law, and to deal comprehensively with the past and its legacy. Does the Prime Minister agree that there must be renewed urgency in progressing those outstanding issues, and will he outline, in the light of this week’s positive engagement with the Irish Taoiseach, the rule he sees for both Governments as joint custodians of the agreement in moving that forward? (147458)
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and for her very constructive work in Northern Ireland. I know that the whole House wants to wish her well with the difficulties that she and her office have faced in recent weeks.
I think there is of course a responsibility for the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister to work together, and we had a very good set of meetings this week; but the greatest possible responsibility lies with the devolved institutions. It is great that they are working and that the agreement has bedded down, but I would appeal to the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister and all those involved in the Assembly to put away the conflicts of the past, work on a shared future for the people of Northern Ireland, start to take down the segregation, the peace walls and the things that take people apart in Northern Ireland, find the savings from those things and invest in a better future for everyone in Northern Ireland.
I have no immediate—sorry. I look forward to visiting Mid Derbyshire soon. I very much enjoyed my recent visit to Derbyshire, when I went to the Toyota factory, in which many of my hon. Friend’s constituents work, and I am sure I will be back there soon.
I know that my right hon. Friend is quite rightly taking a proactive role in leading trade missions to India and other countries. Does he agree that small manufacturing companies such as those based in Mid Derbyshire should also be given the chance to play their part in driving Britain’s exports to emerging markets such as India, China and the rest?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have improved our performance in terms of exports and goods, as I said earlier, to these key emerging markets, but the real challenge is to get SMEs exporting. If we could increase the figure from what I think is one in five to one in four, we would wipe out our trade deficit and create many jobs and a lot of investment at the same time. I have led trade missions to every single G20 country, apart from Argentina, and I look forward to doing more in the future. I will certainly include SMEs, and perhaps some from my hon. Friend’s constituency.
Q9. If the Prime Minister’s Government succeed in closing four A and E departments in west London, those departments will be replaced by privately owned clinics and out-of-hours services. Some of those leading the closure programme have already profited by up to £2.6 million each from their ownership of those primary care services. Does he think that personal financial gain should debar GPs and others from taking part in decisions on hospital closures? (147460)
I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in any part of his question. The first point I would make is that the NHS in north-west London is going to be getting £3.6 billion this year. That is £100 million more than the year before. Under this Government, we are increasing the investment. As for the changes he talks about, if they are referred to the Health Secretary, he will of course consider whether they are in the best interests of patients, and that is the right process to follow.
The Prime Minister will, I am sure, be aware of the strong contribution made to the British economy by the inbound tourism industry. Does he therefore share my concern, as expressed by the Tourism Alliance, that changes to visas are likely to suppress the number of visitors coming, particularly from Brazil? What can we do to ensure that the Border Agency does not become a growth suppressant to the UK?
I am happy to say to my hon. Friend that the National Security Council met recently to consider some of these border issues and has decided not to put visas on to Brazilian nationals. We want to work with the Brazilians and ensure that we enhance border security; but, in defence of the Home Office and the UKBA, there have been great improvements in the time spent processing visas and we are looking at a number of steps to ensure that we attract tourists from the fastest-growing markets, including China and elsewhere.
Q10. Does the Prime Minister accept that families face a triple whammy in meeting the costs of child care? Places are plummeting, costs are going up and the average family has lost more than £1,500 a year in support. Therefore, does he also accept that any measure he may announce next week to help with the costs of child care will be small remedy for a crisis of his own making? (147461)
I do not accept what the hon. Lady says, because it is this Government who extended the number of hours to three and four-year-olds and introduced, for the first time, child care payments for vulnerable two-year-olds. We have also lifted 2 million people out of tax altogether. Someone on a minimum wage working full time has seen their income tax bill cut in half. I know that the hon. Lady wants to try to put people off a very major step forward—when we will be helping people who work hard, who want to do the right thing and who want child care for their children—but that is what we will be announcing, and I think it will be welcome.
Q11. Britain is in a global race not just with our traditional competitor economies but with countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. Ahead of the Budget next week, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what assessment he has made of where we would be likely to finish in that race if we abandoned our deficit reduction programme and relied on some magical faraway tree of money, as the Opposition recommend? (147462)
My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. One of the most important reasons for continuing to get our deficit down is that it is absolutely essential to have the low interest rates that are essential for home owners and for businesses. If we listened to the Labour party and abandoned those plans, we would have more spending, more borrowing and more debt—exactly the things that got us into this mess in the first place.
The price of petrol and diesel at the pumps is set to rise to near record levels in the near future, and the resulting rise in the cost of living is causing real problems for our constituents. We know what the Government have already done, but will the Prime Minister reassure the House today that further action will be taken to cut the toxic fuel duty tax and bring petrol and diesel prices down, to help hard-pressed motorists, families and industry?
Of course I will listen carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman says, but petrol and diesel prices are 10p a litre lower than they would have been had we stuck to the absolutely toxic plans that were put in place by the Labour party. We have taken action, and we are doing everything we can with the cost of living. That is why we are legislating to get people on to the lowest gas or electricity tariff, why we have taken 2 million out of tax and why we have frozen the council tax; and I hope that we can do more to help people.
Q12. The Prime Minister is right: this Government do have a good record on fuel duty. We are paying 10p a litre less on the mainland and 15p a litre less on islands than under Labour, but the rising price of fuel in a widespread area such as Argyll and Bute is causing real problems, and I hope that there will be good news in the Budget. For a start, will the Chancellor be able to announce that the September fuel duty increase inherited from Labour will be cancelled? (147463)
I am grateful for what my hon. Friend says about what the Government have already done on fuel duty. He omitted to say that we had also taken the step to help far-flung and island communities such as the one he represents with special conditions, to try to help with this major aspect. In many cases, people who live in his constituency do not have a choice but to use a car, and we have to respect that.
Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I will pay all of the taxes that I am meant to. [Interruption.] Let me just point out one small point. I had a letter this week which I thought people might enjoy. It is from Ed who lives in Camden. It says this: “I am a millionaire. I live in a house worth £2 million which I got through a combination of inheritance and property speculation. I am worried that if I sell my house and buy another one, I will have to pay the 7% stamp duty that the wicked Tories have introduced. Under Labour, we talked about fairness but we never made the rich pay more. What should a champagne socialist like me do?”
