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Commons Chamber

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2013

House of Commons

Tuesday 9 July 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Social Mobility

The spending review protected spending in key areas that will promote social mobility, including the schools budget, £2.5 billion for the pupil premium, 15 hours a week of free early education for the lowest-income two-year-olds and an additional £200 million to support the most troubled families.

Child poverty fell by half under the previous Labour Government, but it is forecast to rise by 500,000 by 2015 under this Government. The Deputy Prime Minister has cut the national scholarship programme, the Sure Start programme and working tax credits for families. Are not the only beneficiaries of social mobility since the general election the Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Ministers?

It is under this Government that we have given over 20 million people paying the basic rate of tax, particularly those on low incomes, a significant tax break so that they keep more of the money they earn. It is under this Government that we are taking close to 3 million people out of income tax altogether by raising the starting point at which it is paid to £10,000. It is under this Government that for the first time ever, from this September, two-year-old toddlers from the poorest families will get 15 hours free pre-school support. Relative child poverty is now at its lowest level since the mid-1980s, and the proportion of children living in relative poverty was lower in the past two years under this Government than it was in the last two years under the hon. Gentleman’s Government.

Gosport schools receive pupil premium funding, particularly because there are so many children from armed forces families. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that that underlines the Government’s commitment to education as one of the keys to improving life chances?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Only yesterday I attended the pupil premium awards ceremony, which was for teachers and head teachers who have made best use of the additional money, which will be £2.5 billion extra going to those schools that are educating children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It was a wonderful occasion, because it really showed, much as the schools in her constituency have shown, what good can come from good use of the pupil premium.

Elections (Non-party Campaigning)

2. What assessment he has made of the role of campaigning by bodies other than political parties in elections. (163789)

At the 2010 general election, the Electoral Commission registered 30 so-called third parties, which between them spent nearly £3 million. The Government are introducing sensible and necessary improvements to the controls on third parties to ensure that they are fully transparent and not allowed to distort the political process.

Given the scandal involving Unite the Union in Falkirk, and the leaked internal document showing that it is now trying to influence selections in 40 other constituencies across the country, including Pendle, does the Minister agree that there is huge public demand for complete transparency on the influence of trade unions on our political system?

It is high time this is looked at. I think that the examples my hon. Friend has just given demonstrate that these are by no means isolated cases. It is the same old Labour party, which Len McCluskey still bankrolls, still rigs selections for, still controls and still chooses the leader for.

The Minister talks about transparency in the political system. She will be aware of the huge concern in March last year when it was first disclosed that multi-millionaires were getting privileged access to No. 10 Downing street and potentially influencing Government policy. It is about more than just elections; it is about influencing Government policy. Does she think that those millionaires will have more of an impact or less of an impact at the next general election?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is just treading time until his leader gets up to speak. Perhaps the leader is as weak as he is.

Voting (Overseas UK Citizens)

3. What consideration he has given to changing the regulations concerning voting by UK citizens living overseas. (163790)

UK citizens resident overseas can register to vote in UK and European parliamentary elections provided that they have been registered in the UK in the past 15 years. We are extending the electoral timetable for UK parliamentary elections, which will make it easier for people overseas to use their postal votes, and the Government are also removing the requirement for an initial application as an overseas elector to be attested by another British citizen abroad.

I am grateful for that answer. As we know, many UK citizens living overseas are eligible to vote but are not registered. What steps can we take to ensure that British people living overseas are enfranchised?

The Government will certainly explore all possible ways, in discussion with the Electoral Commission and other interested parties, to encourage registration among overseas electors, as we do, of course, for any eligible elector who seeks to be registered. As I say, the measures that we are taking in the context of moving towards individual electoral registration will help. I urge the hon. Lady and all those here in the House to take this issue very seriously, because very many more overseas electors ought to be registered.

Does the Minister agree that, given the importance she puts on this, the immediate priority must be the 6 million people in this country who are already eligible to vote but are missing from the register? What is she going to do about that?

I have an entire programme of activities on individual electoral registration, about which I have always been happy to brief the House; in fact, I will do so again shortly by invitation to all right hon. and hon. Members. When it comes to deciding which voters are more important than others, all voters are equally important.

Is consideration being given to the possibility that residents of the Falkland Islands will be given the right to vote in British elections in the same way as the French give people living on the island of Réunion the right to vote in French elections?

There are various categories of eligibility depending on the status of the country in question—for example, the rules that relate to Commonwealth voters who are resident in this country. I would be happy to take a further look into that question in the light of any changes that my right hon. Friend might be referring to.

Does the Minister have any concern that a number of local authorities are cutting the money that is dedicated to electoral registration? If so, what is she going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman will have been eagle-eyed and read my written ministerial statement last week announcing £4.2 million to deal with exactly that.

Commission on Devolution in Wales

The Government are grateful to the commission for its hard work and for engaging widely across Wales. We have been carefully considering its recommendations on the financial powers of the Assembly, and we intend to respond shortly. The commission is now undertaking a thorough review of the broader devolution settlement for Wales, and I look forward to seeing its report next year.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has said that funding improvements to the M4 are largely connected with the recommendations of the Silk commission. Given that Welsh businesses have already suffered two delays, will the Deputy Prime Minister ensure that they do not suffer a third as a result of delayed negotiations?

As my hon. Friend knows, the Chancellor recently confirmed that we would respond to part 1 of the Silk commission’s report shortly. It is a complex area of work. There are 33 recommendations that touch on various complex areas of fiscal and taxation policy. We are endeavouring to respond as soon as possible, including on the issue of infrastructure investment that he raises.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister give me a guarantee that, as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency in Wales, I will still be able to vote and speak in this House on matters that affect my constituents who use health services, transport and employment in England?

Yes, I think that is an assurance that I can give the right hon. Gentleman; I am not quite sure what he is driving at. The process of devolution across the United Kingdom is not incompatible with making sure that the House acts as one where we need to do so, but also, as the McKay commission examined, that we explore the possibility of ensuring that where matters apply only to England that is somehow reflected in the procedures of this House.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister update me on what discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Executive on the further devolution of powers to the Executive?

There are of course ongoing discussions. I was in Northern Ireland myself just a few weeks ago. As my hon. Friend may know, one of the main topics of discussion has been the proposal for the devolution of corporation tax to Northern Ireland because of Northern Ireland’s rather atypical economic position given its significant land border with the Republic of Ireland. We are giving very serious consideration to this. We will not make a final decision until after the referendum on Scottish independence next year.

Last night we were legislating on some of the recommendations of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, 13 days after it published its final report. It is eight months since Silk finished the first phase of his report. Why are the UK Government treating the people of Wales with such contempt, when all the polls indicate strong support for official powers for Wales?

Of course I acknowledge the fact that the success of the Silk commission is that it has mobilised such cross-party consensus and support in Wales. That is why, far from treating the recommendations with contempt, we are treating them with a great deal of seriousness. I accept that that is taking a little longer than the hon. Gentleman might want, but when we announce our response to the 33 recommendations I hope he will be pleasantly surprised at our forthcoming and forward-leaning approach.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it would be utterly wrong to allow yet further powers to be given to the Welsh Assembly before we have resolved the problem of what we do about English devolution?

I do not think one should seek to be too neat about these things. Of course I accept that there is an issue with how English votes on issues that affect only English constituencies are dealt with in this House. The McKay commission examined that, and we are now reflecting on its recommendations, but that does not mean that we should somehow freeze in time an ongoing process of devolution to other parts of the United Kingdom.

Trade Unions (Party Funding)

5. What recent representations he has received on the role of trade unions in the funding of political parties. (163793)

The cross-party funding talks during 2012 and 2013 included discussions on reform of donations, spending, and how to deal with affiliate bodies such as trade unions. In my written statement to the House last Thursday I expressed my disappointment that, as on previous occasions, the talks were not able to reach agreement on beginning party funding reform in this Parliament.

I welcome the Damascene conversion of the Leader of the Opposition to the merits of trade union members opting in to the political levy, but does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is way past time for trade union members to be able to decide to which political party they donate?

I agree with my hon. Friend and think that, as on so many other matters, the vast majority of the British people would also agree with him rather than the Labour party. If Labour Members want to turn their leader’s words today into action, we are prepared to work with them and use the forthcoming party funding Bill—[Interruption.] That is a serious suggestion and offer to turn the principle of an opt-in on the political levy into law, and indeed to give trade union members the right to support other parties, if that is what they wish. I hope Labour Members will take that opportunity, because it is time to turn words into actions.

