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Commons Chamber

Volume 563: debated on Thursday 9 May 2013

House of Commons

Thursday 9 May 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before Questions

Committee of Selection


That Heidi Alexander, Tom Blenkinsop, Mr Alan Campbell, Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, Mr David Evennett, Mark Hunter, Anne Milton, Mr John Randall and Mark Tami be members of the Committee of Selection until the end of the current Session.— (Mr Randall.)

Business of the House

The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 13 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on health and social care.

Tuesday 14 May—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on the cost of living.

Wednesday 15 May—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech on economic growth.

Thursday 16 May—General debate on mental health. The subject for this debate has been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the week commencing 20 May will include:

Monday 20 May—Remaining stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (Day 1).

Tuesday 21 May—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (Day 2), followed by motion to approve a European document relating to Syria.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 16 May will be:

Thursday 16 May—Debate on the seventh report of the Education Select Committee on careers guidance for young people, followed by debate on the seventh report of the Science and Technology Committee on educating tomorrow’s engineers.

I thank the Leader of the House for his statement. The next time the Government cannot find their Education Minister and have to bring business questions forward, I wonder whether they might like to give us a little more notice—I am still catching my breath. I also thank him for advance sight of the written ministerial statement he tabled today confirming the Bills announced yesterday. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will be as concerned as I am that while he provided Members with one page of information, the Downing street spin machine provided the press with 93 pages of detail on the same Bills. Will he confirm that he will arrange for a copy of that briefing to be placed in the House of Commons Library immediately and that in future he will ensure that Members of this House are accorded the same courtesies as are accorded to the press?

I welcome to the House the new Labour Member, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Emma Lewell-Buck), the first woman to represent Shields in Parliament. She will be a fighter for her constituents. I also welcome back into the Conservative fold the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries). I wonder whether the Leader of the House is taking bets on how long it will take the Chief Whip to wish she was back in the jungle.

I suspect that last week’s local elections had a more profound impact on the Queen’s Speech than the Leader of the House can let on. They were a disaster across the English shires for the Conservatives, as Labour won in many southern marginals and hordes of true blue voters flocked to the UK Independence party. I followed with interest the Conservative implosion in the Leader of the House’s own backyard of Cambridgeshire, where the Conservatives lost control of the council for the first time in more than 15 years. The Conservative leader of the council even managed to lose his seat—and to a Liberal Democrat. I hope that the Leader of the House has congratulated his deputy, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), on that success for the Liberal Democrats on his home turf. It is hard to imagine, but the Leader of the House did better in the elections than the Prime Minister, who managed to lose Witney to Labour and see the Conservative candidate beaten into third place by UKIP.

The signs are that the panic is setting in. Lord Lawson is calling for an exit from Europe—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] He has some support on the Government Back Benches, I hear. Lord Tebbit is reported as saying that UKIP’s policies are now closer to the traditional Conservative agenda, and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) is calling for a big, open and comprehensive coalition with Farage. This is a failing Conservative party that cannot even hold on to the Tory shires and whose Members are starting to behave like headless chickens. They are so bad at listening to their own members that this week one of them resorted to taking out a full page advertisement in The Times to tell them how out of touch they are. The irony is that he probably paid for it with his millionaire’s tax cut.

Many of us were shocked by the omission from the Gracious Speech of the promised legislation to ensure plain packaging for cigarettes. The public health Minister, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), publicly supported the proposal, and when the Leader of the House was Secretary of State for Health he said:

“The evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers, so it makes sense to consider having less attractive packaging. It's wrong that children are being attracted to smoke by glitzy designs on packets.”

Does he stand by that view? Why have the measures on minimum alcohol pricing been dropped, too? After this week’s revelations that the Prime Minister’s election guru, Lynton Crosby, has business links to big tobacco and the drinks industry, can the Leader of the House assure us that no inside lobbying has taken place at No. 10? Or is that why the Government’s proposal to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists has also mysteriously disappeared?

Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech showed that the Government may have legislated for fixed five-year Parliaments but that they have run out of ideas after just three. Instead of new ideas to get our economy growing again, all we get is a thin, cobbled-together legislative programme that is completely lacking in ambition. Our last Session saw parliamentary time unfilled, badly drafted, badly managed Bills, and a U-turn, on average, once every seven sitting days. Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech will give no one confidence that in the coming year we will not see more of the same.

This was the Government’s third Queen’s Speech, and all we have had is three years of failure, with low growth, falling living standards, and rising borrowing. The Government had nothing to say on tackling the crisis in youth unemployment. They had nothing to back small businesses, nothing to boost housing, nothing on rail fares and nothing on growth. This is a tired Government, out of ideas and out of touch. Even Sir Alex Ferguson could not turn this lot into a winning team.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response. I am glad that she has sufficient puff, even though the shadow Queen’s Speech she published during the recess seemed to have less steam in it than a decent kettle.

I join the hon. Lady in welcoming the hon. Member for South Shields (Emma Lewell-Buck). Although this is a matter for the Chief Whip, I also welcome back my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries). In this case, however, it is probably more appropriate to say, “Welcome back to the jungle.”

The shadow Leader of the House should not trespass on to trying to interpret last Thursday’s local election results, especially those in South Cambridgeshire. I know about mid-terms; I ran the Conservative party’s European and parliamentary election campaign in 1999, two years before the 2001 general election, when we trounced everybody in sight. Labour Members might like to remember that simple fact. They might also like to remember the simple fact that their party, with their leader, secured less impressive local election results last Thursday than Michael Foot or Neil Kinnock did in mid-term. On the day before the local elections there were six Conservative county councillors in South Cambridgeshire; after the elections there were nine, partly because a sitting UKIP councillor in one division lost his seat to a Conservative. I would like the hon. Lady to get her facts right before she ventures into my constituency.

The hon. Lady asked about standardised packaging. I initiated the consultation on standardised packaging, and I did so, as I said at the time, with an open mind. As my right hon. Friends have made clear, no decision has been made in response to the consultation on that. I think that the hon. Lady will recall that the nature of the Queen’s Speech is to put forward proposals for legislation where the Government have decided what their policy is, not to venture into legislation where no policy decision has taken place. It is completely false to imagine that there was ever a question of including reference to standardised packaging in the Queen’s Speech; there never was, and it would not have been appropriate to do so.

As I said, I have looked at the hon. Lady’s alternative Queen’s Speech. In contrast with ours, there seem to be just six Bills, one of which is a finance Bill. It refers to a consumer’s Bill. There is a draft consumer rights Bill in our proposals. She has a proposal for a jobs Bill. I do not know quite what that means, because I have never yet found out how Labour Members can propose policies that would destroy jobs while guaranteeing people jobs. Where are these jobs supposed to come from? Jobs come from wealth-creating businesses, and that is what this coalition Government have been able to achieve in the past year, with some 500,000 additional jobs. Since the election, 1.2 million extra jobs have been created in the private sector. That is what makes the real difference.

The hon. Lady’s shadow Queen’s Speech refers to a banking Bill. A banking reform Bill is being carried over from the previous Session. She talks about a housing Bill, but as far as I can see her proposals would not get any houses built; we will do that through the Help to Buy scheme and other schemes.

The Labour party’s shadow Queen’s Speech also refers to an immigration Bill. Such a Bill is the centrepiece of our legislative programme, but the Labour party’s version would not impact on net migration numbers at all. It might be reasonable to make sure that migrant workers are not abused, but that is not the issue; the issue is to ensure that we encourage those people who can contribute to this economy, while also ensuring that we are not subject to abuse by those who enter and do not make such a contribution. That is what our immigration Bill will do.

On informing the House on the content of Bills, I remind the hon. Lady that today’s fresh new Order Paper notes that, in addition to the carry-over Bills from the previous Session, the Pensions Bill, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill and the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill will be presented in this House today, while the Care Bill, the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, the Mesothelioma Bill, the Local Audit and Accountability Bill and the Intellectual Property Bill will be presented in another place. The House therefore has a full programme, commencing today.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the Government’s provisions to enable assets of community value to be listed have already proved useful in saving valued community services such as village shops and public houses from closure. He may, however, share my concern that some of the major public house operators—known as pubcos—are seeking to circumvent the proposals by selling pubs through private contracts with commercial developers without the sale ever being advertised and, therefore, without the community having any notice of what is happening until the pub closes overnight and an application to demolish the premises, often on specious grounds of security costs, is made the next day. This has happened in my constituency, where Enterprise Inns surreptitiously sold the Porcupine public house to Lidl. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on this subject?

Order. If, when the hon. Gentleman was practising at the Bar, he was paid by the word, I think he now owes us all a drink.

My hon. Friend is, of course, an asset of considerable value in this House and he played a significant part, through the Localism Act 2011, in securing the much-valued measures. I agree with him. Parishes in my own constituency have seen the value of the assets of community value provisions, which should not be circumvented. I will, of course, ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government hears what my hon. Friend has said, and he might be able to take action.

May we have a debate on the urgent issue of the right to buy and the Government’s broken promise that there would be one-for-one, like-for-like replacements? According to the Department for Communities and Local Government website, for every nine houses sold only one is replaced. This amounts to a broken promise to those people who desperately need affordable housing but who are not getting it.

The hon. Gentleman should first acknowledge that under Labour the number of new social houses being built dropped to its lowest ever level. There is a time lag: the right to buy is of significant value to tenants at the point when they become homeowners, but it also derives a benefit to the housing revenue account, which will enable additional properties to be built in due course.

I am sure that the House agrees that we must protect our national assets, one of which is fishing quota. Currently, small fishermen are trying to wrestle back—on behalf of the Government in many ways and on behalf of citizens—the fishing quota that has been “appropriated” by other quarters and interests. May we have a debate on this issue as soon as possible?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising what is an important issue, not least in her own constituency. I will, of course, talk to my hon. Friends at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and ensure that they take note of what she says. There may be an opportunity for her to raise the issue and for them to respond at the forthcoming DEFRA Question Time.

We are a month into the implementation of the bedroom tax and the benefit cap is about to be rolled out across London. Does the Leader of the House not think that it would be good to have a debate between Members and Ministers from the Departments for Communities and Local Government and for Work and Pensions, because there is clearly a gap? Constituents of mine are being issued with letters from housing associations threatening them with eviction as a result of these measures.

I remind the House and Opposition Members in particular that, as Mr Speaker outlined yesterday, the selection of subjects for the Queen’s Speech debate was made by the Opposition. They could have chosen to debate the Government’s welfare reforms, but they did not. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will respond to the debate tomorrow. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise the matter then, we will be glad to take part in the debate and to ask why the Labour party, after 13 years of talking about welfare reform that it never delivered, has turned itself into a party that is opposed to the reform of welfare.

Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate or statement on business rates? As he will know, retailers and small retailers in particular have faced incredibly tough trading conditions since 2008, and yet business rates have risen enormously. Businesses across my constituency and particularly those in places such as Saltaire are struggling as a result of the increase in business rates. Given that such businesses are the backbone of our local communities and local economies, the Government should surely do more to alleviate the cost of business rates.

I will, of course, talk to my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government about that matter. My hon. Friend will note that there is an opportunity in the Queen’s Speech debate to discuss such issues. If memory serves, the debate on Tuesday is about the cost of living. Somebody will tell me if I am wrong about that. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will respond to the debate. I understand my hon. Friend’s point, but due to the growth incentive, which is part of the drive towards the devolution of responsibilities, local authorities now have greater flexibility to offer business rate discounts in particular circumstances.

May I draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 36, which stands in my name and the names of other Members?

[That this House deplores the Government’s intention to award legal aid franchises to a limited number of contractors, effectively abolishing a client’s right to choose their legal representation; notes that this will reduce the quality of legal representation to the lowest standard possible; further notes the fact that firms currently compete on quality of service and will henceforth be required to compete on the basis of price; regrets the damning effect which this further reform of legal aid is likely to have on high street solicitors firms who are likely to either close or abandon legal aid cases; further notes that this will have a very detrimental effect on the provision of services through the medium of the Welsh language; further notes that this will create vast advice deserts in many rural areas; further regrets the departure from the principle of equality of arms before the law and the rights of all citizens to access to justice; and calls on the Government to abandon this ill-thought through reform immediately.]