Q14. I know that the Prime Minister recently visited the ACE Centre in Oxford, and I am sure that he shares my view that it does a fantastic job helping young and disabled people to communicate more effectively using technical aids. What guarantees can he give that augmentative and assistive communication aids will be made available to more young people than is currently the case, so that everyone who could benefit from them is able to do so? (147465)
I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The ACE centre, which was previously in Oxford and is now located in my constituency, has done incredible work for people with disabilities over many years. It is making the most of the extraordinary changes in technology. When I visited it recently, we looked at a whole raft of ways in which we could make sure that the NHS is making these things available to more people, and I am very committed to working with my hon. Friend and the ACE centre to make sure that that happens.
Q15. Prime Minister, you gave a promise to protect the defence budget in its entirety, but you did not. The Defence Secretary, who has left the Chamber, promised to balance the budget, but the National Audit Office said he failed. Prime Minister, will you now guarantee that there will be no— (147466)
The commitment I can give is that the £38 billion black hole that we inherited has been got rid of. Freezing the budget across this Parliament at £33 billion gives us the fourth largest defence budget in the world, and we are determined to use that money to ensure that we equip our forces with what they need for the future. That is in massive contrast to the record of the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported.
Given the appalling nursing care standards revealed at Stafford and the Government’s welcome boost to apprenticeships across the professions, does the Prime Minister agree that now is the time to re-examine whether the nursing profession should remain all-degree or whether we should get back to training at patients’ bedsides?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not think we want a de-professionalisation of nursing—huge improvements have been made in the professional skills and training of nurses—but we have to get back to ensuring that patient care is at the heart of nursing. No one can be a good nurse without those things, so we need to return to such values.
Prime Minister. I do not expect you to know the full details—
Mr Speaker, I do not expect the Prime Minister to know the full details, or indeed to be directly responsible, but against the background of “We’re all in this together”, does he think it fair that the lowest-paid workers in this place have been offered a 1% increase, while senior managers have been offered 5%?
That is a matter for the House authorities, not for me. The point I would make, however, is that we have frozen public sector pay at 1%, which we think is fair. The extraordinary thing about Labour’s position is that it supports that 1% increase for public sector workers, but thinks that people on welfare should be getting more than 1%. That seems to be an extraordinary set of priorities.
Whenever alcohol is too cheap, more people die. I know the Prime Minister wants to reduce avoidable early mortality and cut violent crime. Will he meet me so that I can explain to him the evidence base behind minimum pricing and how abandoning this policy would critically undermine the future efforts of those who want to do something about this?
I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend. We have had many discussions about this issue over the past two and a half years. There is a problem with deeply discounted alcohol in supermarkets and other stores, and I am determined to deal with it. We have published proposals, and are considering the results of the consultation on them, but we must be in no doubt that we must deal with the problem of 20p or 25p cans of lager being available in supermarkets. It has got to change.
I am sure the Prime Minister is aware of the Visteon pension action group, whose members we are meeting outside at 12.30 today. We would like to invite him to join a cross-party group of MPs who will be meeting them on this important date—the fourth anniversary of their campaign.
I shall consider the hon. Lady’s remarks carefully. I have a meeting almost straight after Prime Minister’s questions with the leader of her party to discuss the Leveson proposals, and it might not be possible to rearrange my diary, but may I say how important it is that we support pensioners and achieve proper dignity for people in old age?
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you inform the House about whether you have been notified of any problems with the Government’s online petition system? There have been a number of what No. 10 has described as “glitches” in the registration of signatures relating to the Shrewsbury 24 e-petition. Will you advise us about how people using their democratic right to secure a debate in this House can register their support for the campaign spearheaded by Ricky Tomlinson who, along with five of his colleagues, was jailed and who has long campaigned for the clearance of all the names of the 24?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempted point of order. The short answer is that I have been informed of problems only by the hon. Gentleman through his point of order. The matter is a responsibility not for the Chair, but for Ministers. If there are glitches, it is for Ministers to answer the hon. Gentleman. I trust that he will pursue the matter through them.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Some months ago, a number of Members joined the Shrewsbury pickets to submit their application for an investigation into their case by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. That review commission’s work can be completed only with full access to Government documents. Within weeks, the Government took a decision to extend the 30-year rule on these documents, thus taking it beyond the lifetime of most of the pickets. I am writing to the Prime Minister to get him to intervene to secure justice by releasing those papers. If we do not receive a positive response from the Prime Minister—this is an urgent matter because of the old age of many of the pickets—would you consider a request for an urgent question in the coming weeks?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is an ingenious as well as an extremely assiduous Member. I note what he says, but I hope he will understand and not take it in any sense as a put down if I say that I am not going to entertain a hypothetical question. As the late Lord Whitelaw was wont to say, I am inclined to say that on the whole it is advisable to cross bridges only when we come to them. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman will use the resources of the Order Paper and other mechanisms of debate to pursue his concerns.
Bishops (Consecration of Women)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable women to be consecrated as bishops in the Church of England; and for connected purposes.
This is a straightforward one-clause Bill, allowing women to become bishops in the Church of England. I am introducing it today because of what happened in General Synod last November. During the lead-up to that vote, 42 out of the 44 diocesan synods voted for women bishops, and at the November meeting of General Synod, the House of Bishops and the House of Clergy voted in favour and it was only because the House of Laity did not reach the two-thirds threshold that it narrowly failed to pass.
In 1992, the Church voted to ordain women into the priesthood. This happened 150 years after the start of the deaconess movement and after many decades of debate on women’s ordination in the Church. It was expected that, in time, we would see women becoming bishops. In fact, in 2006 the Synod started to look at admitting women to the episcopate. The theological argument had been won.
In 1992, however, provision was also made for those who could not accept the ordination of women—and the so-called “flying bishops” were created. In an excellent booklet “Like the Wideness of the Sea: Women Bishops and the Church of England”, the author Maggi Dawn described examples of the treatment she received from some within the Church who were unwilling or unable to accept her as a woman priest. On her first day at college, for example, she received a leaflet, saying “A woman’s place is not at the altar but in the kitchen; put on an apron and get back to where you belong.” She also hoped in the booklet that when the final piece of the jigsaw was completed with women becoming bishops, this would finally confirm the Church’s full acceptance of women’s ministry once and for all.
