House of Commons
Wednesday 30 April 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
We have given communities more power through the Localism Act 2011. We have invested in volunteering, which has risen after years of decline. We have invested to support charitable giving, which has held up in difficult times. Some 70,000 young people have taken part in the National Citizen Service. I am very proud that this country leads the world in supporting social enterprise and investment.
That is not a situation I recognise in Hyndburn, I have to say. Archbishop Vincent Nichols recently said:
“The Big Society hasn’t helped… Charity isn’t an alternative to public service… there are now families with nothing”.
Will the Minister finally admit that the big society project is in fact a big failure?
No, I will not. I think the cynics have got it entirely wrong. Some of the changes we have introduced are irreversible, not least in terms of giving communities more power and information, which they are not going to give back. We recognise that charities are going through a very difficult time, like lots of organisations, but this Government are actively supporting them to help them to adapt and improve their resilience, while Labour MPs continue to scaremonger.
I thank my hon. Friend for her long-standing support for the National Citizen Service and all initiatives to encourage young people to get involved in volunteering. We are enormously ambitious for the National Citizen Service this year. As I have said, to date over 70,000 young people have taken part, and we expect the same number to take part this year alone.
Will the Minister explain why the newly announced £40 million fund to help struggling charities will only come into force in 2015? Many charities are saying that they will not survive another six months because of this Government’s policies. Is this not a case of too little, too late?
No, I do not accept that. The hon. Lady ignores the fact that the Government have already provided almost £200 million in transition funding for front-line charities and infrastructure organisations to help them through difficult times. We have managed to secure some additional money in the 2015-16 Budget to support more transition work, particularly for middle-sized charities, which we think is needed. She is ignoring all the help we have given so far.
Our country once enjoyed a rich and vibrant tapestry of organisations between charity and the state, such as co-operatives, friendly societies and other mutuals. Does the Minister share my dismay that the left has abandoned its own traditions?
Those are not of course the only traditions that the left has abandoned over the years; it is very hard to see what is left. I am very proud that Government Members are leading the work to encourage more mutualisation, particularly in relation to encouraging people to spin out the services they currently offer inside the public sector, and to offer them and improve them as public sector mutuals.
Civil Service (Outsourcing)
In common with the previous Government, which the hon. Gentleman supported from time to time, the current Government do not have a dogmatic view on outsourcing, either in favour of it or against it.
We are actually seeking to build on what is good. It is now 10 years since Sir Peter Gershon, under the previous Government, proposed a fast move towards genuinely shared services. That did not happen for eight years. Since 2012, we have made significant progress in genuinely creating a handful of shared service centres for Government. They are building on the shared service centre in Swansea and others. If we create genuinely successful, highly efficient organisations there, they have every opportunity of winning other business and therefore of creating new jobs and new prosperity in those areas.
My right hon. Friend will be aware of the revelations in the Liverpool Echo last week that Government computers were used to access and change Wikipedia pages relating to Hillsborough. What action is he taking to investigate those accusations and to prevent misuse of Government computers, whether they are outsourced or not?
Everyone in the House will have been horrified and sickened by those edits on Wikipedia. I have been in close, daily contact with the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who has a highly deserved reputation as a campaigner for the Hillsborough families, and the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), the chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on the Hillsborough disaster. We are undertaking a rapid investigation, which is being led by my excellent permanent secretary, Richard Heaton. The first stage is to establish the facts as best we can and we will then deal with the matter. If this horrible issue is prolonged and there is no closure, it will be very unsatisfactory and distressing for the families, particularly at this time, when the events are fresh in their minds.
12. Some 239 civil service jobs that have been outsourced to Shared Services Connected Ltd are being lost in my constituency. The people who may lose their jobs were presented with a new staff structure just a week ago, were given only until today to decide on voluntary redundancy and are not being given proper opportunities for redeployment. Will the Minister press SSCL, which is part-owned by the Government, to extend the voluntary redundancy deadline, and will he ensure that all Departments offer opportunities for redeployment? (903761)
I shall certainly look at the last point that the hon. Gentleman made. Nobody takes any pleasure in job losses. We have had to lose jobs in the public sector. The civil service is 17% smaller than in 2010 because, sadly, we inherited the biggest budget deficit in the developed world. We have to make economies and do things better. I hope that the new venture, SSCL, will emerge as a vibrant business in the private sector that can win more business and thereby create more jobs. However, it does need to restructure to begin with.
That is a very good question. It is difficult to be precise because when business is outsourced to the private sector, it is hard to know which of the jobs in a business that provides services to Government and to other organisations relate to Government business. It is therefore hard to know what the baseline is. A larger number of activities will be carried out outside the public sector, many of them through the spin-outs of public service mutuals, which are a way of delivering much greater job satisfaction—
Earlier this year, the Prime Minister boasted in a speech in Davos that under his Government
“there is a chance for Britain to become the ‘Re-Shore Nation’.”
However, the chief executive of Steria has said that offshoring jobs is “on the agenda” for outsourced civil servants working for Shared Services Connected Ltd, in which the Government retain a 25% stake. Does the Minister share my concern that up to 1,000 jobs might be offshored? Will the Government use their stake in the joint venture to argue that those jobs should be kept in the UK?
We will take the same approach as the Government the hon. Gentleman supported—I think he was an adviser to the last Government—when they set up NHS Shared Business Services, which is also a joint venture with Steria. A number of jobs were offshored, but Britain has benefited because that entity has also created more jobs in the UK. We take the same approach as his Government took.
I will cheerfully take up your sensible suggestion, Mr Speaker, of writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone).
I am proud that Britain leads the world in developing social investment. The hon. Gentleman is a tireless champion of its power to support early intervention. A new tax relief has gone live this month. There are now 15 social impact bonds in operation. I hope that he will welcome our announcement today of two more funds to support social impact bonds, which we believe will generate better outcomes for young people who are at risk of not being in education, employment or training.