The proposals for competitive price tendering of legal aid services are potentially devastating for rural areas and will undoubtedly create advice deserts, threaten the independence of the Bar and undermine Welsh language provision. To cap it all, the Government, when they conclude their discussions, will try to push the proposals through in secondary legislation. We should have a debate on the Floor of the House. This is a potentially devastating move and it should be reconsidered. It is an example of dogma taking precedence over common sense.

I have, of course, looked at the early-day motion. The right hon. Gentleman will recall the debates on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Parliament decided what the regime for statutory instruments should be under that legislation. Although I will convey to my hon. Friends the points that he makes, he should recognise that we had a very generous legal aid system, the cost of which far exceeded that in pretty much every other jurisdiction. To that extent, the coalition Government had to take some difficult decisions.

My constituents in Kettering want ours to be a national health service, not an international health service. They are very keen on the Government’s proposals to stop foreign national health tourists abusing our free health care without contributing to our health system. In which Bill will those proposals be contained? Will the Leader of the House make time available for that Bill at the earliest opportunity? If it is a big Bill with lots of provisions, will he give thought to creating a stand-alone Bill so that these measures can be fast-tracked through Parliament?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I think that many people across the country would agree with him.

Notwithstanding what I read in the newspapers this morning, in my experience it is often general practitioners who say that the situation is absurd. I recall a GP speaking to me—forgive me, Mr Speaker, if I tell a little story—about the American and Japanese students who registered at her practice. After a while, they would go to see her when they were leaving and say, “Shall I talk to the receptionist about payment?” She had to say, “There is no payment.” They looked at her as if we were mad because at home they would have paid and they had insurance and were willing to pay. However, because of the structure of the legislation, the national health service said, “You are ordinarily resident here so it is free. End of story.” That is absurd. The students did not expect it and we should not have got into that position. We need to deal with that. The issue is not always abuse. This is a system that should be tightened up.

I anticipate that the measures to which my hon. Friend refers will be part of an immigration Bill later in the Session.

It is humiliating for the Leader of the House to have to defend such a light legislative programme and a coalition Government who have all but run out of road on which they can agree to travel together. He will know that for more than a year I have highlighted a problem for the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which does not have the same powers as other professional regulators to review and revise its disciplinary decisions. Given that there is so little legislation before the House this year, will he help find time for a small but important legal change to deal with that problem?

I was trying to examine to what extent legislation was brought forward when the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the previous Government, although there is nothing intrinsically good about the number of Bills being brought forward. Fifteen Bills were mentioned in the Gracious Speech yesterday, the same number as in 2012. That is, of course, fewer Bills than in 2010, which was a two-year Session, but more than in 2008 or 2007 and the latter part of the Government of which he was a member.

I would say that the Bills being presented are incomparably more substantial, bold and radical. The right hon. Gentleman should look at what is being presented today on the rehabilitation of offenders—my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will say more about that in a statement later; at the pensions Bill and what it will mean for removing the absurd and perverse anomaly whereby people were incentivised not to save, and not given reassurance that the state pension would stand behind them so that their savings could add to that without detracting from it; and at the care Bill. I feel proud that we are addressing the reform of social care—something that signally failed under the previous Labour Government —and providing important protections for the carers of those in need. It is a bold and ambitious Bill from a coalition Government who, notwithstanding the difficult decisions we have had to make, have themselves been bold, ambitious and radical.

I am sure the Leader of the House will join me in congratulating Portsmouth News and the Solent local enterprise partnership, which have worked together to introduce a successful “bridging the gap” scheme and used a £2.1 million regional growth fund bid to help generate local growth and boost local business. May we have a debate in the House to celebrate such successful, innovative business growth schemes, and share other innovative ideas for promoting local growth?

I do indeed join my hon. Friend in welcoming the “bridging the gap” scheme and those who have supported it in her constituency and around Portsmouth and the Solent. It shows how, by working closely with local authorities and businesses, local enterprise partnerships are able to deliver schemes that make sense locally, not least because they are rooted in their local communities and not part of a bureaucracy, which regional development agencies used to be. My hon. Friend draws on a good example of that.

There was nothing in the Budget or the Queen’s Speech about flood insurance. We are in the final weeks of the statement of principles and my constituents are worried about getting flood insurance come July. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on exactly what is happening and why getting a coherent policy from July for my constituents is such a shambles?

The hon. Lady will know—I have said this in the House, as has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—that we are in negotiations with the Association of British Insurers. She will have noted in the Queen’s Speech the intention to introduce legislation relating to the water industry. The Government are clear that we will take the necessary legislative provisions in this Session not only to support reform of the water industry, but to give it greater resilience, promote competition and provide the framework for flood insurance in the future.

The Government are to be congratulated on a number of the large infrastructure projects that they are proposing, but a number of choke points on the road transport network, including one on the A120 between Braintree and Marks Tey, stop the flow of traffic. The choke points cost time and, as we know, time is money. There are a number of choke points throughout the country. If we want to improve the flow of traffic, it would be worth the Government’s time to listen to Members of the House on where those choke points are. Perhaps the Transport Minister can come to the House to make a statement on how he will address them.

My hon. Friend reminds me that debates in the House are a good opportunity for Members to make those points, not least through Adjournment debates. I recall that my first Adjournment debate in the House in 1997 related to the rebuilding of the A14, which, as he and I know because it is in our region, is as yet unfinished. I hope the coalition Government will finally make that happen, but I know perfectly well the road connection to which he refers. I have no doubt that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), understands the problem very well, even if decisions on it might be led more locally through the local enterprise partnership.

Last month, Scottish Coal went into liquidation; this week, it looks very much as if UK Coal will be wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. That could close Kellingley and Thornley collieries, and six other open-cast mines, at the cost of 2,000-plus jobs. May we have an urgent debate on the future of the British coal mining industry to ensure that the Government’s promises to protect the people at Daw Mill colliery are kept and that the future of the remaining collieries in the UK is secure?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I am not in a position to speculate on the position of limited companies, but he will know that the Minister without Portfolio, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), the previous Minister of State, Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the current Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), have both given time and energy to working on the issues at Daw Mill colliery and across the UK coal industry. The hon. Gentleman and other Members on both sides of the House who have an interest might consider whether they want to take the matter forward with the Backbench Business Committee in due course—there would be interest on both sides of the House.

My constituent, Douglas Mann, is a hard-working carer. Like 40,000 other carers, he is concerned that the increase in the minimum wage will take him 96p over the threshold for carer’s allowance, which will make him £60 a week worse off. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement so we can ensure that we maintain the vital principle that people will always be better off in work?

My hon. Friend makes a good point on behalf of his constituent. He will be aware that the Government’s increase of the minimum wage will tip some carers over the earnings limit for carer’s allowance. Therefore, the Government are in the process of considering whether an increase in the earnings threshold is warranted and affordable. However, it should be kept in mind—my hon. Friend will know this and be advising his constituent of it—that the earnings limit for carer’s allowance is net of tax, national insurance contributions and certain other allowable expenses, which means that carers can earn significantly more than £100 a week and still get the carer’s allowance.

May we have a statement on the impact of cuts to youth services such as those being carried out by Conservative-controlled North Lincolnshire council in the Scunthorpe area on young people and their prospects?

I cannot offer the hon. Gentleman a statement on that, which is a matter of his local authority making decisions. However, he will find that I have announced a debate in Westminster Hall on Thursday 16 May on the Education Committee report on careers guidance for young people, which is relevant to his point. He might wish to contribute to that debate.

In the Leader of the House’s opening comments, he mentioned a forthcoming debate on mental health. He will be aware that one of the biggest mental health issues is the associated social stigma. Will he ensure that, when the Minister replies to the debate, he specifically addresses social stigma, so that hon. Members can ensure that many more people who suffer from mental health problems come forward for treatment rather than shy away?

My hon. Friend will, of course, recall the important debate on mental health some 18 months ago. I hope that next Thursday’s debate will follow up on that and embrace other mental health issues. He is right to say that social stigma has been addressed previously, and we need to continue to tackle it. He will recall that Cambridgeshire was a pilot area in the campaign against social stigma associated with mental health diagnoses. That was very important and I hope the debate will afford the opportunity to which he refers.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate on the economy of Northern Ireland, with particular reference to the peace dividend, which was promised by Downing street some years ago to underpin devolution arrangements but as yet has not been realised?

The hon. Lady may wish to take the opportunity to raise this issue in next Wednesday’s debate on economic growth. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and others are absolutely committed to supporting Northern Ireland and the Government of Northern Ireland in promoting economic growth and, in particular, rebalancing the economy further, so that Northern Ireland can participate in the private sector employment and wealth creation that, happily, has characterised the success of the coalition Government.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of opening a new manufacturing plant facility at Vent-Axia in my constituency. May we have a debate on the importance of manufacturing in the UK, and, as with this case, on bringing jobs back from China and other countries to the British work force?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which will be appropriate to raise in tomorrow’s debate on jobs and business and in Wednesday’s debate on economic growth. I hope that when the Opposition make their case they will start by acknowledging their failure in allowing the economy to become increasingly unbalanced under their tenure, and recognise the loss of so many manufacturing jobs when they were in government and the necessity now of ensuring that we support manufacturing, as the Government are doing.

May we have a debate on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s city of culture 2017 initiative? I am sure that the Leader of the House is backing Leicester’s bid. A debate would allow Members on both sides of the House to express their support for Leicester’s overwhelming claim.

As Leader of the House, it is probably best that I do not back anybody’s claim. I cannot promise a debate, but I think the hon. Gentleman raises an interesting issue and I hope there will be an opportunity to hear more about it. It would make a good occasion if Members were able to come and present the competing, positive claims of many cities across the country.

I wonder whether we could have a debate on the future of our town centres, which would enable us to highlight the fact that there is some good news, such as the proposal announced today of a £20 million extension to Rugby’s Clock Towers shopping centre. That will secure our town centre and provide an extra 132,000 square feet, a new department store, food and drink outlets and a nine-screen cinema.

I am delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says about the development of Rugby town centre. He knows that the coalition Government provide considerable support through high-street initiatives. At the heart of that is supporting wealth creation and giving local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, through the growth incentive, the opportunity to reinvest in their town centres.

Community sentences were meant for low-level offences, not serious offences. May we have a debate and a proper explanation from a Minister on why more than 10,000 domestic violence, knife crime and serious assault offences last year resulted only in community resolutions?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that today’s debate on the Queen’s Speech will focus on home affairs, so rather than detain the House in response to his question, I invite him to participate in that debate. I am sure that he would get a very good answer from Home Office Ministers.

May we have a debate on the wonderful work that hospices, such as St Peter’s in my constituency, do across our country?

I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to raise that issue during the health and social care debate on Monday. I know that he is a devoted supporter of the hospice serving his constituency and even skydived on its behalf, which was commendable and courageous—although I think the Whips would encourage him to be very careful. I think that hospices do a wonderful job. From my many visits to hospices, I am familiar with what they do. During the course of this Parliament, the coalition Government will be putting in place per-patient funding schemes to enable hospices to provide more holistic services to patients so that the NHS can support them to a more appropriate degree.

There was much hype yesterday over the Government’s immigration Bill. Will the Leader of House make it clear when the Bill will be published and, in advance of that, how the check scheme for private landlords will work and be enforced?

The hon. Lady can of course ask about those issues during the debate on the Queen’s Speech, but as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), the immigration Bill will be published later in the Session.

During yesterday’s excellent Gracious Speech, reference was made to a Bill to make changes to the electoral arrangements in Wales. Given that changes to electoral arrangements in devolved regions are hugely important right across the United Kingdom, will my right hon. Friend ensure that, despite the full legislative programme this Session, adequate time is provided for all Members to make a contribution to the debate about changes to Welsh arrangements?