Twenty years on from those first women being ordained, we have some highly experienced women who should be considered for appointment as bishops. We now need to break that stained-glass ceiling. It is the next logical step, and it is needed to give credibility to the Church on the role of women’s ministry and to ensure that we have the very best individuals leading our church.
Last week, on 8 March, international women’s day, I had a meeting with women clergy in Hull, East Yorkshire, which had been arranged by the Bishop of Hull. What an amazing group of ordained women that was—intelligent, compassionate, witty, warm and very, very wise. They are a huge asset to the Church. They told me of their roles: working with young people on tough inner-city estates, working in small rural communities, visiting the terminally ill in their own homes, and providing support for young families in their parishes.
Many of those women talked of their feelings about the Synod’s decision, which they believed undermined their work in the Church, in their communities and in their role as priests. Tellingly, they mentioned the number of members of the general public who had spoken to them after the decision, saying how shocked and sorry they were, and, most important, saying that people thought the Church was out of step with the modern world, and looked ridiculous and eccentric.
We know that many of the people whom a Church of England priest will meet each day are not regular churchgoers, but ordinary members of the public who look to the Church to be there at important times in their lives—to baptise babies, to marry people, and to comfort the bereaved. Ordinary people want to see the Church of England in action through the women and men who serve their local communities. They certainly do not understand why it has taken such a backward decision, given that women constitute a third of the clergy and half the membership of the Church. Those women have kept the Church going in communities all over the country, and their voluntary work was the “big society” decades before the term was invented.
The Church has caused an enormous amount of hurt to women who have a calling to be ordained and serve the Church, but who have found that, as a result of the decision of the General Synod, their calling has been sidelined. We are asked to believe, explicitly or implicitly, that women are not quite as good as men. That would be news to Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Marie Curie and hundreds of other women who have changed history for the better.
Some people, even those who claim to support the idea of women bishops, say that this is a matter solely for the Church, and that it must be left to sort itself out. The Church, however, is our national established Church, headed by our Head of State, Queen Elizabeth, the Defender of the Faith and the Supreme Governor: a woman of some note. We have 26 bishops sitting in the other place in recognition of the Church of England’s important role in lawmaking in this country. We have prayers every day in this place, led by a Church of England chaplain, and we are fortunate to have an excellent woman in that role.
We have an Ecclesiastical Committee in Parliament, whose job is to examine draft Measures presented to it by the Legislative Committee of the General Synod. It reports to Parliament on whether it considers the Measures to be expedient and to be supported, and it will generally ask members of the Synod to assist it in its deliberations. In some circumstances, a conference of the Ecclesiastical Committee and the Legislative Committee may be convened. So Parliament has a big role to play in the Church of England, and the Church has a big role in Parliament. I certainly do not seek to enable Parliament to intervene in Church affairs lightly, but matters of discrimination are very serious, and we must speak up.
As Parliamentarians, we should be particularly concerned about the fact that, with any reform of the House of Lords now several years away and given the vote of the General Synod last November, we are entrenching sex discrimination in our Parliament by reserving 26 places in the House of Lords for men only. The Lords is the only part of Parliament where women are not allowed to take their place. I think that that is wholly wrong, and that we must make it clear that such discrimination is no longer acceptable in our Parliament. Many in the Christian faith see waiting as a good thing—and, my goodness, we waited an enormous amount of time to get women priests—but waiting is not good if it just leads to repeated deferrals, and it is not good in terms of the lost years before a final decision is made.
Agreeing to allow women bishops in the Church of England is very much about valuing women priests. It is also about respecting the equality laws and norms that we have established in this country. I am shocked to learn that men and women properly ordained by women bishops in other provinces of the Anglican communion are not recognised here. That has to be wrong as well. It is often said that women should not ask or demand, but should just “play nicely”. However, I think it absolutely right for us to become angry about injustice, and about the incoherent muddle that we have now. The Church’s document “Women in the episcopate: a new way forward” lacks a sense of urgency for change. The two sides in the current “conversations” are further apart than ever. It appears that opponents of women bishops will never compromise. The rest of society has moved on, and the Church now just looks very odd as a result of having taken this decision. A great deal of attention is often paid to those opposed to women bishops, but we know that many men and women have already left the Church because of the treatment of women. Our established Church risks going down the path to becoming a sect—a movement becoming a monument.
It has become clear that the Church needs to act much more quickly to sort out the problem, and I believe Parliament must be very clear about its view in order to assist the Church. In the words of Elvis Presley, we now need
“A little less conversation, a little more action”.
Those of us in this House who wish to see this change cannot pass by on the other side. We need to value the work that thousands of women do in the Church, and recognise their potential in terms of the work they wish to do.
I rise with some trepidation to speak on this subject, first because I am not sure it is any of my business as I am not a member of the Church of England, but I do think it is only fair that somebody—without necessarily forcing a vote or being controversial—just mentions one or two points that are important for this House. Personally, I am completely agnostic on this issue, and I think I should be, because it is not for me to—
Order. I understand what the hon. Gentleman says about not necessarily forcing a Division, but in order to comply with the procedures that apply to ten-minute rule motions, if he wishes to speak it is necessary for him to make it clear that he is opposing the Bill.
I oppose the Bill for the following reasons. I am completely agnostic on this issue. The Church of England is not my Church and I think it is for the Church of England to decide on it. That is important. In previous centuries when there were matters of controversy within the Church of England, this House of Commons was very closely involved. Indeed, in the 1920s there were great debates about the nature of the Prayer Book. The Church of England wanted to move forward in a liberal direction and to allow alternative versions of the Bible to be read in their churches. There were debates in this House, and the House was more reactionary on the issue and opposed the reform. After those fierce debates, it was decided to move forward and in effect to give the Church of England independence. That is why from the 1920s we created the current modern governance system in the Church of England whereby although it is in theory an established Church—something I strongly approve of, because it is important that we give an impression that we are still a Christian country— it should also be independent of Parliament in terms of doctrine and structure.
I believe that is the modern, progressive and right thing to do. I do not think it is right that Members of Parliament, who are politicians, should decide how the Church of England runs its own affairs, whether in terms of the shape of the Prayer Book, who can become priests, or whether it can have women priests or women bishops. It is not for us, as politicians, to make that choice.
There was a further advance. As you will know, Mr Speaker, until quite recently Prime Ministers had a very wide degree of latitude in the appointment of bishops. The last Labour Prime Minister withdrew from that process altogether, however, and there is now a very careful procedure in the Church of England, with senior people in the Church deciding who will be bishops and names then going to the Queen. Effectively, therefore, the Church of England appoints its own bishops. That is entirely right. The Prime Minister is in no shape involved.