Would not the Deputy Prime Minister speak with more credibility about political funding if his party returned the £2.5 million given to it by a convicted criminal, Michael Brown? That money was stolen. Why not return it?

I know that things must be difficult for the hon. Gentleman at this time and that he wants to spread mud around the place, but the fact is that the issue in British politics today is how on earth it is possible that the Labour party—a so-called progressive party—is funded to the tune of £11 million by Unite, which hand-picks its parliamentary questions and its parliamentary candidates. That is why I repeat my sincere offer to use forthcoming legislation to turn the promises being made by his leader into action.

Given the scandal engulfing the Labour party, is it not time that my right hon. Friend offered the Leader of the Opposition a helping hand and introduced a £50,000 cap on donations to political parties, which would stop big-money trade unions buying parliamentary seats?

I should point out to my hon. Friend that the donation cap did not find favour among various parties in the recent cross-party talks. The issue of the day is: are parties in this House free of vested interests—yes or no? I do not think it healthy for the Labour party or, for that matter, the trade unions to have this dysfunctional relationship. I welcome what the leader of the Labour party is saying today and offer legislation on behalf of the coalition Government to turn his words into action.

On the funding of political parties, in recent years donations to the Conservative party from hedge fund managers, bankers and others associated with the City of London have doubled to nearly £43 million. They obviously like the half-baked regulatory measures being introduced by this Government. What measures does the Deputy Prime Minister plan to take to ensure full transparency, so that these donations, to use his own words, are not allowed to distort the political process?

All parties in this House, if we are candid with each other, have had problems with the way in which big money circulates in politics. That is why I remain a keen advocate of a cross-party approach to getting big money out of political donations and why I am disappointed that the recent cross-party talks did not lead to fruition. We can make progress, which is why we are about to table a Bill on third party funding to limit the influence of non-political parties in the democratic process. I repeat what I said earlier: given that the Labour party finally seems to have had a change of heart over the way in which it organises its dysfunctional relationship with its financial backers, I hope that it will work with us to reflect that in law.

Voter Registration (Young People)

The Government, politicians, political parties, electoral administrators and others in society have a role to play in encouraging people, including young people, to register to vote. As I have mentioned, the Government are making available up to £4.2 million this year to maximise the rate of voter registration ahead of the transition to individual electoral registration in 2014. That will be targeted at groups of people who are under-represented on the electoral register, including young people.

Does the Minister not accept that under individual registration there will be the serious problem that a lot of young people who lead slightly dysfunctional lives because they are away at college or working away, or for all kinds of other reasons, will not be at an address when a registration form arrives, will not be able to register, and consequently will not be able to vote? Will this system not end up disfranchising a large number of young people who ought to be enfranchised in our system?

As the youngest Minister in Her Majesty’s Government, I could not agree more on the importance of enfranchising young people. However, I disagree entirely that IER will lead to what the hon. Gentleman describes. There are multiple points at which electoral registration officers will make contact; it is not a case of just one officer turning up. I stand strongly by the principle that it is right in a modern society for people to have an individual right, and indeed a responsibility, to register.

Given that voter registration is straightforward and free of charge, why do the Government not require all public sector organisations, whenever they come into contact with anybody—young, middle-aged or old—to ask whether they are on their local register, and if they are not, to tell them how to register?

My hon. Friend makes a helpful point. Many opportunities to achieve the ends that he sets out are afforded by having more public services online. We are introducing digital registration in 2014, which will be very helpful in achieving that shared aim.

Topical Questions

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

In this flatlining economy, nearly 1 million young people are unemployed. In my constituency there has been a 10% increase in youth unemployment. Most worryingly, there is a disproportionate impact on young people from black, Asian and minority communities. One in two young black men is unemployed, compared with one in four young men in the white community. Why are the Government not addressing that appalling inequality?

I am sure that all Members from all parts of the House will agree that it is important that we give young people more opportunities to get into work. That is why we have massively expanded the number of apprenticeships that are available to young people, on a scale that dwarfs anything the previous Government had planned, and why we have made available £1 billion for the Youth Contract. I urge the hon. Lady, if she has not done so—[Interruption.] She says that it is not working. It offers funding for 250,000 new work experience places, which is a great way of getting young people into work. If she worked with us, she could explain to employers in her constituency that wage subsidies are available under the Youth Contract so that if a local employer takes on a young person, they get paid for doing so by the Government.

T2. Will the Deputy Prime Minister update the House on the development of single pot funds and on what that will mean for east Kent in respect of the access to devolved money? (163804)

The Chancellor announced recently that we will start with a so-called single pot, as proposed by Lord Heseltine, of just over £2 billion. That is just the start of the process. Local enterprise partnerships across the country will be able to bid for at least half of that money and the rest will be distributed on a formula basis.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that people do not like the fact that MPs can earn tens of thousands of pounds, sometimes even hundreds of thousands of pounds, from second jobs? Will he work with us to clamp down on MPs having second jobs?

I am not sure if I agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that we should stop—or clamp down on, as she puts it—MPs having additional employment. What is important is for that to be as transparent and accountable as possible. People expect their MPs to work for their constituents: that is what we are here for, and that should remain the principal purpose of all MPs elected to this place.

It is important to have transparency, and we have transparency, but we need to do more. It is the amount of money that people see MPs earning that they do not agree with. The Deputy Prime Minister mentioned that he will introduce a Bill. Will it make provision for companies to consult shareholders before they are allowed to make donations to political parties?

Dare I say it, it is interesting that the right hon. and learned Lady is raising detailed points about reforming party funding now, when her party singularly failed to do so in the cross-party talks that, unfortunately, have just come to an end. We see the consequences in the headlines: the Labour party has failed and failed and failed to address the fact that it is at the beck and call of major vested interests in British society. That is not healthy for the Labour party. That is not healthy for trade unions. That is not healthy for democracy.

T3. In the event of a no vote in the Scottish referendum next year, there is some discussion that further devolution, sometimes called devo max, will be offered. Will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that before we go ahead with anything along those lines, there will be clarity on how many fewer MPs from Scotland there will be in this place? (163805)

It is for each party to explain how it wants to see the process of devolution continue in the wake of next year’s referendum. Let us first settle the question of whether Scotland will remain a part of the family of nations that makes up the United Kingdom, and then decide as different parties. Speaking on behalf of my party, we will always be at the forefront of arguing for greater devolution within a United Kingdom.

T5. The Deputy Prime Minister said, in launching his party’s 2010 green manifesto, that the Tories“talk the talk on green issues only to align themselves with climate deniers”.Will he explain to the hundreds and hundreds of constituents who contacted me why he and his party voted against the decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill? (163808)

As the hon. Gentleman would know if he followed the debate, we will be taking powers to introduce a decarbonisation target when the next carbon budget starts. There are different opinions on this. Some Members suggested recently that we should abolish the Department of Energy and Climate Change—indeed, that we should abolish my office, too—and any mention of climate change. Needless to say, I think they are wrong on all counts.

T4. Given the success of the Deputy Prime Minister’s political and constitutional reform agenda to date, what other plans might he have to reform party political funding and allow Opposition Members to voice their opinions free from the yoke of union oppression? (163806)

As the hon. Gentleman knows, unfortunately, after numerous meetings bringing together representatives of the main parties in the past year or two, once again a cross-party consensus on party funding appears to have eluded us. I remain ready at any time to take up cross-party discussions. We need to reform party funding for the sake of all political parties, but the party in the spotlight today is the Labour party and its dysfunctional links with the trade unions. We will make available Government legislation to turn their words into action.

T6. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that paying the same fee to lawyers whether there is a guilty plea or a not guilty plea risks undue pressure being placed on defendants to plead guilty even though innocent, leading to miscarriages of justice? Does he also agree that the legal aid proposals from the Justice Secretary are half-baked? (163809)

The Justice Secretary has made it clear that he cannot and will not escape from the need to make just over £200 million of savings from the significant amount of money invested in our legal system. He will remain open-minded, as he reflects on the results of the recent consultation on his proposed legal aid reforms, on exactly how those reforms should be implemented, as long as the savings are achieved.