My hon. Friend rightly refers to the reference in the Queen’s Speech to a draft Wales Bill. I am grateful for his question, because it gives me the opportunity to make it clear that more than half of the 17 Bills referred to in my written ministerial statement this morning are the subject, either in whole or in part, of pre-legislative scrutiny. That will ensure, I hope, that the issue that he quite properly raises—about the important debate on electoral and constitutional legislation—will be fully scrutinised this Session before the Bill is introduced.

Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) about the statement of principles for flood insurance, the current set of principles expires next month, so could we have a statement from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as soon as possible about the principles that will be renewed? This matters to flood-prone constituencies such as mine.

I, along with Members across the House and the Government, share my hon. Friend’s sense of urgency about ensuring that the flood insurance arrangements are in place in the long term. That was exactly the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). I reiterate that we took an important step forward yesterday in setting out in the Queen’s Speech our intention to introduce legislation on the water industry, which I hope not least will give a spur to the Association of British Insurers, together with the Government, to finalise the arrangements.

Will the Leader of the House arrange for either the Justice Secretary or a Ministry of Justice Minister to make a statement about the arrangements for the re-interment of Richard III? As he will know—the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) will know this too—the university of Leicester was given a licence by the MOJ to make arrangements for the re-interment of the remains of Richard III by next autumn, but the Plantagenet Alliance—

Order. I think the hon. and learned Gentleman wants a statement on the matter. We are deeply obliged to him.

My hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. He, like other Members, will recall the debate in Westminster Hall on his issue, during which Ministers set out, very fairly, the legal position under the licence issued by the MOJ. I do not think that there is anything further to add.

I and many of my constituents are supporters of Coventry City football club—which some people may think an encumbrance, although we think it is a wonderful thing. The supporters of the club are dismayed at the suggestion by its owners that they might want to relocate it from the city of Coventry to another town. Could we therefore have a debate on the community value of football clubs and football governance in this country?

I rather admire the Ricoh stadium—I went there to see one of the Olympic events that it hosted at the start of the games. It is a fine stadium and I was impressed by the support that the community in Coventry gave to that event. If I may, I will not trespass on local decisions about the location of the stadium for the future, other than to say that I know that football clubs rightly attract enormous loyalty, which is something that should be taken into account.

Could the Leader of the House arrange for a statement by the Deputy Prime Minister next week regarding the emblems on ballot papers? I understand that the law has been changed, so that two emblems—for instance, Labour and Co-operative—can be put on the ballot paper next to a candidate. Perhaps it was also thought that there might be Conservative and Liberal candidates, or was the Deputy Prime Minister being far-sighted, having realised that there would be Conservative and UKIP candidates at the next election?

I cannot offer my hon. Friend the immediate prospect of a statement, not least because the issue was resolved and Parliament legislated for it. He is quite right: I recall that the motivation rested more with Labour and Co-op candidates than with any of the more speculative suggestions that he made in his question. However, in response to his request, I fear that I cannot offer a statement.

Order. The hon. Lady is rising, but she has already asked her question. I am sure that she has not forgotten that she asked her question, and we have not forgotten the answer either.

Child-care Ratios

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Education to make a statement on the Government’s plans for changes to statutory regulations for child-care ratios.

The Government announced in January, in the “More great childcare” document, the intention to give nurseries more flexibility over staff-child ratios where they employ suitably qualified staff. We have consulted on what those qualifications should be. The consultation closed at the end of March. We are now considering the responses and will make further announcements in due course.

The current system of child care is not working for parents. Too many parents in the UK are struggling to juggle their work and child care arrangements. Families in England pay some of the highest costs in the world, with 27% of their income going on child care, compared with 11% in countries such as France. We also know that this Government spend more than £5 billion on child care, which is twice the OECD average, and as much as countries such as France and more than countries such as Germany. As well as our new schemes, such as tax-free child care, we need to ensure that we get better value for money for the investment that the Government put in, so we are looking at other countries, such as France, Ireland, Holland and Germany, which manage to combine high quality and affordability in their child care provision.

At present, we have the tightest ratios in Europe for children under three. We also have the lowest staff salaries. Nursery staff here earn £6.60 an hour on average, which is barely above the minimum wage. Annual earnings are £13,000, which is well below the averages of £16,000 in France, £20,000 in Denmark and £22,000 in Sweden. The ratio for two-year-olds in England is 4:1, whereas it is 6:1 in Ireland, 6:1 in Germany and 8:1 in France, while in Denmark and Sweden—countries that the shadow Secretary of State has explicitly advocated—there are no national staff ratios at all.

Our proposals will allow nurseries that hire high-quality staff to exercise professional judgment. This is exactly the same concept that we have used in academies, giving high-quality institutions the autonomy to make decisions for themselves and to exercise professional judgment. The ratios are not compulsory. This is about professionals in the child care sector being able to exercise their judgment and to deliver an affordable, high-quality service to parents. Our evidence suggests that—[Interruption.] Well, the Department for Education economists have looked at this in detail, and our evidence suggests that nurseries will be able to pay higher staff salaries and reduce costs to parents.

Let us remember the legacy of the previous Labour Government. The real cost of child care, which every family in this country faces, has risen by 77% in real terms since 2003, and child care inflation is going up by 6% every year. If we do not do something about this by reforming the supply of child care, it will become prohibitively expensive and many parents will not be able to afford to go out to work. We also want to encourage more providers to use the higher ratios for three and four-year-olds and to hire high-quality staff. All the international evidence from organisations such as the OECD suggests that the higher the quality of the staff, the better the outcomes for children. The previous Labour Government have admitted that, during their period of office, they got this wrong. The number of childminders halved, child care costs doubled, and Beverley Hughes, the former children’s Minister, admitted that Labour had got it wrong.

Well, yesterday we were told that the Government were pushing ahead with their plans to weaken child-care ratios despite widespread opposition. Late last night, however, the ink was not even dry on the Gracious Speech when we learned that the Government might in fact be U-turning on their policy. Is not this yet another example of chaos and incompetence at the heart of Government policy making?

When the Minister came to the House in January to announce this policy, we told her that she was threatening the quality of child care, doing nothing to address the spiralling costs of child care and dismissing the advice of her own experts. Since then, the—[Interruption.]

Order. The shadow Secretary of State is trying to make his points, yet there is a quite separate exchange being conducted at the same time. That should not be happening, and I say to the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), whom it is always a delight to see in the Chamber, that she arrived late for the urgent question. She cannot therefore participate in it on her feet, and she certainly should not do so from her seat.

Since that announcement in January, the scale of public opposition to the Minister’s plans has been overwhelming. The Government’s own adviser on childcare, Professor Cathy Nutbrown, has said that the ratio plans make “no sense at all”. Today, the Minister has said that all the evidence demonstrates that what she is doing is right, but who supports her proposals? Is not this yet another episode of bad policy making by the Education Secretary? First we had the fiasco of shutting down school sport partnerships. Then we had the disastrous attempt to bring back CSEs and O-levels. Now we have a child care policy that is rejected by parents, nursery providers and the Government’s own experts. Will she think again and rule out this damaging policy once and for all? What lessons will she and her Secretary of State learn from this latest shambles? Does not this show once again that this Government have no plan for hard-working families?

I have already outlined what our plans are; we announced them in our “More great childcare” proposal. Our plans have the support of Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, who commented on them in a recent speech. He has accepted the principle of higher-qualified staff having more professional autonomy. Andreas Schleicher of the OECD also supports our plans. Of course opinion is divided within the British academic establishment, as it is on many education issues. I would point out to the hon. Gentleman however that these policies are alive and well in France, Ireland, Holland and Germany. There is not a single country, including Scotland, where the ratios as are low as they are here in England. Furthermore, he has not come up with any response on what he plans to do about the appallingly low wages in the child care sector or the high levels of staff turnover, or with any ideas about how he is going to reduce costs. Is this another spending commitment that he is pledging when his party has already pledged many more spending commitments than it has the money to pay for?

I am so pleased that the Minister is looking at ways to bring down the cost of child care for hard-working families. In her consultation, did she hear from the childminder who has four children who stay until 1 o’clock but who, because of these very inflexible regulations, has to say no the parent who wants to drop off an additional child at 12.30?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Many childminders—I recently held a round table meeting with them—told me that they welcome the additional flexibility that they will have under our rules. They also welcome the increased level of trust that we are placing in child care professionals. Rather than dictating from Whitehall what they should be doing, we have a strong inspection regime, we are recruiting new Her Majesty’s inspectors into the sector and we are giving more professional responsibility to people on the ground.

I have been struck by the number of people in my constituency raising with me their concerns about these proposals. They are concerned that they are rushed and ill thought through. Will the Minister apologise for the manner in which this proposal has been debated in the country, and will she commit to listen properly to people like my mum who have spent their lives in child care?

Our policy is all about giving the hon. Lady’s mum more say over how she runs her own child care. It is a very important principle that no nursery care assistant or childminder is going to be forced to look after more children. What we are doing is allowing them to exercise professional responsibility. We are also doing something about the exorbitant costs that Labour created in our child care system. How on earth can Labour Members be proud of a record of having the highest child care costs in Europe?

May I first refer the House to my interest as the father of a nine-month-old baby who will be going to nursery in September? I ask the Minister to listen carefully to the representations of those who are concerned about the ratios, particularly for very young children and believe that those ratios should be very low.

Of course, there will be different requirements for different children, depending on their age and their level of development. Our policies are about increasing the level of professional judgment that child care workers are able to exercise to cater for the different ages and the different stages of development of the children they are looking after. I would point out to my hon. Friend that many parents in other countries where more flexibility is given to local providers are extremely happy with the quality of care they receive—in fact, they are happier than parents here.

Obviously, whoever was babysitting the Deputy Prime Minister this morning did not do a very good job, as on LBC this morning, he apparently insisted that the Government’s child care policy will be reversed. Is the Minister sure that this policy will be implemented?

As I said, we have outlined our policy in “More great childcare”, and we are currently consulting on the level of qualifications required to put those ratios in place.

Many parents sending their child to a childminder simply want somewhere that is safe and where their child will be happy while they go out to work. Is it really necessary for childminders to be turned into mini schools for very young children, where those children will be judged on educational attainment rather than on how happy and safe they are?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Our policies are all about giving parents more choice over the type of child care they receive. I, like him, am very supportive of childminders. Their number halved under the previous Government because of the additional rules and regulations that were put in place and how they were managed.

The Minister was piling them so high and wanting to teach them so cheap that things were bound to come crashing down at some point. She cited economists in favour of the proposals, and she cited the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, as being in favour of better qualifications—but not, I note, in favour of higher ratios—but what about parents and child carers themselves? Can the Minister tell us which parents and child carers supported her proposals?

The whole point of our proposals is that they give parents more choice. If parents want their child to attend a nursery that is more structured and that is teacher-led with larger groups, they should be able to have that choice. The excellent écoles maternelles and nurseries available in France simply could not run in this country because of the regulations we have at the moment. If parents would rather have a smaller group size and a less well-qualified staff member, that is entirely up to them—it is about choice.

Does the Minister agree that the current rigid child-to-staff ratio holds back opportunities for staff and the salaries that they can earn, and that that is why we need a more flexible system?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Interestingly, there is a much larger gap between what primary school staff and nursery staff are paid in this country compared with countries such as Denmark, Sweden and France, where those working in early-years are highly respected and allowed much more professional judgment; they are treated as professionals. That is not what happened in this country under the previous Government. Salaries are £6.60 an hour, on average. I really do not understand how that can be justified.