There is an important judgment from the European Court of Justice today on the Robin Hood tax, which will have a big influence on civil society and the big society. However, that will be minuscule compared with the potential impact of a serious social impact bond market on early intervention, which the Minister mentioned, and on council projects. It is two years since Big Society Capital was established, so is it not time to review the working of the Act that set it up to see whether we can take it further?
I am very proud of Big Society Capital as an institution. I have seen the impact that its investments are having on the ground. It has committed £149 million and has done important work to build this important market. It is just two years in and is about to publish its second annual report. We are always looking to ensure that it succeeds. I am more than happy to pass that question on to the Big Society Trust, which is its governing body, and get its response.
Are not credit unions a great example of social finance, and is it good news that there are now 500 of them in this country, not least a new one in Plymstock in my constituency? More than 1 million Brits are now members of a credit union. Are the Government pleased about that?
Credit unions are an enormously important part of the landscape in communities around the country, and many do extraordinarily valuable work. We are looking at the degree to which we can support their capitalisation. They are fragmented and under-capitalised, and we are discussing with Big Society Capital, and others, what ideas are out there for using the power of social investment to strengthen the capitalisation of that important movement.
I wholly acknowledge the role that the right hon. Gentleman played in that groundbreaking social impact bond at Peterborough. Its early results are extremely encouraging, and reoffending among short-sentence prisoners who receive support through the bond has fallen by 11%, while nationally that figure has risen by 10%. It was the first ice-breaking social impact bond, and I think its impact on the wider movement and the work happening across the country, with at least 15 social impact bonds live, cannot be overestimated.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we all need to do more to make voluntary organisations and charities aware of the benefits of the growing social investment market of Big Society Capital, and of the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012?
I wholly agree and I am clear about what we are trying to do. Over time—it will take some time—we are trying to build a third pillar of funding for our social sector to sit alongside philanthropy and the public sector, and we lead the world in doing that. The Public Services (Social Value) Act was groundbreaking legislation that requires commissioners to think very seriously about how they can maximise the social and environmental benefit of every pound of public money they spend.
In 2011 we launched the national cyber-security programme, which was the first centrally co-ordinated programme of cyber-security funding by the Government. Up to 2016 we are investing some £860 million in overall cyber-security funding, as a tier 1 national security priority.
The Home Affairs Committee is concerned that there appears to be a black hole where low-level e-crime is committed with impunity, and we know that is costing businesses £800 million a year. What is the Minister’s assessment of whether the move to IPv6 will help, and what he is doing to make that happen?
The majority of cyber-attacks and cybercrime can be prevented by basic internet hygiene, and by individuals and businesses ensuring that their cyber-security and internet protection is up to date and that all the latest patches are installed. We estimate that something like 80% of attacks can be prevented by that. The level of awareness is much higher than it was, but we have some way to go.
Given the amount of money that the Minister said is being and will be spent, what level of co-ordination across Departments is taking place to ensure that cybercrime is, if not eliminated, significantly reduced over the next year?
We are doing much more to co-ordinate than has ever been done before, and last month I launched CERT UK, which includes the cyber-security information sharing partnership that some 400 companies now belong to. The sharing of information, which was very inhibited before, is now taking place to a much greater extent. There is more we need to do, but Britain overall is not in a bad place on that. However, we need to move fast because those who wish to undertake cybercrime and cyber-attacks are moving pretty fast too.
Civil Service (Waste)
The Efficiency and Reform Group was set up after the 2010 general election to tackle wasteful expenditure in the public sector. We have supported Departments in achieving savings in 2010-11 of £3.75 billion, a further £5.5 billion the following year and more than £10 billion in 2012-13. In June we will announce the figures for the year just finished.
I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome the progress to date. With the stronger language requirements for visas introduced by the Home Secretary to promote integration, what scope is there to reduce the high cost of translation across the public sector?
There are some central contracts and some scope for us to do this much better, although we need to be confident about quality. Through the Crown Commercial Service we can now aggregate demand to a much greater extent, but what we do not want to do is exclude smaller translation companies from this market as they can often provide a much more cost-effective service. The issue is kept under constant review, and there is definitely scope for further savings.
We are reforming the way we do that. We identified a lack of commercial capability in Government and we are acting to remedy that, although there is still some way to go. The Government have been a very bad customer: we should be the best customer suppliers have, because we have scale and good credit and we pay quickly. We need to use that scale to get the best pricing, and we were not doing that. We have saved hundreds of millions of pounds by doing much better and by dealing with our biggest suppliers as a single customer, but there is much more that we still need to do.
We have created hundreds of thousands of new volunteering opportunities, not least through the National Citizen Service. We have invested in the important infrastructure that supports volunteering and we have reformed barriers such as Criminal Records Bureau checks. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that volunteering has risen after years of decline.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Margaret Hayes, who recently worked her final shift after 31 years of volunteering to support patients at Barnsley hospital? Volunteers such as Margaret make a much valued contribution to our society, and it is welcome that the number of volunteers is increasing. What more can the Minister do to encourage volunteering among people of all ages and backgrounds around the whole country?
I wholly support that vision. It is massively important to the country. I join the hon. Gentleman in recognising the work of that extraordinary individual and remind him that the Prime Minister has launched a new initiative that will announce daily the Points of Light awards to reward outstanding volunteers. I ask Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to think about nominating individuals in their constituencies for that award.
One way in which we can encourage volunteering is to thank those volunteers who work hard. Will the Minister join me in thanking the volunteers in my constituency at the play and resource centre PARC, Braintree Foyer, the Archer centre and Rethink Mencap? Does he agree that it is the volunteers who work for the various charities and community groups in all our constituencies who form the backbone of our society and deserve our collective thanks?
I wholly endorse that and join my hon. Friend in his recognition of and congratulations to his local volunteers. Few Governments have done more to actively encourage volunteering, and I reiterate my encouragement to colleagues to step forward and nominate individuals for the Points of Light awards.
The Cabinet Office is not planning to transfer any civil service jobs overseas.
