House of Commons
Monday 14 October 2013
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Work and Pensions
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What recent assessment he has made of the performance of the Work programme. 
First, I am pleased to inform the House that the Work programme is working, and that its performance has significantly improved since being launched in June 2011. By the end of June 2012, 24,000 people had found lasting work. By June 2013, there had been a dramatic increase to 168,000. I should like to put on the record that credit must go to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), for his rigorous and meticulous work, which brought about that dramatic increase.
Of the 10 worst constituencies for longer-term unemployment, seven have seen the number of people out of work for more than 12 months increase, and that includes my own town of Middlesbrough. Why are the Minister’s policies failing so badly among the people and in the places that most need help?
I am pleased to inform the hon. Gentleman that, actually, despite the picture he portrays, work is improving. There have been significant job outcomes across the country—they are up 1 million—and the claimant count is down. Inactivity is at record low levels and the number of households where someone is in work is higher now under this Government than it was in any year under the previous Labour Government.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that tackling youth unemployment is a major priority for the Government, and that young people—18 to 24-year-olds—have benefited from the Work programme, with more than 100,000 finding some sort of work through it? Does she agree that the Work programme is working?
I agree with my hon. Friend that the Work programme is working. In particular, let us look at the figures for youth unemployment. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance has fallen for 15 consecutive months. It is now 60,000 less than in May 2010. Youth unemployment is down from the numbers we inherited from Labour, and the number of young people not in education, employment or training is at its lowest for a decade.
But for one group of people—those who have health problems or a disability—the numbers are truly dreadful. What will the Government do to change their approach so that that group of people is not left behind?
For the first time in history, we are dealing with the people the hon. Lady—the Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions—is talking about. Labour Members shake their heads, but I am afraid that they abandoned those 1.4 million people; we are supporting them. Of those on the Work programme, more than 380,000 are in work, and 168,000 have found lasting work. Ninety per cent. of those have been in employment for nine months or more. We are working on and dealing with that matter, but Labour abandoned it.
I welcome the Minister to her new brief, and the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), to his.
The invitation to tender for the Work programme said that, if there was no programme at all, 15% of people on employment and support allowance, to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Dame Anne Begg) has just referred, would be in a sustained job outcome within two years. With the Work programme, the number has been about one third of that. Surely that underperformance is unacceptable.
That is not true at all. We have reached out and supported people who were never supported under the Labour Government. Equally, I would like to separate those on JSA, who have exceeded targets, and those on ESA who must move closer to the workplace, which is what we are statutorily obliged to do, but not to put them in a job. We are doing that. Because of that, we are looking at the programme as a whole and putting further support in for those people. It is successful and, as I have said, Labour failed to do it.
The Minister should ask her civil servants about pathways to work.
In his spending review on 26 June, the Chancellor of the Exchequer called on the Secretary of State to make a hard-headed assessment of underperforming programmes in his Department. What progress is there with the hard-headed assessment of the Work programme?
The Work programme is not an underperforming programme: 60% of people are off benefits. We continue to modify and improve it, which is only right. We have set up a best practice committee so that people can get even better. There is no underperformance. We are proud of the record. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman one thing: those people who have got jobs, whom he dismisses so discourteously, are very proud of what we have done.
2. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the UN on the under-occupancy penalty. 
Strangely, I was not asked to discuss the removal of the spare room subsidy, or any other matter, with the UN representative.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the UN housing expert made no reference to the 250,000 households living in overcrowded accommodation or the efforts that the Government are making to bring fairness and respect to the welfare system after the mess that lot left it in?
Mrs Rolnik from the UN appeared over here, seemingly at the invitation of those opposed to all our policies, the Labour, or welfare, party included. I was interested in the notes that came back from the UN after she left. Some of the officials said,
“who is that strange woman; why is she talking about bedrooms and why on earth do we have a UN Housing Rapporteur.”
My thoughts entirely.
The statement from the United Nations not only reveals that Mrs Rolnik visited the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Homes and Community Agency and Manchester city council, but gives a statement of housing need in this country to which most serious commentators would wholly subscribe. Will the Secretary of State now stop his delusional approach to a scheme that cannot work because there is an inadequate supply of smaller accommodation for people to move into?
It was the right hon. Gentleman’s Government who left office with the lowest level of house building since the 1920s—[Interruption.] It is higher now than it was under them—nearly 1.8 million on waiting lists in England and 250,000 tenants in overcrowded accommodation. The Opposition never talk about that. Never do we hear them say they were sorry for the overcrowded mess they left behind them. Instead of little gimmicks with people from Brazil, they would be better off apologising for the mess they left us in in the first place.
I commend my right hon. Friend’s robust approach. Does he agree that it cannot be part of any responsible welfare system to support people in accommodation of a size that they do not need when so many families have no proper accommodation at all?
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is also worth reminding the Opposition that they introduced a policy for social tenants in the private sector that does not allow housing benefit recipients to have spare rooms. So they are being hypocritical in saying that they are against one and in favour of the other.
How can the Secretary of State continue to defend the bedroom tax when there are not enough smaller properties for people to move into, even if it were the right thing to do?
I keep reminding the Opposition—and this may be the real reason why they got in such a mess over the economy—that a subsidy is not a tax. They need to understand that a tax is something that the Government take away from people, but this is money that the taxpayers have given to people to subsidise them to have spare rooms. We simply cannot go on like that. I remind the hon. Lady that the Government she was a member of nearly doubled the housing benefit bill in the 10 years they were in power, and that is why we have to take action.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there are 4,000 people in Harlow on the council house waiting list, many of whom are not on benefits? Does he agree that the single room supplement will free up housing so that some of those people can get the housing that they rightly deserve?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The coalition is concerned about people who have to live in overcrowded accommodation. Never do we hear one single comment from the welfare party about people living desperately in the overcrowded accommodation that they left them in.
The Secretary of State is so out of touch he is even out of touch with his own Minister, Lloyd Freud—[Hon. Members: “Lloyd?”] Lord Freud. It was a Freudian slip.
Last week, Lord Freud admitted that there are not enough one-bedroom properties in this country. How would the Secretary of State describe a Government who tell the poorest in the land that they have to move into a one-bedroom property or pay a substantial penalty when they know that there are not enough one-bedroom properties? Is that perniciously cruel or utterly incompetent?
I am not closely associated with Lloyd George, but I am always ready to read what he has to say. I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his post, but he is completely wrong. My noble Friend Lord Freud chastised housing associations and others for continuing to build houses that are not required when there is a demand for single bedroom accommodation.
He did. I know he said it, because I read it.
New Enterprise Allowance
3. What assessment he has made of the effect of the expansion of the new enterprise allowance on young entrepreneurs. 
7. What assessment he has made of the effect of the expansion of the new enterprise allowance on young entrepreneurs. 
The new enterprise allowance offers support for people of all ages who want to start a business—to date, more than 1,700 young people have done so. We now have an additional 60,000 mentoring places available, so many more will be helped in the future. This is a very successful programme.
My constituent Paul Williams recently received help from the new enterprise allowance to start up his business, Choc Amor. He has twice moved to larger premises, has recently opened a new tea room and now employs nine people. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Paul Williams is a great example of why we should extend the scheme further, so that other hard-working people with drive and determination can get on in life, start a business and support our recovering economy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The example she gives is one of many that prove the programme is working. The scheme was due to end in September 2013, but now, as a result of its success, referrals will extend to 2014. More than 54,000 have taken up the mentoring offer and there is an extra £35 million for an additional 60,000 mentoring places. I hope my hon. Friend, and all hon. Members, will ensure that many more people know about the scheme and have the same opportunity as her constituent.
Last month, I organised a small business fair in Chester. We had the support of the local provider, Blue Orchid, which seems to be doing an excellent job of helping people to start businesses in Cheshire. There are a large number of providers across the country. What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of their effectiveness?
For the most part they provide a good service to all constituents and have been successful in all parts of the country. They operate within Jobcentre Plus districts and are monitored locally. If there are concerns, they are raised with the Jobcentre Plus. Their monthly management information flow gives us a very good overview of the scheme. In the north-west, my hon. Friend’s region, 8,000 have started working with a mentor and 4,420 have started claiming the weekly allowance—a big success.
Most businesses do not survive beyond the first year, and failing generally leaves their owners significantly out of pocket. Would it not be better to concentrate on boosting the economy to create jobs for young people, rather than recommending self-employment which, sadly, may make matters worse for the vast majority?
I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman cavil about this programme. The reality is that the two are not mutually exclusive. For those who have a good idea and want to start a business, the scheme provides an opportunity that otherwise would not be there. I remind him that approximately 1,800 18 to 24-year-olds, 18,000 25 to 49-year-olds, 6,000 aged 50-plus, who may well have had difficulty getting a job later on, and 4,800 with disabilities who would have been written off under the old scheme, have now started a business.
Will the Secretary of State look at the problems people are having in making the transition from jobseeker’s allowance to the new enterprise allowance regime, particularly with regard to housing benefit? A constituent, who is keen to set up his own business, came to see me the other day, but immediately found that his housing benefit had been stopped. He is of course still entitled to it in the early stages of claiming NEA.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising the issue and I will definitely have it looked into immediately. It is meant to flow easily. If there is a misunderstanding, or people do not know what it is, we must take that on and ensure that they do.
25. As Essex has a long and rich tradition of enterprise and entrepreneurial endeavour, I thank the Government for introducing the scheme to support the next generation of business leaders in Basildon and Thurrock. Will the Secretary of State tell the House how many businesses have been started with the support of the allowance in Essex, preferably in south Essex? 
I will get back to my hon. Friend about the more specific details, if he wants. About 26,000 new businesses have started already and the target is to get 40,000 going by December 2013. There are about 2,000 start-ups every single month under this scheme. Out of the first 3,000 people on it, 85% are still off benefit a year later. That is a successful scheme.
Is the Secretary of State aware that many Labour Members support this measure, but we are careful about ensuring that the quality of mentoring is good, that the evaluation of the likelihood of success be built on initiatives such as the new scheme of Hertfordshire university and that the scheme leads to long-term sustainable businesses?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have great deal of respect for him, and he is right that much depends on the quality of the mentoring; we are doing our level best to make sure that it is as good it could possibly be. If he has any suggestions about how to improve it further, the door is open and I am always happy to see him and discuss them with him. I would revisit any project he would like to nominate if he wanted us to look at any difficulties and I would consider looking at any improvements that might be worth making.
22. I welcome the extension of this excellent scheme to 2014. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Chancellor about extending it further, should it continue to be successful? 
The Chancellor and I of course discuss these matters quite regularly, and the reality is that he is very interested in this scheme. The truth is that a successful economy relies on new business start-ups. This plays exactly into the right arena. In comparison with competitors all over the world, new business start-ups and new businesses are providing the way for us to be successful. I am sure that the Chancellor will readily take my hon. Friend’s suggestions.
Atos Healthcare (Occupational Health Assessments)
5. What assessment he has made of the performance of Atos Healthcare in delivering occupational health assessments. 
In the last week, I have looked carefully at the key performance indicators for delivery times, which have been met or exceeded. In the last 12 months, they have gone from 93% to the contracted target of 97%.
Last year, my constituent Alan Johnson, a dedicated paramedic, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. At 55 years of age, he was advised to retire early. Atos went on to ignore the advice of his GP and his specialist, refused him a medical and told him that he had not had the condition long enough to qualify, and then forced him to return to work. Will the Minister meet me to discuss this appalling case so that Mr Johnson can receive the pension he is due?
Of course I will meet the hon. Lady, but there is an appeals process, and I suggest her constituent goes through that full process—in case he has not—before we meet, as we do not want jeopardise an appeal in any way. This was a problem we inherited from the previous Administration. Occupational health assessments were set up under Atos in 2008; it was not great, but we are working hard to sort it out.
6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the benefit cap in encouraging people back to work. 
It is my strong belief that there is a connection between what is happening with the benefit cap and getting people into work. The findings of polls we conducted show that of those notified or aware that they would be affected by the cap, three in 10 then took action to find work. To date, Jobcentre Plus has helped some 16,500 potentially capped claimants back into work.
Some of the few families in my constituency affected by the benefit cap have particular issues in accessing employment. Does my right hon. Friend feel that the Work programme has the specialist knowledge required to deal with some of the difficulties that this group sometimes encounter in accessing employment?
It does, which is the whole point of the Work programme—to get more individuals to involve themselves and to help such people find the right courses, the right application and then the right skilling. The Work programme is able to do that in a more intense way than Jobcentre Plus is, so it should provide enormous help. The reality is that the benefit cap is enormously popular, which may account for why the welfare party opposite has come and gone on this issue from the beginning. First, Labour Members say they are opposed to it; then they say they are for it: we have no idea what they will do about it.
A new report by the New Policy Institute and Trust for London shows that 57% of working-age adults and children living in poverty in London are in households that work. That work is almost inevitably low paid and increasingly part time. Will the Secretary of State drop this mantra of making work pay and begin perhaps to discuss with his colleagues the possibility of encouraging a living wage?
I am always very willing to discuss issues relating to the living wage with the hon. Lady or with anyone else. However, I hope that when the hon. Lady talks to her constituents she is honest enough to tell them that the reason they find themselves in so much difficulty is that the last Government made such a mess of the economy, and caused so many people to collapse into low incomes and very poor jobs. It was the Labour party that caused that. We are changing it, and restoring the previous position.
The European Commission said this morning that more than 600,000 EU migrants live in this country without working. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we could cap the benefits paid to those individuals by introducing a more stringent residence requirement, and by insisting that they have a longer social security contribution record?
I have not read the report in any detail, but I do know that the 600,000 figure does not necessarily refer to people of working age who could be working. There is a big question mark over the number of people to whom it relates. I do not want to find myself in the middle of a debate between some of the media and the European Union, so let me simply say that our own assessment—our habitual residency test—currently prevents people who could be working and not on benefits from claiming those benefits. It is the Commission that is trying to get us to change that, and I am utterly refusing to do so.
The unemployment rate in my constituency is nearly 9%. One mother whose benefits have been capped has little opportunity of getting a job, especially as she has several small children to look after. She is putting feeding and clothing them and paying bills ahead of paying her rent, so her landlord, Miguel Contreres, is receiving just £30 a week. Can the Secretary of State provide a fair alternative to the landlord’s throwing that mother and her children out on to the street?
Can we please return to reality? [Interruption.] I love the fact that my new shadow, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves)—whom I welcome to her position—was out over the weekend saying “We are going to get really tough on benefits”, and at the first opportunity Labour Members are carping about the cap and the spare room subsidy. The truth is that the cap applies to people with average earnings. May I ask the hon. Gentleman what he might like to say to those who are trying and working hard, and who wonder why people on benefits are earning more than they are?
Child Support Agency
8. How many individual cases were raised with the Child Support Agency by hon. Members in 2012. 
Out of 1.1 million cases registered with the Child Support Agency, hon. Members raised 7,540 with the agency. That is still too many, but I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that 12% fewer letters were received in 2012 than in 2011.
I think that that is a bit of an underestimate. The figure is certainly lower than I expected it to be, given that the hon. Member for Colchester has raised more than 1,000 cases in the past 16 years. Does the Minister agree that if a Member of Parliament is having to make representations to the CSA, those cases constitute failures?
I do not have figures showing how many of the 7,000 or so letters came from my hon. Friend, but I suspect that a fair proportion of them did. However, he is right to say that matters should not have to reach the stage at which a Member of Parliament has to raise a case. We are reforming the CSA for that reason, and we believe that the new 2012 system will provide much better customer service.
When dealing with CSA cases raised by constituents, one is left with the feeling that the CSA has strayed from its original remit, which was to chase absent fathers. It seems that the agency has filed that under “too difficult”, and is now pursuing people who are already paying in an attempt to extract more money from them. Can the Minister find a way of restoring the CSA’s original purpose, which was to chase absent fathers rather than hounding people who are already trying to do the right thing?
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the thinking behind our reforms is to ensure that when families can sort things out for themselves, they do so. That will enable the CSA to pursue the remaining cases involving absent fathers—or mothers—much more vigorously, so that those who are refusing to pay feel the full force of our enforcement action.
Work Capability Assessments
9. What steps he is taking to reduce waiting times for work capability assessments. 
The work capability process was introduced by the previous Labour Administration in 2008. We are committed to ensuring that work capability assessments are as fair and accurate as possible in determining who is fit to work and when they can return to work. The Department has instructed Atos to introduce a quality improvement plan, as was announced in this House by written statement.
I thank the Minister for that. Can he just confirm that nobody will be worse off as a result of the necessary push on quality that he has just mentioned and the slow-down it may cause for some of our constituents?
No one will be worse off. Quality is very important, so as to ensure that when the assessments are done the first time, they are done accurately and do not have to go back on appeal. If there is an overpayment to someone because they are assessed at a lower rate, they will be able to keep that payment.
The Minister’s predecessor, who is in his place, previously said from the Dispatch Box that one reason for the number of incorrect decisions was people not providing the right medical evidence. May I invite the new Minister to have a look at the wording of the ESA50 form? It states:
“If you have any medical documents that you think will support your claim, send them in with your questionnaire. For example, this could be a medical report from your doctor, consultant or support worker.”
It then says, immediately afterwards:
“Please do not send medical statements”.
It is little wonder there is confusion.
In my first week, I must admit that I have not had a chance to look at that part of the form. I will do so, and if it needs amending I will do that.
Will my hon. Friend undertake a work capability assessment on the Ministry of Justice, because the waiting time for appeal hearings for WCA claims is now up to 40 weeks in the Kettering area? That is completely unacceptable.
I think we all accept that the delays are unacceptable. We need to ensure that the assessments are done correctly when they are first done, and the Department is working closely now to make sure that they are assessed before they get to the referral situation.
The changes to the WCA appeals process that are due to come into effect later this month will put some very sick and disabled people in a dreadful position, whereby those who are clearly unfit for work and are appealing a bad decision by Atos will be unable to claim any replacement benefits for the duration of the reconsideration process because being able to work is a prerequisite for claiming jobseeker’s allowance. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact that these changes will have on local authorities, housing associations and primary health care?