T12. Will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in welcoming this week’s news that after talks South and North Korea have reached agreement to reopen the jointly run Kaesong industrial complex, and does he not agree that this shows that dialogue into North Korea makes a difference and that consideration by the BCC World Service to start transmission into North Korea should be given priority? (163817)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all her work on this vital issue, which is of huge significance not just for the region, but for world stability. I agree that the agreement reached—thankfully—on the use of the Kaesong industrial site is a significant step forward, given where we were just a few weeks and months ago, and yes, I agree that the role of the BBC World Service in projecting our values is immensely important.

T8. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), the Deputy Prime Minister did not seem to be aware that the chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said that virtually none of its members had taken up the wage incentive. What is he going to do about this, and does he now regret having fully endorsed so quickly the abolition of the future jobs fund? (163811)

The problem with the future jobs fund, as I hope the hon. Lady will acknowledge, was that, although it moved young people into jobs, often it did so only temporarily, and the point of the Youth Contract is to learn from those mistakes to ensure that the jobs created for young people last. The evidence, both from our huge expansion of apprenticeships and the parts of the Youth Contract giving young people opportunities, is that they are staying in work, and not simply being provided with temporary work, which is what happened under the future jobs fund.

The Deputy Prime Minister has been hugely helpful in helping to secure Government funding for the Tour de France in Yorkshire next year, but less helpful has been the response I have had to the “be inspired, get involved” initiative. With the anniversary of London 2012 coming up, will he meet me in the next 10 days to discuss the matter?

Of course, I am happy to meet my hon. Friend at any time to discuss that. I strongly agree that having the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire is a wonderful opportunity not just to show off the virtues of Yorkshire, but to put Britain on the map, once again, for this great, global sporting event.

T9. The Deputy Prime Minister lauds the success of the Youth Contract, but let me give him a hard fact: one third of businesses recently surveyed said they had not even heard of it. What is he going to do about it? (163812)

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in explaining to employers in his constituency that this payment of just shy of £2,300 is available to employers under the wage incentive in the Youth Contract where they take on young people. I hope he will also be aware that the Youth Contract consists not just of those 160,000 wage incentives, but of a funded increase in the number of work experience places—a quarter of a million of them—and a significant increase in funding for apprenticeships aimed at young people.

How much have the Deputy Prime Minister and his Cabinet Office colleagues cost the public purse in conducting a study of alternatives to Trident that has taken more than two and a half years to show that there are indeed no alternatives to Trident as the basis of our nuclear deterrent?

My hon. Friend must be a soothsayer if he can tell what is in a report that has not been published yet. As he knows, the confidential version of the report has been provided to the Prime Minister and me, and we hope to publish the unclassified version shortly, when he will see that options are available to us. I have always argued against the idea that a total, like-for-like, exact replacement of Trident on precisely the same basis is the only option available to us as a country.

T10. Does “shortly” mean before the summer recess? Given that the Deputy Prime Minister’s report will show that his grand idea of a mini-deterrent was always a complete fantasy, why should anyone take him seriously if he now says that Britain could be adequately protected with a part-time deterrent? (163814)

We have another psychic telling us what is in a report that he has not seen yet. We hope that the report will be published shortly; we hope to publish it before the recess, but of course we need to check that the unclassified document is properly vetted in all respects, which is what we are doing at the moment. The simple point is: does the hon. Gentleman believe that a weapons system designed to be fired at the push of a button, at any minute of any hour of any day, 365 days a week, to flatten Moscow in a cold war context, is the only weapons system available to us? That is the question he needs to answer.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister set out the occasions on which he or any other Liberal Democrat Minister met Derek Webb and what was discussed at those meetings?

T11. What explanation does the Deputy Prime Minister give for the fact that since the Youth Contract was launched, 11,600 more young people have been unemployed for over 12 months than before? (163816)

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, headline figures for youth unemployment have, thankfully, come down. I have seen that in the city for which I am an MP, where youth unemployment has come down by 8%, but of course we need to do more. He also knows that, of the headline figures, around 300,000 or 400,000 are in education, but we need to do more. That is what the Youth Contract is about. I accept that there is a challenge to communicate with employers so that they take up the bit of the Youth Contract that will be of help to them.

In the interest of victims of press intrusion and many others, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that the charter for press regulation agreed by this House and all parties will be put to the Privy Council at the earliest possible opportunity for agreement?

Of course I can confirm that we will do so at the earliest possible opportunity, but first we need to respect the processes of the Privy Council, as my right hon. Friend knows. Another, rival charter has been submitted for consideration at the Privy Council. We need to ensure that it is properly examined objectively and is not subject to undue interference. That process is now under way. He, like many people who voted on 18 March for the cross-party royal charter, is impatient to get on with it. I understand that. Our support for the royal charter voted for on 18 March remains, but we must also ensure that things are done objectively and reasonably in the Privy Council.

But Ministers tabled a motion on 18 March stating that the royal charter would go to the May Privy Council. Did they not know that they would be beaten to it by the press barons of this country? Why can it not go to the July meeting of the Privy Council? If not in July, why can the Deputy Prime Minister not have a special meeting in August or September, or whenever? The House decided. Why should others circumvent the will of this House?

I hear the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but he will recall that on 18 March there was only one royal charter in play: the royal charter that we adopted on a cross-party basis—

Yes, with an overwhelming majority in this House. I certainly stand by my support for that, as I think everyone does across all sections in the House. However, another royal charter has since been put forward for consideration in the Privy Council. Whether the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) likes it or not, we must allow objective consideration of that additional royal charter.

When the Deputy Prime Minister last stood in for the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions, he not only gave my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) the jitters but provided me with a helpful answer about the Special Olympic games being held in Bath in August and spreading the Olympic legacy. Alas, not too much has happened since. Will he look at that answer again and see what can be done?

I will look at the issue again and speak to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ensure that my hon. Friend gets a full answer.

I am a proud trade unionist. I am proud of the fact that the trade union contributions to donations come from hard-working people up and down the country, who should not be smeared by Government Members. Will the Deputy Prime Minister consider legislation to ensure that the shareholders of big businesses that wish to donate to any party will be consulted and will have to agree to any such donation?

As I said before, I am up for a cross-party consensus to reform party funding across the piece. We had the opportunity to do that over the last two years, but the hon. Gentleman’s party singularly failed to step up to the mark in those cross-party discussions. Now that it has been revealed for the whole country to see that the Unite union is hand-picking parliamentary candidates, funding the Labour party to the tune of £11 million, suddenly the Labour party has belatedly discovered an enthusiasm for reform. We will make Government legislation available to make that happen.

May I urge my right hon. Friend to look into how a city deal for Norwich would help to create new jobs by capitalising on the economic growth of the world-class institutions at the Norwich research park?

My hon. Friend is getting active support from the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith), who is sitting to my left. As he knows, Norwich is one of the 20 cities and towns that are in the process of securing a second wave of so-called city deals, following the first wave for the eight largest cities outside the south-east. I met representatives from Norwich and the other 19 places recently, and I am optimistic that we will be able to make an announcement in the autumn or winter.

According to a recent Hansard Society survey, only 12% of 18 to 24-year-olds are committed to voting in the next general election. Why does the Deputy Prime Minister think that is the case, and what steps does he intend to take to improve participation?

As the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office explained earlier, a number of steps are being taken to ensure that young voters understand how individual voter registration will work and that they take the opportunity to register themselves individually so that they can participate fully in future elections.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister now answer the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery)? Does he or does he not think that shareholders should be consulted before donations are made to a political party?

There is a whole bunch of things we need to do to reform party funding, for the sake of all the political parties. It is a bit rich for Labour Members to assume this rather pious tone when it is their problems that are once again disfiguring the way in which money circulates in politics in this country.

On third-party donations, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm that his party received a donation of £350,000 from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust before the last general election? Does he think that Joseph Rowntree would be pleased to see his money being used to prop up a Tory Government?

If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about being progressive, I do not know what is progressive about the sight of a major political party that is at the beck and call of a vested interest. I do not think that it is healthy for the trade unions, either. Over the past three years, his party has shown itself to be incapable of progressive political reform. It has blocked House of Lords reform, failed to campaign actively for the alternative vote and failed to deliver cross-party political funding reform. I think Joseph Rowntree would have been very disappointed by that.