I very much support the Minister’s efforts to reduce costs and increase efficiency in the civil service. Can I tempt him to go further on this particular issue and completely rule out the transfer overseas of any jobs currently undertaken by civil servants in the UK, which I believe would be a step too far?
I hear what my hon. Friend says, but I reiterate what I said earlier. The approach we take is the same as the last Government: we need to be efficient and jobs should be undertaken in the place where they can best be done. Normally that will be in Britain, and the more efficient we are, the more jobs we will create in Britain.
My responsibilities are for the public sector efficiency and reform group, civil service issues, industrial relations in the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingency, civil society and cyber-security.
Contrary to responses earlier, it was recently reported that the Cabinet Office has spent £30 million on staff redundancy packages and another £30 million to plug the gap created by hiring agency staff. Given that the Cabinet Office is supposed to be responsible for efficiency savings, why has the Minister wasted so much money?
I think the hon. Gentleman may be a little confused. There is no correlation between jobs lost and jobs replaced. We need to have the skills in the civil service to do what needs to be done to serve Britain today so that we can win in a very competitive world. That means that some jobs become redundant, but some new capabilities are needed. No Government or organisation I have ever come across think that they sit in a steady state and never recruit new people. [Interruption.]
T3. In 2011-12, the TaxPayers Alliance found that trade unions received a subsidy from taxpayers of £113 million a year through direct grants and facility time. Does the Minister agree that any part-time or full-time union work should be paid by the unions rather than the taxpayer? Will he update the House on the progress made to reduce that unnecessary cost to the taxpayer? (903775)
We have made considerable progress. In the civil service alone, some £30 million of taxpayers’ money was being spent on subsidising union representation. That is perfectly proper if duties relate to employment, but this was going way, way beyond. We have reduced significantly the number of full-time representatives. There were 250 in central Government. That is now down by nearly 170.
Following the launch of Labour’s digital government review, which is focused on empowering people, and after four years of this “digital by default” Government, with 16 million UK citizens lacking basic digital skills, the Minister has finally announced a digital inclusion strategy. The digitally excluded are vulnerable to cybercrime, but are punished by this Government for not using their digital services. Will the Minister explain why his inclusion strategy excludes 7 million of our fellow citizens from the digital future?
I am sorry that the hon. Lady takes that view. For one digital service that we provide—the lasting power of attorney—the assisted digital for those who are not online is provided by a number of groups that specifically help elderly people. Where there is a digital service, we are insistent that there is an assisted digital service for those who are not currently online. We want to do much more to increase digital inclusion, so that more people are online.
T5. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the progress that has been made in reducing the running costs of the Government estate? (903777)
We have made very considerable reductions. No leases can be signed anywhere in Government, nor any break point passed, without my agreement. That has enabled us to reduce significantly the amount of property occupied by central Government. We also have a big programme that is making significant progress in co-locating all parts of the public sector in one place in more and more towns around the country.
T2. As the Minister responsible for propriety in Government communications, was the Cabinet Secretary consulted on the Prime Minister’s recent letter to 2 million people, which used language borrowed directly from the Conservative party’s website? How much did that cost? (903774)
It is perfectly proper for Government Ministers to use the same language in Government communications as they use in their political communications. Ministers do not suddenly not become politicians when they speak as Ministers. It is just possible that I may have used today some of the same language as I would use in a purely political environment.
T6. Brilliant social enterprises such as the Oxford student hub propeller project can lead the way in finding innovative solutions to social problems, but they struggle to find sustainable funding. Can the Minister tell me what progress is being made on increasing the availability of social impact bonds, which could make all the difference? (903778)
My hon. Friend is entirely right: we have fantastic social enterprises in this country and they need easier access to capital. This country leads the world in developing social investment. Today we are launching two new funds that will unlock more social impact bonds to deliver what we expect to be better results for thousands of young people at risk of becoming NEET.
The Prime Minister was asked—
I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Captain Thomas Clarke of the Army Air Corps, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of Joint Helicopter Command, RAF Odiham, Acting Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner of the Army Air Corps, Corporal James Walters of the Army Air Corps, and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, a reservist who also worked as a research assistant to my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). These tragic deaths remind us of the continued commitment and sacrifice of our armed forces, and I know that our deepest sympathies are with their families at this very difficult time.
I am sure that the whole House will also want to join me in paying tribute to Ann Maguire, who was stabbed to death in her Leeds classroom on Monday. It is clear from the tributes paid that she was a much-loved teacher who had worked at the school for over 40 years. She cared so much about her pupils that she would come in on her day off to help prepare them for exams. Our thoughts are with her family, her friends and the entire school community in Leeds, who have been left devastated by this truly shocking and appalling tragedy. A criminal investigation is under way, and everything that can be done to get to the bottom of what happened at the school will be done.
This morning, I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in this House, I shall have further such meetings later today.
I very much associate myself with the Prime Minister’s tribute to the servicemen who lost their lives in Afghanistan last week, and to Ann Maguire who lost her life in the classroom.
May I ask him about something different? Last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies revealed that the Government’s decision to treble tuition fees will cost taxpayers more than the system it replaced. Is this disastrous policy a symbol of the Government’s long-term economic plan?
What the policy has enabled is another expansion of higher education. That is what we are seeing under this Government. All the forecasts from the Labour party—that fewer people would apply to university, for example—were wrong. We were told that people from low-income backgrounds would not apply to university—those forecasts were wrong. Unlike other countries, we have put in place a system for tuition fees, which means that we can expand our universities and go on winning in the global race.