As the Minister of State for disabled people—a brand new role, with not a junior Minister but a senior Minister—it is my role, across government and including local authorities, to make sure that the system is working. Where there are problems, I will look at them. I will be working closely with all the authorities that the hon. Lady has suggested, but I do not accept her premise as to how many of them will be worse off.
Former Remploy Workers
10. How many former Remploy workers are now in employment. 
At 4 October 2013 1,326 disabled former Remploy workers are engaging with personal case workers to find jobs; 535 are in work, and 390 are on Work Choice and training, which makes a total of 925 in work or training.
Notwithstanding that answer, more than 93% of disabled people on the Work programme are simply failing to find work. I put it to the Minister that the Government’s record on disability employment is simply a disgrace and is another example of the Government talking big and tough but failing to deliver.
The hon. Lady has bounced across various subjects there, but may I just put on the record the fact that the Remploy factories had faced an uncertain future since 2008 and that her Government closed 29? We have sought to support the people involved in the best way possible, and so 925 out of the 1,325 are in work or training. We are talking about significant support and significant movement into work; the rate is higher than the one relating to regular redundancies. As I said before, the Work programme is working. It has significantly improved under my predecessor and we will continue that.
I welcome the information that the Minister has given about the role that Work Choice has played in helping former Remploy employees. Will she confirm that we have no plans, despite rumours I am hearing, to roll Work Choice up into the Work programme? Such an approach would lose the specialisation that has made Work Choice the success it has been so far.
My hon. Friend is right. Work Choice has been a success. We are looking at the disability employment strategy. For the first time ever we are considering greater segmentation and greater differentiation, and the greater support that is needed. We have also engaged with business as never before. We have started a two-year disability confident programme, engaging with 430 businesses and 35 of the FTSE 100. We need employers to work with us to give these people jobs.
19. In the same way that the miners’ buy-out of Tower colliery succeeded in sustaining well-paid jobs and exposed the lie that every pit was uneconomic, does the reopening this week of the former Forestfach Remploy site in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) with workers’ redundancy money give the lie to the need to shut so many viable Remploy factories, such as that in Bridgend, where the workers and management had both the business case and the burning desire to keep the factory open? 
I think that the hon. Gentleman does not really understand what happened with the whole set of Remploy factories. In 2008, the Labour party put in £555 million for a modernisation plan that failed. Those factories that can exist as viable businesses are doing so. We have helped them in that. We have supported them, and more than nine have reopened. Of those that could not, we have got some of the employees into work and others are opening up as social enterprises. The Opposition tried and failed. We are doing something about this and supporting those people.
11. What steps he is taking to get the long-term unemployed into work. 
From next April, those hardest to help jobseekers returning from the Work programme will get the intensive support they need to get a job. A third will sign on every day; a third will go on community work placements for six months; and a third will receive intensive support from Jobcentre Plus.
Research for the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that since 2010, the Government’s welfare reforms have already increased tax incentives to work and cut welfare disincentives by 6%. Does my hon. Friend agree that we must continue this recalibration of the system to end the dependency culture that the last Government left behind and ensure that hard work pays?
My hon. Friend is spot-on. That is exactly what we said we would do—a recalibration; a rebalancing of the economy—to get more people into private enterprise and to make fewer people state dependent. We have done that with 1.4 million jobs in the private sector. Opposition Members said that it was not possible. This is down to an environment that we have set and the great British businesses that have provided this employment.
It is good to be back. The Minister will be aware that a key barrier to many long-term unemployed women returning to work is the prohibitively high cost of child care. What is she doing to ensure that work will always pay once universal credit is implemented, given the concerning findings of the Resolution Foundation published yesterday showing the opposite to be the case?
I am very proud of our Government’s policies, which have got a record number of women into work and supported them into businesses and in setting up their own businesses. Of those in part-time work, 80% have chosen that work, some of which fits in with their life balance. We are supporting women with child care. That is a difficult job, especially as the price of child care went through the roof under Labour. We are particularly supporting them under universal credit, and, as I said, all credit to this Government.
I welcome the Minister to her place and encourage her to come to Norwich to see the steps that I and a really great team of volunteers are taking to get Norwich’s youth unemployment down. We call it Norwich for Jobs and we have already got literally hundreds of young people into work. Her predecessor had kindly agreed to visit the team; would she like to do the same?
If it was good enough for my hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Mr Hoban), it is good enough for me, and I will be there.
Is it not the case that the Secretary of State has been rebuked not once but twice by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority for the misleading, if not false, claims that he is making about the welfare reform programme? Will he take the opportunity to apologise to the House and to the public at large, not least to those on social security, whom the Government continue to denigrate?
I will not be taking this moment to apologise, but I hope that those on the Labour Benches will apologise for the mess they left us, which we have corrected. Employment is up by 1 million since the election and unemployment is down by 400,000. Inactivity records are at an all-time low and the number of people not in employment, education or training is at the lowest rate for a decade. That is what we are doing, and the statistics we are putting out are correct. I am really disappointed that we cannot all celebrate the great work this Government have done.
Housing Benefit Changes (Scotland)
12. What assessment he has made of the effect of the Government’s housing benefit changes in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. 
All the Government’s housing benefit changes have been subject to full impact and equality impact assessments. We have closely monitored the implementation of the measures and commissioned independent evaluations of the local housing allowance reforms and the removal of the spare room subsidy.
Alex Salmond is coming down from Edinburgh on Wednesday to ask the Prime Minister to scrap the bedroom tax, and the Scottish Labour party is putting a Bill before the Scottish Parliament to stop evictions and provide funding to councils and housing associations for discretionary housing payments. Does the Minister accept that in the meantime, councils and housing associations are under huge pressure to raise rents because of the massive rent arrears resulting from the introduction of the bedroom tax?
What I will say is that we are putting in place support for those housing associations and local authorities that are finding that they cannot come to terms with the issue, although they have had three years to do something and have failed to do so. I would like to talk about the 1.8 million people on housing waiting lists and the 250,000 people in overcrowded accommodation, whom nobody had looked after. We are looking after everybody and supporting them as best we can with discretionary housing payments.
Tenants who are not on housing benefits and pensioners are now being affected by the bedroom tax, because councils such as mine are being forced to look at either rent rises or cutting their modernisation programmes because of the impact of the bedroom tax. Will the Minister now look at that again and stop this nonsense, which is not even saving money overall?
There is one point to clarify: pensioners are exempt. If people could get the facts right, it would work better.
14. What steps the Government are taking on pension charges. 
We have already banned consultancy charges in automatic enrolment schemes and, in the light of the recent report by the Office of Fair Trading, we will shortly be publishing a consultation setting out plans for a cap on pension scheme charges.
It is extremely difficult for pensioners, and indeed fund trustees, to obtain accurate and timely data about transaction costs, which can have an enormous impact on fund performance. Does the Minister share my view that managers of both private and public funds should be required to publish that information?
My hon. Friend highlights the important point that we need a great deal more transparency about the many different pension scheme charges—the OFT report identified 18 different sorts of charges. We will be looking at its recommendation that the fees he refers to should be reported to governance committees, which will be best placed to act upon them.
It was the Leader of the Opposition who led the way in exposing the pension charges rip-off, only for the Minister to respond—I have the press cutting to hand—by accusing Labour 15 months ago of scaremongering. Now that the OFT has published its damning report, does he not accept that Labour was right all along and that pension charges must be tackled in a serious and timely fashion?
May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on keeping his post in the Labour reshuffle, which I understand was codenamed the Blair Ditch project? He says that we need to cap pension scheme charges. What I do not understand is why they were not capped at any point when Labour was in office. Why has it decided to cap them only now? The OFT did not recommend a cap on pension scheme charges. I am sure he was disappointed when he read its report, because he thought that it would. That is why we are now consulting and gathering evidence. We will act where the previous Government did not.
Departmental Programmes (Performance)
16. What plans he has to improve the performance of his Department’s programmes referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his spending review statement on 26 June 2013. 
I am cutting the running costs of my Department from what I inherited from the last Government of £9 billion in 2009-10 to less than £6 billion by the end of this Parliament. What is more, by 2016-17 spending on out-of-work benefits will be back at 2008-09 levels. Working with the Treasury, we are always looking to drive down costs further still, and we will make further announcements.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer called in his spending review statement for a hard-hearted assessment of underperforming programmes in the DWP. Does the Secretary of State accept this review, and what steps is he taking to tackle underperformance in his Department?
The No. 1 thing we could do was to get rid of Labour—a great move to get more performance and not underperformance, and judging by the performance of its Front-Bench team, that is one of the areas where we ought to start straight away—but I must say to the hon. Lady that we are driving costs down and making savings in every programme. I would love to know this: out of the £80 billion plus we will save as a result of our welfare changes, which the Chancellor welcomes, which ones does she welcome?
How many permanent secretaries does the Secretary of State think he will get through before universal credit is rolled out nationally?
Universal credit will roll out very well and it will be on time and within budget. We should consider the reality of the record of the right hon. Gentleman’s Government on Departments and the mess they got into. They left us with IT blunders of over £26 billion. With respect to him, as he was not always involved, but the others were, I therefore think they should apologise first.
Personal Independence Payment
17. What discussions he has had with Motability on the changes from disability living allowance to personal independence payment. 
DWP Ministers have regularly met the management of Motability to ensure that they are well placed to manage the introduction of personal independence payments and are able to effectively support their customers through this transitional period.
There are 3,200 people in Hull who have a vehicle under the Motability scheme. What assessment has the Minister made of the number who will lose their vehicle under the new PIP criteria?
We are working very closely with Motability, and if someone does lose their Motability vehicle and they were in the scheme prior to January 2013 there will be a £2,000 lump sum to help. I must say to the hon. Lady that only 30% of people on the higher rate take Motability, but we will work very closely to ensure those who deserve it continue to get it.
T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. 
Today I welcomed the national roll-out of the claimant commitment across around 100 jobcentres a month from now, mirroring a contract of employment. These contracts are about a cultural shift making it easier for claimants to understand what they must do in return for benefits and that they are in work now to find work. During the pathfinder both claimants and staff have found this helps enormously in focusing people on their requirements and the consequences if they do not meet them. This now marks the next stage of delivery.
One of my constituents who is still without a job after his involvement in the Work programme came to one of the public consultation meetings I organised during the recess because he was angered by his experience of the programme. Bright and articulate with a postgraduate degree from Oxford, he had been sent on an eight-week employability course that included the completion of questions by ticking boxes with smiley faces or sad faces. Does the Secretary of State understand why he and others on the course angrily felt it was a waste of time, and does his experience explain why the Work programme has failed the overwhelming majority of people who have been sent on it?
I just do not agree with that because the reality is that the Work programme figures show that it is performing incredibly well and it will just get better: some 72% of the first tranche or cohort are off benefits; 380,000 people who before were written off by the last Government are now in work; 168,000 are now in sustained employment; and we now know that 90% of those who are in sustained employment go on to another year at least of employment, which is better than any of the last Government’s programmes—cheaper, more effective and better for those trying to get into work.
T6. As this month marks the first anniversary of automatic enrolment, will the Minister update the House on progress so far? 
Yes, as my hon. Friend says, it has been a year since the first firm automatically enrolled. This has been a striking success. Over 1.5 million employees have been automatically enrolled and the staying-in rates have been far higher, with over 90% of employees who have been placed in a workplace pension remaining in it. It is a superb start and I congratulate all those who played a part in it.
Labour Members support the principle of universal credit, but we have repeatedly raised concerns about the Secretary of State’s ability to deliver it. Since 2011 he has consistently promised that 1 million people will be claiming universal credit by April 2014. Will he now tell the House how many people he expects actually to be claiming universal credit by then, and whether he will proceed with the previously announced plans to close down new claims for tax credits by that date?
May I start by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position? As I told the Committee and have said consistently, universal credit will be rolled out within the time scales we set, and we are planning very clearly to enrol as many people in it as possible. This will be a success. As she says she is in favour of universal credit, perhaps she can explain why Labour Members voted against it at the start and continue to do so.
Despite what the Secretary of State says, the truth is that by April next year it will be possible to claim universal credit at just 10 jobcentres out of a total of 772. Meanwhile, the National Audit Office says that £34 million has already had to be written off, £303 million is now at risk, and Ministers have failed to set out how the policy will work. It is a catalogue of errors. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much money spent on the project will be money down the drain? Instead of blaming everybody but himself, would it not be better for him to turn down the volume on off-the-record briefings against his own permanent secretary and start taking responsibility for his own failed policy?
Just in case the hon. Lady does not realise it, I should point out that this is not a failed policy: it will roll out successfully on time and within budget. Where does the word “failure” apply to that? She is part of a party whose time in office saw more than £28 billion wasted on IT programmes, with complete chaos most of the time it was there. This will roll out on time and within budget. At any time when we announce the new reset, she can, if she would like, come and talk to us about it. Perhaps for once, instead of voting against stuff and then saying she supports it, she might tell us how many of the benefit cuts Labour Members voted against they are now in favour of.
T10. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Southend West has fallen by 12% in the past year? Will he join me in congratulating everyone on this very encouraging trend? 
I will indeed do that. Although my hon. Friend talks about an average of 14% fewer people claiming in his constituency, across the country the average is 11%, and 400,000 fewer people are claiming since 2010, so it is success all round for this Government.
T2. With well over 1 million unemployment benefit claimants being sanctioned since 2010, rumours abounding that targets are in place for sanctioning, and all of us facing many desperate people in our surgeries, will the Secretary of State tell us when we will see the results of his investigation into sanctioning? 
It is obvious and clear that Labour Members do not support sanctioning. The reality is that they spend their whole time saying that they are in favour of benefit changes and at every single turn they oppose them. People who deserve sanctions deserve sanctions, and we impose them on those who do not play a part in the system.
People with autism and mental health problems have particular problems with the work capability assessment, and the courts recently found that the test put people with mental health problems at a substantial disadvantage. Will the Minister or the Secretary of State rethink the work capability assessment for those people and pause the process, for which Rethink Mental Illness called?
I have looked at this very closely in the past week. Of course, lots of groups would want us to look at individual cases. The way the assessment is done is not rigid, and it will evolve. We will look at this carefully, but I cannot make promises on individual groups today.
T3. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether benefits officers been have told not to sanction people when the only job offered is on a zero-hours contract? Do Ministers recognise that the new claimant commitments mean that people will not actually be able to sign zero-hours contracts without risking losing their in-work benefits? 
The claimant commitment is about people’s obligations under the existing terms. They will have to seek work, attend interviews and try to get a job, and once they are offered a job they must take it. Those are the sanctions coming up under universal credit. People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence. Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal. If Labour wants to change the law, we want to hear that from the hon. Gentleman.
Will the Secretary of State update the House on the innovation fund and how it is helping separated families?
This is money designed to help and support separated families. We have spent £6.5 million so far on seven projects in the voluntary and private sector designed to help with things such as mediation. Although it is early days, we have anecdotal examples whereby we have enabled families to function together for the benefit of the child, and whereby the child’s performance at school is improving as well as maintenance flowing.
T4. Housing associations in Ogmore are carrying a rising level of debt on their balance sheets as a result of rent arrears. They have a desperate scarcity of one and two-bedroom properties to rent, and yet they have three-bedroom properties lying empty. Is this just a necessary but painful adjustment to the Secretary of State’s benefit and bedroom tax changes? 
This is something we have to do. I have answered this before: how many people we have to look at who are on waiting lists, how many are in overcrowded housing, and how the bill doubled under Labour. The hon. Gentleman is quite right—we have to get the stock right: the fact that there are three-bedroom houses and why in the last three years they have not been modified into one and two-bedroom houses. Those questions have to be asked. That is what we have to do: get the stock right and support people as best we can.
The pensions Minister mentioned earlier that the Office of Fair Trading report highlighted some of the abusive practices in the private pensions industry, such as active member discount and charges of up to 3% on many schemes. I welcome his consultation, but does he agree that it will be important to put a cap in place before auto-enrolment is rolled out at volume?
My hon. Friend raises the crucial issue that, while the largest firms have been able to negotiate very good charging levels, we cannot be certain that the smaller firms will even be offered them or, indeed, that employers will necessarily be interested in charging levels when it is the employees, rather than the employers, who pay them. Our consultation will touch on that issue and on that of active member discounts.
T5. The Government continue to disregard warnings from the likes of Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty that many of the 500,000 people being forced to use food banks are doing so because of delayed, reduced or withdrawn benefits. The Department seems not to be interested in collecting any statistics behind the reasons for that referral. Will the Secretary of State look into this to see what impact his benefit changes are having on people who simply cannot afford to feed themselves? 
We do spend our time looking carefully to see whether the effects of our policies are negative on some families and how we can best support them. We have localised to local authorities the support for things such as crisis loans. Local authorities are now much better at focusing on what people really need. Our general view is that there are people in some difficulty, but lots of people are taking some of this food because it is available and it makes sense to do so. We are working with local authorities to ensure that those in real need get support.
What estimate has been made of the annual number of surviving civil partners who qualify for widow and widower pensions?
As my hon. Friend knows, our data on the pension rights of people in civil partnerships are very patchy, but I can tell him that, in response to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, we have committed to a statutory review. We are gathering data as we speak and we will report back on our proposals by next July.
T8. Given the woeful performance of the Work programme in Hull and local job losses, does the Secretary of State agree with The Economist that Hull’s long-term jobseekers should give up looking for jobs in Hull and travel elsewhere in the country? 
I would never put out a message that people should not look for work, because work is vital to self-esteem, motivation and supporting one’s family, so I totally disagree with that statement.
The roll-out of universal credit will be complete by 2017, yet the contract for the Post Office card account will be up for renewal in 18 months. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that people will still be able to access their benefits through their post offices?
I have looked at this matter carefully. The Post Office contract is due to expire in 2015, but there is the option to extend it and we will keep the matter under review. The Post Office is piloting a new current account and we hope that many people will transfer on to that. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will ensure that those who are in the circumstances that he describes will always be properly supported.
Every single week, constituents tell me that Atos claims that it has not received the forms that they have completed. Last week, a young disabled constituent told me that that had happened on several occasions, leaving him penniless for weeks at a time. Why can the Secretary of State not sort this shambles out?