Last month, I met childminders and nursery providers in my constituency specifically to ask their views on the Government’s proposals, and I must tell the Minister that they were unanimously opposed to them. [Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) doubts that, but I met them specifically to discuss the proposals and that was their response. I cannot go back on my undertaking to bring what they told me to the Minister’s attention, and that is what I am doing. One reason why child-care costs are very high in this country is the cost of premises, yet childminders told me that one reason for not being able to take on more children was that they would not have the space to do so. What will the Minister do to increase the supply of suitable space?

I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that the cost of staff represents 70% of the average cost of a nursery, and that the cost of premises is only a small part of the overheads that account for the remaining 30%. Staff cost is the major driver of the cost of child-care places. The ratios hold down staff costs and staff salaries, which makes it difficult to attract people to the profession and means higher costs for parents.

There are many excellent child-care providers in Kettering, but there are not enough. Is not one of the problems faced by nurseries and child-care providers that there are more than 400 early-years qualifications and child-care providers find it difficult to assess whether those qualifications are the best that should be available?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We are introducing an early-years educator qualification, which will be the only criteria for judging whether someone should have a qualification at level 3. In order to get that qualification, someone will be required to have an English and maths grade C at GCSE, which will ensure that we get higher quality in the profession. We are also introducing early-year teachers, which, again, will involve a single qualification at graduate level.

The Minister referred to trusting the judgment of the professionals, but the professionals in my constituency who met me to discuss the proposals are unanimously against them. Why will she not listen to them and stop confusing the need to improve qualifications in early years with the ratios? However many qualifications someone has, it does not give them an extra pair of hands to look after the number of toddlers the Minister is suggesting.

It is interesting that nobody on the Opposition Benches has addressed the issue that these ratios are operating in Ireland, France and Germany. Are Opposition Members saying that the quality of child care in those countries is not good enough? Are they saying that high-quality providers from those countries should not be able to operate in this country? As for the hon. Lady’s point about the nurseries in her constituency, they are absolutely free to carry on operating as they operate now. This policy is about giving parents the ability to make different choices and the kind of choices that parents have in other countries, where they pay a lot less for child care and they receive high-quality care.

Child care is often provided by small businesses, which have to adapt when staff are away for training or because of sickness. Can the Minister confirm what effect staff absence will have on child-adult ratios?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question; he makes the very good point that at the moment there is no flexibility for nurseries if staff are absent. Either they must not take a particular child or they have to find additional staff at a cost, and we know that many nurseries are struggling to be sustainable. The ratios offer flexibility for different situations: for example, at the time of day when children might be sleeping, when less supervision is required, or when parents come to pick up their children. Our proposals are about allowing nurseries to exercise professional judgment and flexibility in how they staff them.

Does the shambles in this Government’s child-care policy not also extend to what they are doing with the tax and benefits system? Is the Minister aware that her colleague, the Economic Secretary, gave me information in a written answer last month that shows that more than half of all families will not benefit at all from the tax break or universal credit plans?

Order. The disadvantage of that question is that it does not relate to the terms of the urgent question, so we will leave it there.

Are there not two key issues? First, the question of ratios is linked to high-quality staff, which itself has a cost. Secondly, the reforms are enabling, not compulsory, and parents can continue to choose the right setting for their child.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Labour Members have not come up with any answers as to how they would incentivise nurseries to improve quality and staff salaries or how they would reduce costs in the system that they created, which is now one of the most expensive in the world.

I am aware that the Minister has long championed the policy of loosening the child-care ratios. Indeed, before she joined the Front-Bench team she was writing pamphlets about it. However, if she is so convinced of the merits of the policy, why will she not publish the Penn report, which her Department commissioned, and why has the Deputy Prime Minister let it be known in the past 24 hours that he does not support her pet policy?

We will be publishing research when we publish the results of the Childcare Commission in due course.

Does the Minister agree that there are two kinds of help with nursery schools? There are those who advocate socialism—that is, they want there to be expensive nursery places, but very few of them—and there are those who make decisions for themselves. They can stand on their own feet and make their own decisions about what they want for their children.

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, and he is absolutely right. What the Opposition are effectively saying is that a lot of parents should be priced out of the market and should not have the opportunities of parents in other countries to access high-quality and affordable child care. The previous Labour Minister, Beverley Hughes, admitted that Labour had got it wrong on child care, so perhaps the Opposition need to think again.

I can; Sir Michael Wilshaw wrote an article in Nursery World where he said that he supported the idea of higher qualifications for—[Interruption.] Let me finish my point. He supported higher qualifications for higher ratios for three and four-year-olds and he agreed that that should be extended down the age range.

Is this not a debate about the quality of the staff, rather than the number of the staff? Will affecting the ratios not improve the status and professionalism of the profession?

I completely agree. As with so many of their policies, the previous Government focused on inputs and targets, not outcomes. A third of children now entering primary school do not have the requisite communications and language skills, despite the fact that we have 96% uptake in our early-years places. It is about quality, outcomes and allowing autonomy and professional judgment.

Has the Minister had any other advice from the Deputy Prime Minister about child care? Which part of the schools or social care budget will be cut to fill the huge void in resources to deliver the provision that the Minister has promised, while maintaining the adult-child ratios required by parents and the Deputy Prime Minister?

As I outlined earlier, we as a Government are spending more than £5 billion on early-years education and child care, which is equivalent to countries such as France and Germany, where parents pay a lot less. The reason that it is so expensive is that we have a hugely cumbersome system with many different funding streams. I am very pleased that my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary is here today. He announced tax-free child care, which will be a much simpler scheme than the voucher scheme under the previous Government. We are reforming the system to get better value for money and better quality and affordability for parents.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, in his keenness to ask his question, the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), seems to have overlooked his comments of just two weeks ago, when he said:

“I visited Sweden last year and saw for myself how supporting the supply of quality childcare gives parents choice, affordability and good quality places?”,

Yet the Swedes have no mandatory child-staff ratios at all. Does that not demonstrate that the only shambles is in the thinking of the shadow Secretary of State?

Absolutely; I could not have put it better myself. Salaries in Sweden for child-care workers are £22,000. I would be very interested to understand how the shadow Secretary of State thinks he is going to get that money and where it will come from.

With the Deputy Prime Minister rubbishing the proposals, is not the policy dead in the water and another example of the shambles of this Government?

As I said, we announced our policy in “More great childcare” in January. We are consulting on the level of qualifications required to fulfil the ratios.

Helping working parents and creating small businesses are two very important parts of the Government’s programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that her proposals will make it more attractive to child-care professionals to set up as childminders, and at the same time improve the access to child-care provision in many areas across the country where at present it is sadly lacking?

My hon. Friend is right. We are taking other steps, including reforming the role of the local authority so that there is no duplication among local authorities and Ofsted, and improving the clarity of qualifications so that it will be easier for people to set up high-quality child-care businesses and be focused on the outcomes for children, in contrast to the very prescriptive regulations which have pushed up costs and held down salaries.

May I thank the shadow Secretary of State for asking the urgent question? He has allowed our excellent Minister to expound a good Tory policy. It is always good when we look at the European Union and copy what is good in it. There is one serious point here. If the Deputy Prime Minister wants to comment—if he does not want to run away from something that he has agreed on—he should be in the House making that comment, not on a radio programme. I suggest that we press on with the policy and ignore the Liberal Democrats.

I thank my hon. Friend for his support for our policy. He is absolutely right. We should look to other countries that have done better. Rather than harking back to their failure in office, the Opposition should be seeking inspiration from countries such as Sweden, Denmark and France and looking at what goes well there. I would like to know whether any Labour Members have been to see French provision for the under- twos and seen how good it is. I bet they have not.

Rehabilitation of Offenders

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the Government's plans for transforming the rehabilitation of offenders.

Reoffending rates in this country have been too high for too long. Last year, around 600,000 crimes were committed by people who had broken the law before. Almost half the number of offenders released from our prisons offend again within a year. That goes up to a staggering 58% for the group with the most prolific reoffending rates: those sentenced to prison terms of less than 12 months. This depressing merry-go-round of crime has a dreadful impact on the lives of law-abiding, hard-working people.

Reoffending has a devastating impact on the victims of crime, but it is also terrible value for the taxpayer. We spend more than £4 billion a year on prisons and probation, and despite significant increases in spending under the previous Government, overall reoffending rates have barely changed over the last decade and are now rising again. The status quo cannot continue; we cannot go on doing the same things, seeing the same faces come back through the system time and again, just hoping to get a different outcome. This has got to change.

Those who break the law need to be punished. In yesterday's Queen's Speech, we set out how we are going to clamp down on those who persist in the low-level crime that blights our communities, and for serious offenders it is absolutely right that they get a custodial sentence. I want to ensure that they are punished, and I want to send the strongest possible signal that offenders will not get away with their crimes. However, I also want to see them get their lives back on track, and that requires a thorough and thoughtful approach. Such offenders have a host of complex problems—a shocking number of them will have been through the care system, and many have come from broken homes and are addicted to drugs and alcohol. At the moment, prisoners serving sentences of less than 12 months are simply released on to the streets with £46 in their pockets and little else.

In the coalition agreement, the Government promised to bring about a rehabilitation revolution to tackle the unacceptable cycle of reoffending. Today I am publishing our “Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform” which sets out concrete plans to extend and enhance rehabilitation both in custody and in the community.

Probably the biggest failing of the current system is that those with the highest reoffending rates get the least rehabilitation. Our plans put that right. Today we are introducing legislation so that, for the first time in recent history, every offender released from custody will receive at least a year of supervision and rehabilitation in the community. The Bill will extend statutory rehabilitation to all 50,000 of the most prolific reoffenders—those sentenced to under 12 months in custody. By guaranteeing this support in law, we ensure that probation providers are working with those who are hardest to reach and most likely to reoffend.

However, it is not enough just to ensure that everyone who needs rehabilitation gets it. We heard during the consultation that there is often a disconnect between what happens in prisons, and what happens on the outside. Too many offenders are falling through that gap. Therefore, in addition to extending rehabilitation to more offenders, we will create a genuine through-the-gate service. That has been paid lip-service in the past, so this time we will do it differently. I have ordered the wholesale realignment of our prison estate to designate new resettlement prisons, where the same providers who will be working with offenders in the community will work with them for three months before release too. Combined with the reforms to the prison regime that we announced last month to incentivise engagement in rehabilitation, this is a significant change. We are, for the first time, creating real continuity between custody and community, bridging the gap which right now just leads many offenders back to a life of crime.

Our reforms will also open up rehabilitation services to a diverse range of new providers, ensuring that we bring together the best of the public, voluntary and private sectors, at local as well as at national level. These providers will have the freedom to innovate and to focus on turning around the lives of offenders. Our plans will also use competition to drive greater efficiency, which is vital to free up the resources we need so that we can extend rehabilitation to a wider group of offenders.

A cornerstone of our reforms is payment by results, which will focus providers relentlessly on rehabilitating offenders and actually driving reoffending down. We will give those providers the flexibility to do what works and free them from Whitehall bureaucracy, but the deal will be that they get paid in full only for real reductions in reoffending and crime.

Breaking the cycle of crime will mean fewer victims in the long term, but we cannot and will not forget our primary responsibility for public safety. Therefore, we are creating a new national probation service, working to protect the public and building on the expertise and professionalism that are already in place. Probation staff make a vital contribution to protecting the public from the most dangerous offenders and will continue to do so. Under the new system, every offender who poses a high risk of serious harm to the public will be managed by the public sector probation service. We also know that risk levels can change, which is why the public sector will have the right to review cases where risk is more volatile or where circumstances have changed.

We cannot just carry on with the status quo and hope that things improve. These reforms may be challenging, but they are essential none the less. They are part of a radical programme of reform across the whole justice system, making it ready to meet the challenges of the future, reforming offenders, delivering value for the taxpayer and protecting victims and communities. My aim is to deliver year-on-year reductions in reoffending.