For all those reasons, I think it would be extraordinarily dangerous, and a retrograde step, if Parliament were now to get involved, however strongly we feel about this issue, and even though everybody realises that there is enormous interest in it and many people believe it is absolutely right that women should become bishops. I ask the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) to accept, however, that many people also believe that the Church of England should be independent.
There is another reason that we must bear in mind, which the hon. Lady mentioned when she said, “Surely when matters of discrimination are involved, Parliament should get involved.” That is a dangerous state of affairs. Have we not been assured all through the debates about same-sex marriage that the Church of England was absolutely secure and nobody could take it to court for discrimination because all sorts of checks and balances were being put in place to protect it? Many people feel passionately about same-sex marriage. They believe it is entirely wrong that the Church of England should refuse to conduct weddings for same-sex couples, and they are perfectly entitled to that view. They believe that to be discrimination on the part of the Church of England, but Parliament has decided that in that matter the Church of England should be entirely independent. That is an entirely right point of view, so this Bill would embark on a dangerous course of action.
I understand from conversations I have had, particularly those with our Second Church Estates Commissioner, that progress is being made on this subject, even though strong beliefs are held in the House of Laity. Careful discussions are being held. The people who oppose this measure may not be right, but they are honourable people. They have sincere religious beliefs that should surely be discussed in their own Church and not in Parliament. They believe—I am not commenting on whether this is right or wrong—that the Church of England is the catholic church; although it is an established Church and an Anglican Church, it is a catholic church. It is based on the traditions of the Catholic Church that the apostles were all men. I am not going to get involved in all these arguments, but these people have strong beliefs about that. I understand that progress is being made and some compromise will be worked out whereby people who feel sincerely that their religious principles are threatened will have some sort of process to ensure that their bishops are of a traditional kind—men, not women—and so on. That is the discussion taking place at the moment. Let us be calm, cool and collected about this. Let us recognise that the Church of England will move at its own pace and let us not interfere, as politicians, in how the Church of England is run.
Question put (Standing Order No. 23) and agreed to.
That Diana Johnson, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Barbara Keeley, Roberta Blackman-Woods, Andrew Gwynne, Helen Goodman, Barry Gardiner, Mr David Winnick, Mr Frank Field, Chris Bryant, Mrs Sharon Hodgson and Lyn Brown present the Bill.
Diana Johnson accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 3 May 2013 and to be printed (Bill 148).
Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] (Programme No. 2)
I beg to move,
That the Order of 14 January 2013 (Crime and Courts Bill [Lords] (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 concluded in two days.
3. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken on each of those days as shown in the following Table and in the order so shown.
4. Each part of the proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in relation to it in the second column of the Table.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the National Crime Agency (except any relating also to extradition, including European arrest warrants); new Clauses and new Schedules relating to proceeds of crime, except any relating also to legal aid; amendments to Part 1, Schedule 22, Clauses33 and 34 and Schedules 17 and 18.
Three and a half hours after commencement of proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to drugs and driving or to public order offences; amendments to Clauses 41 and 42, Schedule 21, Clauses 16 to 19 and Schedules 9 to 14; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to bailiffs; amendments to Clause 23, Clause 31 and Schedule 15.
Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown; remaining new Clauses relating to extradition (including European arrest warrants); amendments to Clause 35, Schedule 19, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 24 to 30, Clause 32 and Schedule 16.
Three hours before the moment of interruption.
Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to protection of children or to vulnerable witnesses; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to border control or deportation; amendments to Clauses 36 to 40 and Schedule 20; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules (including any new Clauses and new Schedules standing otherwise than in the name of a Minister of the Crown and relating to press conduct (regardless of anything else they relate to)); amendments to Clauses 43 to 46; remaining proceedings on Consideration.
One hour before the moment of interruption.
5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) b brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on the second day.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to open today’s proceedings on the Bill. We start with the programme motion, which doubles the time available for the Report stage from one day to two. The House may recall that the earlier programme motion allowed for only one day of deliberations at this stage. That was agreed by this House unopposed, but today’s motion doubles the time available for Report and, as such, I hope it will be welcome to the whole House. Within the two days available we will need to ensure that the existing provisions in the Bill are properly scrutinised. The Government have also tabled a number of amendments seeking to introduce new provisions into the Bill, including in response to amendments tabled in the other place, so it is right that those, too, are properly considered by the House. To ensure that that happens, the motion includes a couple of knives on each of the two days for Report, which will ensure that there is a fair allocation of time between discussion of the various issues. It is evident from the volume of signatures attached to some amendments that there is significant interest in a number of the issues to be debated, so we should facilitate such debate as far as is practicable.
My hon. Friend is trying get a balance on the scrutiny issue. Is the simple way of doing that not by trying to guess where the knives come but by simply not having a programme motion and letting this House debate things, as it should do, until it has scrutinised everything? That is what we used to say in opposition, so why are we not saying it in government?
If we were to do that in this specific case, we would default to having the one day of debate that has been allowed for by this House; the Government are expanding the opportunities for the hon. Gentleman by introducing this programme motion to allow two days’ debate. On his more general point, I think it is fair to say that there is general agreement across the House that legislation that is not timetabled at all is not the collective will of the House, if I can put it that way.
I will give way in a moment. I do not want to get too far off the beaten track, but I think that under the previous Government and under this one there has been a presumption that scheduling business—with a few provisions made for financial legislation, for example—is a sensible way to conduct our deliberations in this House. This is not a debate about whether the procedures of the House have changed; it is about the programme motion for this Bill.
We are seeing new Government policy here. This was never in the coalition agreement and, until now, it has not been the view of the coalition. The coalition wants to have a business of the House Committee, so that the Government would be taken completely out of these programme motions. Is this another Liberal Democrat U-turn?
I just wish to make the point that there is no unanimity across the House that every piece of legislation should be programmed. I was a Member in the early ’90s, before the hon. Gentleman was elected to this House, and under the Conservative Government of that time programming was used rarely indeed and things seemed to work out all right.