The personal circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has described are completely unacceptable. If he gives me the details of the case, I will look at it. The performance of Atos is ever so important and it was an issue for the previous Administration. We are working on it, but those circumstances are not acceptable and I will look at the matter.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that since the benefit cap was introduced, his Department has helped more than 16,000 people who would have been affected by it into work? Does that not show that those who voted against the benefit cap cannot be trusted on welfare reform?
My hon. Friend is right that the benefit cap is popular and effective. Although the new shadow Secretary of State said that Labour would be tougher on welfare, we have all noticed throughout questions that the only thing we have heard from Labour is opposition to every single spending reduction and welfare reform. That party is not fit for government.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) has been looking doleful for much of questions. I shall do my best to rescue her from her misery.
I am entirely grateful, Mr Speaker, but my dolefulness has more to do with the responses from the Government than with my not catching your eye.
The Government’s main reason for denying women born between 1951 and 1953 the option of receiving the single-tier pension if that means a higher weekly income appears to be the uncertainty about when their husbands will die. That is irrelevant for single, unmarried female pensioners—the poorest of all groups in retirement—who know that they would be better off with a choice. Will the Minister reconsider his policy so that the Government can help my constituents and others like them?
To be clear, we have made one change to the pension position of the women to whom the hon. Lady refers: we have improved the indexation of their pensions by introducing the triple lock. I make no apology for that.
Several hon. Members
I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, to whose mellifluous tones I could happily listen all afternoon, but we must move on to the statement.
Secondary Schools (Accountability)
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the future of secondary school accountability, following our recent consultation. May I first welcome the new shadow Secretary of State for Education and express our best wishes to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), with whom we always had a very constructive relationship?
Until now, secondary schools have been judged by the proportion of their pupils who are awarded five GCSEs at grade C or better, including in English and maths. Schools currently improve their league table position if pupils move over the C/D borderline. That gives schools a huge incentive to focus excessively on the small number of pupils around the five Cs borderline. In our view, that is unfair to pupils with the potential to move from E grades to D grades or from B grades to A grades. It is also, paradoxically, unfair to those on the C/D borderline because it leads schools to teach to the test. Ofqual, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and others have warned about those adverse incentives.
Indeed, all five of the maths organisations that responded to the consultation said that the current approach harmed the teaching of mathematics. The Association of Teachers of Mathematics said:
“Teaching to the test…results in superficial skills development which means that students are ill prepared for adult life”.
Furthermore, as Chris Paterson at CentreForum has shown, the current accountability framework discourages schools from focusing on the lowest-attaining pupils. In a recently published book, “The Tail”, the authors argue that the past 15 years have seen rises in average attainment in our schools, but not in the attainment of those at the bottom. International surveys such as the trends in international mathematics and science study confirm that position. We need a secondary school accountability system that gives more attention to pupils who are falling behind.
The current measure also permits many schools, particularly in affluent areas, to coast. Those schools find it easy to hit targets based only on five C grades. Although those schools may look successful, C grades are not a measure of success if pupils are actually capable of achieving far more. The accountability system must set challenging but fair expectations for every school, whatever its intake.
The five A* to C grades measure also encourages schools to offer a narrow curriculum. Mastery of just five subjects is not enough for most pupils at age 16. Furthermore, the use of equivalent qualifications means that some students have not been offered a rigorous academic curriculum, which would have served them well. Until this year, a school could offer English, maths and only one BTEC and still have the pupil count as having achieved five Cs or better.
We believe that the system can do much better than that, so we will require all schools to publish core information on their website in a standard format. From now on, there will be four key measures that must be published. The first is pupils’ progress across eight subjects, so a parent will see whether pupils at a school typically achieve one grade higher than expected or one grade lower. The second is the average grade that a pupil achieves in those same best eight subjects. That will show, for example, that pupils in a particular school average a high B grade or a low D grade in their GCSEs. The third is the percentage of pupils achieving a C grade in English and maths. The fourth is the proportion of pupils gaining the EBacc, which will continue in its current form. We will also look at developing a destination measure to show the percentage of pupils in any school who move on to further study or employment, including further training.
We are proposing an important change to how we measure underperformance, and to our floor targets. Rather than the five A* to C GCSEs threshold measure, we will use the new progress measure for the floor targets. That will be much fairer, because it will take into account a school’s intake. A pupil’s key stage 2 results, achieved at the end of primary school, will be used to set a reasonable expectation of what they should achieve at GCSE, and schools will get credit when pupils outperform those expectations. A child who gets an A when they were expected to get a B, or a D when they were expected to get an E, will effectively score points for their school. That approach will ensure that all pupils matter, and matter equally. It will be fairer for schools and fairer for pupils.
Coasting schools will no longer be let off the hook. Equally, head teachers will no longer feel penalised when they have actually performed well with a challenging intake. We must not deter the best head teachers and teachers from working in challenging schools.
Pupils’ progress and attainment will be assessed in eight subjects: English and maths, three further EBacc subjects and three other high-value qualifications. That final group can include further traditional academic subjects such as art, music and drama, and vocational subjects such as engineering and business. English and maths will be double-weighted to reflect their importance. That will encourage schools to offer all pupils a broad curriculum, but with a strong academic core.
We will define the new floor standard as progress half a grade lower than reasonable expectations. So if pupils at a school are expected to average a B in their eight subjects, the school will be below the floor if they average less than four Bs and four Cs. At present, there are 195 schools below the existing floor standard. Using existing figures, we estimate that about twice as many schools would be below the new floor standard. However, as schools will adjust their curriculum offer to the new framework, the actual number is likely to be significantly lower.
We also want to recognise schools in which pupils make exceptional progress. Therefore, a school in which pupils average a full grade above reasonable expectations will not be inspected by Ofsted the following year. This is the first time the accountability regime has offered schools a carrot as well as a stick. Schools have planned their current curriculum for years 10 and 11 on the basis of the existing accountability system, so for that reason, the new system will begin in 2016 for students currently in year 9. We will, however, allow schools to opt into the new system from 2015 if they wish.
The Government response to the consultation also describes how we will publish information we hold about secondary schools through a new data portal. That builds on our existing performance tables, and will allow all interested groups—governors, parents, academics and civil society more widely—to analyse aspects of school performance. Our full response to the consultation is available on the Department for Education’s website, and a copy will be placed in the Library of the House.
Through these changes, we are removing the perverse incentives for schools to act in a way that is not in the best interests of their pupils. More pupils will get the teaching they require and obtain the valuable qualifications they need. The proposals will have a major and positive effect on our education system, and we hope they will secure support from across the political spectrum.
I thank the Minister for his kind words for the shadow Secretary of State and the former shadow Secretary of State, which he gave in his usual courteous way at the beginning of his statement. I also thank him for advance sight of the statement. Labour will study closely the details of the changes he proposes, and if it transpires that they will incentivise rich, broad and balanced curricula in our schools, we will welcome them. There are, however, some important tests that the changes must pass.
Anyone watching last week’s “Educating Yorkshire” will have seen the extraordinary efforts that teachers go to—sometimes including risking their health—to help pupils pass their GCSEs. It is sad that these days that is sometimes known in Government as “gaming the system”. How will the Minister ensure that the new arrangements will allow teachers to help pupils of all abilities to achieve their best, and can he be sure that they will not throw up their own new perverse incentives?
The Labour party, backed by the CBI, is committed to ensuring that all young people continue to study maths and English to 18, although so far the Government have failed to support Labour’s plan. Will the Minister think again about that? As the participation age rises to 18, and with challenges for us all in the OECD report, does he not want all young people to continue studying maths and English to 18? We also need more detail about how the changes will impact on technical and vocational education which, once again, seems to be a bit of an afterthought. He referred to progression post-16, but why are the Government watering down the important requirement on schools to ensure that young people are ready for the world of work, through the provision of work experience and independent careers advice and guidance?
The central problem with the announcement is that parents, pupils and teachers no longer trust the Government not to tinker. When it comes to accountability measures, the Government behave a little like the badgers, moving the goalposts halfway through the school year. Will the Minister guarantee that the proposal will not be subject to the mood swings of the Secretary of State and his infamous friend Dominic Cummings? Parents, pupils, teachers and head teachers are livid about the latest knee-jerk announcement via the press, when pupils are already preparing for exams and only days away from the deadline for exam entry, that only first entry into GCSE can be counted in the school accountability measure. If the badgers are moving the goalposts, Ministers are changing the rules in the middle of the match. Will the Minister promise to meet with heads to discuss their concerns about this change being implemented in such a way?
Will this change to the accountability system make any real difference to children if their schools are vulnerable to—I quote the Secretary of State’s special adviser— “disastrous teaching” and “fraudulent activity”? That is the view of Dominic Cummings, who says that it is inevitable, because of the lack of grip the Secretary of State has on his free schools policy, that some will fail for those reasons. That is what he said.
We are already seeing the fruit of that failure in the scandal at Al-Madinah school in Derby, which left 400 children without schooling for an entire week and whose approach to women staff and female students has caused such controversy. What will the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure that school accountability extends beyond today’s measure and includes ensuring that all taxpayer-funded schools have qualified teaching staff, are monitored for financial fraud, have proper child protection measures in place and are adhering to basic British values of tolerance and respect for all, regardless of gender, sexuality or religious belief?
I think I welcome the shadow Minister’s response to our statement. By the end of it, it was difficult to know whether he was supporting the statement or not. We will come to that in a moment. I think I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s relatively cautious approach because, from him, I take that as a sign of support, whereas from other people it might qualify as anything other than that.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that we have taken time to get this right. Nobody can accuse us of rushing into the proposals. After all, we announced a consultation in this area in February. We have taken a great deal of time to get our proposals right. We have listened very carefully, including to the Chairman of the Select Committee, to a lot of the mathematics, to organisations that made representations, and to hon. Members on both sides of the House. As a consequence, the Secretary of State and I have changed the proposals that we first made. We have moved away from a threshold measure to a greater extent than was originally planned, precisely because of the perverse incentive effects that the hon. Gentleman talked about, and we think we have now got the balance right between having a proper accountability system and ensuring that that system embeds the right incentives. By having a number of key measures, we will ensure that it is not possible to game one of those and ignore all the other things that matter.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we need to encourage young people who have not mastered maths and English at 16 to go on studying those subjects, and we have announced a new core maths qualification beyond the age of 16 to ensure that young people have the opportunity to do that. We have also, through our 16-to-19 accountability consultation, paid a great deal of attention to the incentives that educational institutions will have to keep young people on course after the age of 16 and to create the right incentives. The destination measure that I have talked about today will give all educational institutions an interest in the qualifications that young people secure not only at age 16, but beyond that.
On the issue of early entries for GCSEs, I do understand that this has been controversial, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that we must pay attention to the serious warnings that we have received from Ofsted and others about the scale of increase of early entry. This summer almost a quarter of maths entries—170,000 entries —were from young people who were not at the end of key stage 4 study. Ofsted said that it found no evidence that such approaches on their own served the best interests of students in the long term. Indeed, Sir Michael Wilshaw has said that he thinks early entry hurts the chances of some children, who are not able to go on to get the best grades that they are capable of.
On future uncertainty about these frameworks, we hope very much indeed that we will be able to secure support from across the House for the proposals that we have made today, and I take the hon. Gentleman’s comments as a modest step in that direction. However, in terms of getting certainty about the degree of cross-party co-operation, it would be helpful if he could clarify some of divisions that there are now on his own side about some of the key issues. For example, one of the measures that we have said we would publish is the EBacc, and we believe we should continue to do so. The former education spokesman for the Labour party opposed the EBacc and said that it was at best an irrelevance and in some cases distorted young people’s choices. The new spokesman for the Labour party said that he supports the English baccalaureate. We want to hear from the Opposition some clarity about Labour’s position on these issues; otherwise, that will be a source of confusion.
This announcement is extremely welcome, as the best eight measure will be an educational breakthrough in improving the accountability of secondary schools by, as the Minister rightly said, ensuring a focus on improving the education of the lowest-achieving, as well as stretching those at the top. It is to the credit of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools that they have listened to the submissions, that they have been prepared to take their time and that they have got this right. How will the floor target work? It is rightly based on progression, but how will it ensure that progression is fairly measured between those who serve the more able and typically prosperous parts of the population and those in the most deprived areas?
I am grateful to the Chair of the Select Committee for his kind comments about the proposals we have announced today. I am happy to pay tribute to him for the role he has played in ensuring the improvement of the proposals between the original announcement and consultation in February and today, when the final proposals were made. He is right that the new progress measure will ensure that the attention and focus is not only, as it was in the past, on the schools with the lowest levels of attainment, but on schools that appear to have high levels of attainment but where levels of progress are extremely low. Schools have been able to coast over the past decade because their overall levels of attainment look all right, when they have actually been failing young people by not getting much better results from them.
This is probably the best statement I have heard from a Minister since 2010, when the Government were formed. It is not all perfect, but the Government have listened and have modified the proposals. They should be congratulated on that. If they listened to last week’s debate on adult literacy and numeracy, will they take the lesson that the one area in which we still underachieve is the failure of at least 25% of our young people coming through education to get almost any qualification at 16? That is where the concentration must be and we need action soon.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, the former Chair of the Select Committee, for his kind comments. He is absolutely right that one of the big challenges we must address in education is the very large number of young people who are not getting through GCSEs with decent qualifications in English and maths. Shockingly, at the moment the overwhelming majority of those young people continue to fail beyond the age of 16. Many do not even attempt to retake those subjects to get that basic level of literacy and numeracy, and we must address that.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement. It is clear that the Government are absolutely committed to tackling underachievement among children from poorer backgrounds. Will he undertake not to lose sight of the importance of English as an additional language as a factor in educational attainment? Will he look at the subject in the round when going forward with these welcome education reforms?
I agree with my hon. Friend and there will still, of course, be an incentive through the EBacc system to encourage modern languages. The funding system for schools will still make finance available to help schools with those challenges.
Many schools in and around Sheffield no longer offer three separate science subjects at GCSE, which is blocking young people from being able to go on to careers in engineering and other related subjects. Given the changes that have been announced, how does the Minister see things developing? In particular, will he support the development of separate sciences so that young people go into such areas, where we have skills shortages?
The hon. Lady makes a good point. Sadly, over the past decade or so there was a movement by students away from taking serious single-science subjects towards broader subjects that sometimes had an unrealistic equivalence. I am pleased to say that since the changes made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in that area, we have seen a big increase in students taking some of those subjects at GCSE and A-level. We need to ensure that the number goes up even further in the future.
What discussions has the Minister had with the private sector? Is there not a danger that in moving to a progress measure we are moving from absolute standards to relative standards because we are taking account of where people come from as opposed to where they are? Parents want a measure of how good a school is now and the rigid academic standards it is achieving, and nothing else.
We have had a broad welcome for the proposals in the consultation and the statement, including from many employer organisations, but my hon. Friend is right to highlight that, ultimately, results and attainment are crucial to any young person doing well in future. I believe that, through the best eight measure—an average we will publish as part of the new accountability framework —we will send out the clearest signal ever about how a school is performing in a large range of subjects and for every single student in the school. I believe that that will improve the focus on attainment in every school in the country.
I congratulate the Minister on his announcement. I particularly welcome the destinations measure, which I argued for as a Minister —I was not successful in persuading the Department to do it. How will it affect schools that go up to age 16, as opposed to schools that go up to age 18, which often place a greater emphasis on universities, including Russell group universities?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. We would expect such a measure to apply both to schools that go up to age 16 and to those that go up to age 18. Looking at what happens to people afterwards is relevant in giving both a powerful incentive. Clearly, the pathway in each situation would, for many students, be slightly different, but we believe that taking an interest in what students go on to do beyond age 16 makes sense in giving a powerful incentive to the many schools in the country that go up to age 16.
I very much welcome the proposals on increasing the reward for schools that add attainment for all pupils, irrespective of their backgrounds, and the proposals on adding value and support for schools that seek to boost attainment for all pupils, and not just those on the key dividing lines between specific grade boundaries. I am also happy to hear the Minister’s reference to having more carrots than sticks. In that sense, could we offer more carrots than sticks to the teaching profession with reference to Ofsted? Few Ofsted inspectors are currently teachers. Could Ofsted become more supportive and developmental rather than, say, threatening and limiting?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right that we need to guarantee confidence in the schools system about the job Ofsted does. I believe that, on the whole, it does an excellent job. He will be interested to know that, since the new chief inspector took over at Ofsted a couple of years ago, he has very significantly increased not only the number of former head teachers who work for it, but the number of existing senior school staff who act as Ofsted inspectors. I would be happy to write to my hon. Friend to update him on that information, because there has been a radical change in a short period.
I wish the Minister well in developing his destination measures, particularly on employment. If he wants to know how schools can prepare, I invite him to come to Birmingham to see how the Birmingham baccalaureate brings the world of work and schools together. That might give him a pathway to copy elsewhere.
I would be delighted to come to Birmingham.
Following that same point, in warmly welcoming the Minister’s statement, I urge him to accelerate the inclusion of a destination measure as an assessment criterion. What really matters is how a school prepares its pupils to succeed either in further education or in finding a job.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the destination measure is extremely important. I assure him that we will act swiftly to seek to introduce the measure. Getting the data to the standard at which they are accurate and useful, which is crucial because we want an accountability measure that is taken seriously by schools, is important as the first step. However, as soon as we do it, we will move towards publishing the measure.
Brookfield school in Chesterfield recently wrote to all parents to let them know that year 11 pupils whom the school believes might not get a C will not do maths until May or June, whereas previously they would have done it in November. Alongside schools accountability, is the Minister concerned that one impact could be that children on the borderline might not have the same chance that children higher up have, because the children who are higher up have the chance to do it in November and do it again in May if they are not happy with their original result? Is there a danger that schools will change the way in which they operate to the disadvantage of some pupils?