I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister will share my concern about young people not voting. If so, why, as a member of the coalition Government, is he standing by as citizenship training disappears from our schools up and down the country?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman has had time to look at the national curriculum, which was published yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education and the Prime Minister. It places laudable emphasis on ensuring that citizenship is properly taught in schools. We also have a programme of schools outreach, and we will be looking for organisations to deliver a set lesson framework, Rock Enrol, which is being developed and piloted by Bite the Ballot in a number of schools across England and Wales. Those are good initiatives.


The Attorney-General was asked—

Crown Prosecution Service (Procurement/Outsourcing)

1. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Crown Prosecution Service in procuring and outsourcing services. (163818)

The Crown Prosecution Service has a good record of procuring and outsourcing services. The Department utilises pan-government contracts for goods and services and has extensive arrangements for outsourcing services including advocacy, information technology and facilities management. These arrangements save many millions of pounds a year, protecting front-line jobs and front-line service delivery.

The Crown Prosecution Service has a pilot contract for interpreters at four witness care units, but it has been dogged by delay. What is going to happen now at witness care units across the country?

The use that the CPS makes of those services is actually fairly limited. The information that I have does not suggest that the difficulties experienced by the service more generally have caused the CPS a problem.

Crown Prosecution Service (Court Proceedings)

2. What recent assessment he has made of the reliability and punctuality of the Crown Prosecution Service in court proceedings. (163819)

I am surprised by the Minister’s answer because last year the CPS failed to comply with nearly half the court orders on time—at great expense to the public purse. Just what do Ministers intend to do about this so that justice delayed is not justice denied?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. Hot off the press today, we have had the annual report of Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, which looked at this issue and concluded that compliance with court directions was improving, as was monitoring. Looking at the overall picture, which is what the hon. Lady’s question was about, there are 800,000 cases a year—

I have answered the question, which is that there has been an improvement in compliance. I would like to point out, if I may, that conviction rates are at 86% and that with ineffective cases the Crown Prosecution Service is not ready only in 1.5% to 2% of cases.

I declare an interest as a defence solicitor, but I mention the interest of taxpayers and justice, too. How can we hold the Crown Prosecution Service to account when it fails during a criminal justice case that is in process, particularly given the lack of wasted costs orders applying to legal aid cases?

As my hon. Friend will know, there are measures in place, such as the right of review and complaints system, which allow complaints to be made. More generally, it is worth looking at the annual report of the HMCPSI, which concludes that against a background of reducing costs there has been an improvement in almost all areas.

It is not just a case of turning up to court on time; it is a case of processing cases quickly. I wrote to the Attorney-General yesterday about a young woman who was killed exactly a year ago—Elena Fanaru—and it took the CPS a year to bring the person responsible to court. The hon. and learned Gentleman cannot accept that that is a good deal for the victim, as it causes additional stress to victims’ families and others concerned in these cases.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to take up the case with my right hon. and learned Friend and he knows that the matter will be looked at carefully. On a day such as today, however, when the HMCPSI annual report has just come out showing progress in all areas, it is worth reflecting on the fact that, although we often rightly talk about individual cases in this place, there are high levels of convictions and very good results on punctuality overall. We are also seeing overall decision making on charging improving, assessment of case work quality improving, compliance with Crown court directions improving and the processes of dealing with disclosure—an extremely difficult issue—improving. Hon. Members are right to take up these issues.

I think the Crown Prosecution Service does a good job, especially in Northamptonshire, but I was surprised to receive a written response from the Solicitor-General, saying that the CPS

“does not maintain a central record of the number of times an application to remand a defendant in prison has been refused.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 11W.]

I think the public would like to know that information and I think the CPS would find it useful; we could then see where the problem lies—with the CPS or with the courts.

The CPS, of course, keeps quite a range of different management information, but that is not one of them. I am certainly happy to consider whether it would be possible, but against the background that we do not want to clog up the system with a lot of over-reporting and regulatory concerns at a time when we are reducing costs.

I am concerned about the Solicitor-General’s complacency on this issue, particularly in the light of what has happened in the last three weeks. Crown court judges across the country, from Bristol to Warwick and from Warwick to Croydon, have said publicly what all those working in the criminal justice system have been saying privately for some time—that the CPS is dogged by delays and disorganisation, that trials are being put at risk and that there is a danger that people charged with very serious offences such as murder and rape will walk away scot-free. I have written to the Director of Public Prosecutions about this, and I would ask the Solicitor-General to acknowledge these problems and tell us exactly what it is that he is going to do about them.

The hon. Lady has written a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, citing three cases out of 800,000—and they are not what they seem. For example, in one case, the advocate for the prosecution fell ill at court; the judge was not aware of that and made some comments about the way in which the case was being conducted, but at the time—

It was indeed a serious case, but when that advocate fell ill, he was replaced by another, and a conviction followed.

I do not think that picking three instances, all of which involve special circumstances, is the right way of dealing with this. The HMCPSI report examined 2,800 cases, reviewing the files in detail, and they presented a promising picture.

Internet (Legal Framework)

3. What assessment he has made of the level of public understanding of the legal framework applicable to the internet. (163820)

Since taking office, I have brought a number of successful proceedings involving contempts committed online. The Crown Prosecution Service has also prosecuted numerous offenders who have used the internet to commit criminal offences, and recently issued new guidelines to prosecutors on the handling of cases involving social media. Many of those cases have been widely reported in both national and local media, and I trust that they have increased public awareness of the fact that misconduct online has consequences.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that public awareness has been increased by, for example, the successful prosecution of jury members who do not keep to the rules and who research the details of a case during the course of a trial using the internet?

I trust that it has. If we wish to preserve trial by jury, it is extremely important that judges’ directions to juries not to conduct research are properly observed. If they are not, trial by jury will not survive. I have brought a number of cases against jury members; they have been reported, and I hope that as a result of my bringing them, I shall have to bring far fewer in future.

When the footballer Ched Evans was convicted of rape last year, his victim was named more than 6,000 times on Twitter. She has been forced to accept a new identity and relocation package. I understand that only a handful of people have ever been held to account for naming her, and that they have merely been ordered to pay compensation. Should we not send a much stronger signal to people who indulge in such behaviour?

The hon. Lady has raised two separate points The first relates to the way in which the CPS has gone about prosecuting these cases. It has obviously been selective. Cases have to be brought to its attention, and it seeks to deal with those cases, particularly cases involving those who have initiated such comments. I think that that must be the right way of going about things. As for the hon. Lady’s point about penalties, she must understand that they are not a matter for the CPS. If Parliament wishes to make the penalties more severe, that is a matter for legitimate debate in the House of Commons.

The Attorney-General referred to the new guidelines from the Director of Public Prosecutions on social media. They are very welcome, but does he agree that in some cases the law is not clear, and is being brought into disrepute? I am thinking of, for example, the Twitter joke trial under section 127 of the Communications Act 2003.

The principle of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 places a higher threshold on prosecution than an ordinary abusive comment, but it must be shown that, in the circumstances, the comment was grossly offensive. I hope that the guidelines issued by the CPS—I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his appreciation of what they have done—will provide a framework that shows clearly what is and what is not acceptable, but there are bound to be areas that present some difficulty. The basic rule must be that the fact that someone is operating on social media does not give that person immunity from the criminal law.

As one who, some time ago, was the subject of a specific death threat on a social media site—which, thankfully, resulted in a successful prosecution—may I ask the Attorney-General to reassure the public that people’s perception of their own anonymity on a keyboard will be dispelled, and that those who break the law on line will be rigorously pursued?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I think that some individuals have come in for a rude surprise when they have been prosecuted despite having believed that they enjoyed anonymity. While of course there may be circumstances in which prosecutions cannot be brought—there can clearly be no prosecution when material is placed on the internet from abroad—I am generally satisfied, on the basis of what I have observed, that both the police and the CPS have responded proactively. They take offences of this kind seriously, and are keen to convey the message that this is not an area in which people can behave with impunity.

What discussions has the Attorney-General had with the Department for Education about ensuring that young people fully understand the legal framework of the internet, and, more important, know how to keep themselves safe on the internet?

The hon. Lady raises an interesting and important point. We have had no formal discussions about that, but I know it has been discussed informally because I have done so myself. She might wish to ask the Secretary of State for Education that question, as the way in which young people can be brought up to understand their rights and responsibilities is an important part of the new curriculum.