I was not wishing to get off the beaten track, and I did not say that there was unanimity in the House. There may be Members who want to debate the motions and business before the House until 5 or 6 o’clock every morning, and they are perfectly entitled to take that view. All I am saying is that we have come to a reasonably settled collective agreement that some sort of timetabling of legislation gives clarity. The balance we are trying to obtain is between ensuring that clarity and providing sufficient scope for all the different points of view to be aired. That is why, as I say, we are making generous provision in this programme motion for this stage of the deliberations on this Bill. I am sure that the wider points that have been made have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and, indeed, by the shadow Leader of the House. They no doubt spend a lot of time deliberating these matters and can now spend more time considering the issues raised this afternoon.
I have an important and specific extra announcement to make, which relates to the Leader of the Opposition’s amendment. The Government will also introduce a supplementary programme motion if the cross-party talks have concluded—either with or without agreement—to allow debate of Leveson-related amendments on the second day of business on this Bill. On that basis, both coalition parties will support the programme motion, having had the assurances that I have just delivered at the Dispatch Box, and will support the supplementary motion. I hope that we will now get on and debate the many important issues addressed in this Bill and in the amendments already tabled by right hon. and hon. Members.
I beg to move amendment (a), from “Second day”, leave out from beginning to paragraph 5 and insert—
‘Any new Clauses and new Schedules
relating to press conduct; remaining new
Clauses and new Schedules standing in the name of a Minister of the Crown; remaining new Clauses relating to extradition (including European arrest warrants); amendments to Clause 35, Schedule 19, Clauses 20 to 22, Clauses 24 to 30, Clause 32 and Schedule 16.
Two and a half hours before the moment of interruption.
Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to protection of children or to vulnerable witnesses; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules relating to border control or deportation; amendments to Clauses 36 to 40 and Schedule 20; remaining new Clauses and new Schedules; amendments to Clauses 43 to 46; remaining proceedings on Consideration.
One hour before the moment of interruption.’.
I am grateful to the Minister for outlining the Government’s view on the programme motion. We agree that there are sufficient matters for debate to require two days and I welcomed the Leader of the House’s announcement last Thursday that we would have a second day of debate, which, subject to confirmation in business questions tomorrow, will possibly be next Monday.
The Bill covers a number of items that we need to discuss and even today, the Government have tabled amendments on a range of measures on terrorism, Northern Ireland and other matters that were considered in Committee. Those are substantive issues that demand significant debate on the Floor of the House. Amendments on a number of key issues have also been tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Back Benches and Members on the Government Benches, which would tend to lead us to conclude that we will need a second day.
The discussion has not been about the order of the subjects for debate today, and I can say with relative ease that I am satisfied that we will have a full chance to debate the measures the Government have proposed. The amendment to the programme motion is intended to consider the debate on the second day, and particularly the order in which we will debate the different subjects. The Minister has helpfully said that a “supplementary programme motion” will be tabled if the cross-party talks have concluded, “either with or without agreement”, to allow debate of Leveson-related amendments to the Bill. I accept and welcome that, because the Opposition are concerned that we should have the opportunity to debate Leveson in full and that it should not be squeezed out by the other equally important measures that the Government and the Opposition will seek to debate.
As those assurances have been given, I am minded to accept the Government’s programme motion on the basis that the supplementary programme motion will guarantee a debate and, importantly, a vote on the Leveson amendments or any new clause tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends or by the Government.
Order. I understand that new information has just been disclosed to the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), but may I ask for the purposes of clarification whether he is moving the amendment or whether he is just speaking about the motion? I think he had fully intended not just to move his amendment but to press it to a vote, since when the Minister of State has offered new information. If the right hon. Gentleman does not wish to speak in support of his amendment, so be it. He can speak about the motion, but he needs to make that clear.
I am supporting the amendment as well as speaking about the motion, Mr Speaker. I wish to get some assurances from the Minister before the conclusion of the debate. We will then reflect on the Minister’s response and decide whether to press the amendment to a vote.
If I may, Mr Speaker, I want to seek a few assurances from the Minister before I resume my seat.
I am particularly keen for the Minister to consider what assurances he can give the House that there will be a guaranteed debate on the Leveson amendments and new clauses and that there will be an opportunity for the House to vote on them.
I also seek clarification—perhaps the Leader of the House could assist on this point—about whether the second day of consideration will be confirmed for Monday 18 March—[Interruption.] I would be grateful if the Minister of State could listen to what I am saying, because these are important matters that affect whether we will support the motion. I have asked the Minister, as the Leader of the House is in the Chamber, whether he can confirm that the second day of our consideration will be next Monday, as announced last Thursday by the Leader of the House. We seek assurances that there will be an opportunity to debate and vote on Leveson or press regulation-related clauses tabled by the Government or by the Opposition. I want to hear from the Minister—the Leader of the House can help him—whether the debate will happen on 18 March.
The Minister said that he intends to table a supplementary programme motion and he has a duty to tell the House when he intends to do that. Between you and me, Mr Speaker—dare I say it—our amendment would deliver what the Government want on Monday. If it were pressed to a vote, it might do what the Government seek to do, but I am willing, as I am that sort of a guy, to give the Minister the chance to reflect. If he can assure me that the supplementary programme motion will be tabled within living experience, rather than at some future date of which we are as yet unsure, that would reassure me and my right hon. Friends that the Government’s intentions should be supported by the official Opposition.
That is indeed the situation. I hope I have made that clear, but if I have not, so be it.
I seek three things from the Minister: a guarantee that there will be a debate; a guarantee that there will be a vote; a guarantee that there will be a second day of debate; some indication of when that will be; whether it will be on a day other than that which was previously announced; and when the supplementary motion will be tabled. I reserve the right to withdraw my amendment, but I wanted to move it so that we could get some clarity from the Minister on the key issues about which the Opposition remain concerned and want assurances.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister of State for how he introduced the programme motion and for the substantive change it makes. It gives us two days for debate on the Bill, which is important and merits that length of discussion. I also thank him for the information he conveyed about the Government’s view on how they propose to respond to the wish of Members on the Opposition, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Benches that we should have adequate time to deal with press conduct matters on the second day.
The Opposition amendment effectively seeks to change the order of discussion on that day, so that press conduct comes at the beginning and is not lost due to any lack of time. I hope that the Minister will confirm that I understood the import of his speech, that the Government accept that desire and that, if there is a wish across the parties for the reversal of the order on the second day—if that is to be Monday, then on Monday—that can be accommodated. I thank the Minister and his colleagues in the Home Office, the Office of the Leader of the House and the Whips Offices of the two coalition parties for facilitating that change as well as the discussions that I know have taken place with the Labour Front-Bench team.