We were concerned by what was happening in increasing numbers in some schools before the announcement was made. I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention back to the massive expansion in the last couple of years in the number of students doing multiple GSCE entries—170,000 in summer 2013. Almost a quarter of maths entries were multiple entries from students who had not reached the end of key stage 4. Several bodies have expressed concern that some of the youngsters might get a C when they could go on to get a B, an A or an A*, and they are potentially being let down. It also means that teaching in those subjects ends at a much earlier stage than it should, with a year only of preparation in the subject rather than the full two years. It is crucial that we have a school system that acts in the best interests of the students, not simply of the schools.
Employers will tell the Minister that it did not need an OECD report to show that England has—shockingly—some of the least literate students, because they only have to look at job applications to see that. Will he ensure that his system will have widespread effect, especially on literacy and numeracy, as opposed to focusing on a few?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The new system will reduce the amount of gaming behaviour across the C/D borderline and the amount of teaching for the test, which often distorts our appreciation of educational standards, and all of the changes go hand in glove with the further changes to GCSEs that were announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State earlier this year, which will try to ensure that GSCEs in English, maths and other subjects are fit for purpose and will ensure that young people in this country are as well prepared as those in other top education countries.
The Minister’s announcement on early entry—made to the media, it has to be said, not to the House—has created huge anger and great disruption to pupils and schools in my constituency. Did he talk to head teachers about why they do early entry, and will he commit to giving longer notice periods and to stop announcing changes that have immediate detrimental effects on pupils in the middle of their courses and exam preparation?
I do not think we can be accused of leaping too rapidly to conclusions when we have just completed an eight-month consultation process on the changes that we are discussing today. It would be negligent of us to stand back and ignore the recommendations being made by Ofsted and others, and the dramatic figures that we have seen in the past year or so, which suggest that a vast amount of money is being sunk into exam fees rather than into teaching—behaviour that is not potentially in the best interests of some of the most disadvantaged youngsters. We have spoken to many head teachers and head teachers’ bodies about this. The timing has been controversial, but many head teachers have told us that there were problems and abuses in this area and that these changes are sensible,
The Minister visited Hexham schools this summer, for which I am grateful. He will know that they are outstanding and that they will welcome these accountability reforms, including the destination measures that he outlined. Could he give the House a little more explanation of how, through over-achievement, a school can avoid the next year’s Ofsted inspection?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for arranging the visit to his constituency some months ago. I very much enjoyed visiting a couple of schools in his part of the country. Those schools that achieve a particularly high level of progress—one grade more than expected—will have that exemption from Ofsted inspection, and that will send out a clear signal to those schools that we are rewarding the extraordinary progress that they are making.
I am sure the Minister is an avid reader of ConservativeHome, so he will have seen the blog post by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore) in August in which he talked about
“a new social divide in subject choices.”
He said that pupils from state schools, in particular pupils on free school meals, often went for the softer options. Will the Minister confirm what I think he said in his statement: that arts and vocational subjects are considered high value, and that performance and attainment in those subjects will be rewarded?
Yes, I certainly can. In the best eight measure there will be three spaces reserved for subjects that can include arts, music, and vocational and other subjects. One of the great benefits of today’s announcement is that there will not be the pressure on schools, which was there in the past, to focus only on five GCSE subjects. For many students that created far too narrow a curriculum at the age of 16.
I welcome the Minister’s statement, which will help parents to make an informed judgment when exercising choice for their children’s education. A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the progress from the outcomes of key stage 2 to expectations at key stage 3. What consideration has he given to consistency across different educational institutions?
We want to see consistency right across educational institutions. The changes we have announced today will create much better consistency in accountability measures, and will not focus only on those institutions with lower attainment and lower prior achievement. This will be a fairer way of judging every single educational institution in the country.
The issue of multiple exam entries—in particular in maths—has been raised with me by a number of constituents. In September, pupils were told that they would be entered for an exam in November. A few days later, as a result of the Government’s announcement, schools had to make the decision that that would not be right because of the impact it would have on league tables. Would it not be better to consider the impact on students—given the very high numbers involved, which the Minister has mentioned a couple of times—rather than timing the announcement for party conference season?
This announcement was not timed for the party conference season; it was timed on the basis of the evidence available to us. If schools believe that young people should be entered in November, they are perfectly at liberty to do that—we have done nothing to stop them. Indeed, if they are confident that students will be able to secure their best grades at that time, they should put the students in for the exam. If, however, the students will achieve only a C grade when they could have achieved a B or an A later, schools should think twice.
I warmly welcome the Minister’s statement. As the father of three children in a state school, I have always been frustrated by the smoke and mirrors used by some state schools. Does the Minister agree with exposing coasting schools, rather than rewarding them like the previous Labour Government did?
This information will expose coasting schools. It will also expose any school that has been focusing its curriculum offer in a narrow way and not delivering the breadth that young people need. The data based on the new accountability measures will shine an interesting light both on schools that are perhaps not as good as they thought they were, and on schools that looked like they were at the bottom of the table but are actually achieving good results given the prior attainment of their students.
The Public Accounts Committee has been calling for greater financial accountability of schools and it is not clear from the Minister’s statement whether the new data portal will include that, or how open the data will be. Will he come to Shoreditch and allow some of our tech businesses to work with him and the Department on that data so that we have a telephone app that tells parents about the quality of the schools they are choosing?
I am happy to pursue the issue further with the hon. Lady. I have already promised a visit to Birmingham, so I am not at this stage ready to promise a visit to Shoreditch. I would, however, certainly like to engage with her on this topic. [Interruption.]
I am grateful for the sedentary chuntering. It has to be said that the place the hon. Lady has in mind is nowhere near Birmingham, but I am sure that the Minister, who is a man of prodigious brainpower, will be fully conscious of that fact.
As a former pupil of St Helena secondary modern school for boys, I thank the Minister for taking the first step in 50 years to address the educational imbalance between academic and non-academic subjects. The Minister mentioned vocational subjects, one of which was engineering, but he was silent on building trade skills and motor mechanic skills. Will he give an assurance that they will form part of the vocational subjects, and with the holistic approach of “schools for life”, does he agree that first aid should be part of the curriculum?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome for these announcements, but I fear that on the issue of first aid, I will be unable to give him a different answer from the one given on previous occasions by the Secretary of State. On my hon. Friend’s wider point, it is important for all serious, high-value vocational qualifications to be accessible through this route. He will know that we have taken a close look at the whole suite of vocational qualifications to make sure that there are serious equivalents because of some of the problems that arose under the last Government. If he is concerned about particular qualifications, he should write to me and I will respond in detail.
I am honoured to be mentioned by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy). I absolutely welcome the progress measure, but on its detail, will the key stage floor target be taken at the end of year 6 or the beginning of year 7, given the overwhelming evidence and research showing that achievement at key stage 2 drops over the summer before they arrive at secondary school?
My hon. Friend raises a very good point. We will use the end of key stage 2 data. As an expert on these matters, he may want to probe annexe B of our consultation response, which sets out in some detail how this aspect will work. We will also make sure that proper credibility pertains to all the key stage 2 data. Because it will be used to measure secondary schools’ achievement, it is even more important than it is now for this data to be fully credible and properly stress-tested.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, at a time of declining social mobility, it is important to tackle coasting schools to make sure that they do not fail the brightest pupils from the most modest backgrounds and that all schools have a responsibility to have a programme for talented children, which should not be just an optional extra?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. One of the deficiencies of the existing accountability regime is that it is too easy for schools in comfortable catchment areas to coast and to fail to deliver for many of their pupils. They are not in the spotlight at present; they will be in the future.
Of all this Government’s school reforms, is this perhaps the most significant in terms of its breadth of impact right across education, ensuring that teachers’ efforts on behalf of all pupils are fully recognised? Does the Minister anticipate a warm welcome from teachers, who will be able to do what they entered this noble profession to do: to deliver a broad education free from the artificial constraints of the C/D borderline?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I believe that today’s announcement has so far been warmly welcomed by teachers’ organisations and others. It will allow a good measure of accountability—an intelligent accountability that drives the right results and the right behaviours at all schools.
I welcome the statement. Pursuant to the point about key stage 2 raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), may we use this opportunity to encourage greater integration between secondary and primary schools? All too many students go to secondary school at the age of 11 with a reading age of 7, and many of them are condemned to fail at GCSE the moment they walk through the door of their secondary school. We need to see greater linkage between secondaries and primaries, so that those secondaries are able to identify potential challenges in their future cohorts as early as possible.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes an extremely important point. He will know that as part of our proposals on primary accountability, we are significantly increasing the bar for what success looks like at the end of primary school. We are doing that because pupils at the end of primary school who achieve only the level of attainment set as a measure of achievement by the previous Government overwhelmingly go on to fail even the existing five good GCSE measure. We cannot possibly allow a level of success at the end of primary school that prepares students for failure rather than success in secondary school.
Effective implementation is likely to require accountability to run both ways. Head teachers who are inspired by this and other measures to tackle educational underachievement have the right to know that the Department for Education, the Education Funding Agency and Ofsted are there to help them, and that their interactions with those agencies will be courteous, open and effective. Will the Minister do his part, in respect of accountability, to ensure that those agencies support the head teachers who are in the front line when it comes to making these changes happen?
I will certainly do that. Head teachers want to feel that they are supported by all parts of the education system, including our Department, and they want an accountability system which they see as fair and which drives the right incentives. I believe that what I have announced today will give them that.
I welcome the statement, and particularly the fact that English and maths will be given double weighting in the new table. I am sure that that will lead to a greater quality, if not quantity, of teaching. Will my right hon. Friend consider publishing draft data so that parents can have the necessary information before attending open evenings and choosing secondary schools for their offspring?
My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the double weighting of English and maths, which we think sends a clear signal about the crucial role of those subjects. We will do what we can through the data portal to give parents as much information as possible about the issues, as soon as possible. We will also ensure that the key measures are published on the website of every single school so that parents can see what they often cannot see at present, namely a consistent comparison of the key performance indicators of all schools.
Any system of school or pupil assessment which results in all pupils’ being pushed to do the very best that they can must be a good thing, but can the Minister explain to parents in Kettering—without using any departmental jargon—at what stage children’s predicted GCSE results will be established, and how that measure of progress, whether it be one grade above or one grade below, will be assessed and audited?
Yes, I can. I refer the hon. Gentleman to annexe B, which we published today and which will provide him with a fair amount of detail about how we will calculate the measure. I hope that that reassures him, but I shall be happy to meet him if he wants to discuss the matter further.
My constituents cannot wait for the Secretary of State’s forthcoming visit to see the good progress that schools have made on GCSE results—particularly St Anne’s school, where there has been a remarkable 28% improvement. I especially welcome the new progress measures that the Minister has announced, and I commend his statement for its fairness. Broomfield school, which is just down the road from St Anne’s and of which I am a governor, has come out of special measures and is making good progress, but in terms of GCSE results it has to deal with a very challenging intake, not least the pupils who leave key stage 2 lacking basic numeracy and literacy skills.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am delighted to hear that, as ever, a warm welcome awaits the Secretary of State, at that school and indeed all others in the country.
I, too, welcome the statement. I am particularly pleased to be able to add my welcome and support to those of many employment organisations. I especially welcome the focus on destination measures: true outcomes of educational attainment. Can the Minister shed more light on that? Will the destinations include apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships, and are there lessons to be learnt from other countries for the purpose of this important measure?
Obviously we will be considering educational destinations, apprenticeships, and employment destinations with training. We need to ensure that we can collect all the information properly so that when schools receive it on their websites they recognise it, regard it as fair, and regard the Government as having captured accurately data which currently we do not possess in a single place, but believe that we can bring together.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that under the leadership of Helena Mills, Burnt Mill academy in Harlow has this year achieved 76% A to C grades in maths and English at GCSE, compared with a figure of just 27% a few years ago, by carrying out many of the measures that he set out and having a relentless focus on maths and English? Will he look at such schools to see examples of good practice and how the new accountability system works?
I am delighted to hear from my hon. Friend about the success of his local school. We are always looking at what we can learn from examples of schools that do so fantastically well, and we hope that the new accountability regime will be welcomed by his local school.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On behalf of my constituent Mr Peter Hitchens, I wish to raise concern about the remark made about him in this House in the Syria debate on 29 August by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark), who said, in reference to an article by Mr Hitchens:
“Peter Hitchens wrote recently, in support of the Assad regime, that the Syrian Government were not lying and that it made ‘more sense’ for the opposition to poison and kill more than 1,000 of their own people.”—[Official Report, 29 August 2013; Vol. 566, c. 1503.]
Mr Hitchens has raised this matter with your office and directly with the hon. Member for Braintree, as have I, but it remains unresolved. Mr Hitchens does not support the Assad regime, and it is clear from his articles that he does not. He is concerned that this allegation currently rests on the Hansard record without challenge or correction. I am sure that you would agree, Mr Speaker, that it is important, in debate, that we argue on the basis of what those who disagree with us actually say, rather than what we might choose to attribute to them. I hope through this point of order to have corrected the record on behalf of my constituent.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it, as well as for sharing his intentions by letter and e-mail with the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark). For my own part, speaking from the Chair, I would not seek for one moment to interpose myself in a dispute or altercation between the hon. Member for Braintree and Mr Peter Hitchens. I think that the point stands as the right hon. Gentleman has made it, and I would just like to say that the hon. Member for Braintree said what he judged and judges to be right. He was perfectly entitled to do so, and I make no criticism of him. Mr Peter Hitchens is well known to me. I have been acquainted with him for a great many years and disagreed with him for almost all of those years on almost all matters under the sun, but it is a matter of almost uncontested fact that Mr Hitchens is a man of both provocative talent and unimpeachable integrity. We will leave the matter there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you will indulge me with the benefit of your extensive expertise in all things procedural in this Chamber. I was pulled out of the shuffle for questions to the Deputy Prime Minister tomorrow but have subsequently been notified by the Cabinet Office that the DPM is refusing to answer my question on constitutional reform. Can you offer me guidance as to how I may challenge that decision, so that the Deputy Prime Minister is held accountable by Members of this House?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving notice of his intention to raise it with me. I simply say to him that it has always been for the Government to decide which Minister is responsible for answering questions. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration, but as far as I can see from the material available to me nothing disorderly has occurred. It is often the case that a question put to one Minister can be judged, perfectly reasonably, to be more within the purview of another. If such a judgment has been made, it is not for the Chair to quibble with it. I do not seek to engage the hon. Gentleman further at this time, so he should not spring to his feet and recite to me the question he had posed. I think it is fair to record that in his otherwise unexceptionable letter to me on the matter dated today he does not say what the question was. I have at this stage to conclude that the transfer, though from his vantage point frustrating, was, as I say, not disorderly. But he is nothing if not a perspicacious terrier, and I feel sure that he will use all his intellectual and political resources to test the Deputy Prime Minister in another way on a different occasion. We will leave it there, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman is satisfied.
I like saving up the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) until last, so we will take a point of order from Mr Kevin Brennan.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not being able to give you notice of this. The highly acclaimed Ensemble Al-Kindi from Syria was due to appear next week in Cardiff at the world music exhibition but have been denied visas, despite the fact that the following week they will be performing in Helsinki at the Savoy theatre and have visas for the Schengen area from France. Is there any means by which I could draw this case to the attention of Ministers for their urgent consideration today so that they can look at it with a view to reviewing it?
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that he has found his own salvation. He has just drawn it to the attention of those on the Government’s Front Bench. The Government Chief Whip, the Patronage Secretary, is in his place, as are other distinguished and senior Ministers. I cannot say that I am familiar with the ensemble concerned, and I have no responsibility, of course, for migration or visa policy. I can say only that if the ensemble is anything like as good as the hon. Gentleman when he is playing in MP4, the people of Cardiff will be sorely deprived by the absence of the said ensemble. We will leave it there for now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Sadly, this is one of my points of order that will not find its own salvation. You will be aware that it is very unusual for the head of the Security Service, MI5, to make a public statement about a leak of information, and in this case he has said that it has done extreme damage to the security of this country. Given that the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has made a pronouncement that The Guardian has acted in the public interest in its role in leaking this information, have you had notice of any intention to have a statement from a Cabinet Minister on whether the concept of collective Cabinet responsibility still applies?
I have received no indication that any Minister intends to come to the Dispatch Box to opine on that matter. Whether knowledge that the hon. Gentleman is keen for one or other of them to do so would act as an incentive or a disincentive to do so, I leave the House to speculate. We will leave it there for now. I hope that the appetite of the House is now about to be satisfied by the hon. Member for Rhondda.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that I need salvation from you, because on 24 May I tabled two questions to the Minister for Immigration at the Home Office, numbers 157647 and 157648. They were named day questions, which were meant to be replied to on 5 June. They were actually replied to on 8 October. That is not the worst of it. I tabled another named day question on 16 May to the same Minister, which was meant to have been replied to on 21 May, and it has still not been replied to. The Minister sends flummoxing answers.
May I make some suggestions on how we might deal with the Home Office that you might be able to take up? First, we could print every reply that is late in red on the Order Paper, so that we all know quite how often the Home Office is late. Or we could introduce a late answer penalty of £100, taken off a Minister’s salary, for every question that is answered late; I do not think that the Home Secretary would be receiving any salary at all this year. Or you could give them all a dressing-down.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who not only raises a problem but proffers a solution, which it is extraordinarily generous of him to do all in one go. My own response is rather prosaic I am afraid. In the immediate term, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman—and I mean it very seriously—that he takes the matter up directly with the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), the Chair of the Procedure Committee. [Interruption.] He says that he has already done that. I should have thought that the Procedure Committee would be dissatisfied. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position that he has written to me, and I am advised thus by my secretary, but I have not yet seen the letter. When I have done and a reply is penned, it will wing its way to the hon. Gentleman.
All of those proposals will be reflected upon, but on a serious note, I do say to Ministers that it is deeply unsatisfactory, and should be a source of some shame to Ministers, including those who have overall responsibility for conduct, when delays of this kind take place. Quite apart from considerations of efficiency, it is simply rude. I know that it is not something that the Chief Whip would ever want because he is among the most courteous people in the House, but it really should be gone. I say in fairness that when the Government Chief Whip was Leader of the House he was always most solicitous in pursuing these matters with Ministers, and I feel sure that the Leader of the House, who is temporarily unavailable to us for a very short period, will, when he returns, get on to the matter without delay. I know that if that does not happen, the hon. Gentleman will be on to me again, so we must find a solution.