Departmental Legal Advisers

4. What benefits he expects will be achieved by the continued merger of departmental legal advisers into the Treasury Solicitor’s Department. (163821)

Sharing legal services brings considerable benefits, including greater flexibility and resilience, more efficient deployment of legal resources, more opportunities for savings and improved knowledge-sharing, which in turn supports consistency.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for his answer, but what steps is he taking to ensure that TSOL actually does provide value for money, and how will the Government’s legal bill be reduced as a consequence of this merger?

This is part of the civil service reform plan, and bringing services together at TSOL has, for example, meant it has become a centre of excellence in employment law. TSOL also has a good record of reducing cost, with 40% efficiencies from its shared litigation service.

Will the Solicitor-General assure the House that public money will not be wasted in transaction costs between Departments and that we will not end up with more finance officers chasing invoices than lawyers doing the work?

It is true that clients in the Departments are billed by TSOL, but this is a lean process and fees are being kept down at a reasonable level.

Undercover Investigations

5. Whether the Crown Prosecution Service is always informed when an undercover police officer has been involved in an investigation that leads to a prosecution. (163822)

The CPS should always be informed. The CPS signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2012 with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which ensures investigators and prosecutors work closely together when covert operations are embarked upon where there is clear potential for a prosecution.

The former police Minister said undercover police officers could have sex with suspects if abstaining would blow their cover. Does the Attorney-General agree with the Northumbria police and crime commissioner and former Solicitor-General, Vera Baird, that the sexual activities of some of these undercover officers when they enter into a relationship with protestors may fall within the definition of rape?

I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me for a legal opinion, which I do not think I am in a position to provide across the Floor of the House. That was the thrust of his question, but what I can say is that the CPS takes very seriously the fact that if there is covert police activity it must be informed about it, because it is highly relevant to the conduct of any prosecution.

May I tempt my right hon. and learned Friend to state whether it will be appropriate for police officers in those circumstances to be prosecuted if they are deemed to have broken the law and overstepped the mark in their undercover operations?

Nobody is immune from the law, and if a police officer acting undercover breaks the criminal law of this country, they make themselves liable to prosecution.

There seems to be complete chaos in understanding what the police are, and are not, allowed to do when undercover. Given that a number of legal cases have been dropped or put at risk because of the involvement of undercover police officers, is it not high time there was a proper judge-led public inquiry so we get to the bottom of this and make sure we know what the rules are in the future and what the judgments are for the past?

I certainly acknowledge that the hon. Lady is right, and the consequence of the Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station case was that a review was carried out by Sir Christopher Rose, and the CPS took the issues in that very seriously, but any question of a wider inquiry or review does not lie within the remit of my Department.

Financial Institutions (Offences)

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office on the feasibility of introducing an offence of reckless management of a financial institution. (163824)

In view of the recent announcement on this, I wonder whether the Minister can give us any indication of which prosecuting agency would be responsible for enforcing the new offence of reckless mismanagement of a financial institution, and what steps are being taken to ensure that the agency has sufficient resources to tackle what are likely to be complex cases?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this Government set up the commission on banking which has come up with the recommendation that there should be such an offence. The Government have accepted that recommendation and the drafting process is in hand. I cannot go further than that, but he will see the draft when it is ready.

In two constituency cases I have been told, “It is not in the Serious Fraud Office’s remit and the police will not look at the corporate fraud because they do not have the money.” So how do we get these corporate fraud cases properly looked at?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about fraud. The National Crime Agency is setting up, as we speak, with an economic crime command that will have a focus on fraud. The aim is to tackle exactly the problems he mentions. In the meantime, Action Fraud is one good place to make a complaint to and, of course, the City police have a particular role to play in this area.

Legal Reforms

8. What recent representations he has received from the legal profession on the effect on the criminal justice system of the Government’s planned legal reforms. (163825)

The Solicitor-General and I have attended meetings of and with the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board at which the Government’s proposed legal aid reforms have been discussed. We have also seen responses to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation about these proposals from the Bar Council, the Law Society and others, and have corresponded with panel counsel about the proposal.

In 2004, the right hon. and learned Gentleman told the Law Society Gazette:

“There are ideas creeping into the system that treat legal aid as if it is just about the economic provision of a service. That approach will lead to problems with lowered standards.”

Now that his Government are slashing £220 million from the budget and making so many other changes, is he even more worried?

The key issues then were, as I dare say they are now, the maintenance of choice, achieving value for money and, above all, maintaining professional standards of representation in court. I note that the Lord Chancellor has already indicated that he is going to keep a choice of solicitors, and he is also keeping advocacy fees separate. Those things are in response to the current consultation, and I have no doubt that, building on that, there will be further possibilities to have a very important debate so that we can reach a conclusion where we have a viable system of criminal legal aid that can be maintained in the long term.

Appeal Cases

9. What recent assessment he has made of how effectively appeal cases have been handled by the Crown Prosecution Service. (163826)

I am grateful for that answer. Will the Solicitor-General please explain to the House how he can satisfy himself that the CPS is indeed conducting those cases effectively? Does it compile and analyse any data on how it is performing?

Yes, the detailed schedule of cases comes to the Attorney-General each month, and we have discovered that more cases are being dismissed without leave to appeal being granted, which suggests good CPS presentation; up to 57% of cases are now dismissed without leave.

But what is happening on how the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office deal with highly complex financial scandals, where there is a great reliance on the accountancy profession, which has been shown to be very unreliable in the evidence it gives?

The hon. Gentleman makes the point in his own way, but the advantage of the SFO is that it has in-house experts and can also draw on outside expertise to ensure that these cases are very well prepared. Although we have had some problems, as he knows, in many cases the SFO is able to do an exceptional job.

Child Sexual Exploitation (Evidence)

10. What special measures he is considering to help vulnerable minors give evidence in child sexual exploitation cases. (163827)

The Government have announced that they will pilot the video pre-recording of the cross-examination of witnesses, as outlined in the Ministry of Justice’s “A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System”, published on 28 June. The strategy and action plan includes other important measures, including reviewing how we might reduce the distress caused to some victims by cross-examination, particularly where multiple defence barristers are involved. On 11 June, the CPS published, for consultation, its new interim guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sex abuse, which set out a new approach, including challenging myths and stereotypes, if raised in court, about how the victim behaves.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the way in which they have enacted the child sexual exploitation action plan to make it more sympathetic and sensitive to witnesses who are often vulnerable and traumatised. Does he agree that one of the most intimidating processes is where multiple barristers act for gang members, as we have seen recently, re-traumatising very vulnerable victims by getting them to go through all their processes over and over again? Will he tell us specifically how he thinks we can still make sure that justice is done, both to the victim and to the defendant?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is very much a matter of two things: professional standards on the part of the advocates; and proper case management by the judge. Judges need to be proactive in these cases. In addition, The Advocate’s Gateway, which has been introduced, makes clear the responsibilities that lie on counsel in approaching cases of this kind. I am confident that we will make a lot of progress in this area, and I think the rules will be progressively tightened to achieve the impact and result he desires.

Treaty on the Functioning of the EU

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the decision whether the UK should opt out of those EU police and criminal justice measures adopted before the Lisbon treaty came into force.

As hon. Members will be aware, this is a stand-alone decision that the Government are required to make under the terms of the Lisbon treaty by 31 May 2014, with that decision taking effect on 1 December of that year. It covers about 130 measures, some of which it is clearly in our national interest to remain part of, but if we wish to remain bound by only some of the measures, we must exercise our opt-out from them all en masse and seek to rejoin those that we judge to be in our national interest.

The Government have committed to a vote in this House and the other place before formally deciding on the matter. We shall honour that commitment in full. Next week, hon. Members will have the opportunity to debate and vote on this approach. Following our discussions in Europe, another vote will be held on the final list of measures that the UK will formally apply to rejoin.

Let me briefly set out the rationale by which the Government have approached the decision. We believe the UK should opt out of the measures in question for reasons of principle, policy and pragmatism and that we should seek to rejoin only those measures that help us co-operate with our European neighbours to combat cross-border crime and keep our country safe.

On principle, I am firmly of the belief that the UK’s international relations in policing and criminal justice are first and foremost a matter for Her Majesty’s Government. In policy terms, the UK has and will continue to have the ability to choose whether it should opt in to any new proposal in the field of justice and home affairs. It is therefore right that we take the opportunity to consider whether we wish to retain the measures that were joined by the previous Government and to decide on a case-by-case basis whether we are willing to allow the European Court of Justice to exercise jurisdiction over them in future.