There is a great wish to ensure that Leveson’s recommendations are implemented in the next few days in one form or another and I am clear that we need to do that as a Parliament in agreement with the Government. There might need to be some legislative changes after the all-party talks today and we might need to make legislative provision in this Bill.
Let me make two last points. First, there is wisdom in programme motions if they mean that we do not sit through the night—we are meant to be a family-friendly House and that is not a good way of being family-friendly—but they should always be based on agreement. The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) mentioned the House business committee and I look forward to its coming into operation, as anticipated in the coalition agreement.
Finally, as the Leader of the House is in his seat, let me say that, whenever time is taken out of the allocated time for Government Bills by statements or urgent questions—of course, that does not apply today—I hope that we can have injury time. The one flaw of the present system seems to be that we agree a timetable and then lose half the time. That is nobody’s fault, but it means that we do not implement the will of the House. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider that helpfully and accommodate the time we planned to have so that we do not lose time to other business.
This has been a complete and utter shambles. It is outrageous that the programme motion was only tabled at the very last moment last night. Indeed, there was a Government Whip wandering around the corridors, saying that the Whips were about to call for the House to sit in private so that they could get an extra 20 minutes, because they still had not decided what the programme motion should be. That makes it very difficult for ordinary Members of the House to know whether they support the business for the following day, and whether they want to amend it
This is a Christmas tree Bill, and Christmas tree Bills have a terrible habit of gaining not only an awful lot of baubles and tinsel but a fairy on the top as well. There are 29 pages of Government amendments—29—covering very substantial issues, let alone all the other specific issues that ordinary Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House would like to debate. So it is good that we are getting an extra day, but it is therefore incumbent on the Government to make sure that there is an opportunity for key issues in relation to the Leveson inquiry—which have already been debated in the House of Lords—to be debated in the democratic Chamber, which is here.
I say to the Government that it felt very much yesterday—I am not entirely convinced that this has changed—as if the Government were doing everything in their power to rig the system so that there could be no debate at all on Leveson on Monday. That is basically what the programme motion before us does—it makes sure that that and, for that matter, other issues will not be debated on Monday.
I just think it is time we learned that there is a better way of doing politics. I fully accept that not everyone agrees with me about how we should implement Leveson; there is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had. But how on earth could we go back to our voters and say that, yes, we all wanted an inquiry to happen; we wanted millions of pounds of public money to be spent on an inquiry; we were gutted and we all poured out our soul when we heard the stories of Milly Dowler and all the rest, and the way they had been treated by the press; and we all stood up and made wonderful speeches about how there had to be change; and then we voted to make sure that we could not even debate it? That is essentially what the programme motion does.
The Minister is looking querulous, and I hope that does not mean that he is going to undermine what he said earlier, because I take very seriously what he said. As I understand it, he gave a complete guarantee that, for the second day of debate, there will be a new programme motion, whenever that second day is; and that that programme motion will expressly make provision for the House to be able to make up its mind on Leveson and associated matters to do with press conduct. To be honest, if we do not do that, we should be ashamed of ourselves as a House, because we will just have allowed the Executive—a small part of the Executive, I suggest—to prevent public debate, and I do not think our voters would thank us for it.
It is a great honour and privilege to follow the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has put the case exceptionally well. I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes): it is not a problem for the House to sit late in the night if we are doing a proper job of scrutiny; and the idea that it is impossible to stop the House sitting late if there is no programme motion is wrong, because it is possible to bring in a guillotine. There has been a programming motion for every single Bill in this Parliament. The Library has confirmed to me that the present Government have guillotined more debates than were guillotined during the previous Parliament. So the idea that it is impossible to stop debate is unfounded—in fact, I was stopped in mid-flow the other day by a Whip moving a closure motion.
We will, of course, solve this problem entirely if we have an open and transparent business of the House committee. But at the moment what happens, behind closed doors, is that two sets of Whips decide whether they are happy with the amount of debate. If Members on the Back Benches do not happen to agree with either lot of Whips, bad luck you—you just do not get a chance to discuss the matter. I urge the Minister, who is a great democrat—or was, before he became a Minister—to try something different with the Bill. Let us abandon the programme motion, and the other programme motion, and see the self-discipline of the House. When we are talking about things as important as Leveson—although I am probably going to disagree in principle with the views of the hon. Member for Rhondda—we must have this debate. This is the mother of Parliaments and the debate should take place here.
We can spend hours and hours—[Interruption.] We can talk for hours about unimportant things, but when there are really important things to be discussed, the Executive—and, for that matter, the shadow Executive on occasion—get together to restrict debate. This is a great opportunity. I doubt very much whether the minority parties in the House have been involved in these discussions at all. Certainly, no one has asked anyone on the Back Benches what they think about the time allocated to the Bill.
Indeed. Let us just try. If I am wrong, Members can tell me so, but let the Government withdraw the original programme motion, let us have an open timetable on this, and see how we get on. If I am proved right, let us do that in the future, and let us bring the business of the House committee into being. Let us not go for this Stalinist central control.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the exclusion of minority parties. Does he agree that, even if a business of the House committee were set up, there would still be problems if there was not proper representation of the smaller parties on that committee?
In relation to the matter before us, that would be very important, of course, but I envisaged that committee not to have any members from either the Executive or the shadow Executive, and to be made up of independently minded Back Benchers who would not necessarily toe the party line. So it will be Parliament deciding, and I am absolutely sure that there would be members from the minority parties. That is actually a coalition priority. They seem to have slipped on the timetable. We were supposed to have it by May this year, and it does not look quite as though that will happen.
To return to the detail of the programme motion, if the shadow Minister does not stick to his amendment, there is a danger that, if the Government do not do what they promise, the opportunity will be gone and lost, and we will not debate Leveson. I urge the shadow Minister to test the will of the House on this. But of course I am hoping that before that happens the Minister will pop up and say, “We don’t need the original programme motion; we will have unlimited debate on the issue.”
The debate is quite important, because we all know the importance of getting the post-Leveson scene right. Mention has been made of the cost, the time involved, and the great care that Lord Justice Leveson took over the inquiry. We, as a minority party, were never part of the all-party talks, although the official Opposition have kept us in the loop, to their credit. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) said, we should be kept in the loop, which would be perfectly fine.