That would be the right thing to do at any time, but at a time of tough financial constraints it becomes even more important. We need to ensure that the taxpayers’ money we spend on rehabilitating offenders actually makes a difference. The plans we are publishing today will ensure that all those sentenced to prison or community sentences are properly punished but that they also get the support they need to turn their backs on crime for good. Transforming rehabilitation will mean lower crime, fewer victims and safer communities. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement—it is generous of him to share his thoughts with the House on this important subject so soon after briefing the national media. He is right that one of the best ways to cut crime, the number of victims and the cost of our criminal justice system is by tackling reoffending. It is disappointing that it has taken the Government three wasted years to reach that conclusion, but we welcome the intent of today’s announcement.

Reoffending rates are too high. We started to reduce them when we were in government—especially the rate of youth offending, which breaks the cycle of reoffending at an early point—but much more needs to be done. This is an ambitious programme. Unfortunately, it is based on fewer resources, on untried and untested methods and on putting faith in exactly those private sector organisations that have failed to deliver other major public sector contracts.

Let us take the proposal for support for everyone leaving prison—an extra 45,000 offenders on the Secretary of State’s figures. Can he explain to the House whether that is an uncosted demand for more resource or whether existing moneys will be spread much more thinly to deliver it? Resettlement prisons, as he said, represent a major restructuring of the prison system. What is the cost of that restructuring and what additional resources will go into preparing offenders for release? He knows that the prison estate is still chronically overcrowded and understaffed, so does he seriously think that a reorganisation can take place against such a backdrop? In London there is a major shortage of prison places, which means that offenders from London often end up housed hundreds of miles away from home and family, so how is resettlement to work here?

On release, even those who have served the shortest sentences are promised a year’s supervision and support with addiction, housing and employment. Who will pay for that at a time when drug treatment centres are closing? Housing is perhaps the most expensive item for newly released prisoners. On the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State speculated that housing associations would help out, so during the worst housing shortage for a generation are ex-offenders to get priority for social housing?

Who will fund the army of mentors, and who will vet them to ensure that the right people mentor offenders? The probation service has been cut by almost 10% so far and those cuts will continue. The service, which received an award for excellence two years ago, is by definition not to blame for rising reoffending by short-sentence prisoners, because they are currently unsupervised. However, it is not probation officers who will now undertake 70% of the supervision. The Justice Secretary places a great deal of faith in reformed old lags helping out, but he admitted on the “Today” programme that they will have to be paid. Professional probation officers sacked and replaced with ex-offenders: is this the Justice Secretary’s brave new world?

In reality, it is the Secretary of State’s old friends Serco, G4S and the rest of the cartel who will profit from today’s announcements. The 21 contracts are too large for smaller providers. An extra £500 million of public contracts are going to the people who gave us the Work programme and security at the Olympics. Now he is to impose his untested and untried payment-by-results methods on probation. Perhaps most seriously, a dangerous chasm will open up between public and private providers on the basis of an offender’s risk level, taking no account of the fact that in 25% of all cases offenders move between risk levels. Therefore, contrary to his assurance, private firms will be in charge of the most serious criminals, and we genuinely fear that that will put the public at risk. Failures in delivering probation services even to medium-risk offenders will mean that those guilty of domestic violence, burglary, robbery, sexual offences and gang activity will walk our streets unsupervised. Regardless of whether private sector providers deliver, they will still get paid at least 90% of the money. Do they have the incentive or the skills to supervise dangerous and violent people in the community?

Reducing reoffending while maintaining public safety should be our twin priorities. A focus on reoffending is to be welcomed, but the Government’s ill-thought-out policies and total reliance on payment by results are putting at risk the safety of communities up and down the country.

I plead guilty to having done a couple of media interviews this morning, but I am at least in the House right now. My opposite number, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), also gave some media interviews this morning but has not made it to the House, which is rather a surprise to me.

We learned an important lesson in opposition, which is that sometimes when one aspires to be a Government it is necessary to accept that something is the right thing to do. That is a lesson that today’s Opposition have not learned. I do not understand why they are coming out with this faux anger about what we are doing when the legislative foundations that enable us to push through these reforms were passed by the previous Labour Government. If they supported the concept then, why do they not support it now?

The hon. Gentleman asked about costs. That highlights an important difference between us and the previous Government. They believed that a problem would be solved by throwing money at it, and they ended up with an over-bureaucratic, over-complex system which simply did not deliver. Thanks to the work done by the Select Committee, we know that probation officers spend only about a quarter of their time at work on supervising offenders, while about 40% of their time is spent on providing support services. Are the Opposition really saying that it is not possible to run that system more efficiently and deliver support where it is needed to the offenders who are most likely to reoffend when they leave prison? Again, there is a divide between us and them. They think it is a question of spending more taxpayers’ money and having higher taxes; we want to get better value from the taxes that we already raise.

On resettlement prisons, again, it is about making our system work more effectively. At the moment, we move far too many prisoners all over the country in a fairly haphazard way. Over the past few months we have worked with prison governors and prison officer teams to work out a better way so that short-sentence offenders will almost always stay in one place and longer-sentence offenders will go to a prison close to where they will be released to ensure that when they are released we can deliver continuity of support through the prison gate. The Opposition should welcome that. It is the right thing to do and it should have been done years ago.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the past three years. It is only a few months since the Opposition were attacking me for not undertaking pilots on this issue. In fact, for the past few years we have been looking at how such a system would work, in Peterborough prison and in Doncaster prison. The work that has been done there is first-rate. It has also shown how effective older prisoners who are turning their lives around can be in supporting and mentoring younger offenders who have yet to do so. The hon. Gentleman needs to go out and look at what is happening, not in the world of big businesses, which his party’s Government contracted with regularly, but in the voluntary sector with some of our first-rate charities, where there are living examples of former offenders who have gone straight and who are now helping to turn around the lives of the next generation of offenders. I want to capture those skills in helping to bring down reoffending.

The hon. Gentleman questioned payment by results, but why is it such a bad thing in the eyes of the Opposition? They want to pay a whole-contract fee, but I believe that we should pay part of a fee based on whether the taxpayer gets a good deal or not. We should pay not unconditionally, but conditionally, and that is what we will do under these contracts. I want to pay for real results that bring down reoffending and crime.

Under the previous Government, reoffending barely changed. We ended up with a situation in which people were going round and round the system. We finally have a set of proposals that will start to change that. It is shame that this did not happen, not three years ago, but 13 years ago, when the Labour party was in power.

If this reform can be carried through in such difficult financial circumstances, it will be one of the most valuable and important things this Government do. Does the Lord Chancellor agree that the system must be tailored so that charities and voluntary organisations can viably play their full part, and that the creation of a national probation service must not be allowed to undermine the local co-operation between agencies, which is vital to reducing reoffending?

I can give assurance on both those points. The national probation service will continue to have local delivery units operating at a local authority level with local agencies, which is essential, and multi-agency supervision will and should continue for the most serious offenders.

On charitable groups, I am clear that quality and the likelihood of delivering success in reducing reoffending will be crucial in the contracting process. This is not simply a money-saving exercise; it is about easing pressure on the system by reducing reoffending. That is what it is all about and the bidding process will ensure that quality rises to the top.

Breaking the cycle of crime means breaking the dependency on drugs. I welcome the Government’s decision for mandatory drug testing. Will the Secretary of State confirm that it extends to those who go in and out of prison as well as to those under 12-month supervision, and will he be very careful when choosing drug rehabilitation providers? A group such as G4S has expertise in tagging—it is obviously good at that—but it does not have expertise in drug rehabilitation.

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is always good to hear him make a thoughtful and measured contribution, which is not always true of the rest of his party. We have to be absolutely certain that the organisations we recruit to do the work have the expertise we need, particularly in the field of drug rehabilitation. I reassure him that I have no intention whatever to contract with organisations that cannot demonstrate that they have genuine expertise in delivering the solutions we need.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. I wrote about these proposals in a November 2007 paper called “Prisons with a Purpose”, and the previous Government should have done the very things under discussion a long time ago. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that not just the big companies, but the smaller providers, such as charities and individuals, can carry people from prison out into the community so that there is no gap between incarceration and coming out into society? Will he also urge the people he deals with to ensure that people are able to read when they leave prison? The average prisoner has the reading age of an 11-year-old and it is not possible for them to get a job if they cannot read.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend. One of the elements of the new contracts will be to combine resettlement services in prisons with post-prison support, so it is a genuinely joined-up service. His point about reading is of great importance. One of the encouraging things I saw in Peterborough is the way in which older, more experienced offenders who have gone through a longer process of rehabilitation in prison are starting to provide proactive help to the younger generation. I want to see those prisoners who can read teaching those who cannot to do so.

Can I be helpful to the Secretary of State? The cohort who have been reoffending badly are those who have been in jail for a short period. Why not extend the duties of professional probation officers to deal with them? That would be one simple answer.

As I have asked the Secretary of State before, what happens when the untrained privateer wants to breach the offender? Who then makes the decision and on what evidence will it be based? He has said today that he cannot leave matters in abeyance and hope that things will improve, but instead he is just stepping out into the dark—and hoping that things will improve.

Breach will be a matter for the public probation service. May I take advantage of the fact the right hon. Gentleman is a Welsh Member to pay tribute to the leaders of the probation trust in Wales, who have been enormously helpful in shaping the proposals? Their work on plotting a new path for probation has been very influential. I also say to the people of Wales that we envisage there being a distinct entity for Wales within the new national probation service, as there should be.

The target must be to have fewer crimes committed by fewer people and for criminals to continue committing crimes for a shorter period.

Will my right hon. Friend see whether figures can be published every six months on the number of people who have committed a serious criminal offence for the first time, the proxy for which will be those who have been convicted? I believe that the figure is about 1,800 a week.

Will he try to obtain a report every now and again on the people who have been released from jail that week who have a home, a worthwhile activity such as a job or training, and some kind of champion to help them go straight?

I am happy to look at what we can provide for my hon. Friend. He is right that we need to have the best possible understanding of what happens to people post-prison. We are putting in place a justice databank so that voluntary organisations that work in the area can understand the impact of their work. I will do my best to provide as much information to the House as possible about the issues that he raises.

The stress on rehabilitation is welcomed across the House, but is it correct that the public sector will not able to bid for the payment-by-results contracts? How can it be good to exclude some of the people with the most expertise and professional training in these matters?

No, that is not correct. I hope that we can pray in aid the spirit of the co-operative movement, which has played a great role in this country over the past 200 years. We are actively encouraging and supporting members of our probation teams who want to form mutual organisations to bid for the contracts, and I hope that they will do so.

The figures from my right hon. Friend’s Department make it perfectly clear that the longer people spend in prison, the less likely they are to reoffend. That is largely because they have time to do things such as learn how to read before they are released. What weight does he place on the use of longer prison sentences to reduce reoffending? The Department is also clear that indeterminate sentences for public protection have the lowest reoffending rate of all sentences. Given that reducing reoffending is so important, why on earth have the Government got rid of the thing that had the lowest reoffending rate of all?

Let me reassure my hon. Friend that the length of time that people are spending in prison has been increasing, not decreasing. I agree that we need to take advantage of the opportunity to turn people’s lives around in prison. Those who say that short sentences do not work and should not happen always miss the point that 80% of the people who arrive in our prisons have been through a community sentence that has not worked. On sentencing, we have introduced extended determinate sentences, which means that people will probably spend more time in prison for serious offences than would previously have been the case.

With such a major reform, it is important that the right hon. Gentleman takes the existing staff with him. Will he clarify what consultations will take place with the trade unions in prisons and probation services? On prisons, the redesignation of individual prisons means that there may well be a reassessment of the number of staff who are needed and of the skills and training that are required. On probation, morale is precarious and there are concerns about the failure to allocate the supervision of medium-risk prisoners because of the potential risk to the general public.

With a major reform such as this, it is always important to do everything that we can to take staff with us. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who is responsible for prisons and probation, will meet the unions today. We have regular contact with staff organisations across the Department and that will continue.