I would like to thank the Prime Minister—and, indeed, the whole House—for paying tribute to the five men who recently died in Afghanistan. In particular, I pay tribute to Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, who worked for me in Westminster. He was an outstanding young man, who was well liked and held in such high regard by everyone who knew him and worked with him. The loss bears particularly heavily on his parents and family and, indeed, on his friends who grew up with him in Brecon and Kington. I am sure the Prime Minister will want to join me in praising all our reservists who, like Oliver, face all the risks that our armed forces experience—and sometimes, sadly, pay the ultimate price.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to pay tribute to Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas. It is a reminder of the sacrifices we have borne in Afghanistan. This looks as if it was a tragic accident but we will get to the bottom of what happened. He is absolutely right, too, to mention how our reservists in all three forces serve alongside their regular colleagues and take all of the risks. In Afghanistan, the reservists have proved again and again that they are people of huge quality, ability and courage. As we go forward and expand our reserves, I hope that everyone in our country—particularly businesses, the public sector, local councils and others, including the civil service—will do everything they can to make sure that reservists are welcome in their businesses and supported in the vital work they do for our country.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Thomas Clarke of the Army Air Corps, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan of Joint Helicopter Command, RAF Odiham, Acting Warrant Officer Class 2 Spencer Faulkner of the Army Air Corps, Corporal James Walters of the Army Air Corps, and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas of the Intelligence Corps, who were tragically killed. Those deaths are a tragic and poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by our armed forces, including reservists, in serving our country with bravery and distinction. All our thoughts go to the friends of those whom we lost, including the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams). We share his loss, and our deepest sympathy goes to the families of those who were killed.
Let me also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the teacher, Ann Maguire, who was murdered in her classroom on Monday. That was an appalling tragedy. It is clear from the testimonies of those who have spoken out since she died that she was an inspiration to those whom she taught. All our thoughts are with her family and friends, and with the teachers and pupils at the school.
Yesterday, for the first time, we learnt the names of some of the 16 investors, including hedge funds, which were given preferential access to Royal Mail shares and sold one third of them. How were those lucky few chosen?
What we are talking about is an exercise in privatising Royal Mail that has been a success for our country. A business that lost £1 billion under Labour has now paid money back to the taxpayer, and is making profits. The people whom we should be praising are the 140,000 employees of Royal Mail who are now, under this Government, shareholders in the business for which they work.
We have had no answer to the question, Mr Speaker. The Royal Mail share price is currently 50% above the level at which it was sold. Only the Prime Minister would want to be congratulated on losing the taxpayer £1 billion.
Each of those chosen few investors was given, on average, 18 times more shares than other bidders, on the basis that, in the words of the National Audit Office, they would provide
“a stable long-term… shareholder base”,
and would not be—in the words of the Business Secretary—“spivs and speculators”. Can the Prime Minister tell us what assurances, in return for their golden ticket, those investors gave us that they would hold the shares for the long term?
First, the right hon. Gentleman says that people were given shares. They paid for shares. Secondly, he again raises the issue that there was some sort of agreement. There was no agreement.
At the end of the day, the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that a business which lost money, and which he tried to privatise in government but failed, is now in the private sector, making money and succeeding for our country, and its employees are now shareholders. Is it not interesting that, given the growth in our economy, the fall in unemployment and the reduction in the deficit, he is reduced, like old Labour, to complaining about a successful privatisation?
The reason this matters is that the sale was grossly undervalued. Shares that were sold for £1.7 billion on privatisation are now worth £2.7 billion, and who cashed in? Twelve of the 16 so-called long-term investors made a killing worth hundreds of millions of pounds within weeks.
Yesterday, the representative of the bank that sold the shares said there was an “understanding” with those investors. [Interruption.] That is what it says on the record, Mr Speaker. He said that there was an understanding with those investors about their long-term commitment to Royal Mail. So why were they allowed to make a fast buck?
We are being given lectures on taxpayer value from the people who sold our nation’s gold at the bottom of the market. The right hon. Gentleman talks about ripping off the taxpayer, but it was he who left an 11% budget deficit after the biggest banking bail-out in Britain’s history.
These are exactly the arguments that Michael Foot made about the privatisation of the National Freight Corporation. They are exactly the same arguments as Neil Kinnock made about British Telecom and British Airways. It pleases the Back Benchers, it excites the trade unions, but it is utterly meaningless. Is the right hon. Gentleman recommitting to renationalising the Post Office? No, of course not. He is just playing to the gallery because he cannot talk about the success of our economy.
The Prime Minister should listen to Members on his own side. What did the hon. Member for Northampton South (Mr Binley) say yesterday? He said that this privatisation had “let people down”. He said:
“The interests of the taxpayer were not taken into account”.
He has also called it “unethical and immoral”.
He is nodding his head. That is what the Prime Minister’s own side think of it. He talks a lot about the postal workers, so this is very interesting: there were no conditions on the hedge funds, but there were conditions on other groups such as the postal workers. Can he explain why postal workers were told they could not sell their shares for three years but hedge funds were told they could cash in on day one?
The Post Office workers were given their shares, and it is right that they were given their shares—let us celebrate the popular capitalism. I thought the right hon. Gentleman believed in empowering workers. We now have 140,000 workers who have got those shares. On the risk to the taxpayer, he ought to reflect on this—[Interruption.]
You are right, Mr Speaker, that there is a lot of history in this shouting, because of course in the past with all these privatisations we had the shouting of the Kinnocks, the shouting of the Prescotts and the shouting of the Straws. Over Easter, I was looking at Labour’s candidates and I saw that son of Kinnock is coming here, son of Straw wants to get here and son of Prescott wants to come here. It is the same families with the same message—it is literally the same old Labour. That is what is happening.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about taxpayer value, and here is what the National Audit Office said:
“Privatisation has reduced taxpayer risk to support the universal postal service”.
This is a good deal for taxpayers because this business was losing £1 billion and it is now making money, paying taxes and gaining in value—this is good for our country but bad for Labour.
The Post Office was actually making a profit when the Government privatised it. What have we discovered today? It is one rule for the postal workers and another rule for the hedge funds. Who runs these hedge funds? The Government have been very coy about who runs these hedge funds. None other than the Chancellor’s best man runs one of them. It is one rule if you deliver the Chancellor’s best man’s speech and it is another rule if you deliver the Chancellor’s post.