National Insurance Contributions Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Danny Alexander, Mr Sajid Javid, Mr David Gauke and Nicky Morgan, presented a Bill to make provision in relation to national insurance contributions; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 112) with explanatory notes (Bill 112-EN).
Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (Ways and Means) (No. 2)
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, it is expedient to authorise the charging of fees which–
(a) relate to applications under Part 5 of the Police Act 1997, and
(b) are of an amount determined in a way that takes into account the costs associated with such applications in cases where no fee is payable.—(Damian Green.)
Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill (Programme) (No. 2)
I beg to move,
That the following provisions shall apply to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, in place of paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Order of 10 June 2013:
(1) Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings on Third Reading shall be taken in two days in accordance with the following provisions of this Order.
(2) Proceedings on Consideration–
(a) shall be taken on the days and in the order shown in the Table
(b) shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times shown.
Time for conclusion of proceedings
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the protection of persons from harm of a sexual nature or relating to violent offender orders.
7.00pm on the first day
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to Parts 1 to 6 or otherwise relating to anti-social behaviour; amendments to Parts 1 to 6; new Clauses and new Schedules relating to firearms; amendments to Part 8.
10.00pm on the first day
Remaining new Clauses and new Schedules, except those relating to the control of dogs; amendments to Parts 9 to 13.
2.30pm on the second day
New Clauses and new Schedules relating to the control of dogs; amendments to Part 7; remaining proceedings on Consideration.
4.30pm on the second day
(3) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.30pm on the second day.
I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on his appointment as the new shadow Policing Minister and wishing him well. I am sure that he and I will spend many happy hours debating this important issue. I wish him many happy years on the Opposition Front Bench.
The programme motion extends the time available for consideration on Report from one day to two days. Among the new clauses that have been tabled is new clause 5, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and co-sponsored by 67 other right hon. and hon. Members. It seeks to provide for a new child sexual abuse prevention order. The Government agree that the civil prevention orders under part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 are in need of reform and have therefore also tabled some substantial amendments on the issue.
Given the level of support for new clause 5 and the serious issues it seeks to address, it is right that the House should be afforded sufficient time to debate these provisions. The programme motion accordingly provides that we have until 7 pm today to debate the new clause and the associated Government amendments. Thereafter, it provides for the Bill’s antisocial behaviour and firearms provisions and the related new clauses to be considered on this first day on Report, while all other provisions, including those relating to schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, extradition and dangerous dogs, will be considered tomorrow.
I am glad that we have more time available for debate, but does the Minister share my concern that the debate on schedule 7 to the 2000 Act, which we are supposed to have tomorrow, along with many other matters, from the Opposition’s proposals to ban synthetic caffeine through to much else, have at most a two-hour slot until 2.30 pm? Is there any way we could save time on the Deep Sea Mining Bill and have more time to discuss those matters?
I do not agree with my hon. Friend that there is an unfair allocation of time, either between this Bill and others, as he mentioned, or within the provisions of the Bill. I think that we have achieved a fair allocation of time among the many important issues the Bill addresses. That should allow the House sufficient opportunity to consider both the Government amendments and others that have been tabled. As I have said, underlying the programme motion is the fact that we have extended the time the House has to consider the Bill on Report from one day to two days. I hope that the House will agree to the motion quickly so that we can get on to debating the many substantive issues before us.
I thank the Minister for his kind comments and pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), in whose giant footsteps I am privileged to walk. He has been an outstanding Minister and shadow Minister, a great champion of the police service and one of the finest Members this House has seen in many years.
I rise to urge the House to reject the programme motion. I do so not because programme motions are inappropriate in general—far from it—but because in this case the programme motion is being used to curtail debate and because the Government are running scared after having lost a number of votes in Committee, and a Whip and a Minister, during the deliberations on this Bill.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) pointed out on Second Reading, while there are measures in this Bill that we support—crucially, the new child protection measures—it is a Christmas-tree Bill with a bit on a number of measures. There is a bit on police standards, a bit on guns and a bit on dogs, but in none of those areas does the Bill go far enough, and it is weak on tackling antisocial behaviour. It weakens antisocial behaviour powers at a time when the Office for National Statistics shows there is concern among the public that antisocial behaviour is increasing, with eight in 10 telling the ONS it has increased in their direct experience over the past year.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of support for the point of view he is expressing, not least from my constituency on the issue of protecting children from sexual exploitation? Will he therefore feel very confident in promoting the case he is now putting?
This issue will be addressed shortly, and there is widespread consensus across the House on the importance of strengthening powers to protect children.
It is with this in mind that we express our concern about the programme motion, which will curtail debate on important measures, such as our proposals on dangerous dogs and measures on protection for public-facing workers, undercover policing and guns and also issues put forward by Members on the Government Benches, like extradition.
There are 89 pages of amendments and new clauses, many of which have been tabled by the Government at the last minute as, sadly, has often become the case with this Government. As a direct result, there will be little time to debate many of these important issues that we and Members on the Government Benches have put forward. For absolute clarity, I should state that the Opposition were asked whether we would support an extension of time for debate today and tomorrow, only for the Government then to cut the time for debate tomorrow. What is most worrying is the sense that the Government are using the programme motion because they are running scared of losing a vote on dangerous dogs, not least because many of their Members will be partying at a social occasion elsewhere.
Earlier today I met Michael Anderson, a fine man whose 14-year-old daughter Jade was killed by four dangerous dogs. He came to this House hoping that we would properly debate taking tough action so that, as he said, no father would ever again suffer what he has suffered. This Bill offered the Government the perfect opportunity finally to bring forward the kind of tough legislation necessary to deal with dangerous dogs and irresponsible owners, but, despite support for action from MPs on both sides of the House, they failed to act.
My hon. Friend highlights a very sad and tragic case extremely well to make his point. The point my constituents have made to me about both dangerous dogs and gun crime is that they are incredibly difficult subjects that need to be examined in great detail in order to get changes in the law right. Anything rushed or done without proper consideration runs the risk of not making things better, and possibly making them worse.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. This is not just about the tough action that is necessary but about getting the right kind of action, and that can be ensured only by way of proper debate in this House.
The Government gave a commitment in Committee that they would review the maximum penalties for an aggravated offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, but last week they waited until a few minutes after the deadline for tabling new amendments to the Bill, then let the House know that they would bring forward proposals on Report despite previous assurances to the contrary. Having failed to act, the Government now propose to fix the timetable so that our proposals for robust action in the form of dog control notices, which have worked so effectively in Scotland, will not receive proper debate, and to ensure that they do not lose the vote—a decision condemned by Michael Anderson.
It may be that I am naturally suspicious, but in the Government’s conduct over dangerous dogs, I smell a rat. First, we had the removal of the Minister who promised that the Government would review action on dangerous dogs and bring back proposals on Report, and then the new Minister, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), last week waited until after the deadline for tabling amendments to inform the House that the Government will be doing no such thing. Now the Government want to fix the timetable to avoid debate and losing a vote. The Minister knows a thing or two about conspiracy theories, but I am sure he did not expect to be involved in one quite so quickly. Despite his being responsible for dogs and ASBOs, the Government do not even list him as a speaker in the debate. It would appear that he has been silenced less than a week into his tenure of office. I would urge him to investigate.
I urge the House to reject the programme motion and encourage the Government to allocate more time for debate. Any Government’s first duty to their citizens is to ensure their safety and security. Our citizens would expect nothing less than these very important measures, but the motion fails to ensure that they are properly debated in this House.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on his new role and on his powerful speech, which came across very well and covered issues that he clearly cares about. However, I do not agree with his factual interpretation. If we do not pass this programme motion, we will be left with the programme motion that we passed unanimously in this House previously, which means that we will have only the rest of today for debate. I am afraid that the outcome of his suggestion is that we would have only five and a quarter hours to continue the debate, and I hope that we will not take up too much of it with this discussion. I understand the reason for his proposal, but unfortunately it suffers from the fact that it would curtail debate. He made an important point about having time to discuss dogs, and I am pleased to see that two hours are protected for that purpose. If we voted against this motion, we would risk having no debate on that issue at all.
My concern about the programme motion relates to the section covering the period until 2.30 pm on the second day, which deals with a whole collection of new clauses and new schedules on matters other than dogs, with a maximum of two hours available for debate. They include forced marriage in Scotland, on which I will not claim to be an expert, court fees and compensation, and a collection of policing and offences issues, including several that I would like to raise about schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000, which needs to be curtailed. There are a range of other issues about drugs policy and a section on extradition. For all that, we have available a maximum of two hours, which would be limited even further in the event of any statements or urgent questions. I can accept voting for this motion because I have not tabled an amendment, and nor has anybody else, that would protect that time. However, in the event of there being statements or other things that delayed progress, will the Minister make sure that we have time to debate these very important subjects? Will he at least discuss with his colleagues whether there could be an amendment to the programme motion tomorrow to ensure that that crucial time, which many of us care about, is protected?
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) on, and welcome him to, his new Front-Bench position. He has said that he has nothing in principle against programme motions, but had he been in the House before the last election he would have had to sit through the long debates in which Members who now sit on the Government Front Bench used to argue that programme motions were an evil of our age. They have not taken long to embrace programme motions or to use them as a way of curtailing debate.
It is universally acknowledged that the Queen’s Speech was not jam-packed with proposed legislation, to the extent that we now routinely have Back-Bench business debates and Opposition days. This Government are reluctant to ensure that this House properly scrutinises Bills. If that is to happen, time has to be provided for it.
A number of Bills have been rushed through this place with undue haste this Session, only to then be filleted in the other place, where more time is given for scrutiny. Sometimes that has been down to bad draftsmanship, and this Bill is a good example of that. My hon. Friend has already referred to the 89 pages of amendments and new clauses that have been tabled, which smacks to me of there being something wrong with the drafting of the Bill.
My hon. Friend said that this is a Christmas tree Bill, but I would say that it is a dog’s breakfast—a dangerous dog’s breakfast—of a Bill. If we look back at previous attempts to legislate on the serious issue of dangerous dogs, we will see that getting it wrong can cost lives, so it is very important that we get it right this time. That can only be done through proper scrutiny by the House.
In the absence of any amendment to the programme motion, what could the House possibly gain from voting against it? If we did so we would, in effect, lose a whole day.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman, whose presence in the House has been limited because of illness, to his place. The fact is that there is a general trend under this Government to limit the time to consider all Bills, not just this one.
The Bill raises serious issues and has a wide scope, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) has said. It covers everything from the important issue of dangerous dogs to forced marriage and major issues of police reform, including a provision allowing foreigners to become police chiefs. Also—I know this is an issue of huge concern to some Government Members—it relates to the Terrorism Act 2000 and extradition. If we are to have a serious debate about such issues and ensure public confidence in us, we need more time than that allotted by the programme motion.
The Minister has said that the programme motion is generous because it gives us an extra day, but that is not the case, unless the Minister’s day usually finishes at 5.30 pm on a Tuesday. Why can we not extend the time available for consideration until the usual time of 7 pm, which would at least give us nearly two extra hours? I understand that Government Members are keen to attend to certain social engagements. I was surprised to read in the press at the weekend that the Opposition had agreed to the programme motion when they clearly had not. It has been a trend of this Government to believe that if they say something, it must be true, and if they keep saying something, it most definitely is true.
This House must do a proper job of scrutinising this large piece of legislation, which contains some crucial issues that will affect our constituents directly. The allocated time is not sufficient to ensure that we do that.
I want briefly to put on the record my concern that the programme motion does not allow for proper debate and scrutiny of the Executive, in particular in relation to the extradition clauses and amendments.
I appreciate that there are limitations on the number of Back-Bench amendments that can be considered during the Report stage of any Bill. However, yet again, substantive clauses on extradition reform that were tabled in Committee risk not being properly scrutinised by the House. The extradition proposals make up the last of four clusters of amendments to be debated tomorrow between 2.30 and 4.30 pm, so the chances are that we will have no time to debate them.
This is not the first time that that has happened. The Government’s new forum test for US and EU extradition was tabled during the Committee stage of the Crime and Courts Bill earlier this year. The House was again timed out of any consideration on Report back in March.
The broader context is that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have loudly promised extradition reform. It is in the coalition programme, no less. The legislative proposals follow an independent inquiry by Sir Scott Baker, which was conducted at great public expense. It is surely vital that we properly consider the case for reform and deliver on the promises that have been made.
Unbelievably, the Government’s forum clause, which was slipped into the Crime and Courts Bill and which becomes law today, is worse than the status quo. It makes the repetition of unjust cases, such as those of Gary McKinnon and Richard O’Dwyer, more likely, not less. We have had no chance to debate the substance of those proposals on the Floor of the House. They have had precious little critical, substantive scrutiny.
The proposed safeguards for the European arrest warrant in this Bill are more positive, but they are still too weak. Again, they were introduced in Committee and the whole House should have an opportunity to consider amendments to strengthen them, not least because they will form the basis of the Government’s case for opting back into the European arrest warrant later this year. The programme motion makes it highly likely that we will be timed out again. I fear that that will weaken the Government’s case for opting back into the European arrest warrant, when I believe the intention was to strengthen the case.
It may be a clever device to avoid proper scrutiny, but it comes at a price to our democracy. First, it means that Parliament is not properly scrutinising the powers that the Executive wield over innocent British citizens. Secondly, the lack of scrutiny leaves empty and undelivered the heady political promises that have been made about extradition reform by politicians across this House. I urge the Government to think again and to guarantee enough time for even a short, modest debate about these important clauses.
The Minister will know that the city of Nottingham has a very good record of tackling antisocial behaviour, built on the alliance between the police, police community support officers and community protection officers. He will know that because I have written to him on several occasions about the issue.
Does the Minister think that we will have sufficient time to discuss the police’s powers of direction, which the city of Nottingham would like to extend in part to PCSOs and CPOs? Not every city is prepared to take on those powers, but the cities that are would find them of great benefit in the continuing battle against antisocial behaviour, which is taking place in Nottingham and beyond.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab), who covered some of my points about why I will find it difficult to support the programme motion. I wish to speak specifically to the time allocated for debating the European arrest warrant, which is of considerable interest to my constituent Andrew Symeou, by whom my view is informed and who has been a victim of a failed and flawed process.
The significance of the issue means that we require more time to debate it. Although the House has had many debates on the subject of the European arrest warrant and extradition, at no point has it had the chance to debate the extensive Scott Baker report that the Home Secretary commissioned, yet we are expected to have an informed opinion on detailed new clauses that are effectively the Government’s response to that report and that set out our future extradition policy.
The lack of time means that we will have no chance to examine how effective the reforms are, including those in the new clauses. My hon. Friend has tabled a significant number of amendments and new clauses that I believe would strengthen the European arrest warrant and protect the rights of the British citizen, while still broadly supporting the principle of opting back into it. Those amendments have drawn cross-party support, so it is regrettable that we will probably not have the chance to address them because of the order in which the groups of amendments will be taken tomorrow. Whatever the reason behind that order, we need to discuss the issues of temporary extradition, which sounds good but could be strengthened to protect our constituents; of proportionality; and of whether we should discuss the use of extradition as a last resort, not the first resort. Its use as the first resort has plagued the lives of many citizens of this country who have been wrongfully extradited.
My constituent Andrew Symeou spent two years out of the country as part of a four-year period of great disruption to his and his family’s life, including one year in jail. He was then rightly returned to this country when the Greek authorities finally threw out his case after four years. I made him a promise that during my time in the House, I would fight to ensure that others did not go through what he did. We had the opportunity to take that fight to the Floor of the House and discuss in detail how to make the situation better. Unfortunately, through the programme motion, the House has denied him the right to have it discussed and denied me the right to be his voice. That is a matter of regret and will make it difficult for me to form a positive judgment about opting back into the European arrest warrant, since the House has been denied the opportunity to challenge, probe and, hopefully, improve it.
I will not detain the House long, particularly while we are discussing the lack of time to debate the Bill, but I wanted to add my concern about the Government’s decision to curtail debate tomorrow. I fail to see what could be more important than debating issues of life and death.
My constituent Royston Brett set off on Friday and has cycled almost 250 miles from Atherton to Westminster to add his voice to those demanding more action to prevent dog attacks. He was supported on his journey by Michael Anderson, the father of Jade Lomas Anderson, who was tragically killed by four out-of-control dogs in March. When Michael and Royston cycled into New Palace Yard at 1 o’clock today, they were extremely upset to learn that the Government were curtailing the debate. They do not understand how they can spend three days making such a heroic effort to raise the issue of dangerous dogs, cycling in atrocious weather and sleeping in the car, but MPs cannot be bothered to work through until the normal hour tomorrow.
The Government should rethink their strategy for the Bill and ensure that we have adequate time to discuss the 211 or so amendments. Jade and many thousands of other victims of dog attacks deserve nothing less.
Order. I do not think that it is required for the Minister to respond, but if he wishes to say some further words, he can.
With the leave of the House, I will, Mr Speaker.
I detect just the faintest whiff of synthetic indignation in the air. I remind the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) that the Opposition did not vote against Second Reading, or against the original programme motion, which provided for just one day on Report. They are objecting to having two days allowed for the Bill, but they did not object to having one day. Proceedings in Committee finished ahead of schedule, and on Report the Opposition Front Benchers have tabled just one amendment to the Bill’s 142 clauses, as well as five new clauses.
In opposing this second programme motion, the official Opposition are opposing the extra time on Report that the Government have volunteered. The Opposition did not request extra time, but they now argue there is not enough. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) rightly pointed out, if the Opposition succeed, the time devoted to discussing these important issues will be reduced rather than increased. [Interruption.] The Opposition Whip can continue chuntering from a sedentary position as much as he likes, but he has left himself in the ridiculous position of voting for the Bill to have less time devoted to it, rather than more. That is not effective opposition or Opposition whipping.