I hope that probation staff will look on today’s proposals as an opportunity. I have talked about the potential for a co-operative approach in some areas, about greater professionalisation in the probation service and about a highly skilled public probation service. The strategy is not about getting rid of people who work with front-line offenders; it is about extending the system and making it more efficient so that we can provide more support to the people who need it.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for repeat offenders who want to turn their lives around and be productive and law-abiding is finding paid employment. Has my right hon. Friend held any discussions with potential employers in the private or public sector who would be willing to take that risk and offer employment to people with criminal records?

We are working hard to increase links with employers. The amount of work done in prisons has increased dramatically, and much of that takes place with potential post-prison employers—I pay tribute to the rail industry, for example, and the work it is doing. As we roll out these reforms, I want Jobcentre Plus and Work programme providers to be more closely involved with prisons, and to do everything we can to ensure that people flow from prison into employment. If we talk to most prisoners about what they would like to do when they leave, the answer is get a job. We must help them do so.

The Secretary of State said that payment in full would be dependent on results. Can he say what proportion of payment will be dependent on success, and what proportion will take the form of an up-front fee?

The answer to that is: as of yet, not exactly, because there will be a bidding process. I emphasise again, however, that that will not be simply about cost, and that quality will be at least as important as cost and the proportion of the contract put at risk. It will not be 100% payment by results because we must pay for orders of the court. I intend the providers to have some of their money at risk so that they have every incentive to perform on our behalf.

My constituents in Kettering are fed up with repeat offenders, but incensed when those people are foreign nationals. The best way to have fewer crimes committed by fewer people is to ensure that foreign nationals cannot reoffend because after their first offence they are sent home.

I rather agree with my hon. Friend. He and I both sit on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party, but one thing I welcome within the confines of the European Union is the prisoner transfer agreement. That is being ratified across the EU, and I hope it will soon allow us to send quite a lot of the people he is talking about back to their home countries where they belong.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot avoid the fact that under the previous Labour Government, reoffending rates fell. I have a specific question that he keeps avoiding. One key determining factor in stopping people reoffending is getting a job and housing. Given that thousands of people in my constituency who are not offenders and have not been to prison cannot get a job or housing, what practical measures will he put in place to provide better access to jobs and housing for offenders?

We want to try to ensure that everyone gets a job and is housed. Everyone in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency has a vested interest in ensuring we bring down reoffending, because otherwise there will be more victims of crime. One thing I expect to see—this is already happening in parts of the provider community —is housing capabilities being part of the bids, and we already have partnerships between voluntary sector organisations and housing organisations to deliver better support for offenders. I want closer ties between Jobcentre Plus, Work programme providers and those delivering rehabilitation. We must ensure that we get as many offenders as possible back on the straight and narrow when they leave prison, to avoid having more victims of crime than we have today.

I warmly welcome the proposals outlined by the Secretary of State, and he will know that they have evolved and been trialled with organisations, charities and voluntary groups such as the St Giles Trust. Will he ensure that as the programme is rolled out, smaller organisations that drive much of the innovation and change, and many of the good ideas, will have a fair crack at getting their talents recognised in partnerships with larger primes, as well as a bid process that is not too cumbersome?

That latter point is important and we will try to ensure that the bid process is as simple as possible for smaller organisations, and that it is as simple as possible for partnerships to be formed. I am not attracted by simply having a universal prime and subcontractor model. In Peterborough and Doncaster, for example, partnerships are already being formed between the private and voluntary sectors in a way that can make a real difference. Such partnerships are to be welcomed.

In a parliamentary answer, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), stated that

“public sector entities will not be able to bid”

for probation contracts

“as they will not be able to carry the financial risk.”—[Official Report, 25 March 2013; Vol. 560, c. 955W.]

Will the Secretary of State confirm that public sector contracts cannot be awarded to probation trusts?

Self-evidently, the existing structure of public probation trusts cannot take risk on behalf of the taxpayer, but staff are welcome—they are being helped actively—to establish co-operative movements and social enterprises that bid for the business. That is to be welcomed. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is a Labour and Co-operative Member, but he sits with many who are. Surely he welcomes that approach.

I congratulate the Justice Secretary on his statement. Rehabilitation is a long-held Liberal Democrat value. We need to focus on reoffending rather than engage in a competition as to who can be the most draconian and pose about it. He is right to highlight short-term prison sentences and to provide probation support. He knows that such sentences are expensive but not effective. Does he agree that spending more money on rehabilitation and on better community sentencing might be a better way of using it?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the issue unites the coalition—there has been a lot of talk of the coalition parties having differences on policy, but let us champion a policy on which we are united on the need for change. As hon. Members will see when they read the document, one thing that is different in the package I have announced is that we are building rehabilitation support into community sentences. Clearly, the aim is to ensure that people do not get to prison in the first place. My goal is to see prison numbers fall steadily not because we want to close prisons for its own sake, but because fewer people reoffend, and we therefore do not need to put them in jail in future.

When probation officers dared to criticise the Secretary of State’s bonkers plans, he put a gagging order on them. When the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association criticised the Secretary of State’s bonkers ideas for criminal legal aid, he refused to meet him. Is it criticism he cannot stand, or engaging with the professions within the justice system?

My ministerial and I colleagues have regular meetings with leading figures in the legal profession and with leading probation staff, and will continue to do so. I most recently had meetings with both the Bar Council and the Law Society within the past couple of weeks.

Order. I heard that last sedentary interjection, which was an imputation of dishonesty. I know the hon. Gentleman will want to withdraw that.

I welcome the measures announced by my right hon. Friend to help young offenders. Does he agree that we can provide help through smaller charitable and voluntary organisations, such as Action Acton in my constituency, which does excellent work? Does he also recognise that some smaller organisations find that waiting a long time for payment by results stretches their resources to breaking point?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We intend to ensure that any passing of risk down a supply chain is done in a transparent way. We will do everything we can to protect the interests of smaller organisations, but they must take advantage of that protection and not simply sign up to deals that they cannot afford.

There is no doubt in my mind that the proposals are simply the privatisation of a highly valuable, well performing public service—the probation service. Despite a cut of more than £1.8 million last year, the Northumbria Probation Trust in my area is one of four trusts graded excellent performers. Why does the Justice Secretary not just admit it and come clean that the statement is not about reoffenders or the general public, but about the prize of privatisation, political dogma and ideology?

I understand full well where the hon. Gentleman comes from politically. The problem with his argument is that the legislation that enables me to make these proposals was passed by the Labour Government.

I welcome the statement and the Justice Secretary’s sense of mission and purpose. However, on payment for results, I ask him to be cautious of creating perverse incentives to meet targets, and to ensure that the measures are sufficiently nuanced to take account of the behavioural challenges in getting difficult categories of offenders fully clear of reoffending. The measures must be sophisticated enough to deal with such complexity.

That is a very important point. We took careful heed of the responses to our consultation on this matter. The mechanism for payment by results will contain two elements: an overall reduction in the reoffending rate of a cohort of offenders referred to a provider, and a measure for the overall reduction in the number of crimes committed by that cohort. That will mean that a prolific offender cannot simply be parked in the corner and ignored: there will be a financial incentive for a provider to work with every offender.

During the 12 months of support I understand that there will be cannabis testing and that individuals will be required to attend drug treatment services. Will the Minister explain how that will be costed, and which of the new NHS bodies will be responsible for providing and commissioning those services?

There are already drug testing services in place for offenders who are on licence and who are believed to have a drug issue. We are simply extending the testing from class A to class B drugs, and taking the power to do that testing through the 12-month period. That will be dealt with within the costing of the package as a whole.

Financial capability also plays a vital part in rehabilitation. Will the Secretary of State encourage partners in through-the-gate support to look carefully at the pilot programmes undertaken by some banks and in particular by credit unions, to help people to budget, save and participate fully in the legitimate economy?

That is a fair point. A range of different issues affect reoffending. I expect our providers to provide a glue between the different organisations that can play a role in reducing reoffending, with help on debt advice, housing options, rehab support and so on. Providing that central support, help and encouragement for the individual will be of fundamental importance.

May I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) on the perceived lack of engagement with those in the legal profession on some of the proposals, particularly those relating to criminal legal aid? They do feel that they are not being listened to. Given that payment by results is at the cornerstone of the proposals, if the Secretary of State cannot say now whether it will be 25% up front and 75% payment by results—or 50:50, 75:25 or 90:10—will he indicate when he can outline the proposals with more clarity? A number of excellent third sector providers will want to engage with this process and they need to have that information sooner rather than later.

The whole point of the bidding process is to look at quality, price and the proportion that individual organisations will be able to put at risk. We will publish a detailed tender document in due course, and that will give indicators of options and parameters within which they can work. I intend to publish that document for the House at the appropriate time. On meeting the legal profession, hardly a week goes by at the moment without a member of my ministerial team or myself having a detailed discussion with senior figures of representative groups in the legal profession. The last such meeting I held was yesterday.

Given the drive across government to support the recovery of those addicted to drugs and alcohol, can the Justice Secretary assure me that offenders will not be released without planning— they are often released on a Friday night, into the hands of dealers sitting on the streets—but will be met by rehabilitation experts, those who provide a network of recovery champions referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) and those who know best how to enable people to go straight?

I can give that assurance. First, I am looking hard at the issue of Friday night releases. Secondly, the through-the-gate structure will ensure that whenever someone leaves prison they will be met at the gate by an organisation that will take immediate care over their lives. Thirdly, Members will see in the document that a joint project between the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health will be trialled to measure the impact of a more substantial through-the-gate rehabilitation treatment service, with a view to extending it more broadly as and when we know the results.

I welcome today’s statement for two reasons: first, its focus on reoffending, which is exactly the right thing to do; and secondly, the emphasis on continuity between being in prison and going out beyond prison, which is critical. Will the Lord Chancellor bear in mind, however, the importance of education during the rehabilitation process? In particular, young people who cannot read or communicate properly are at a disadvantage, and the process he envisages could well help in that field.

My hon. Friend is right that basic skills are fundamental to helping somebody get a job. I hope and expect that we will now have a much greater connection between resettlement services and education courses post-prison. I want somebody who cannot read properly and might have started training in prison to come straight out of prison and into the local college to continue that work. With the kind of support we will be providing, that will be much more likely to happen.

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. From my 30 years’ experience as a practitioner at the Bar of the criminal courts of this country, I know that the disconnect to which he refers has existed for many years, but has not previously been acted on.

On the specific steps, can my right hon. Friend reassure me that the proposed local partnership arrangements will fully involve local authorities in that process and respect the work being done on community budgeting? Furthermore, does he agree that the work of those in the voluntary and charitable sector, which turns these people’s lives around, is one of the most powerful means of getting messages through to ex-offenders and that their work deserves rather more respect than it appears to be given by the cavalier comments from the Opposition Front Bench?

I rather agree with my hon. Friend. I can certainly reassure him that we will be looking for organisations that can demonstrate the ability to maintain partnerships where they are necessary. I am at a loss as to why the Labour party does not seem to think that using the expertise of the former offender gone straight to help turn around the life of a younger offender is anything but a very good idea. I ask them to get out of Westminster a bit and visit some of the charities where it is already happening to see the impact. It is substantial and we should make more of it.

Does the Secretary of State agree that behind every short term of imprisonment is a reason for offending, yet the lack of a system prevents us from getting to the root of that reason? We need the probation service or any other provider to ensure that we work and assist these offenders in the longer term, because if we get this right, it provides the best opportunity in a generation to turn these offenders away from a life of crime.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have chosen an extended one-year period of supervision even for people who receive very short sentences, because those who go to prison for a few weeks are those in danger of going back to prison again and again and for longer and longer. If we can stop them doing so early on, ideally before they get to prison in the first place, by providing rehabilitation support for those on a community sentence, we can stop the cycle of reoffending that he is right to say is damaging.

Speaker’s Statement

In accordance with Standing Order No. 122D, I will now announce the arrangements for the election of the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for the new Session.

If there is more than one candidate, the ballot will be held in Committee Room 16 from 11 am to 1 pm on Thursday 16 May.