What this shows is that the right hon. Gentleman cannot talk about the deficit, because it is falling; he cannot talk about the economy, because it is growing; and he cannot talk about jobs, because there are 1.5 million more people in work. So he is painting himself into the red corner by talking only about issues that are actually successes for the Government but which appeal to the trade unions, the left wingers behind him and the people who want to play the politics of envy. That is what is happening in British politics, and everyone can see it. He has nothing to say about the long-term economic plan which shows Britain is on the rise and Labour is on the slide.
What we know is there is a cost of living crisis in this country—[Interruption.] Oh, they do not think there is a cost of living crisis. Why not? Because they stand up for the wrong people. The more we know about this privatisation, the bigger the fiasco it is: a national asset sold at a knock-down price; a sweetheart deal for the City; and the Government totally bungled the sale. Everything about this privatisation stinks.
Six questions and not a mention of GDP; not a mention of what happened to employment figures while we were away; and not a mention of the fact that the deficit is getting better. We know that the right hon. Gentleman has a new adviser from America. It is Mr Axelrod, and this is what the right hon. Gentleman has been advised to say. Let me share it with the House as it is excellent advice. It is that
“there’s a better future ahead of us”—
but we must not—
“go backward to the policies that put us in this mess in the first place.”
I do not know what Labour are paying him--
From the cyber-attack on Estonia to the invasion of Georgia and the recent events in Crimea, we have seen a clear pattern of behaviour from the Kremlin, and the west has allowed wishful thinking to take the place of critical analysis. Given that defence exports from the EU to Russia have amounted to about €700 million in the past three years, not counting the €1.2 billion order for French warships, is it not about time that they were targeted for EU sanctions?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right on that issue. We have set out a clear set of sanctions as a result of Russia’s behaviour towards Ukraine. We have taken a series of steps so far in terms of putting asset freezes and travel bans on named individuals. We have taken a series of diplomatic and other steps, and we have set out the so-called stage 3 sanctions that should be taken if further incursions and further destabilisation of south and eastern Ukraine are set out, and restrictions on arms sales should certainly be part of that.
Q2. The Prime Minister promised that by the end of this Parliament a third of his Cabinet would be women. We know that the former Culture Secretary had to go, but now only three of his 22 Departments are run by women. Does he agree with the new Culture Secretary that that is because Government appointments should always be made on merit? (903734)
What I said was that I wanted to see a third of my Front-Bench Ministers being women at the end of a Conservative Government. We have made some important progress on the numbers of people on the Front Bench. With respect to my coalition partner, I have to say that, in terms of Cabinet numbers, the Liberal Democrats need to do a bit more to pull their weight on that issue, but I hope to make further progress.
Reverting to the subject of Royal Mail, as the leader of the stockbroking team that brought British Gas to the market and as the author of the phrase “Ask Sid”, may I tell the Prime Minister that the Opposition’s questions about, and their criticisms of, the way in which the Royal Mail launch was handled show their total ignorance of City markets? The fact is that when one tries to make an immense sale, one has to take infinite trouble to find people to underwrite it, and they are not able to prophesy what stock markets will be like a week ahead. Therefore, the prudent way in which this sale was handled was very sensible—[Interruption.] Do stop waving. You are waving goodbye.
The Father of the House makes an important point: when state-owned industries are privatised, if they are sold for less than the price set out, that is written off as a failure, and if they are sold for anything more than the price, you are accused of undervaluing the business. That has always been the way and, as I said, that is what Labour said about British Airways, British Telecom and British Aerospace. Labour opposed every single move to build a strong, competitive private industrial sector in our country and that continues today.
Q3. Mr L from Mitcham would like to be a policeman, but he only works part time and cannot afford the £1,000 bobby tax he needs to pay to apply to join the Met. His mum and dad are foster carers and would give it to him if they had it. May I ask the Prime Minister why, if my constituent is capable of passing the academic, fitness and testing requirements of the police, his bank balance should stop him? When did becoming a Metropolitan police officer become an aspiration for the few rather than the many? (903735)
The hon. Lady has asked questions about what she calls the bobby tax. Let me make three points. First, it is not a tax; secondly, it is not a barrier to recruitment; and, thirdly, recruitment is taking place in the Metropolitan police. That is what is happening: we are seeing people being recruited. As is happening, people who want to join the Metropolitan police can get assistance with the qualification that they now require.
Q14. Last week, we marked the bard’s nativity, four hundred years and fifty ere the swan of Avon breathed his first. Stratfordians on Saturday processed through their town, bearing rosemary in memory of their immortal son, and here in your apartments last night, Mr Speaker, young Stratford scholars staged a scene from Shakespeare’s works—amazed a noble multitude with their art. Mr Speaker, could this right honourable man, the captain of our state, lend his help to make our national poet’s birth a national day? Could he too disclose before the House what Shakespeare means to him? (903747)
I thank my hon. Friend for that beautifully and brilliantly crafted question about the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. It is a moment of celebration not just here in Britain but across the world, where Shakespeare’s works are gaining a wider understanding and distribution. I will not attempt quotes such as those that my hon. Friend brought out in his question, but I would say to any politician that if they read Henry V’s speech before Agincourt and it does not inspire them and drive them on, I cannot think what will.
Q13. Textile, engineering, and food and drink manufacturing is booming in Huddersfield and Colne Valley. For example, Camira Fabrics from Meltham is producing the upholstery for Boris’s Routemaster buses, which have been very busy this week. The company is creating jobs and apprenticeships. Will the Prime Minister praise Camira Fabrics and the other local firms that have agreed to attend my first ever jobs fair in Holmfirth on Friday 20 June? (903746)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for holding these job fairs. A number of Members of Parliament have taken that approach and have seen real benefits in their local areas as businesses come forward to pledge apprenticeships and to take people on, and are brought together with people who are looking for work. Since the recess, we have seen a series of figures on our economy: growth is now running at over 3%, 1.5 million of our fellow countrymen and women are in work since this Government came to power, inflation is at a five-year low and business confidence is at its highest level since the early 1970s. There is still a lot of work to do and there is absolutely no complacency. The long-term economic plan is not complete, but it is well on its way.