On the programme motion, of course, we are not part of the foul waters of the usual channels.
The foulest in Europe, apparently—and that is why we are not part of them, probably.
On a serious point, even with the amended timetable we are still pretty well limited in terms of discussing Leveson, and we know that there are many opinions within the House on the Front, Back and middle Benches, on what we should do next. One thing is certain: the people out there demand that we get this right and, if we do this in this piecemeal, last-minute, eleventh-hour way, it will be an ignominious start to any proceedings on getting Leveson right.
I echo what was said by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) and the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and I agree with many things that the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) said. We do need to have sufficient time to debate this issue. The right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said that we could dispense with programming if we want to be in the Chamber until 5 am or 6 am on every Bill. That is patently nonsense, because in the 1992 Parliament that happened occasionally when the Maastricht treaty was debated, but not all the time. There are some Bills that require greater debate and scrutiny, but the flexibility to provide that is missing from all of this. That is extremely unfortunate because, with the best will in the world—with the benign Government we have now and any Government who may follow—the Executive are riding roughshod over us. This is not what Parliament is meant to be.
There are two parts to our deliberation: first, whether the House should programme business at all; and secondly, a specific set of points about provision for discussion of Leveson. On the first part, within about a minute, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) went from describing me as a great democrat, which is extremely flattering, to suggesting that I was an exponent of Stalinist central control. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), however, said that we had a benign Government, so we need to discuss whether Stalinism can be benign. I hope that we are on the benign end of the scale.
There was a vote only a few months ago not to reduce the number of hours, but to adjust Tuesday sitting hours and other provisions, so that we would finish, apart from in exceptional circumstances, at 7 o’clock on Tuesday evening, rather than at 10 o’clock. The majority of Members who voted in that Division favoured the earlier finish on Tuesday. I was not one of them, but the majority made that decision. I do not detect—but I am not responsible for these matters—a groundswell of support for the proposal routinely to sit late into the night to deliberate on Bills, as most Members find it helpful to timetable our business, as long as the Executive make reasonable provision for those deliberations. As I have tried to explain, we are doing precisely that with the Bill.
On the new dimension of Leveson and the points made by the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), for the benefit of the House, may I underline the crucial point? The Government will bring forward a supplementary programme motion if the cross-party talks have concluded, whether that is with or without agreement. If those talks have concluded, we will introduce a supplementary programme motion. With that assurance, the Opposition amendment is not necessary. If those talks have not concluded, we can proceed as we are currently proceeding, and if they have concluded, the Government have given an undertaking—I have given that undertaking on behalf of the Government—that we would in those circumstances introduce a supplementary programme motion. As for the question of when we will introduce that motion, which was raised by the right hon. Member for Delyn, the answer is that we will do so when the cross-party talks have concluded, either with or without agreement.
There are two issues that the Minister has not addressed. First, we do not know what “concluded” means. It could mean “came to a conclusion with which everybody agreed”, which might not be the view of the whole House, or it could mean “came to an end” because those talks collapsed. I should be grateful if the Minister provided clarification. Secondly, he has not told us which day has been chosen for the second day. If it is still next Monday, it will be virtually impossible for Members to table amendments that could be selected for Monday, unless there is an announcement today.
On the first point, on when something can be said to have concluded, I had not realised that that was something on which I would be called to judge. It is when it has finished, I suppose: when there is no more left to discuss, or when the cross-party talks have concluded—[Interruption]—as I said, with or without agreement. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) asked what would happen if they had come to an end but there was no agreement. In that case, they would conclude without agreement. When the process of cross-party talks has been exhausted, that is the point at which a supplementary programme motion will be—
Wait a second. Hon. Members keep making points that I am about to address in response to the contribution of the right hon. Member for Delyn. When the talks have concluded, whether with or without agreement, we will bring forward a supplementary programme motion: that is the first point. Secondly, on when that will take place—
The participants in the talks, I assume. It will be apparent to them whether they have finished talking. I do not want to make it sound like a papal exercise, but I am sure that the appropriate metaphorical smoke will come out of Government buildings and everyone will be able to recognise when talks are no longer taking place.
I am fearful of running out of time before I have answered the substantive points, rather than the issue of whether a conclusion means something has finished or not, which is a point that we could debate at length, but not very productively. On the substantive points, to which I have substantive answers to give, the right hon. Member for Delyn asked whether there would be a debate. The answer is yes. On the question of whether there will be a vote if the House wishes to vote, the answer is yes. This will be an amendment to legislation. There is provision to vote on all aspects of legislation, subject to the usual caveats and the Speaker’s discretion. Given that everything is subject to those caveats, the answer to the question of whether there will be a debate is yes; and yes, there will be an opportunity to vote.
On the question of when that will take place, at the moment the second day of our deliberations on the Bill is scheduled for Monday. I am not the Leader of the House—a far more distinguished Member has that role—but there is a business statement tomorrow. If the Government wished to suggest to the House that the business should be altered, that would be the appropriate time to do so, not now.
The Minister has made the position clear to the House. The official Opposition have taken from that that there will be a debate, there will be a vote, and there will be an announcement about both the supplementary programming motion and the day of the debate in business questions. On that basis, I am content, if the House will allow me, to withdraw the amendment, allowing the Government to continue the discussions that have commenced. That is our position, to reassure the Minister on those points.
On that extremely consensual and sensible point, the Opposition spokesman has come to my view after some initial wobbles, and everyone agrees that I have come up with a very sensible way to proceed. On that basis, I hope that the House endorses by popular acclaim the Government’s proposal, so there is no need to proceed to a vote.
Crime and Courts Bill [Lords]
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee.
New Clause 3
Modification of NCA functions
‘(1) The Secretary of State may, by order, make—
(a) provision about NCA counter-terrorism functions (and, in particular, may make provision conferring, removing, or otherwise modifying such functions); and
(b) other provision which the Secretary of State considers necessary in consequence of provision made under paragraph (a) (and, in particular, may make provision about the functions of any person other than the NCA, including provision conferring or otherwise modifying, but not removing, such functions).
(2) If an order under this section confers an NCA counter-terrorism function, an NCA officer may only carry out activities in Northern Ireland for the purpose of the discharge of the function if the NCA officer does so with the agreement of the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
(3) That includes cases where an order under this section confers an NCA counter-terrorism function by the modification of a function.