Nominations must be submitted in the lower Table Office between 10 am and 5 pm on the day before the ballot.

In accordance with the Standing Order, only Members who do not belong to a party represented in Her Majesty’s Government may be candidates in the election.

A briefing note with more details about the election will be made available to Members and published on the intranet.

Bills Presented

Finance Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80B)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Pickles, Danny Alexander, Greg Clark, Mr David Gauke and Sajid Javid, presented a Bill to grant certain duties, to alter other duties, and to amend the law relating to the National Debt and the Public Revenue, and to make further provision in connection with finance.

Bill read the First and Second time, clauses 1, 3, 16, 183, 184 and 200 to 212 and schedules 3 and 41 as reported from a Committee of the whole House were laid upon the Table without Question put, and the Bill stood committed to a Public Bill Committee in respect of clauses 6 to 15, 17 to 182, 185 to 199 and 213 to 232 and schedules 1, 2, 4 to 40 and 42 to 49 (Standing Order No. 80B and Order, 15 April); and to be printed (Bill 1).

Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, Greg Clark, Mr David Gauke and Sajid Javid, presented a Bill to make further provision about banking and other financial services, including provision about the Financial Services Compensation Scheme; to make provision for the amounts owed in respect of certain deposits to be treated as a preferential debt on insolvency; to make provision about the accounts of the Bank of England and its wholly owned subsidiaries; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 11 March); to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 2) with explanatory notes (Bill 2-EN).

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Secretary Maria Miller, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Michael Gove, Mr Secretary Pickles, Hugh Robertson, Lynne Featherstone, Mrs Helen Grant and Jo Swinson, presented a Bill to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 5 February); to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 3) with explanatory notes (Bill 3-EN).

Energy Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Secretary Edward Davey, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Secretary Hague, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Hammond, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mr Oliver Letwin, Gregory Barker and Michael Fallon, presented a Bill to make provision for the setting of a decarbonisation target range and duties in relation to it; for or in connection with reforming the electricity market for purposes of encouraging low carbon electricity generation or ensuring security of supply; for the establishment and functions of the Office for Nuclear Regulation; about the government pipe-line and storage system and rights exercisable in relation to it; about the designation of a strategy and policy statement; about domestic supplies of gas and electricity; for extending categories of activities for which energy licences are required; for the making of orders requiring regulated persons to provide redress to consumers of gas or electricity; about offshore transmission of electricity during a commissioning period; for imposing fees in connection with certain costs incurred by the Secretary of State; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 19 December); to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 4) with explanatory notes (Bill 4-EN).

Children and Families Bill

Presentation and resumption of proceedings (Standing Order No. 80A)

Secretary Michael Gove, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Secretary Chris Grayling, Mr Secretary Hunt, Steve Webb, Mr Edward Timpson, Jo Swinson and Elizabeth Truss, presented a Bill to make provision about children, families, and people with special educational needs; to make provision about the right to request flexible working; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First and Second time without Question put (Standing Order No. 80A and Order, 25 February); to be considered tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 5) with explanatory notes (Bill 5-EN).

Pensions Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Oliver Letwin and Steve Webb, presented a Bill to make provision about pensions and about benefits payable to people in connection with bereavement; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 6) with explanatory notes (Bill 6-EN).

Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mrs Secretary May, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Chris Grayling, Mr Secretary Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, the Attorney-General and Mr Jeremy Browne, presented a Bill to make provision about anti-social behaviour, crime and disorder, including provision about recovery of possession of dwelling-houses; to make provision amending the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, Schedules 7 and 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and the Extradition Act 2003; to make provision about firearms and about forced marriage; to make provision about the police, the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Serious Fraud Office; to make provision about criminal justice and court fees; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 7) with explanatory notes (Bill 7-EN).

Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Maria Miller, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Secretary Pickles, Mr Secretary Hunt, Mrs Secretary Villiers, Danny Alexander and Hugh Robertson, presented a Bill to make provision about the licensing and advertising of gambling.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 8) with explanatory notes (Bill 8-EN).

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mrs Secretary Villiers, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Michael Moore, Mr Secretary Jones, Miss Chloe Smith and Mike Penning, presented a Bill to make provision about donations, loans and related transactions for political purposes in connection with Northern Ireland; to amend the Northern Ireland Assembly Disqualification Act 1975 and the Northern Ireland Act 1998; to make provision about the registration of electors and the administration of elections in Northern Ireland; and to make miscellaneous amendments in the law relating to Northern Ireland.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 9) with explanatory notes (Bill 9-EN).

Debate on the Address

[2nd Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 8 May).

Question again proposed,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:

Most Gracious Sovereign,

We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

Home Affairs

The Gracious Speech we heard yesterday put forward a comprehensive legislative programme. Underlying it is a basic principle: this Government want to ensure that people who work hard and want to get on in life are able to do so. We believe that it is part of the Government’s role to help people who want to work hard to succeed. We want to ensure that those who do the right thing do not find themselves penalised for their honesty and their commitment to playing fair. The corollary of that is that those who cheat the system and who do not play by the rules should be prevented from being able to take advantage, at the expense of the decent and hard-working majority.

Nowhere is this more true than in the immigration system. We are going to make the UK a harder place to live for an immigrant who has not played by the rules—who has dishonestly overstayed their visa, for example, or who does not have one at all—or who has committed a serious crime. The immigration Bill referred to in the Gracious Speech will do three things. First, it will diminish the pull factors that make migrants want to come to Britain to take but not to contribute. Secondly, it will make Britain a harder place to live for those who have no right to be here. Thirdly, it will make it easier to remove foreign nationals who have committed serious crimes and who should be deported. It will streamline the appeals system, making it much less slow and cumbersome, and give fewer opportunities for using the Human Rights Act 1998 to avoid deportation.

Will the Home Secretary explain to the House why she has sent back fewer foreign prisoners than were sent back in the last year of the Labour Government?

If the hon. Lady cares to look at the figures, she will see that there has been a significant increase in the number of appeals by foreign national prisoners, which is delaying their deportation. That is exactly why this Government are bringing forward measures in the immigration Bill to deal with the appeals system, and I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will support them.

One of the most fundamental injustices of the present system is one that many Members will be aware of from the complaints of their constituents. It is the extent to which immigrants can call on publicly funded services without having made any contribution to the system that provides them. Our system is one of universal provision, and it will remain so under this Government, but it is also one that requires some contribution to be made in order for that provision to be accessed. That is the basic principle of justice that underpins the system, but it is a principle that has been flouted. When the Bill becomes law, it will be respected.

The Bill will ensure that temporary migrants and others will not be able to have free access to the NHS until they have made at least some contribution to the Exchequer. Furthermore, the Bill will strengthen legislation that penalises businesses that employ illegal immigrants. It is obviously unfair that those who are not entitled to be in Britain should be able to take jobs that ought to be filled by people who are so entitled. The Bill will strengthen our ability to enforce penalties on employers that have used illegal workers. It will also confirm that a migrant must have lawful immigration status of more than six months to qualify for a UK driving licence.

On the Home Secretary’s point about businesses that employ illegal migrants, will she explain why the number of businesses fined for so doing has dropped by 40% since the general election?

The rate of certain aspects of prosecutions taking place in relation to certain individuals has actually been higher under this Government than it was under the last Labour Government. That is one of the areas—[Interruption.] I have to say that I am not sure—

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. An hon. Member has just called across the House, saying, “Stop making that stupid face.” Is that parliamentary language?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I did not hear the expression concerned, but I think that it falls into the category of behaviour that is discourteous but not disorderly. We will leave it there for the time being, but I appeal to Members on both sides of the House to remember what I said yesterday. Speaking on behalf of the House and of the public, I believe that we should try to express ourselves with restraint, moderation and good humour, in the best traditions required by “Erskine May”.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Bill will also introduce a duty on private landlords to carry out immigration checks when letting property. It will penalise landlords who rent property to migrants who are not entitled to stay in Britain.

We shall also introduce an amendment to the immigration regulations covering EU nationals who come to the UK in search of work. They will cease to have a right to reside here and will have no access to benefits if, after six months, they do not have a job and do not have a realistic chance of getting one. There is a glaring unfairness in the way that immigrants’ claims to have the right to settle here are assessed. The system has become so complex that, as one senior judge said recently,

“immigration law has now become an impenetrable jungle of intertwined statutory provision and judicial decisions...There is an acute need for simplification”.

The immigration Bill will provide that simplification. It will also set out how the courts should interpret article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which sets out the right to respect for private and family life. Last July, we set out clearly before the House what the right to family life should mean. That interpretation was adopted by the House without a Division, because it was unopposed. Unfortunately, some judges have chosen to ignore that interpretation. The immigration Bill will provide them with rules on how article 8 should be interpreted that will have statutory force. It will place strict limits on the circumstances in which the right to family life can be invoked to block deportation. In particular, it will put an end to the unjust situation in which immigrants convicted of serious offences can escape deportation merely by claiming that it would interfere with their right to family life.

My right hon. Friend is making a very important point. The House has made it abundantly clear that the will of the British people is that we should be able to deport people whom it is considered undesirable to have in this country. What assurance can she give the House that judges are going to listen to what the House is saying this time, given that they have not done so in the past?

My hon. Friend makes a good point: many people are incredibly frustrated by cases in which judges decide that the right to family life means that someone should not be deported, despite evidence of a significant level of criminality. Last July, when we made changes to the immigration rules, I hoped and expected that judges would respond to those changes, given that there was cross-party support for them. As I said, there was no opposition to them in the House. The fundamental difference this time around is that the changes will be made through primary legislation rather than through the immigration rules.

I now move on to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill. The Bill aims to diminish the extent to which honest and hard-working people are preyed on by criminals and by bullies who show no regard for the basic rules of civilised living. It will do so in three ways. First, it will make it easier for citizens to get the police or local authorities to take action against people whose antisocial behaviour disrupts their lives. Secondly, it includes measures to ensure that we can tackle organised crime more effectively. In particular, we are substantially increasing the maximum penalty for the illegal importation of guns, and creating a new offence of

“possession for sale or transfer”

of illegal firearms. Thirdly, it continues the process of reform of the police, so that police officers have clear professional standards and are able to spend more of their time fighting crime than filling in forms.

The Bill also contains a provision to make forcing a person to marry a criminal offence. Forced marriage is a serious problem in some communities in Britain today. It is an abomination: it is totally incompatible with the values of a free society that anyone should be forced into a marriage. Astonishingly, however, forcing a person into marriage is not a crime under our law. This Bill will remedy that situation, and in doing so, it will signal very clearly that this country does not tolerate the forcing of one person by another into marriage. The Bill will also make easier the prosecution of people who attempt it. Prosecutors will no longer have to identify other offences such as assault or kidnapping before they can start proceedings against someone for forcing another into marriage.

Antisocial behaviour is destructive, demoralising and damaging. When it is repeated over and over again on the same victims, its results can be tragic, as numerous cases involving some of the most vulnerable and easily hurt people in our society have shown. The existing means for dealing with antisocial behaviour are neither quick nor effective. The Bill will give new powers to the police, councils and landlords that will ensure that quick and effective remedies are available. It will also give people the power to require agencies to deal with antisocial behaviour. It will no longer be possible for a police force or a council to ignore repeated complaints, as it is now.

I invite my right hon. Friend to join me in congratulating the police on making savings and on working far more effectively in reducing crime. On the issue of antisocial behaviour, will she review whether unauthorised campers and Travellers returning to the same place, doing damage and causing costs can be dealt with more effectively? This sort of antisocial behaviour is not acceptable and it is resented by local residents.

I recognise the problem that my hon. Friend identifies as one that affects many communities up and down the country. I am pleased to say that in numerous places we have already seen the police taking a more robust approach in dealing with these particular issues. I encourage the police to do that when they are faced with these problems which, as my hon. Friend says, cause considerable concern to local residents.