Q5. Before he was elected, the Prime Minister said that “if they’d let me” he would put a wind turbine on No. 10 Downing street, making use of the cheapest and most developed form of renewable energy. Last week, he announced that his party wants to end support for onshore wind even though the Government’s own survey this week showed that 70% of the public now support it. What changed his mind? (903737)
What is changed is that we have seen a massive increase in onshore wind generation in our country. We will achieve, through what is in the planning system and under construction, the provision of approaching 10% of our electricity demand through onshore wind. The question is then whether it is right to continue to overrule local planners and local people and whether it continues to be right to put taxpayers’ money in after we have built out that onshore wind provision. I do not believe that it is, and the Conservative manifesto will make that very clear for local communities. Other parties will have to make their own choices.
In the past few weeks in Eastbourne, over £160 million of private investment has been announced; we have had 3,000 new apprentices since the general election and unemployment is almost 20% down on this time last year. In short, in Eastbourne we are coming through tremendously successfully from the difficult economic downturn. Does the Prime Minister agree that where Eastbourne goes, the UK follows?
I am glad to hear that Eastbourne is leading the way, particularly on apprentices; 1.6 million apprentices have started under this Government. Our target is 2 million. We want to see a particular expansion of the higher-level apprenticeship schemes, but it is a major part of delivering our long-term economic plan.
Q6. I am sure that the Prime Minister has read last week’s excellent report by the all-party group on ticket abuse, which set out how consumers are getting a raw deal from the secondary market. The question is, whose side is the Prime Minister on—that of his new Culture Secretary, who praised ticket touts as “classic entrepreneurs”, or the millions of ordinary fans who are sick and tired of being ripped off? (903738)
I have not seen the report that the hon. Lady mentions. I will have a look at it and I will discuss it with the Culture Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid), who I welcome to the Cabinet. I noticed that Labour seemed to criticise his appointment—I am not quite sure on what basis. I think he will do an excellent job for our country and I am very happy to study the report that the hon. Lady mentions.
Q12. The number of unemployed jobseekers in Bristol North West has fallen by 25% in the past year, but there is obviously still much more to do. I am also hosting a jobs fair this Friday, to try to make that number even lower. In the light of the Chancellor’s welcome commitment to full employment, what else are the Government doing to make that ambitious aspiration a reality? (903744)
Already 1.7 million new private sector jobs have been created, far outstripping the loss of public sector jobs, so there are 1.5 million more people in work altogether. We have seen an increase in full-time work, which is very welcome because people often want to work more hours than they are currently able to work. In terms of driving further employment growth, the clear message to businesses is that they have the £2,000 off their national insurance bill, which can help people to take on new employees; there is the cut to business rates for many shops in our high streets, which is also very welcome; and from next year, businesses will not have to pay any national insurance contributions at all in respect of anyone under the age of 21. We want to see more people in work, and to raise even further that level of aspiration in our country.
Q7. Nuclear power is a very important component of the UK’s energy mix, because it produces large amounts of electricity with very little CO2. This Government call themselves “the greenest government ever” but have ceded control of our nuclear energy policy to foreign companies. What will the right hon. Gentleman’s Government do to ensure that nuclear power stations such as Hinkley Point C, which is already five years behind schedule, are brought on line on time? (903739)
I am sure the hon. Gentleman has a constituency interest in this, because the north-west has very important energy assets for our country. The last Labour Government were in power for 13 years; they never built a nuclear power station, nor made any progress on moving towards doing so. Under this Government, we have got Hinkley Point going ahead. We have got the exciting developments at Wylfa in Anglesey. I believe there is the opportunity of more to come. That is what we are doing: putting our money where our mouth is and ensuring that we have nuclear power providing a high-quality base load power which is carbon-free.
Q8. The Peterborough effect is back. Business confidence is returning, unemployment is falling and more new jobs are coming to my constituency. Much of that new prosperity relies on infrastructure spending financed by private pension funds. Does my right hon. Friend share my regret that Labour’s raid on company retirement funds, the brainchild of the shadow Chancellor, estimated last week by the Office for Budget Responsibility to have amounted to £118 billion, not only wrecked private pensions but hobbled vital private sector infrastructure investment in our country for a generation? (903740)
I am delighted to hear about the Peterborough effect—employment rising, unemployment falling, more people taking on apprenticeships, and businesses expanding. That is what we see across our country and it is fascinating that, 29 minutes into Prime Minister’s questions, not a single Labour Member of Parliament has mentioned GDP or unemployment, growth in our country or our economic plan. They do not want to talk about our economy because they can see it is getting better under this Government.
Q9. Will the Prime Minister make representations in relation to the cases of Princesses Sahar and Jawaher, who have been held under house arrest in Saudi Arabia for more than 10 years and have been refused access to food for more than 40 days as a result of speaking to the western media? Does he agree with me that human rights and women’s rights should be our priorities in our relationship with Saudi Arabia? (903741)
I read the report, as the hon. Lady did; I share her concern about the case and I will certainly look into it further. In our relations with all countries, we give proper priority to human rights and the rule of law, and we raise those issues with all countries we meet with.
Could I gently tell the Prime Minister that Liberal Democrat women not only pull their weight, but are perfectly ready and willing to punch above their weight?
I recently hosted the premiere of “The Honour Diaries”, a hard-hitting film about the honour culture and what can be done to girls and women in its name. I know that issues of female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage are hugely important to my right hon. Friend, so will he please consider viewing the film and showing it at the girls summit on those issues, which he is hosting in July?
First, I thank the hon. Lady for the work she does, particularly on women in enterprise with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which is vital. The point I was making is merely that I know that all parties in this House want greater gender equality in terms of representation, presence in Government and the rest of it, and all parties have made progress. My party has made progress, but there is more that we want to do.