Perhaps I may correct one factual point. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said that the Government waited until after the tabling deadline to announce that they would not be tabling amendments on the maximum sentence in section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. That is not the case. The Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) on that issue last Thursday, and the tabling deadline for amendments to be debated tomorrow was last Friday. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford has tabled amendments on that issue, so we can debate it tomorrow.
I take the point raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Esher and Walton (Mr Raab) and for Enfield North (Nick de Bois). Progress through the amendments tomorrow will be a matter for the House, but I see no reason why there should not be an opportunity to debate the important reforms to our extradition arrangements. The protestations from the Opposition simply do not add up.
We have often been in this situation and found that we have not had enough time to debate important amendments. Would the Minister have any objection to some of the important amendments being put to the vote if the guillotine falls before we have had time to debate them?
As my hon. Friend knows, it is not for Ministers to decide whether things are put to the vote; that is up to the Chair.
The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) prayed in aid what happened in previous Parliaments. As I have said, this programme motion provides for additional time on Report. Indeed, this is the sixth Bill this Session that has received multiple days for its remaining stages. That is in stark contrast to the previous Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported and who routinely provided for only one day on Report and Third Reading. There is much more scrutiny of Bills under this Government than there was under the previous Government, and if the Opposition succeed there will be less parliamentary discussion—as is characteristic of the Labour party—rather than more, which is what the coalition Government have introduced.
On reflection, I hope the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington will reconsider his position and allow the programme motion to pass without further ado so that we can get on with the substantive issues before the House.
14 October 2013
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
[1st Allocated Day]
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 8
Violent offender orders
‘(1) In section 98 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (violent offender orders), after subsection (5) there is inserted—
“(6) The Secretary of State may by order—
(a) amend subsection (3);
(b) make consequential amendments to subsection (4).”
(2) In section 147(5) of that Act (orders etc subject to affirmative resolution procedure), after paragraph (d) there is inserted—
“(da) an order under section 98(6),”.
(3) In section 99 of that Act (qualifying offenders), in paragraph (b) of subsection (5) (meaning of “relevant offence”) after “a specified offence” there is inserted “, or the offence of murder,”.’.—(Damian Green.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 14—Sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders, etc.
Government new clause 15—Saving and transitional provision.
New clause 5—Child sexual abuse prevention orders—
‘(1) The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) For sections 123 (Risk of sexual harm orders: applications, grounds and effect) to 129 (Effect of conviction etc. of an offence under section 128) substitute—
“123 Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Orders: Applications and grounds
(1) On the application of a qualifying person, or on conviction of a qualifying offence, a magistrates’ court may make a ‘child sexual abuse prevention order’ if it is satisfied that it is necessary to make such an order for the purposes of protecting children generally or any particular child from serious sexual harm from the defendant.
(2) A qualifying person under subsection (1) shall be a chief officer of police or an officer, of superintendant rank or above, in the NCA or other relevant agency to be decided by the Home Secretary.
(3) In subsection (1) a defendant shall be considered to be convicted of a qualifying offence who—
(a) is convicted of an offence listed in schedules 3 and 5;
(b) is found not guilty of such an offence by reason of insanity;
(c) is found to be under a disability and to have done the act charged against him in respect of such an offence;
(d) is cautioned in respect of such an offence;
“(1) A chief officer of police may apply for an order under this section in respect of a person who resides in his police area or who the chief officer believes is in, or is intending to come to, his police area.
(2) An application under subsection (1) may be made to a magistrates’ court whose commission area includes—
(a) any part of the police area, or
(b) any place where it is alleged that the defendant committed one or more offences listed in schedules 3 and 5.
Section 123: supplemental
‘(1) In this Part, ‘Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Order’ means an order under section 123.
(2) Subsections (3) and (4) apply for the purposes of Section 1.
(3) ‘Protecting children generally or any particular child from serious sexual harm from the defendant’ means protecting persons under 18 or any person under 18, in or outside the United Kingdom, from serious physical or psychological harm caused by the defendant committing one or more offences listed in Schedule 3.
(4) Acts, behaviour, convictions, and findings include those occurring before the commencement of this Part.
(5) In subsection (1)(1), a person shall also be considered to have been convicted of a qualifying offence if, under law in force in a country outside the United Kingdom and whether before or after the commencement of this Part—
(a) he has been convicted of a relevant offence (whether or not he has been punished for it),
(b) a court exercising jurisdiction under that law has made in respect of a relevant offence a finding equivalent to a finding that he is not guilty by reason of insanity,
(c) such a court has made in respect of a relevant offence a finding equivalent to a finding that he is under a disability and did the act charged against him in respect of the offence, or
(d) he has cautioned in respect of a relevant offence.
(6) In subsection (5), a ‘relevant offence’ means an act which—
(a) constituted an offence under the law in force in the country concerned, and
(b) would have consituted an offence within schedules 3 and 5 if it had been done in any part of the United Kingdom.
(7) An act punishable under the law in force in a country outside the United Kingdom constitutes an offence under that law for the purposes of subsection (6), however it is described in that law.
(8) Subject to subsection (9), on an applicatioin under section 1 the condition in subsection (6)(b) above (where relevant) is to be taken as met unless, not later than rules of the court may provide, the defendant serves on the applicant a notice—
(a) stating that, on the facts as alleged with respect to the act concerned, the condition is not in his opinion met,
(b) showing his grounds for that opinion, and
(c) requiring the applicant to prove that the condition is met.
(9) The court, if it thinks fit, may permit the defendant to require the applicant to prove that the condition is met without the service of a notice under subsection (8).
‘(1) A Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Order—
(a) prohibits the defendant from doing anything described in the order, and
(b) has effect for a fixed period (not less than five years) specified in the order or until further order.
(2) The only prohibitions that may be included in the order are those necessary for the purpose of protecting children generally or any particular child from serious sexual harm from the defendant.
(3) Where a court makes a child sexual abuse prevention order in relation to a person already subject to such an order (whether made by that court or another), the earlier order ceases to have effect.
(4) Section 3(3) applies for the purposes of this section and section 5.
Child-SAPOs: variations, renewals and discharges
‘(1) A person within subsections (2) may apply to the appropriate court for an order varying, renewing or discharging a child sexual abuse prevention order.
(2) The persons are—
(a) the defendant;
(b) the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides;
(c) a chief officer of police who believes that the defendant is in, or is intending to come on to, his police area;
(d) where an order was made on an application under section 1(1), the chief officer or other qualifying person who made the application.
(3) An application under subsection (1) may be made—
(a) where the appropriate court is the Crown Court, in accordance with rules of the court;
(b) in any other case, by complaint.
(4) Subject to subsections (5) and (6), on the application of the court, after hearing the person making the application and (if they wish to be heard) the other persons mentioned in subsection (2), may make any order, varying, renewing or discharging the child sexual abuse prevention order, that the court considers appropriate.
(5) An order may be renewed, or varied so as to impose additional prohibitions on or to lift prohibitions from the defendant, only if it is necessary to do so for the purposes of protecting children generally or any particular child from serious sexual harm from the defendant (and any renewed or varied order may contain only such prohibitions as are necessary for this purpose).
(6) The court must not discharge an order before the end of five years beginning with the day on which the order was made, without the consent of the defendant and—
(a) where the application is made by a chief officer of police, that chief officer, or other qualifying person or
(b) in any other case, the chief officer of police for the area in which the defendant resides.
(7) In this section ‘the appropriate court’ means—
(a) where the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal made the child sexual abuse prevention order, the Crown Court;
(b) where a magistrates’ court made the order, that court, a magistrates’ court for the area in which the defendant resides, or where the application is made by a chief officer of police, any magistrates’ court whose commission area includes any part of the chief officers’ police area or any area where the alleged offences occurred.
(c) where a youth court made the order, that court, the youth court for the area in which the defendant resides or, where the application is made, any youth court whose commission area includes any part of a chief officer’s police area or any place where the alleged offences occurred.
(8) This section applies to orders under—
(a) Section 5A of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 (c.51) (restraining orders),
(b) Section 2 or 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37) (sex offender orders made in England and Wales and Scotland),
(c) Article 6 of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I., 1998/2839 (N.I. 20)) (sex offender orders made in Northern Ireland), and
(d) as it applies to child sexual abuse prevention orders.
‘(1) This section applies where an application under section 123(1) (‘the main application’) has not been determined.
(2) An application for an order under this section (‘an interim child sexual abuse prevention order’)—
(a) may be made by the complaint by which the main application is made, or
(b) if the main application has been made, may be made by the person who has made that application, by complaint to the court to which that application has been made.
(3) The Court may, if it considers it just to do so, make an interim child sexual abuse prevention order, prohibiting the defendant from doing anything described in the order.
(4) Such an order—
(a) has effect only for a fixed period, specified in the order;
(b) ceases to have effect, if it has not already done so, on the determination of the main application.
(5) The applicant or the defendant may by complaint apply to the court that made the interim child sexual abuse prevention order for the order to be varied, renewed or discharged.
(6) Subsection (5) applies to orders under—
(a) Sections 2A or 20(4)(a) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37) (interim orders made in England and Wales Scotland), and
(b) Article 6A of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I., 1998/2839 (N.I. 20)) (interim orders made in Northern Ireland),
as it applies to interim child sexual abuse prevention orders.
Child-SAPO and interim Child-SAPO appeals
‘(1) A defendant may appeal to the Crown Court against the making of a child sexual abuse prevention order under section 123(1).
(2) A defendant may appeal to the Crown Court aginst the making of an interim child sexual abuse prevention order under section 127(3).
(3) A defendant may appeal against the making of an order under section 127(3), or the refusal to make such an order—
(a) where the application for such an order was made to the Crown Court, to the Court of Appeal;
(b) in any other case, to the Crown Court.
(4) On an appeal under section (1), (2) or subsection (3)(b), the Crown Court may make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to its determination of the appeal, and may also make such incidental or consequential orders as appear to it to be just.
(5) Any order made by the Crown Court on an appeal under sections (1) or (2) (other than an order directing that an application be re-heard by a magistrates’ court) is for the purpose of subsecitons 126(7) and 127(6) (respectively) to be treated as if it were an order of the court from which the appeal was brought (and not an order of the Crown Court).
Offence: breach of a Child-SAPO or interim Child-SAPO
‘(1) A person commits an offence if, without reasonable excuse, he does anything which he is prohibited from doing by—
(a) a child sexual abuse prevention order;
(b) an interim child sexual abuse prevention order,
(c) an order under section 5A of the Sex Offenders Act 1997 (c.51) (restraining orders);
(d) an offender under sections 2, 2A or 20 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (c.37) (sex offenders orders and interim orders made in England and Wales and in Scotland);
(e) an order under Article 6 or 6A of the Criminal Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 (S.I., 1998/2839 (N.I. 20)) (sex offender orders and interim orders made in Northern Ireland).
(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for at term not exceeding five years.
(c) where a person is convicted of an offence under this section, it is not open to the court by or before which he is convicted to make, in respect of the offence, an order for conditional disharge or, in Scotland, a probation order.
(3) The Home Secretary shall issue guidance on the use of child sexual abuse prevention orders and interim child sexual abuse prevention orders within six months of this section coming into force.”.’.
New clause 7—Possession of prohibited written material about children—
‘(1) Section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (offence of possession of prohibited images of children) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1), after “prohibited image of a child” insert “or prohibited written material about a child”.
(3) After subsection (2) insert—
“(2A) Prohibited written material about a child is written material which—
(a) is pornographic,
(b) falls within subsection (6), and
(c) is grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character.”
(4) In subsection (3), after “image” insert “or written material”.
(5) After subsection (5) insert—
“(5A) Where (as found in the person’s possession) written material forms part of a series of written material, the question whether the written material is of such a nature as is mentioned in subsection (2A) is to be determined by reference to—
(a) the written material itself, and
(b) (if the series of written material is such as to be capable of providing a context for the written material) the context in which it occurs in the series of written material.
(5B) So, for example, where—
(a) written material forms an integral part of a narrative constituted by a series of written material, and
(b) having regard to those written materials as a whole, they are not of such a nature that they must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal,
the written material may, by virtue of being part of that narrative, be found not to be pornographic, even though it might have been found to be pornographic if taken by itself.”
(6) In subsection (6), insert “or written material” after the word “image” each time it appears.’.
Government new schedule 1—Amendments of Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Government amendments 63 and 92 to 94.
The Government proposals are in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. New clauses 14 and 15, and new schedule 1, will simplify and strengthen the existing civil order regime under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The inspiration for the reforms is the Childhood Lost campaign of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who has attracted more than 100,000 signatures to her online petition and the support of 67 right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, who have added their names to my hon. Friend’s new clause 5. I pay tribute to her and those on both sides of the House who have campaigned so effectively on this important issue.
The Government essentially agree with the campaign and we are determined to do everything we can to protect the public from predatory sexual offenders. The UK has some of the toughest powers in the world to manage the risks posed by sex offenders, but in recognition of the important points highlighted by my hon. Friend’s campaign we are bringing forward amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to make our powers even more effective.
I seek clarification from the Minister. The risk of sexual harm orders, which the new sexual risk orders would replace, can be given only to offenders aged 18 and over. Will the new sexual harm prevention orders also only apply to offenders over 18? If they will apply to offenders under 18, what consideration has he given to introducing accompanying rehabilitative provisions for child sex offenders?
If I may, I will first pay tribute to the hon. Lady, who has campaigned on these issues for a long time and deserves much of the credit for raising public awareness. If I may, I will come to the details of the offences shortly.
New clauses 14 and 15, and new schedule 1, will repeal the sexual offences prevention order, foreign travel order and risk of sexual harm order in England and Wales, and replace them with two new orders: the sexual harm prevention order and the sexual risk order. I welcome the engagement of hon. Members on this issue and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon will be pleased to note that we have sought to include her points as far as possible in the Government amendments. Indeed, following consultation with front-line professionals, including the police, the courts, the National Offender Management Service and the National Crime Agency, in a number of respects the Government amendments go further than her new clause 5.
The sexual harm prevention order will be available for those with convictions for sexual or violent offences. It may be made by a court on conviction, or by the magistrates court on application by the police or the National Crime Agency. A court may impose an order for the purposes of protecting the public in the UK and/or children or vulnerable adults abroad from sexual harm.
The sexual harm prevention order may prohibit the person from doing anything described in it, including preventing travel overseas. Any prohibition must be necessary for protecting the public in the UK from sexual harm or, in relation to foreign travel, protecting children or vulnerable adults from sexual harm. It lasts a minimum of five years and has no maximum duration, with the exception of any foreign travel restrictions which, if applicable, lasts for a maximum of five years but can be renewed.
The second new civil order is the sexual risk order, which will be available for those who have not been convicted of an offence but who none the less pose a risk of sexual harm to the public. It may be made by the magistrates court on application by the police or the new National Crime Agency where an individual has done an act of a sexual nature and poses a risk of harm to the public in the UK or adults or vulnerable children overseas.
When the Minister mentioned the sexual risk orders, he helpfully highlighted the fact that they will apply to people who have not been convicted of any offence. What level of proof and standard of evidence will be needed to show that someone has done something of a sexual nature, and what would be included in that?
There is a specified list, which applies to the existing orders, and they are the obvious acts of a sexual nature. I take my hon. Friend’s point and, like him, I am very keen to see proper safeguards. That is why even the sexual risk order has to be made by a magistrate, so it will have judicial oversight and will not simply be available on the application of the police. That is a significant safeguard, and I hope that he would welcome that.
Any prohibition in the sexual risk order must be necessary for protecting the public in the UK from sexual harm or, in relation to foreign travel, protecting children or vulnerable adults from sexual harm. Such an order will last a minimum of two years and has no maximum duration, with the exception of any foreign travel restriction which, if applicable, lasts for a maximum of five years, but can be renewed.
Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, I will address the point made by the hon. Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey). The two new orders will apply to both over-18s and under-18s.
I thank the Minister for his earlier comments and for his understanding of the need for safeguards. I do not think he addressed the level of proof required in the court—whether it would be beyond reasonable doubt, or the balance of probability. Will he also explain, on the sexual risk order in particular, why the orders cannot be for less than two years? Why does he want to constrain magistrates?
We wish to avoid impracticalities in the system—we do not want to clog up the court system. The orders are serious enough to have that minimum period, and one hopes that it will make them effective and not mean a constant throughput of extra cases in the magistrates court. I will come on to more of the details, which I hope will reassure my hon. Friend.
The new regime will extend to England and Wales, although the protections afforded by the new orders will continue to relate to persons elsewhere in the UK, or beyond where necessary. We have included provision for cross-border enforcement and continue to liaise closely with the devolved Administrations.
I can perhaps answer my hon. Friend’s question directly by addressing what has changed. A number of key changes make the new sexual harm prevention order and the new sexual risk order more robust, more flexible and therefore more effective than previous orders. The new orders may be made to manage broader categories of risk, allowing them to be used in particular to manage risk against adults and vulnerable adults, as well as children. All members of the public deserve to be adequately protected from sexual harm. This change will ensure that dangerous individuals can be managed, regardless of to whom they present a risk.
Furthermore, the condition for the availability of the new sexual risk order is that the defendant has done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which it is necessary to protect the public. The previous “non-conviction” order required that the person concerned must have done at least two acts from a specified list of risky behaviour. The new provisions allow for an order as soon as an individual presents a risk.
As well as local police forces, the National Crime Agency will be able to apply for either of the new orders. This is a reflection of its expertise and access to intelligence on aspects of sexual offending, particularly against children. The NCA will be required to notify the relevant force area, which will continue to be responsible for managing offenders. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend that the standard of proof will be the criminal standard of proof—the highest standard.
The remit of the new orders will be wider. For example, either will allow foreign travel restrictions to be applied. Our determination to prevent harm to children and vulnerable adults applies outside the United Kingdom as well as within. Individuals subject to the new sexual harm prevention order will be required to inform the police whenever their name or address changes. This will improve the police’s ability to monitor and manage individuals subject to these orders.
Those are the changes. What we are keeping are the aspects of the old orders that have been shown to be effective. In line with the old order, the new sexual harm prevention order will make the offender subject to the notification requirements for registered sex offenders—it will put them on the sex offenders register. For both new orders, in line with the existing position, breach is a criminal offence punishable by a maximum of five years’ imprisonment. Conviction for a breach of a sexual risk order would also make that individual subject to the sex offender notification requirements.