This Bill aims to give people much greater control over the services that are meant to help them, but which have often in the past been operated for the convenience of those delivering them. The Bill will change that situation.

The Bill tackles another aspect of antisocial behaviour: irresponsible dog ownership. It will extend the offence of being in charge of a dog that is dangerously out of control to apply to any location.

In looking at the problem of dangerous dogs, can we be more careful this time round, because the last time we attempted this performance, it was a bit of a fiasco and we ended up with bad legislation? The right hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue as a pressing need, but we need to be very careful about how we frame this legislation.

I accept what the right hon. Gentleman says—that it is important in introducing legislation to look carefully at what its impact might be. The clauses relating to dangerous dogs are limited in number. They extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs into private places. Sadly, we have seen a number of cases where individuals, and particularly children, have been attacked by dogs in the family home. The current legislation does not cover that, but the Bill will enable us to do so. We will, of course, look carefully at the drafting to make sure that the provision is as effective as everybody would want it to be.

The proposals to amend legislation to cover attacks on private property are, of course, very welcome. However, it is extremely disappointing that there is no dog control notice measure or something similar, to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.

I am conscious that a number of people have been asking specifically for a dog control notice. We have not introduced it because we believe that the other powers and orders we are introducing under this antisocial behaviour Bill will give sufficient power to the police to be able to deal with dangerous dogs without needing to introduce a separate—and yet another—notice.

I was bitten by what was obviously a weapon dog during the last election campaign, so although I was not seriously hurt and did not suffer too much, I am very concerned about this issue. I am also concerned about it on behalf of my constituents, who have made many complaints about dangerous dogs. Are the Government going to be serious about dealing with this problem and reintroduce licensing, with every dog having to be chipped, and with a proactive role for dog wardens and the police to ensure that dogs are not dangerous?

Excellent work is done by dog wardens in many local authorities throughout the country. We feel that the legislation we are introducing, which will extend the ability to deal with dangerous dogs, is sufficient to be able to cover the issues that cannot be covered at present. I know some people say, “Why don’t we go back to having the dog licence that was held in the past?” Not only is that quite difficult to administer, but, unfortunately, all too often the owners of dogs we will need to be concerned about do not bother to get a dog licence, whereas the law-abiding citizens do. Giving the police extra powers to deal with dangerous dogs so that they can deal with them in all situations, even within the private home where the dog normally resides, gives the important extension of powers to the police that will enable them to deal with dangerous dogs wherever they may be in the community.

I am sorry to hear of the experience the hon. Gentleman had during the last election campaign. Dogs and letterboxes are the major problems for campaigners. [Interruption.] Yes, I think there would be widespread support for measures on that.

The reform of the police and the modernisation of their regulatory framework has been one of the most important aims of this Government, and it still is. We have ended the tyranny of national targets, eliminated useless bureaucracy and freed up police officers’ time so they can fight crime rather than fill in forms. We have set up the National Crime Agency to fight the cancer of organised crime, we set up the Winsor review of police pay and conditions, and we are determined that the priorities of the police should reflect those of the public they serve.

With the election of police and crime commissioners, we have made local police forces more accountable to the people they serve. This Bill will provide the new College of Policing with the powers it needs to set standards for the police in England and Wales. It will also ensure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission has the powers it needs to investigate complaints of misconduct effectively.

Although this was not specifically mentioned in the Gracious Speech yesterday, we intend to introduce measures to clarify the compensation arrangements for those whose property is damaged by riots. The law on this has not been changed since 1886, and, unsurprisingly, it is in great need of modernisation: for example, the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 does not cover damage to cars, because, of course, in 1886 there were no cars. This month, an independent review of the 1886 Act that I have commissioned will commence. It should conclude by the end of September. We shall then consult publicly, before looking to publish a draft Bill in spring 2014, with the aim of introducing it in the fourth Session of this Parliament.

It is one of the fundamental duties of Government to protect the law-abiding public from the effects of criminal behaviour, and I would like to update the House on the position regarding our proposals on communications data. The Government are committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public. Existing legislation already allows those agencies to monitor who has communicated by telephone, as well as with whom, when and where. These data are used in 95% of all investigations into serious and organised crime, and they have played a role in every major counter-terrorism operation by the security services in the last decade, but terrorists, paedophiles and criminal gangs today increasingly communicate with each other over the internet using the latest electronic technology. Our proposals are simply about ensuring that we can keep up with criminals as they shift to e-mails, instant messages and the internet, rather than making phone calls. We cannot leave the British public exposed to dangers which could be eliminated were communications data obtained. As the Gracious Speech yesterday indicated, we will be bringing forward proposals to address this most important issue.

The Home Secretary is well aware of my position, and I thank her for giving way. Will she confirm that, as was said in the Gracious Speech, these proposals will relate only to the aspects involving internet protocol address matching, on which she and I agree, and will be coupled with the safeguards requested by the Joint Committee?

I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman was a little slow in jumping up; I thought he might have done so when I first mentioned communications data. He was a member of that scrutiny Committee, so he will be aware that it said there was a case for legislation in this area. We accepted a number of the Joint Committee’s recommendations on the proposed Communications Data Bill. As I have just explained, because this is an important area for catching criminals and for dealing with terrorists and paedophiles, it is right that the Government are looking to address the issue. The wording of the Queen’s Speech yesterday made it clear that the Government intend to address the issue and, as I say, proposals will be brought forward.

The Home Secretary is indeed being most generous this morning. When she is considering what to do about IP addresses, will she also look into having better, tighter systems for age verification? We hear a lot about how a better age-verification system would deal with many of the problems that we are facing on the net.

The hon. Lady’s point does not technically come under the remit of the communications data issue and deals with access to the internet more widely. If I have understood the point she is making, there is an issue to address. Some hon. Members have been taking this point up; my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), for example, has been doing a lot of work in this area and examining any possible changes.

I am a little confused about what is being proposed for data now. Will it deal solely and exclusively with IP addresses or is the plan to bring in, either in this Session or the next one, what we all described as a snooper’s charter?

The hon. Gentleman refers to the proposed measure as a snooper’s charter, as others have done, but it was not about snooping and it was not a charter. It is about ensuring—this will continue in the proposal we bring forward—that we are able to deal with the situation that is emerging, where it is becoming harder to identify these communications because people are using new methods of communication that are not covered by existing legislation.

Hon. Members will note that I have not referred to the justice Bill, which will increase public protection by ending early release schemes for dangerous offenders, or to the offender rehabilitation Bill, which, as we have just heard in my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary’s statement, will require that all offenders released from prison, including those given short sentences, serve at least 12 months under statutory supervision in the community. Neither of those important Bills is the subject of debate today. The Opposition are in charge of the debate following the Gracious Speech, so will the shadow Home Secretary explain why the Labour party does not consider the rehabilitation of offenders and cutting reoffending to be worthy of inclusion in the debate? Perhaps she does not feel that the shadow Justice Secretary is up to the debate, which might well be true, given that he was not even here to respond to that statement, but we would like to know.

The Bills I have outlined send an unambiguous message: we are on the side of hard-working families; we will help people who play by the rules and who want to get on in life; and people should be able to receive benefits only if they contribute something first. On crime, antisocial behaviour and immigration, the Government and this legislative programme are on the side of the people, and I commend it to the House.

Once again in the Queen’s Speech we have heard grand claims, from the Home Secretary and indeed from the Prime Minister yesterday, about what their plans will do on immigration, antisocial behaviour, law and order, and justice. Sadly, however, the grand claims are simply not backed up by the reality of what they are doing.

The trouble is that we have been here before. We all remember how in this Government’s first Queen’s Speech the Home Secretary brought us the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. She said that it would give the police

“a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 708.]

Instead, she spent £100 million on shambolic elections and only one in eight people turned out to vote, which was hardly a ringing endorsement.

Let us remember, too, what the Home Secretary said about her counter-terror legislation. She said:

“Public safety is enhanced, not diminished, by appropriate and proportionate powers.”—[Official Report, 7 June 2011; Vol. 529, c. 69.]

Instead, she brought terror suspects back to London and on Boxing day one of them ran off in a black cab and no one has seen him since. Let us remember how she promised that Abu Qatada would soon be on a plane, yet we are all still waiting. She promised there would be no cuts to front-line police, yet more than 5,000 officers have already gone from 999 response and neighbourhood teams. Time and again, the rhetoric does not match the reality.

The Home Secretary talked about the data communications Bill—that is, the missing data communications Bill. Here is what she said about that Bill less than six months ago:

“This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through.”

She also said:

“But Sun readers should know that I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament.”

Instead, all that that the Queen’s Speech briefing says is that the Government are working with companies and

“It may involve legislation”—

“may”—it “may”; that is clearly the problem.

The shadow Home Secretary has carefully avoided saying what the Labour party policy is on the data communications Bill. Two days ago, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Labour Home Secretary, said that if Labour had won the last election it would have introduced such a measure. Is that her position? Can she enlighten us?

The hon. Gentleman should contain himself to squabbling within his coalition and struggling to get some answers. We have always said that action will be needed to ensure that the police can keep up with changing technology. However, the draft data communications Bill drawn up by the Home Secretary was far too wide; it gave the Home Secretary far too many powers and there were far too few safeguards for privacy. It was absolutely right that something had to be done, but that Bill was not the right approach. We must wait to see what approach the Home Secretary will now take, because Government Members are squabbling so much among themselves that the result is a shambolic approach to a serious issue. Time and again, that is what we see: there is strong rhetoric from the Home Secretary, and then the reality simply does not stack up.

It is the same when we come to the so-called “flagship” immigration Bill. We now discover that the Bill will not be published until the autumn, because the Government have obviously still not worked out what on earth to do about it. This is an area where we agree that action is needed. Yesterday, the Government told us that the Bill would have five central elements, but now it turns out that three already exist and will not require primary legislation, and two are merely proposals for consultation.

On jobseeker’s allowance, the Government are replicating the exact words in existing regulations. When the Health Secretary was asked about the NHS, all he could say was that he promised to examine the extent of the problem and do an audit. On private landlords, the Government cannot tell us how their policy will be enforced, because they do not know who the landlords are and they will not have a statutory register. Time and time again this Queen’s Speech has not set out the detailed proposals that we need. Instead of “flagship” Bills, all we have are proposals that seem to have been sketched out on the back of a fag packet—no wonder the Government wanted to get rid of the cigarette packaging legislation.

The right hon. Lady has made an attempt at two jokes during her speech, which is probably two more than we normally have. I have a simple question for her: does she agree that net migration was too high under the previous Labour Government?

We have already said that the pace of migration was too fast and that the level should come down; we have supported measures in that regard. However, although the Home Secretary has made grand claims about net migration and the Immigration Minister is attempting to do the same, they will recognise that two thirds of their drop in net migration is a result of an increase in British citizens leaving the country and fewer British citizens returning home.

Let me quote the numbers to the Home Secretary; she is on the edge of her seat, itching to intervene. In fact, the drop in net migration has been 72,000. Of those, 27,000 more Brits are leaving the country and 20,000 fewer Brits are coming home. Is she proud of a set of policies that have driven British people out of the country? I will give way to her if she wants to respond to that point.

On that statistical point, I suggest the right hon. Lady looks at what the Office for National Statistics said, which was that it was not the emigration of British people that led to the drop in net migration. We have reduced net migration by a third. I think she said that she accepted that net migration was too high under the Labour Government. Will she now apologise for that?

The Home Secretary is targeting net migration, which she knows is affected by British people leaving the country—by people leaving as well as people arriving. I state the figures again: a 72,000 drop, 27,000 more Brits leaving the country and 20,000 fewer coming home. People obviously do not want to come back to Britain under her Government. That is the problem that she has to face.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that it is utterly astonishing that she is not apologising to the British people for creating such an enormous amount of heartache and grief for them? Rather than encouraging my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in her attempts to put right the failings of the right hon. Lady’s Government, she is standing there and criticising. Should she not be apologising?