On the specific concerns about FGM and preventing sexual violence in conflict, we are taking huge steps this year in raising the profile of those issues, and I pay tribute to the leadership shown by the Foreign Secretary. As a country that has met the target of 0.7% of GDP going in aid, we are able to push this item right up the agenda, which we will do during the course of the year.
Q10. Yesterday, Ukrainians in Scotland wrote to Alex Salmond expressing disgust and astonishment at the First Minister’s statement that he admired President Putin. Will the Prime Minister support the Scottish Ukrainian community and Labour in condemning those statements in support of a regime that oppresses its own minority groups and silences its critics? (903742)
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Lady. I think that what Alex Salmond said was a major error of judgment and that all of us in this House should be supporting the Ukrainian desire to be a sovereign, independent country and to have the respect of the international community and party leaders for that ambition.
This morning, I met Joe’s Jumpstart, a charity campaigning for defibrillators in schools. It is excellent news that the Government are making progress on that. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate North Lincolnshire council, which has worked with my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and me and is this year committing £75,000 to a programme of up to 50 community public access defibrillators, which will save lives?
That sounds like an excellent campaign. We have, as a country, taken a lot of steps forward in making sure that that sort of equipment is more readily available, because if people who have suffered a heart attack are found quickly, in the golden minutes or golden hour after it strikes, their lives can be saved. It sounds like an excellent idea and I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to North Lincolnshire council.
Q11. Over the past 12 months, the use of food banks in Knowsley has increased by 93%, and social landlords report that rent arrears have gone up by 8.4%. Does the Prime Minister accept that the Government’s own policies are driving up debt and poverty in places like Knowsley? (903743)
What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that the best route out of poverty is work, and we should welcome the fact that there are 1.5 million more people in work. Looking at the figures, of course, yes, he is right that food bank usage has gone up, not least because food banks are now properly advertised and promoted, not only by Jobcentre Plus but by local authorities.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants to deal in facts, the OECD has shown that the proportion of people struggling to buy food in the UK has actually fallen since before Labour’s great recession. I know that Opposition Members want to make this argument about poverty and inequality in Britain, but the statistics do not back them up. Inequality has fallen compared with when Labour was in office; there are fewer people in relative poverty, and fewer children in relative poverty. The picture Labour Members want to paint—because they cannot paint one of an economy that is not growing, or one of people who are not getting jobs—is wholly false.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. Recent figures showed that manufacturing was one of the faster-growing sectors of our economy, which I welcome, but what the Chancellor said so powerfully in his Budget is that we are not resting on our laurels or saying that the job is done. There is more work to address the fundamental long-term weaknesses of the British economy: we need to manufacture more; we need to export more; we need to save more; and we need to invest more. Unlike the Labour party, we have policies that promote all those things.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Has the Prime Minister seen the survey showing that two thirds of local councils are either dimming or cutting their streetlights at night? Does he think that women are feeling safe in their local communities at night under his Government?
I have, like all hon. Members who take part in election campaigns, been lobbied on this issue on both sides of the argument. It is an issue for local determination. I want to see good street lighting, but we should also listen to the arguments from the police and others about the effect that this has.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor on the long-term economic prosperity that has come forward. In areas such as St Albans, barely one house is worth under £250,000. Can I make a plea through the Prime Minister that we consider stamp duty thresholds around that limit to help young people to get on the housing ladder?
We are very happy to look at the issues that my hon. Friend raises, but the weapon that we have used to try to help young people who do not have rich parents but who can afford mortgage payments is Help to Buy, because it helps them to get together a deposit of 5%, rather than a 15% or 20% deposit. Labour Members are shouting about this; they should be welcoming this scheme, which is expanding aspiration and growth in our country. That is what they should be promoting and that is the approach that we will take.
I have to inform the House that I have received the following letter from the Clerk of the House:
“Dear Mr Speaker,
I write to inform you that I have indicated to Her Majesty The Queen that I wish to surrender my Patent as Clerk of the House at the end of August this year. I shall then have served the House for 42 years, over eleven Parliaments, and for the last decade at the Table.
As Clerk of the House I have been fortunate indeed to have the best job in the service of any Parliament—indeed one of the best jobs in the world.
I have been lucky enough to have been involved in most of the innovations in the procedure and business of the House over the last ten years. Whatever the vicissitudes of Parliamentary life, and whatever brickbats may be thrown at it, I can truly say that the House now is a more effective scrutineer of the executive, and more topical, relevant and independent-minded, than I have ever known it.
As Chief Executive of the House Service of some 2,000 staff I have had the great privilege of leading a remarkable group of talented people, deeply committed to the House and, whatever their role here, all rightly proud of being stewards of the central institution in our democracy.
That commitment and pride has been a feature of working life here for as long as I can remember; but in recent years it has been coupled with increasing levels of professionalism and teamwork and an ever clearer focus on delivering the services required by the House and its Members, as well as reaching out, through education and information, to the world beyond Westminster.
I am so grateful to have had, throughout my service, and especially over the last three years, the support and friendship of Members on all sides of the House, and especially of the occupants of the Chair, as well as the happy camaraderie, support and counsel of my colleagues at all levels.
I have spent much of my career seeking to make the House and its work, and the work of its Members, better understood by those whom it serves: the citizens of the United Kingdom. For I believe that with understanding comes valuing, and with valuing comes ownership. And our citizens should feel pride in the ownership of their Parliament.
The House of Commons, across the centuries, has never expected to be popular, and indeed it should not court popularity. But the work it does in calling governments to account, and its role as a crucible of ideas and challenge, deserves to be better known, better understood, and so properly valued. So too does the work of individual Members: not only working for the interests of their constituencies and constituents, but often as the last resort of the homeless and hopeless, the people whom society has let down. This is a worthy calling, and should be properly acknowledged and appreciated.
This House is the precious centre of our Parliamentary democracy; and with all my heart I wish it well.