The Minister is being very generous in giving way and I thank him. One of the things he is keeping the same is the list of acts in the Sexual Offences Act, one of which states:
“giving a child anything that relates to sexual activity or contains a reference to such activity”.
There are some cases where that would clearly be inappropriate, but it might include a wide range of literature and textbooks, and that is presumably not the intention. How will the Minister ensure that there is no misinterpretation? We are keen to ensure the safeguards are correct.
As I said, I very much share the hon. Gentleman’s desire for the safeguards to be effective. That is why I laid great stress on the fact that this order will have to be made in court, so that if, as he suggests, a textbook has been given to a child, one imagines that—except in very odd circumstances—no sensible magistrate would regard that as in any way disturbing or warranting this type of activity. In this instance, we can rely on the protections that the courts rightly afford individuals to ensure that sensible decisions are made on these types of orders.
What the new orders do is to ensure that the balance is even more firmly in favour of protecting the vulnerable from the risk of sexual harm. They will improve the use and effectiveness of this method of managing the risk to the public, and they will give the police and the National Crime Agency the flexibility they need to manage those individuals better.
Let me deal briefly with new clause 8, which adds murder committed overseas to the list of offences that may form the basis for making a violent offender order. These are civil preventive orders, which can be used by the police to impose restrictions on offenders convicted of a specified violent offence and who pose a risk of serious violent harm to the public. They can prohibit their access to certain places, premises, events or people to whom they pose the highest risk. Murder was not originally one of the specified offences for application of a violent offender order because an individual convicted of murder in the UK is managed indefinitely as a result of his automatic life sentence. Having identified this gap in the reach of a violent offender order, this new clause is designed to close it. In addition, new clause 8 will enable additions to be made to the list of specified offences through secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative procedure. Offenders and offending change over time, and it is right that the legislative powers for managing such behaviour can also change, while retaining appropriate parliamentary oversight.
That covers the main Government amendments, which I commend to the House.
I thank the Minister for setting out the amendments in the group. These are a completely new set of provisions on child protection, which the House did not have the opportunity to deal with on Second Reading or in Committee, so we are grateful for the opportunity to discuss them this afternoon. The House has, however, had several excellent debates on child protection over the last year, which is testament to how seriously colleagues of all parties take these issues and want to engage with them.
The amendments before us are the result of hard work and concern across the House. I want to pay tribute in particular to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) for her sterling work. I pay tribute, too, to the hon. Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford), whose new clause appears in this grouping; to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who has done an enormous amount of work on this subject; and to my right hon. Friends the Members for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins).
Government new clause 8 is the lead amendment in the group. As the Minister has set out, it is designed to make a sensible addition to the offences that can lead to action being taken against those who commit them. As we know, this came out of the tragic case of Maria Stubbings, who was murdered by her ex-partner, Marc Chivers. The Independent Police Complaints Commission recognised that there were gaps in the law in respect of the supervision of offenders convicted overseas. The Opposition are pleased to support this sensible new clause.
Government new clause 14 deals with sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders, while I understand Government new clause 15 deals mainly with saving and transitional provisions. Government new schedule 1 provides for the practical introduction of the new orders, alongside new clause 5, tabled by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and 67 other hon. Members, as the Minister pointed out, which creates the new child sexual abuse prevention order.
The Opposition support the need to amend the current law. The sexual abuse and grooming cases that occurred in Oxford shocked the country, and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon has rightly gained huge respect from across the House for the serious way in which she has looked to address the issues with the Childhood Lost campaign. I know that she has worked with a number of charities, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, ECPAT UK, Action for Children, and many others.
We are pleased that the Government have accepted the need for change, and have tabled their own amendments. We especially welcome the fact that the Government amendments extend the risk of sexual harm orders to adults as well as children. We should be interested to hear how the Minister intends to address the other key activities of the Childhood Lost campaign which are important in keeping our children safe.
Ten years on, it is right for us to think about what was done by the Sexual Offenders Act 2003 and what parts of it need to be updated. The Act was a milestone that played a crucial role in improving our legislation on sex offences in many key respects, for instance by outlawing grooming. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East for the key role that he played in introducing the legislation.
The sad truth is that sex offenders, more than any other group of offenders, are prone to reoffend. We must accept that most sex offenders continue to pose a threat to children after their initial offences. That does not, of course, mean that all offenders will reoffend, but it does mean that we should try to identify those who pose the greatest risks, and try to do everything possible to mitigate those risks. Labour introduced three distinct powers which were intended to control the risks posed by known sex offenders.
The Minister referred to the sexual offences prevention order, which was the first order that could be imposed on someone who had been convicted, and was to be applied at the time of conviction—or subsequently by the police—only if there was evidence of dangerous behaviour after offending. It covered both children and adults. The order allowed the courts to impose conditions on the offender that they considered to be necessary to reduce the risk of sexual harm. The risk of sexual harm order could be imposed without a conviction if a chief police officer had a reasonable belief that someone within his region had twice committed a sexual offence, and that an order was necessary to protect the public. That covered only children. The foreign travel order could be imposed only after conviction, but required evidence of post-conviction behaviour that gave cause for concern. An example was the order imposed on Paul Gadd, also known as Gary Glitter.
I think that all those measures were important, and demonstrated the commitment of the last Government to combating sex crime. However, it is clear that all three now need to be improved. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon has undertaken important work in that regard in considering how we can improve the operation of the orders. I pay tribute to the recent report by the Association of Chief Police Officers and Hugh Davies QC on the workings of the current regime. New clause 5, tabled by the hon. Lady, would reform the risk of sexual harm order and establish a child sexual abuse prevention order extending to children under 18 rather than 16. It also—importantly—covers children and young people both inside and outside the United Kingdom, and would remove the requirement for two contact offences to be considered before an order could be made.
The Government’s proposals create two new orders. New clause 14 creates the sexual harm prevention order, which can be applied to anyone who has been convicted or cautioned for a sexual violent offence, including offences committed overseas. It will replace the sexual offences prevention and foreign travel orders. The new order will be required for the purpose of protecting the public generally, or any particular member of the public, from sexual harm. I understand that the new clause removes the requirement for a risk of serious sexual harm, which takes it down one level. The Opposition welcome that. The court must be satisfied that the defendant’s behaviour makes it necessary for an order to be made. Again, only one contact offence is required, which means that more people can be included in the grouping.
The hon. Lady is providing a very helpful summary of the changes. I think that the removal of the word “serious” is a very important change, because it significantly widens the ambit of police activity in this area. The word “serious” creates quite a high threshold, and far too many cases were slipping through the net because they did not meet that criterion.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I know that the hon. Gentleman speaks from a great deal of experience as a member of the Bar and so fully understands the implications of the removal of the word “serious” from this definition.
Sexual risk orders can be applied to any individual who poses a risk of sexual harm in the UK or abroad, even if they have never been convicted, and replace the risk of sexual harm orders—again, these orders will apply to both adults and children. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, the Minister confirmed that the sexual risk order could be applied to a child sex offender but did not deal with the other issue she raised about the rehabilitation of a child who was subject to one of these orders. Will he deal with that in his closing remarks and say what is being put in place to support those children and young people to rehabilitate them?
One key theme of these new orders is that both are equally committed to protecting children across the world. That is vital, because sex crimes are committed across the globe and, increasingly, paedophiles will cross borders to commit abuse. The global nature of sex crimes means that it is right that we make it easier to prevent foreign travel by known paedophiles and that we give equal prominence to crimes committed abroad when we are looking at the imposition of a civil order to protect children in the UK. We also need, however, to examine the issue of people who have not been convicted but pose a threat to children. I understand that the changes proposed today will also make it easier to impose an order when a criminal offence has not been committed. Such an example may be where an individual has attempted grooming on the net, for example, by impersonating a young person on social media, but has not actually, at that stage, committed a crime. Will the Minister explain whether the Government have any plans for introducing changes to legislation to make the grooming of a child on the internet an offence? I understand that it is only at the point when the person physically meets the child that an offence is committed.
One thing that the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon has drawn attention to in the very good briefing she has provided is the fact that very few risk of sexual harm orders have been imposed each year. We hope that these new provisions will make it easier to acquire an equivalent restriction, by making orders applicable to cases where a crime was committed aboard or where the behaviour does not constitute an offence at this time. However, I wish to refer to the issue raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), which related to the standard of proof required.
One reason it is hard to impose a risk of sexual harm order is that such orders demand a criminal standard of proof, even though they are civil orders, and that difficulty may remain in respect of the future orders. The demand for a criminal standard of proof was not actually in the Sexual Offences Act and there was some confusion therefore about the standard of proof required. The Home Office did issue guidance, which suggested a civil standard of proof—the “reasonable belief” approach. However, the courts tended to take a different approach and it was only in 2012—[Interruption.] I can see that the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) is about to intervene. It was only in 2012 that the issue was settled by the courts in the case of Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis v. Robert Ebanks, which established a binding precedent on the criminal standard.
The hon. Lady is making a very important point about the standard of proof. One key consideration is that breach is a criminal offence, and therefore there is a serious issue to consider as to the criminal consequences of a civil order that could be obtained by a civil standard of proof. That consideration was uppermost in the mind of the court considering that case and should be uppermost in our minds. As legislators, we need to get the balance right, and so the standard of proof should be a high one.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Again, I know that he speaks from great experience. I simply ask why so few orders have been taken through the courts and whether we need to consider the whole issue of the standard of proof that is required. We support the Government’s new clauses and amendments, which we think have a lot of merit.
I have been following everything that the hon. Lady says. I presume that she is not suggesting that someone should be jailed for five years without requiring a criminal standard of proof. Surely that is not what she is suggesting.
I find it extremely annoying that when Liberal Democrats get to their feet on child protection issues, when we are making sure that our children have the protection that we all want to see, this is the issue that is pursued. I am asking how best we can protect our children. There is genuinely a question to be asked about the standard that is used in the orders. The Government have chosen to introduce some new orders, which I fully support, but it is worth considering whose side we are on. Given some of the abuse cases that we have heard, particularly in the constituency of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, we need to think long and hard about where our instincts should lie in ensuring that our children are protected.
I will continue, because I have a feeling that this debate could go on all night with the Liberal Democrats.
I want to ask the Minister and the hon. Lady whether they feel that the threshold might be too high. I accept—the Liberal Democrats will like this bit—that there is a significant cost to the individual on whom an order is placed, reputationally, and particularly if that becomes public. We know that, because of public disgust associated with sex crimes, the effect of a sex offence order being imposed on an individual, whatever it is called, will be devastating to that individual.
It has not helped that the risk of sexual harm orders that were previously in place have been called, I think wrongly, sex offence ASBOs, because the higher standard of proof makes that comparison unhelpful. At the same time, we must accept that there will be many occasions when the police have a well founded, reasonable belief that someone poses a risk to children but are not able to secure a conviction, because, for example, they cannot present in open court the evidence required. In particular, the situation could arise if a vulnerable witness is not in a position to give evidence in court. In such cases, we may want a civil protection order, precisely because we cannot get a conviction at the higher criminal standard. Will the Minister comment on whether the new orders will allow for far more cases to be subject to the orders?
We have learnt that many of the problems in this area have been a failure of enforcement—a failure of the various agencies to work together or to understand what was going on. However, I want to press the hon. Lady on the previous question. If someone has a civil order and then breaches it, could they go to prison for up to five years without at any point the criminal standard having been satisfied?
The new clauses and amendments have been tabled by the Government and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and they are best able to comment on that. My understanding of them is that a term of imprisonment of up to five years is applicable if an order is breached. I am asking a genuine question about whether what we want to achieve through the orders will be achieved by having a criminal standard for a civil order. The hon. Gentleman might want to take that up with the Minister when he responds.
I am conscious of time and of the fact that many other hon. Members want to speak so I will raise only a couple of other issues. Will the Minister explain the situation on appeals and rights of review that might be open to people who are put on the orders? With the scrapping of indeterminate sentences, might we have people on the street subject to the orders who in the past might well have remained in prison, and is the Minister satisfied with that situation?
The hon. Member for Mole Valley raises an important issue in new clause 7. It is topical given that at the weekend W. H. Smith had to withdraw information and e-books from its website. It has taken too long to obtain acceptance of the fact that viewing child abuse images is an integral part of the abuse process. Only the abusers deny that now. We know that viewing abuse often triggers behaviours in individuals. We know that Stuart Hazel and Mark Bridger had both been viewing legal pornography simulating violent sex and abuse prior to committing appalling crimes. The new clause, which deals with the written form of that abuse, is worth looking at. I hope that the Minister will comment further on that. We need to be careful, because we do not want genuine literature that describes abuse in a totally acceptable way to be captured.
If the hon. Lady looks at the new clause, she will see that the second half covers that point, so “Lolita”, for example, would be all right.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm when he responds that that is the legal advice he has received. On that basis, it is really important that the issue is addressed.
Finally, if the provisions set out in new clause 7 are introduced, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, which is now part of the National Crime Agency, will have more work to do. It already struggles with the images it has to look at, so if it will have to deal with the written word as well. I think that there is a case to be made for the Minister addressing how resources for that will be made available.
I thank the Minister and the shadow Minister for their opening remarks. I will speak to new clause 5 and the Government amendments relating to prevention orders. I think that by now colleagues will be familiar with my reasons for tabling the new clause. The vast majority of children in this country grow up free from fear, but a vulnerable minority never know a safe or happy childhood. I will never forget sitting in the Old Bailey and listening to truly harrowing evidence of how a violent organised crime gang systematically groomed girls on Oxford’s streets to sell them for sex from as young as 11, plying them with hard drugs to make them more compliant to being repeatedly raped by strangers and conditioning them to believe that that was what real relationships were like. Too many colleagues in this House have had the same experience as me, as cases have emerged across the country. Every police force and local authority needs to take positive and proactive preventive action to root out this vile crime.
Patterns of grooming behaviour are now much better understood. We should be aiming to disrupt the process before it progresses to systematic sexual abuse, because the consequences of failing to intervene are both well documented and appallingly destructive. However, over the past few years case after case has emerged in which child protection agencies in possession of detailed intelligence have seemed unable to intervene.
In our inquiry into child sexual exploitation, the Home Affairs Committee came to a number of conclusions on why it was happening. The wider conclusions are for another day, but even leading forces, such as Lancashire police, who are proactive not only in innovative investigative techniques, but in disrupting grooming behaviour using methods such as abduction notices, licensing enforcement and dispersal orders, found that a key tool—civil prevention orders—just was not working. They have been on the statute book since 2003, as we have heard, and should be at the forefront of the fight against grooming, but instead they were found to be fundamentally flawed by a 2012 review commissioned by the Association of Chief Police Officers and written independently by Hugh Davies QC and a team of experts.
Since 2003 our understanding of patterns of sex offending and disruption techniques has progressed significantly. The purpose of new clause 5 is to reflect that progress and resolve the flaws in the existing orders. I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the case for reform and tabled amendments today. Put simply, the reformed orders will protect more vulnerable children from sexual exploitation. That could not be more urgent, because the Children’s Commissioner estimated only this year that 16,500 children are at risk of sexual exploitation, but the prevention orders are still failing to protect them.
Before explaining how the proposed reforms will address that, let me explain why the current orders are not working. Three orders were legislated for in the Sexual Offences Act 2003: the sexual offences prevention order, the foreign travel order and the risk of sexual harm order. A SOPO can be sought on conviction, or on proof of relevant offending behaviour subsequent to that conviction, to protect a UK adult or child. An FTO can be sought on proof of offending behaviour subsequent to previous sexual conviction and can be sought to protect non-UK children. Despite some misleading coverage of this campaign, the ROSHO is already a pre-conviction order, and it can be sought on proof of two contact offences to prevent serious sexual harm to children under the age of 16. Neither new clause 5 nor the Government’s amendments would create a revolutionary pre-conviction order today. That has been an accepted necessity since 2003.
No one in this House would disagree with the principle that a person is innocent until proven guilty, which is a fundamental principle of the rule of law, but in no way would that be compromised by these amendments. The case against a defendant would have to be proved to the criminal standard, and a defendant’s procedural rights under the proposals would be identical to those in place under the current provisions. The fact is that a criminal prosecution is not the only mechanism that is necessary to achieve an acceptable level of protection against the sexual abuse of children.
Criminal prosecution is not always possible. In some situations a prosecution is found not to be in the interests of a child victim, and therefore not in the public interest. In other situations there might be compelling evidence or some technical reason why the evidence is not found to be admissible. In other cases, as we have seen recently, a vulnerable witness might simply find the court process too traumatic and so the case collapses. Anyone who follows the progress of policing and the criminal justice system will recognise that uncomfortable reality. That is why this year there were more than 23,000 reported sexual crimes against children but only 4,051 of them were prosecuted.
I pay warm tribute to my hon. Friend for the outstanding work she is doing on this issue. I echo her point about the sometimes sad limitations of the criminal justice system, which I have worked in over many years, including dealing with this type of case. I support her case about the criminal standard of proof needed for obtaining the orders and then, if the order is breached, a further criminal procedure in which the criminal standard of proof would apply, so the necessary balances and safeguards are in place.
Absolutely. To answer the shadow Minister’s question about whether a civil standard would be appropriate, I think that it is important to ensure that we maintain the balance. The reason it was not possible to achieve ROSHOs previously was the combination of two contact offences plus a standard of serious sexual harm. I do not think that the necessary approach now is to lower that standard of proof.
Some have expressed concern that these orders are intended as an alternative to prosecution, but that is not the case; they are simply a practical necessity alongside prosecution. As a civil order they are no different in nature from other civil orders designed to protect children, such as injunctions or restraining orders in a family court or a barring order in respect of regulated activity.
If we fail to intervene and protect vulnerable people from foreseeable harm, even if prosecution is not possible, we are failing in our duty of care. The current orders are failing. The requirement to prove two contact offences for the ROSHO produces the absurd result that an offender who sexually touched a 15-year-old twice would be eligible for an order but an offender who raped a four-year-old once would not be—the police would have to wait for the offender to do it again. That is not a sensible way to assess risk.