Finally, the Government are being pragmatic. I have said before that we will not leave the UK open to the threat of infraction and fines which run into many millions of pounds by remaining bound by measures we simply cannot implement in time. That would be senseless. In a number of areas, the measures relate to minimum standards in substantive criminal law. Even before their adoption, the UK already met or exceeded the vast majority of these standards and will continue to do so whether or not we are bound by them.

As people have become more mobile in recent years, so too has crime. The Government have sought and listened carefully to the views of our law enforcement agencies which combat it. We understand that some of the measures covered by this decision are important tools that they need to protect the British public. The Government have identified 35 measures which we will seek to rejoin in the national interest.

That set of measures, on which we propose to begin our discussions with the European Commission and other member states, is laid out in Command Paper 8671, which is published today. I want to be clear: what must happen next is a process of negotiation with the European Commission and other member states, and those negotiations will determine the final list of measures we formally apply to rejoin. But we promised that we would set out these measures clearly and give hon. Members time to consider them before asking them to vote—and that is what we have done.

One of the measures we will seek to rejoin, and on which I know many hon. Members have strong views, is the European arrest warrant. I agree with our law enforcement agencies that the arrest warrant is a valuable tool in returning offenders to the UK. Its predecessor, the 1957 European convention on extradition, had serious drawbacks. The arrest warrant has helped us to secure and accelerate successful extradition procedures, as shown by the case of Osman Hussain, one of the failed London bombers of July 2005, who was extradited back to the UK from Italy in less than eight weeks. More recently, Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who was sentenced last month for absconding to France with one of his pupils, was extradited back to the UK less than three weeks after his arrest.

Since 2009 alone, the arrest warrant has been used to extradite from the UK 57 suspects for child sex offences, 86 for rape and 105 for murder. In the same period, 63 suspects for child sex offences, 27 for rape and 44 for murder were extradited back to Britain to face charges. A number of these suspects would probably have not been extradited back to Britain without the arrest warrant. We owe it to their victims, and to their loved ones, to bring these people to justice. However, the European arrest warrant has its problems, too, as hon. Members have eloquently explained in this House. The last Government had eight years to address these concerns, and did nothing; this Government have taken action. I am today proposing additional safeguards to rectify these problems and increase the protections offered to those wanted for extradition, particularly British citizens.

A number of hon. Members have explained how European arrest warrants have been issued disproportionately for very minor offences. I will address this by amending the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is in Committee, to ensure that an arrest warrant can be refused for minor crimes. This should stop cases such as that of Patrick Connor, who was extradited because he and two friends were found in possession of four counterfeit banknotes.

We will also work with other states to enforce their fines and ensure that in future, where possible, the European investigation order is used instead of the European arrest warrant. This would allow police forces and prosecutors to share evidence and information without requiring the extradition of a suspect at the investigative stage.

Other hon. Members have expressed concerns about lengthy and avoidable pre-trial detention. I will amend our Extradition Act 2003 to ensure that people in the UK can be extradited under the European arrest warrant only when the requesting state has already made a decision to charge and a decision to try, unless that person’s presence is required in that jurisdiction for those decisions to be made. Many Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois), will recall the case of Andrew Symeou, who spent 10 months in pre-trial detention, and a further nine months on bail, in Greece, only to be acquitted. The change that I am introducing would have allowed Andrew Symeou to raise, in his extradition hearing, the issue of whether a decision to charge him and a decision to try him had been taken. It would likely have prevented his extradition at the stage he was surrendered—and, quite possibly, altogether. We will also implement the European supervision order to make it easier for people such as Mr Symeou to be bailed back to the UK.

Other hon. Members are concerned about people being extradited for conduct that is not criminal in British law. I will amend our law to make it clear that in cases where part of the conduct took place in the UK, and is not criminal here, the judge must refuse extradition for that conduct. I also intend to make better use of existing safeguards to provide further protections. I will ensure that people who consent to extradition do not lose their right not to be prosecuted for other offences, reducing costs and delays. We propose that the prisoner transfer framework decision be used to its fullest extent, so that UK citizens extradited and convicted can be returned to serve their sentence here.

Where a UK national has been convicted and sentenced abroad, for example in their absence, and is now the subject of a European arrest warrant, we will ask, with their permission, for the warrant to be withdrawn, and will use the prisoner transfer arrangements instead. This change could have prevented the extraditions of Michael Binnington and Luke Atkinson, who were sent to Cyprus only to be returned to the UK six months later.

To prevent other extraditions occurring at all, I intend either to allow the temporary transfer of a consenting person, so that they can be interviewed by the issuing state’s authorities, or to allow those authorities to do that through such means as video conferencing while the person is in the UK. Where people are innocent, this should lead to the extradition request being withdrawn. These are all changes that can be made in UK law, and that could have been made by the Opposition during their time in government. Co-operation on cross-border crime is vital, but we must also safeguard the rights of British citizens, and the changes that we propose will do that.

Before I conclude, I am conscious that hon. Members want to know our approach to the new Europol regulation. I fully recognise the excellent work of Europol and its British director, Rob Wainwright. Hon. Members may recall Operation Golf, a joint operation led by Europol and the Metropolitan police, which cracked down on a human trafficking gang operating in llford, and which led to the release of 28 trafficked children and the arrest of 126 suspects. It is for such reasons that we propose rejoining the existing Europol measure.

On the new proposal, the Government have today tabled a motion that will be the basis of a Lidington-style debate on the Floor of the House next week, following the debate and vote on the plan that I have outlined today. That motion states that we should opt in, post adoption, provided that Europol is not given the power to direct national law enforcement agencies to initiate investigations or share data that conflict with our national security.

For reasons of policy, principle and pragmatism, I believe that it is in the national interest to exercise the United Kingdom’s opt-out, and rejoin a much smaller set of measures that help us to co-operate with our European neighbours in the fight against serious and organised crime. I also believe that Her Majesty’s Government must strike the right balance between supporting law enforcement and protecting our traditional liberties. What I have outlined today will achieve both those goals, and I commend this statement to the House.

So, after three years of briefing and trying to brandish her anti-European credentials, the Home Secretary has been forced to admit the truth: Britain does need the European arrest warrant, it does need joint investigation teams, Europol, the exchange of criminal records and help to tackle online child abuse. Why, then, did she and Members of her party all vote against all those measures just four weeks ago? Why has it taken the Home Secretary three years to realise that we do not want to go back to the days of the costa del crime, when British criminals could flee to Spain or European criminals could find safe haven here?

Last year the Government briefed The Sun that they would opt out of the European arrest warrant, opt out of the European evidence warrant and opt out of action against counterfeiting. Now the right hon. Lady admits that she needs them and she is going to do the opposite. The Prime Minister described the European arrest warrant as “highly objectionable” and the Fresh Start group wanted to stay out of everything, but the Home Secretary has had to admit what we and the police have argued from the start—we need the European arrest warrant in the fight against crime. We agree with reforming the European arrest warrant to make it proportionate, but as she has just shown, she does not need to opt out of working with Europe in order to do that.

The Home Secretary said very little in her statement about what she wants to opt out of or why, so let us look at the detail. Some of those measures have been replaced already, some do not operate any more, some we have never used anyway and do not have to, and others are just agreements to co-operate and we will carry on co-operating anyway. She is opting out of a directory of specialist counter-terror officers, which no longer exists anyway; a temporary system of dealing with counterfeit documents, which has been replaced anyway; a load of rules applying specifically to Portugal, Spain and Croatia, which do not apply in the UK; and a directory of contacts of extradition experts in each country. This is hardly a triumph of repatriation.

The Home Secretary has tried to play Britannia, clothing herself in the Union Jack, parading powers that she is repatriating from Brussels, but where is the substance? The truth is that she is not wearing a flag; it is simply a fig leaf. As for next week’s vote, she told the House that this was

“an important decision, and not one that we should rush into lightly”—[Official Report, 12 June 2013; Vol. 564, c. 421.]

Yet she wants Parliament to vote on her proposals in six days’ time. She promised the European Scrutiny Committee and the Home Affairs Committee that they would be able to scrutinise the list and she has given them three working days to do so. She has been thinking about it for three years.