(4) An order under this section may amend or otherwise modify this Act or any other enactment.
(5) An order under this section is subject to the super-affirmative procedure (see section 43 and Schedule 22).
(6) In this section “NCA counter-terrorism function” means an NCA function relating to terrorism (and for this purpose “terrorism” has the same meaning as in the Terrorism Act 2000 — see section 1 of that Act).’.—(Mr Jeremy Browne.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—National Crime Agency review—
‘A review shall be completed within 12 months of Royal Assent of the functions and operations of the National Crime Agency with particular regard to—
(a) the governance structures as set out in section 1, together with resources, training and inspection; and
(b) operational and governance arrangements between the UK Government, the Department of Justice, Northern Ireland and the Scottish Government with particular reference to asset recovery.’.
Government new schedule 1—‘The NCA: Northern Ireland.
Government amendment 4.
Amendment 3, in clause 7, page 6, line 37, at beginning insert
‘Subject to approval by the Secretary of State for the Home Department,’.
Amendment 95, in page 10, line 15, leave out clause 12.
Amendment 102, page 11, line 1, leave out clause 13.
Government amendments 5 to 9, 76, 72 to 74, 85 and 87.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak to the amendments and thus begin our deliberations on Report. The Government amendments in this group deal with two substantive issues: first, whether the Bill should include a mechanism to confer counter-terrorism functions on the National Crime Agency; and secondly, the extent to which the NCA should operate in Northern Ireland. I will deal with each issue in turn.
New clause 3 seeks to restore to the Bill the power to confer counter-terrorism functions on the NCA by means of an order, subject to the super-affirmative procedure. The House will be aware that on Report the other place removed from the Bill what was then clause 2. In explaining why we have brought back this clause, it is worth reiterating the comments of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on Second Reading. She said:
“I have been clear that no decision on this issue has been taken and that none will be taken until after the NCA has been established and following a detailed review. However, the creation of a national crime agency with a national remit to combat serious, organised and complex crime invites the question whether it should take on national functions in respect of counter-terrorism policing.”
“ I do not come to this question with any preconceived ideas about what the answer should be, but it was prudent, in my view, for the Bill as originally introduced to have included a future-proofing provision.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 635.]
Since then we have reflected further on concerns raised in the other place that this was not an appropriate matter to be left to secondary legislation. This theme was also a feature of the debates in this House, both on Second Reading and in Committee.
Having reflected carefully on the debates on this issue thus far, and on the reports by the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Government remain firmly of the view that this is an appropriate matter for secondary legislation and that the super-affirmative procedure provides a sufficient level of parliamentary scrutiny. Indeed, the conditions that are tied to it provide ample opportunity for this House and the other place to scrutinise any such order.
Let me finish the point first.
There is a duty on the Home Secretary to consult persons affected before laying a draft order. There is then an opportunity for Committees of either House to scrutinise the draft order—I envisage that this task would fall to the Home Affairs Committee—and then the draft order must be approved by both Houses of Parliament. This is not a parliamentary process that we take lightly or that would be taken lightly by either House. For that reason we believe that it would entail the appropriate level of scrutiny to satisfy those who rightly take a close interest in these matters.
My question is a simple one. Why did the Minister not table new clause 3 in Committee and allow the Committee to scrutinise in detail and in depth the proposal that he is now making? He will remember the exchanges that he had with various Members in Committee. It is disingenuous to table the new clause on Report and not to have allowed the Committee to have a detailed debate. He has been doing a lot of reflecting. Why did he not reflect on the detail of the debate that we could have had in Committee?
It seems to me that this is not a very substantive issue; it is a procedural issue. The Government have not taken a view as to whether counter-terrorism should be transferred into the NCA. The NCA is not even up and running yet. It requires the assent of the House before we get to that stage, and we have said that when the NCA is up and running, that is something that the Home Secretary may wish to consider.
If the Government recommend at a future date that counter-terrorism functions should be transferred to the NCA, there is, as I have just explained, a provision for that to be considered in great detail. I will repeat it briefly in case hon. Members did not latch on to the point—that is why I made it before giving way: there is a duty on the Home Secretary to consult persons affected before laying a draft order, then there is an opportunity for Committees of either House to scrutinise the draft order, and I said that I envisage that task falling to the Home Affairs Committee, a cross-party Committee chaired by a distinguished member of the Opposition, and then the draft order must explicitly be approved by both Houses.
When it comes to deliberating on the content of the proposal, as distinct from the parliamentary mechanisms—the merits or otherwise of counter-terrorism being exercised by the National Crime Agency—if that process of deliberation is necessary, because the Government regard that as a wise way to proceed, there will be the opportunity for Members to make their views clearly known. But the question we are considering is whether it is suitable and appropriate for that provision to be made in the Bill, using the super-affirmative procedure. I hope that the House is persuaded by what I have just said about there being ample opportunity to debate the substance of these matters and that it is therefore an appropriate way to proceed.
The Minister describes a substantive and exhaustive process of parliamentary scrutiny. Is he aware that the Home Affairs Committee has already considered the issue and that we recommended—unanimously, I believe—that the transfer of counter-terrorism powers from the Met to the National Crime Agency should take place once that agency is up and running and when the Government believe it is the right time to do it?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s interest in the matter. I am cautious about getting ahead of ourselves. We envisage the National Crime Agency coming into operation fully on 1 October, but of course that is subject to the House giving its assent to that proposition during the two days of deliberation on Report and Third Reading, and we should not take the wishes of the House for granted. Then Royal Assent is necessary. The NCA will have considerable and wide-ranging powers, and I think everybody would accept that it is sensible for it to bed down and establish itself.
There is a perfectly legitimate debate to be had about where this extremely important function should be exercised. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend. He puts forward a point of view that many people agree with, but there are people who will take a contrary view. There will be a suitable time to deliberate on the matter. I want to assure the House that we believe that the super-affirmative procedure will allow more than adequate time for that debate and for those issues to be properly aired. Any decision to give the NCA a counter-terrorism role will be an important one; we have no wish to diminish, impede or lose those aspects of the current arrangements that work well.
The Minister will be aware that there are particular arrangements in Northern Ireland for dealing with counter-terrorism, so it is important not only that that is debated, discussed and consulted on in this place, but that there is the opportunity for the Northern Ireland situation specifically to be considered. Can he give us an assurance today that that will be the case?