Furthermore, given the existence of a specific form of order to prevent foreign travel, ROSHOs have never been used in practice to protect children abroad. The outcome is that non-UK children enjoy a materially lower level of protection than an equivalent child in the UK. I hope that the House will agree that there is absolutely no defence for that disparity. Today’s proposals put an end to that inequality, which must be welcomed.
There are other basic flaws in the existing regime. Application for all three orders can be made only by the local chief of police, but all too often an offender travels ahead of the evidence between force areas, especially in grooming and trafficking cases. The ROSHO applies only in relation to children up to the age of 16, meaning that 16 to 18-year-olds, who might have been caught up in abuse from a much younger age, can only be protected by a SOPO with a much higher threshold.
Meanwhile, the sexual abuse of children is big business in many destination countries. Hundreds of thousands of children are routinely trafficked for that purpose. Although offenders often have a clear record of offending in different jurisdictions, they can still escape prosecution in each, as many jurisdictions simply fail to prosecute due to different standards of children’s rights or pure corruption. In that context, the FTO threshold for offending behaviour subsequent to a conviction is entirely unworkable. It is unsurprising that since 2005 only 50 FTOs have been granted. In 2007, a year in which 70 British citizens sought consular assistance for child sexual offence arrests, not a single FTO was granted.
New clause 5 applies solely to children because that is the focus of my campaign, and it is intended to remedy these shortcomings: it abolishes the arbitrary requirement to prove two contact offences; it includes UK and foreign children, offering them equal protection; it allows a senior specialist officer from the National Crime Agency to apply for an order to plug the gap of itinerant offenders travelling ahead of the evidence and it raises the age limit to 18; and it introduces an interim provision to prevent itinerant offenders from fleeing the jurisdiction.
I am delighted that the Government’s proposed sexual risk order incorporates all these changes and applies them more widely to adults and vulnerable adults, but well-drafted guidance will be crucial to ensure these orders are effectively used as an offender management and disruption tool within a wider strategy of prevention and prosecution. That guidance will need to clarify that offenders under the age of 18 must be treated in an age-appropriate way. This order is much less likely to be appropriate to regulate activity between older teenagers than it would be where, perhaps, an older child presents a serious risk to a much younger child. I hope the guidance will include an understanding of sexually-related activity to take into account documented patterns of grooming and sex tourism.
Peter Davies, chief executive of CEOP, has called these reforms a very powerful, very useful new tool to prevent harm to children at the earliest possible opportunity, and I am grateful to everybody who has supported the Childhood Lost campaign. Over 100,000 people have signed our petition, and 67 colleagues have signed up to new clause 5. Police, lawyers, the Children’s Commissioner, the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society, PACE—Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation—Save the Children, ECPAT, Action for Children, OXCAT and others have all been very vocal in voicing their support, but one particular parent explained why she was supporting the campaign by telling the story of her daughter. She wrote:
“A group of men I didn’t know befriended my 14 year old daughter, Alice, and started to sexually exploit her. They did this by giving her gifts, taking her to ‘parties’ and giving her drugs and alcohol but all the time with the real threat of actual violence hanging over her. There were rules at the ‘parties’ and girls were beaten if they did not have sex with the men…We knew who they were, where they lived and what they were doing; yet nothing was done to stop these men contacting my daughter again and again.”
“I was told it was not enough for action to be taken”
“Police should have had the power to prevent these men contacting and abusing my daughter…I believe that if the police had been able to use a prevention order children would not have been raped by these men.
It is terrifying that these men got away with so much for so long and that other children are still trapped in similar situations.”
Used properly, these orders will protect victims, they will disrupt grooming, and they will prevent sex tourism. These reforms are the right thing to do, and for these reasons I will not press my amendment to a Division, but instead I ask all Members who think the police should be able to step in to protect girls like Alice to support the Government amendments to protect people from child sexual exploitation.
May I begin by apologising to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) for not being present for the start of her speech?
I want to contribute briefly to the debate in order to congratulate the hon. Lady on the incredibly effective work she has done on the issue of grooming. She has a constituency interest, of course, as Operation Bullfinch was going on in Oxford and she has been monitoring what has been happening to the victims, but she was also instrumental in beginning the important Childhood Lost campaign, and I was present at its launch with the Minister, who gave a very effective speech. She has decided not to press her amendment to a Division, but instead has urged the House to support what the Government are doing. I am glad that the Government are following the recommendations of the Select Committee. I think all in the House who are concerned about the grooming of children and the crimes being committed against young people and children will want to see effective action being taken. What we have seen in some of the criminal cases is just the tip of the iceberg, and the hon. Member for Keighley (Kris Hopkins), who has now been promoted to Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government, gave very passionate and effective evidence to the Select Committee.
I support what the hon. Lady has said, I commend her on her marvellous efforts in this area, and I certainly hope the Government will continue to take forward the recommendations of the Select Committee—I see that the hon. Members for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who serve on the Committee, are present. We will revisit our recommendations six months after publication of the report, which will be at about Christmas time, when we will see what progress has been made, but I know that in the Minister we have someone who is determined to do something very serious and radical about stopping those who seek to exploit children, and I fully support what the hon. Lady has said.
I echo those congratulations. One thing I have discovered in this House is that it is possible for Back Benchers with a really good cause to push it and persuade a Government—whatever Government. The other thing to be said about this evening’s debate, at least until 7 o’clock, is that there is cross-House agreement —and, I hasten to add to the Opposition Front Bench, even the Liberal party is on board—and that has been the case on this area for some considerable time.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is the legislation being changed tonight. Although the Act came in under a Labour Government, I am sure the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), who was a Minister at about that time, would agree that there was huge cross-party support and thinking behind the scenes. Indeed, I was on the Home Office taskforce that did a lot of the work leading up to the child protection part of that Act.
Tonight, however, I want to focus on my new clause 7, which would amend section 62 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, entitled “Possession of prohibited images of children”. Those prohibited images are pornographic images, and they may take various forms, including photographs, pseudo-photographs, cartoons and computer-generated images. They may be moving or still, too. The link between the possession and the viewing and actual action against children is generally accepted, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) said from the Opposition Front Bench.
The ludicrous situation is that an individual will be liable for prosecution for possession of photographs, pseudo-photographs, computer-generated images and so on, but not for the written word describing child sex abuse in pornographic, and often lurid, detail. All, including the written word in this form, are designed by the individuals concerned for sexual stimulation over the sexual abuse of children. If an individual wrote from his or her imagination a graphic description of child sexual abuse—which could, and often is, more emotive and more graphic than any picture of any form—even if he or she described one of those pictures or cartoons, that individual could not be prosecuted for the possession of this graphic material, even though for many of these individuals the written word is more powerful.
Let me give a simple example that I gave in speaking to my ten-minute rule Bill last Wednesday. CEOP provided me with the details of a man from Kent who wrote describing his wish to kidnap an early-teenage girl, strip her, sexually abuse her in an exceptionally unpleasant way and then, in an even more unpleasant way which I will not detail, slowly kill this girl. It is horrific, especially as his writings then inspired this individual to actually carry it out. He is in prison, hopefully for a very long time if not for ever, but the teenager is gone. One would have thought that the early discovery of the writings could have helped, but if the police had found them they would have had no power to act. This new clause has developed out of discussions with members past and present of the Metropolitan police paedophile unit and with the team leading CEOP in this area, and is supported by it, including Peter Davies.
CEOP last year published a research document on paedophile cases. It is mentioned in the report, almost as a sideline, that some offenders possess graphic notes or writings of child abuse. The Home Secretary has written to me on this matter stating she is asking for a report from CEOP on the need for this change. As the Minister will recall, some months ago both CEOP and the head of the Metropolitan police paedophile unit joined me in making a presentation to him. They brought some of the literature; I did not. The officers supported the need for this change. They explained that they had seen volumes of material in their search for illegal child abuse photographs. As the possession of such written material is not illegal, they obviously disregarded it, seeking only, at high speed and using computer technology, child abuse images.
The hon. Gentleman is clearly talking about some horrific material, and I am listening carefully to his case. He is far more expert in this area than I am. How does this link in with the Obscene Publications Act 1959? Does not that provide some protection in this area?
No, it does not. I am looking at changes to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, not to the Obscene Publications Act. Otherwise I would wander into deep mire, which I am sure that Liberal Members would help me wallow in further.
The Obscene Publications Act was very much on my mind as well. Very often this material is generated by the offenders themselves and is privately retained, so I think it would fall foul of some of the definitions in that rather elderly piece of legislation. The material that is obtained can sometimes be used as incriminating evidence to help prove the general character and intent of individuals with an interest in child abuse, who are sadly far too prevalent. Do the police find difficulty in using that material as incriminating evidence, or do they want more information?
My hon. Friend goes halfway towards putting the case. He is right, but the police tell me that they do not really use that Act. They need this one tiny change in the legislation to add to the opportunities for prosecution and to use when they bring these individuals to court.
I was told that I needed to tweak the wording, so I did something absolutely outrageous: I invited the Attorney-General for a cup of coffee, not even a glass of wine, and he ran a cursory glance, if Attorney-Generals run cursory glances over anything, at the wording and seemed to feel that it was satisfactory. I am not going to hold him to that, as it would probably cost me a glass of wine.
The hon. Gentleman has given the House a valuable insight into how, for at least 10 years, he has followed these issues through with successive Ministers and very persuasively engaged them in the merits of his argument. I would be very happy to support his new clause, because graphic and extreme written material about child abuse is every bit as abusive as an image of child abuse. He is absolutely right to try to ensure that this loophole in the law is closed so that this is a very clear and separate offence.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. I am delighted to have his support. When he was a Minister he was receptive to many of the changes that I suggested. He tweaked them so that they went through to another place without my name attached, but the effect was still the same.
Some have questioned whether genuine, legitimate literature such as “Lolita” would be covered by section 62(5) of the 2009 Act. To be completely clear, the written material that I am targeting can be as shocking as images described as level 5 based on the classification used by the courts. The section refers to prohibited images that it describes as
“pornographic…grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise…obscene”
“of such a nature that it must be reasonably assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal.”
In certain cases, that description, which is applied to photographs, can, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) said, be applied equally to the written word. Such material is quite different and it is horrific. Its distribution is prohibited, and so should be its possession.
I strongly support the remarks of and the campaign by my friend, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood). Her initiative and that of the Childhood Lost campaign, which I have strongly supported, will be especially warmly welcomed by my constituents and hers, who are horrified at what was uncovered by the Operation Bullfinch investigation and prosecutions in Oxford. They are very worried that it was not possible to stop these crimes happening earlier and that even now there are people it has not been possible to bring to justice before the courts because of the difficulty in giving evidence. Anything that can be a step forward in stopping these horrific crimes must be greatly welcomed.
I want to underline an enormously important point that the hon. Lady made about the strength and clarity of guidance that is given on the use of these orders and the importance of each local area having the wherewithal to carry them into effect. In the wake of Operation Bullfinch, in Oxford we have had established the Kingfisher unit, which she and I jointly visited. It brings together all the relevant agencies and undertakes preventive and educational work as well as helping to bring cases to justice. We need such units in every part of the country. There has to be the strongest guidance to ensure that these orders are going to be used. I look forward to an assurance from the Minister that there will be close reporting and monitoring on the extent and areas of their use so that this House can see the progress that we all very much hope the bringing into law of these orders will represent.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I pay tribute to my colleague on the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), who gave a fantastic example of her grasp of the details of this subject and her attitude to it. I served with her on the Committee during its inquiry into child sexual exploitation in response to localised grooming, when we all shared experiences that will stay with me and, I am sure, with her for the rest of our lives. Some of the things we saw and heard about were absolutely horrific. It is to her great credit that she has responded in a very measured way to try to address this. Her speech was exemplary in that regard.
We all think that abuse of children and of any vulnerable adult is completely and utterly unacceptable. It is a heinous crime. Everybody in this House opposes it and wants to see it ended; that is absolutely clear. It is also clear that a crime of this nature is a crime regardless of where it happens. When people go overseas to abuse children, that cannot be okay just because those children happen not to be British. That much is absolutely, completely and utterly clear.
The hon. Lady outlined very well a number of improvements in what the Government are suggesting. For example, it seems odd that a rule was brought in saying that there must be two offences before a breach of something becomes a serious matter. I struggle to think of any other examples where someone would have to do something twice before there was perceived to be a problem. It is absolutely right to get rid of that.
I was very surprised by several of the comments by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). There is a danger that we get trapped in the idea that we must do anything to protect children. It becomes a mantra: “Won’t somebody think of the children?” We do need to protect children but in a way that will work and will not cause us problems. It is an important principle that people do not get jailed based on anything less than the criminal standard of proof. I was genuinely horrified by her suggestion that it would be worth considering something else. I accept that this is a deeply emotional area, and we all want to protect children. I hope that on reflection she will reconsider some of her comments about my perspective on that. We all want that protection to happen, but we must also ensure that we do not break some of the principles of the rule of law.
In discussing civil orders I merely raised a question about the appropriate standard of proof. I was not suggesting that we should move to a lower standard but merely questioning whether keeping the higher standard was the best thing to do and asking the Minister and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) to reflect on that. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will express that properly when he refers to my views and not try to suggest that I was putting forward any other view.
I thank the hon. Lady for that clarification. My own view is that I would not even want to consider the idea of jailing somebody without going through the criminal process, because that is a fundamental position of our law. She was indeed only questioning it, but I am still surprised that it would even be questioned.
The record will of course show this, but does my hon. Friend agree that his point was to raise a concern that Labour Members might allow someone to be jailed for five years on the basis of balance of probabilities? All we heard back from the shadow Minister was an ad-hominem, or at least ad-party, attack on him, as though only a Liberal Democrat could object to such a thing. That is extraordinary.
I agree factually with the hon. Gentleman, but I do not want to dwell on that, because it detracts from the excellent work that has been done by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and so many others.
Questions still need to be answered for us to understand the details and the guidance, as the hon. Lady said. That is critical. I listened carefully to her comments about the idea that not everyone subject to an order could be jailed, but I would hope that that would be the principal aim. I think we would all like people who abuse children or vulnerable adults to go to jail, rather than receive a civil order. The gap between the two should be closed as much as possible.
I am concerned that there will still be strange applications. The case of Simon Walsh was interesting—it was surprising that it was brought in the first place— and he was eventually found not guilty, but I think he might have been caught by new clause 5, so I remain concerned about how we can avoid that happening when people have been found explicitly not guilty. I think we will have a chance to look at that and clarify the details.
Finally, I accept new clause 5 and have no problems with it becoming part of the Bill. I congratulate the hon. Lady on tabling it and the Minister on accepting it. One of my key findings during the Home Affairs Committee inquiry was that, yes, there is room for legislative change, but the vast majority of the problem was caused by organisational failures and by people not trusting or listening to young people—a series of things that will not be fixed by legislation. We must not delude ourselves that passing a law that makes certain behaviour illegal and that implements orders will, in and of itself, make the difference needed.
I am sorry that I was not able to be here for the beginning of the debate; unfortunately, I had Select Committee business. I have no doubt that I would have enjoyed the contributions, particularly the alleged verbal attack on the Liberal Democrats.
I want to discuss two things: first, the great contribution made by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood), and, secondly, the Government’s proposals on sexual predators and the use of the orders to prevent such behaviour.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her exceptionally good campaign. Members will be aware of what has become known as the Rochdale grooming scandal. The Home Affairs Committee did excellent work on that and other cases of on-street grooming. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) has also done much to raise concerns about such issues. The campaign run by the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon has been second to none, and that is a credit to her. It will play an important part—this should not be underestimated—in helping to protect young people from sexual predators, such as those we have seen not just in Rochdale, Oxford and Rotherham, but in many other towns and cities across the country.
I am pleased with and welcome the Government’s proposals, which consolidate and strengthen the provisions put in place by the previous Labour Government. Had the orders been in place some years ago, I am convinced that, had agencies such as Greater Manchester police used them, they would have stopped a lot of the abuse that occurred in Rochdale. We now know that there was a failure by Rochdale council social services and its exceptionally unhealthy culture at the time.
My hon. Friend was one of the most vocal in the criticisms of the way in which Rochdale council operated. Is he satisfied that the council understands the seriousness of the situation and that, under its new chief executive, it is putting in place the proper processes to make sure that the situation is monitored? It cannot stop it happening again, but is my hon. Friend satisfied that things have changed for the better?
I appreciate my right hon. Friend’s intervention. I am more satisfied than ever that Rochdale council is playing its part in tackling on-street grooming.
It is important to note that we still await the serious case review on Rochdale. I would think that it is imminent, so it should be available in the next month or two. I think it will raise questions—not much light has been cast on this—about the performance of Greater Manchester police and whether it acted effectively enough in terms of intervening. I suspect that the serious case review will show some failings in that regard. That relates to the proposals under discussion because, had they been in place at the time, not only would the tools have been available to the police, but an emphasis would have been placed on their need to use them.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. To pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert), the orders are welcome and will allow police forces to intervene earlier, but they must sit within a wider strategy of prevention and prosecution if we are to have any hope of genuinely tackling child sexual exploitation in the long term.
I completely agree. Much of this is about not just the tools available, but the culture in the local agencies, whether they be the council, the Crown Prosecution Service, the police or the NHS and its primary care services.
Finally, I welcome the proposals. This is Parliament at its best. We are amending existing legislation, not creating something completely new. This is about listening to the concerns of Back Benchers and their campaigns, and about getting cross-party support, which I welcome.
I thank hon. Members from all parties, not just for their universal support for the measures, but for the sensitive and sensible tone with which they have conducted the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) will by now be blushing because of the amount of praise she has received. She should note that it has not been conventional praise—it is not a case of the House being conventionally polite—but that everyone, from all parties, really means it. She and the charities she has rightly mentioned have conducted an exemplary campaign on an issue of great contemporary importance. It is a subject that a few people have cared about hugely for ages, and now the whole country understands the important and urgent need to take effective action, which is precisely what we are seeking to do.