We will look at the right hon. Lady’s list and her motion for next week, but this is the wrong strategy—the wrong way to make serious policy on crime and justice. Where are the guarantees that we will be able to opt back into the serious measures we need, even the 35 measures that she supports? Where is the guarantee that we will be able to opt back into the European arrest warrant, the data sharing and the criminal records that she has now admitted we need? Presumably she has those guarantees. She told the House that she was starting negotiations with the Commission last October, so given how much is at stake in the fight against crime, I presume she has done a deal with the European Commissioner that we will definitely be able to opt back into those measures. Where is it?

Ministers have said that this will be a difficult negotiation, and we must not put those important powers at risk for the sake of opting out of a few contact lists. We must not make it easier for European criminals to hide here if we lose the European arrest warrant. We have just spent eight years trying to get rid of Abu Qatada. We do not want to make it easier for European criminals to stay here, so let the Home Secretary answer just two questions: will we be able to opt back into the European arrest warrant? Has she got a guarantee that we will be able to do so, and if we do not get that guarantee, will she ditch her whole opt-out plan? Without those guarantees this is a dangerous strategy that puts the fight against crime at risk.

The Home Secretary is putting politics before the fight against crime, but this is not a game. Crime does not stop at the channel. This is about whether we can stop dangerous criminals fleeing abroad and whether we can send foreign criminals back to face justice at home. This is about whether we can work with Europe on trafficking and child abuse, so where is the guarantee that this Home Secretary is not putting that serious fight against crime at risk?

Oh dear, oh dear. The right hon. Lady had an opportunity to come to the House and enter into a serious exchange about our ability to operate on a cross-border basis, catch criminals, and keep British citizens safe. She also had the opportunity to indicate whether the Opposition believe it right that we give greater safeguards and protections to British citizens in the operation of the European arrest warrant. Instead, we got a rant that did nothing other than expose the considerable confusion that lies at the heart of the Labour party on this issue.

The right hon. Lady asks whether we have guarantees for the negotiation, and complains about the negotiation process. Who negotiated this opt-out in the Lisbon treaty? It was not either of the coalition parties; the Labour party negotiated the opt-out, so any failings in how it operates are entirely down to the previous Labour Government—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr John Robertson, I do not know whether you consumed a high-energy breakfast or something, but you seem to be in hyperbolic mode. What we want is your statesmanlike pose. Calm yourself, man, and get a grip.

The right hon. Lady referred to a motion tabled by the Opposition in an Opposition day debate, and identified seven measures that she said it was necessary to rejoin. What about measures such as the European supervision order or those to do with removing criminals’ assets? Are those powers not important as well? They are on our list, but they were not on that of the right hon. Lady.

Finally, I failed to hear in the right hon. Lady’s comments whether those on the Labour party Front Bench support the decision to opt out—a decision available only because her Government negotiated it in the first place. We believe it is absolutely right to exercise that opt-out, and to negotiate and rejoin those measures that are important for cross-border operations and co-operation between our police forces. Labour Members may come to the House and the right hon. Lady may stand up, foam at the mouth and rant at the Government about these measures, but it is high time she put her position on the line and made clear what her party will do in the debate next week.

My right hon. Friend’s statement simply aggravates concerns that the European Scrutiny Committee has expressed since her October statement. Why has the Committee been consistently denied the information and consultation that it, the Justice Committee and the Home Affairs Committee were promised? We have been given neither proper time nor opportunity to consider these matters. We shall be meeting tomorrow and considering those questions in line with Standing Orders, and we shall then decide what action to take.

We brought the proposals forward now because it is right that we have time to negotiate with the European Commission. As I indicated in my statement, there will be further opportunity for the House to consider the list of measures that we negotiate with the European Commission. I say to my hon. Friend and to other right hon. and hon. Members who chair the Committees to which he referred that the total list of measures has been available for those Committees to consider for some considerable time. The Government are indicating today which measures we wish to seek to rejoin. There will be a debate next week in the House and an opportunity to vote on that. As I have indicated, there will be further consideration and a vote at a later stage.

To coin an immediate phrase, “Oh dear, oh dear”—a statement today. In view of the Home Secretary’s remarks about the criminal justice system being primarily for this House—I cannot disagree with that in the light of the judgment at Strasbourg today on a measure that I took to make life mean life—is it not appropriate, as has just been requested, to give Members more time to consider what she has said before holding the debate scheduled for next week? Or is this just a straight political ploy, rather than a statesmanlike approach to an important issue?

This House will have time to consider the opt-out and the measures we seek to rejoin. Not only will there be a debate next week, but there will be further opportunity to comment on and discuss in the House those measures we are negotiating to rejoin with the European Commission.

I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement; it is good to hear her being so positive about the benefits of key measures such as Europol, Eurojust and the European arrest warrant, and she is right to opt back into those. I was also pleased to hear about the implementation of the European supervision order. Will she let the House know the timetable for that and say whether it can be introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill?

The European supervision order is one measure we will seek to rejoin, but there must be a negotiation process with the European Commission and other member states before it is possible to ensure that we are able to rejoin the measures we wish to rejoin. I am afraid the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill will not be a vehicle for the European supervision order.

Yesterday I joined others in elevating the Home Secretary to sainthood over the Abu Qatada decision, but I am afraid her halo has slipped a little. There is nothing wrong with a pick-and-mix Europe as far as the justice and home affairs agenda is concerned, but I agree wholeheartedly with the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash): I think it shows disrespect for the Committees of this House, and for Parliament when we do not have the opportunity to consider which measures the Government wish to opt in or out of.

It is not sufficient to say there will be a debate next Monday. We have been waiting for five months for this decision. Five Chairs of Select Committees wrote to the Home Secretary and the Minister for Europe and we received nothing until today. I urge her to delay the decision to hold a vote on Monday, and to allow the Committees to examine the issue carefully. She is due to appear before the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, so let us scrutinise this issue properly. I am sure she will get the result she wants because I am sure she will be able to make the arguments. Rushing this decision when she has more than eight or nine months in which to make it and inform the Commission is too hasty.

I recall the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday when I made the statement about Abu Qatada’s deportation. I also recall that I said it was most unusual for the Home Office to receive such praise, and that I assumed normal service would be resumed quickly, as indeed it has been. Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who chairs the European Scrutiny Committee. There will be an opportunity to debate this issue next week, and a further opportunity for the House to consider the measures we seek to rejoin. All Select Committees of this House have known the list of measures that the Government have been considering, and they have had the opportunity to look at them and give an opinion.

I thank the Home Secretary for coming to the House and making this statement, and for taking on board the views of the all-party group on human trafficking about the requirement to have joint investigation teams, and for highlighting Operation Golf in her statement. I am struggling with the rush to which the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) just referred. Will we have a first bite of the cherry next week with a debate, and then consider individual measures later after the Select Committees have reported? If not, I am not entirely sure—it appears that the Executive are bouncing Parliament.

I apologise; I referred to this in my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone. The reason for coming forward now is that we are able to start formal negotiation with the European Commission and other member states on those measures we seek to rejoin. Had we not been doing that, we would have significantly reduced our ability in time terms to hold those negotiations with the European Commission.

My constituents are particularly concerned about the 90% of prisoners repatriated from the UK under the European arrest warrant who are foreign nationals. Will the Secretary of State make a categorical assurance that under the arrangements she proposes there will be no delay in repatriating those foreign nationals from our prisons? We understand there have been considerable delays recently, and that numbers of those going have not been as good as they should have been.

The hon. Lady refers in general to the question of foreign national prisoners and their removal from the UK. Of course, that covers those who are EU citizens and those who are from outside the EU. With regard to EU citizens, the prisoner transfer framework decision gives us the opportunity to work with other member states on a bilateral basis to ensure that we can repatriate UK citizens to serve their sentences here and remove their nationals from the UK to serve their sentences abroad. That is what we intend to do.

The Home Secretary asserts that rejoining the 35 measures will be in our national interest. Where is the evidence for that? Is there a cost-benefit analysis? How does that fit in with the balance of competences review? Will we be asked next week to endorse that approach, rather than just receiving the information?

I have published today in the Command Paper the explanatory memorandum, which sets out the measures we are looking to rejoin—it refers to the others as well—and explains what each is about. The debate will be about the Government’s position of opting out and then seeking to rejoin the 35 measures. That will enable us to enter into proper negotiations with the European Commission and other member states. I believe that it is right that we seek to rejoin measures that enable us to co-operate on a cross-border basis in dealing with cross-border crime and keeping people safe.

Is there strong support across the coalition Government for the Home Secretary’s proposal to opt out? If the decision to opt out is finally taken, will that apply to the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), has spoken with the Minister for Justice in Northern Ireland and we have started discussions on the implications for Northern Ireland.

The Home Secretary hopes to change how the European arrest warrant operates by amending our domestic law, but will she confirm that under her policy it is ultimately the European Court of Justice that will decide?

My hon. Friend is right in that rejoining measures means that they will come under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which is why we have given such careful thought and consideration to the list of measures we are seeking to rejoin, but it is possible for this Parliament to make decisions in UK law that change the way the European arrest warrant operates and give us some of the safeguards that many Members of this House feel other EU member states have had, for example in relation to proportionality. As I said in my statement, I am only sorry that the previous Labour Government did not do that when they had the opportunity.

The Home Secretary referred to Operation Golf and the human trafficking operation, which was carried out by some individuals in Ilford. Will she take this opportunity to make it absolutely clear that it is essential that we remain within Europol and that any move to take this country away from the European Union would damage that co-operation?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, the European Commission has brought forward a proposal for a new regulation relating to Europol. We propose to opt back into the current Europol regulation. The new regulation would allow the possibility that Europol could in future direct police forces across Europe, and notably our police forces, in order to undertake investigations, so they could be mandated by Europol at the centre. We believe in operational independence for our police forces here in the UK and are not prepared to see Europol being able to mandate them.

The decision to which the Home Secretary referred today in her welcome statement was made under the terms of the Lisbon treaty. How do those relate to the wholesale renegotiation of our relationship with the EU that a Conservative Government are pursuing?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he enables me to answer the earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on the balance of competences work. We absolutely have the opportunity to take this decision on the pre-Lisbon justice and home affairs measures, but of course that is separate from the wider negotiation that the Conservative party is guaranteeing to undertake leading up to the in/out referendum, on which many Government Members voted after last Friday’s debate on the private Member’s Bill. A further negotiation will look at the wider issues, based on the balance of competences work currently being undertaken.

I very much welcome the Government’s decision to opt out en masse and then decide item by item on whether to opt back in, which I see as a rejection of ever closer union, but how will we deal with the matters post negotiation? If there are 35 items that the Government propose to opt back into, will we vote item by item, because the Government might well succeed in their objectives in some of them but not in others? Rather than simply having a vote on a lump, would it not be much better to give us individual choices, and would that not also strengthen the Home Secretary’s position?

The decision on the form that any further vote will take in relation to these matters post negotiation is yet to be taken by the relevant House authorities and business managers. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks. Perhaps he might like to try to persuade his Front Benchers to be as clear in their position on the opt-out.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has forgotten the coalition agreement, which states:

“We will ensure that there is no further transfer of sovereignty or powers over the course of the next Parliament.”

Anything that we opt back into comes under the European Court of Justice, the European Parliament and might be subject to qualified majority voting. All those three items are a surrender of sovereignty, and therefore her statement is disappointing to many people.

I merely remind my hon. Friend that the matters we are seeking to rejoin are ones to which we are currently not party. I recognise that we will be seeking to rejoin them post Lisbon treaty, but we have not suddenly plucked them out of thin air.

The Secretary of State will know that there is great unhappiness in Scotland among the Scottish Government and Police Scotland about the opt-out. The Scottish Government have expressed their disappointment about the lack of consultation and raised concerns about the uncertainty and instability it will cause. Why should Scotland’s safety be compromised because of this Government’s Euro-obsession? Can the Scottish Government opt out of this Government’s moves to opt out of this European measure should they wish to do so?

As with Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has been in touch with the Minister responsible for Justice in Scotland and is discussing with him the implications for Scotland. It would appear that the Scottish National party’s only answer to everything is to opt out, to be separate and different and not to be part of anything. In fact, as we know, the measures that we have decided to seek to rejoin are of benefit to the whole United Kingdom.

I support my right hon. Friend’s stance in relation to the European arrest warrant, which is an important tool in fighting serious crime, although clearly, as the Government recognise, it needs amendment. If the test relates to the national interest and the stance on supranational institutions, does she share my concern about today’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to whole-life tariffs, which will take away from this House of Commons and our own courts the decision on the crucial matter of whether life should mean life?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only Members of this House but the public will be dismayed at the decision that has come from the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights on whether it is possible for life genuinely to mean life. It is also a surprising decision, given that last year the Court decided in a number of extradition cases that it was possible to extradite on the basis of potential life sentences without parole—so today’s judgment is contrary to the decision it took last year.

Fighting organised crime and terrorism in Northern Ireland is important. Extradition from the Republic of Ireland is now entirely reliant on the European arrest warrant. I understand that Irish domestic legislation to allow extradition to the UK has been repealed. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland and, indeed, his counterpart in the Republic of Ireland are extremely concerned about the impact that this opt-out will have on the fight against crime and terrorism in Ireland in general?

As I have said, we have already started discussions on this issue with the Justice Minister in Northern Ireland, and I have had previous discussions with the Minister for Justice and Equality in the Republic of Ireland about the exercise of the opt-out. On the hon. Lady’s specific point about extraditions being subject to the European arrest warrant, we are proposing to opt back into that, albeit with safeguards for British citizens so that we can ensure that the problems that have arisen in the exercise of the EAW do not arise in future.

Surely everyone who is concerned about cross-border crime should welcome the Home Secretary’s announcement, including members of the Lords EU Committee, who, like the rest of us, have had plenty of time to consider these issues. Will she endorse the statement made by Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, when he said to that Committee that

“It would increase the risk of serious crimes…going undetected…in the UK”

if the UK were not a member of Europol?

I have made our position clear on Europol. We value the work that it does. Rob Wainwright is a very good director of Europol. We will opt into Europol as it currently exists. However, we also value the operational independence of our police. I do not think it right that the new regulation could lead to a situation where Europol would be mandating British police officers to investigate certain matters and to share certain data that could compromise our national security. We will make it clear that we will opt in post-adoption of the Europol measure provided that those concerns have been dealt with.

What happens, in practical terms, to requests for extradition, particularly for serious offences, during the period of the opt-out and the attempted opting back into the European arrest warrant?

Any change in the situation does not kick in until 1 December 2014, so in the interim there would be no change in the operation of the European arrest warrant. It will be necessary for us, as part of our discussions with the European Commission, to discuss the transitional arrangements. Of course we will want to ensure that, where we are opting back into a measure, the transition is as seamless as possible.

Would the safeguards that the Home Secretary has proposed concerning the European arrest warrant have protected my constituent, Michael Turner, who spent four months in a Hungarian jail without charge after his business closed owing £18,000—a case that in this country would have been handled in the small claims court?

I believe that the measures that I intend to put through in the amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill would indeed have dealt with that situation, because we would have made it clear that where the requesting state had not taken the decision to charge and to try an individual, that individual would not be extradited unless their physical presence was necessary in order to charge and try them. In many of the cases that we have seen, individuals would not have needed to be extradited to the requesting country.

May I give the Home Secretary another opportunity to answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe)? If the European Commission says that we cannot opt back into the European arrest warrant in the way that she would like, will she ditch her blanket opt-out?

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) seem to be suggesting that we are putting conditions on to our opting back into the European arrest warrant. We will request that we can negotiate to opt into a number of measures, including the European arrest warrant. We can make the changes that we are making to the European arrest warrant in UK law, and that could have been done by the previous Labour Government had they chosen to do so.

This is a major strategic decision for Britain, and a lot of hard work has gone into it, which is very welcome. However, expecting Parliament to vote on it next week is unrealistic for hon. Members and Committees, given the need to look not only at individual measures such as the very important EAW safeguards that she proposes but at the package as a whole. May I urge her to allow consultation over the summer and to have Parliament debate and vote on it when we return in the autumn?

I recognise my hon. Friend’s interest in this issue and his expertise on these matters. It is right for us to be able to take a decision such that we can start the more formal negotiations with the European Commission and with other member states. I believe that it is in our interests to be able to rejoin a number of measures, and starting the negotiations now will enhance our ability to do so.