That spontaneous reaction—
It may be unparliamentary, but it bears eloquent testimony to the esteem in which Robert is held.
In myself acknowledging the wisdom and dedication that the Clerk and Chief Executive of the House has demonstrated, I know that colleagues will wish me to assure them that there will be an opportunity to pay the traditional tribute to the Clerk at a later date. I should also mention, for the convenience of the House, that I shall naturally put in place a competition for the appointment of the Clerk’s successor.
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the use of stop-and-search powers by the police. As I have told the House before, I have long been concerned about the use of stop-and-search. Although it is undoubtedly an important police power, when misused it can be counter-productive. First, it can be an enormous waste of police time. Secondly, when innocent people are stopped and searched for no good reason, it is hugely damaging to the relationship between the police and the public. In those circumstances it is an unacceptable affront to justice.
That is why I commissioned Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to inspect every force in England and Wales to see how stop-and-search powers are used, and it is why last year I launched a consultation to ensure that members of the public, particularly young people and people from minority ethnic communities, could have their say.
Today I am publishing a summary of the responses to the consultation and placing a copy in the House Library. The consultation generated more than 5,000 responses, and it was striking that those on the receiving end of stop-and-search had very different attitudes from those who are not. While 76% of people aged between 55 and 74 thought that stop-and-search powers are effective, only 38% of people aged between 18 and 24 agreed. While 66% of white people thought that stop-and-search powers are effective, only 38% of black people agreed.
The findings of the HMIC inspection were deeply concerning. The inspectorate reported that 27% of the stop-and-search records it examined did not contain reasonable grounds to search people, even though many of these records had been endorsed by supervising officers. If the HMIC sample is accurate, more than a quarter of the 1 million or so stops carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 last year could have been illegal. This is not the only worrying statistic. Official figures show that if someone is black or from a minority ethnic background, they are up to six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if they are white, and only about 10% of stops result in an arrest.
In London, thanks to the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, changes to stop-and-search show that it is possible to reduce the number of stops, improve the stop-to-arrest ratio, and still cut crime. Since February 2012, the Metropolitan police have reduced their overall use of stop-and-search by 20%, and they have reduced no-suspicion stop-and-search by 90%. In the same period, stabbings have fallen by a third and shootings by 40%. Complaints against the police have gone down and the arrest ratio has improved.
I want to see further progress in London and across the whole of England and Wales. I can therefore tell the House that I intend to revise Police and Criminal Evidence Act code of practice A to make it clear what constitutes
“reasonable grounds for suspicion”—
the legal basis on which police officers carry out the vast majority of stops. The revised code will emphasise that where officers are not using their powers properly, they will be subject to formal performance or disciplinary proceedings.
HMIC’s study on the use of stop-and-search revealed that more than half the police forces in the country are ignoring the requirement set out in Police and Criminal Evidence Act code of practice A to make arrangements for public scrutiny of stop-and-search records. This is an important duty that should empower local communities to hold police forces to account, so I have written to all chief constables and police and crime commissioners to tell them to adhere to the code. I have told them that if they do not do so, the Government will bring forward legislation to make this a statutory requirement.
Earlier today, I commissioned Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, to review the national training of stop-and-search with a view to developing robust professional standards for officers on probation, existing officers, supervisors, and police leaders. I have asked the college to include in this work unconscious bias awareness training to reduce the possibility of prejudice informing officers’ decisions. As part of that review, I have also asked the college to introduce an assessment of officers’ fitness to use stop-and-search powers. I want this to send the clearest possible message: if officers do not pass this assessment, if they do not understand the law, or if they do not show they know how to use stop-and-search powers appropriately, they will not be allowed to use them. In order to save as much time as possible, I have asked my officials in the Home Office to work with chief constables and police and crime commissioners to explore the possibility of recording information on the use of stop-and-search via the new emergency services network.
In addition to all these changes, I can tell the House that this summer the Home Office and the College of Policing will launch a new “best use of stop-and-search” scheme. This scheme already has the backing of the Metropolitan police—the biggest user of stop-and-search in the country—and today I have written to all other police forces in England and Wales inviting them to sign up. Forces participating in the scheme will record the outcome of stops in more detail to show the link, or the lack of a link, between the object of the search and its outcome. This will allow us to assess how well forces are interpreting the
“reasonable grounds for suspicion”
they are supposed to have in order to use their stop-and-search powers in accordance with law. The scheme will also require forces to record a broader range of outcomes, such as penalty notices for disorder and cautions. This will allow us better to understand how successful each stop and search really is.
In order to improve the public’s understanding of the police, forces participating in the scheme will introduce lay observation policies, which enable members of the local community to apply to accompany police officers on patrol. The scheme will also require forces to introduce a stop-and-search complaints “community trigger” whereby the police must explain to the public how stop-and-search powers are being used where there is a large volume of complaints.
Forces participating in the scheme will make it clear that they will respect the case law established in Roberts by using no-suspicion stop-and-search when it is “necessary to prevent incidents involving serious violence”, rather than just “expedient” to do so. They will raise the level of authorisation to a chief officer and that officer must reasonably believe that violence “will” take place, rather than “may”, as things stand now. This will bring no-suspicion stop-and-search more into line with the stop-and-search powers under section 47A of the Terrorism Act 2000, and I hope it will reduce the number of no-suspicion stops significantly. The scheme will also require forces to limit the application of no-suspicion stop-and-search to 15 hours. It will also require them to communicate with local communities in advance and afterwards, so residents can be kept informed of the purpose and success of the operation.
In addition to these changes, in order to improve transparency and accountability, we will add stop-and-search data to the Government’s hugely successful and popular crime maps at www.police.uk. I have also asked Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary to include the use of stop-and-search in HMIC’s new annual general inspections, which begin towards the end of this year. I have commissioned HMIC to review all other police powers similar to stop-and-search, including section 163 of the Road Traffic Act 1988, with a view to eliminating any unfair or inappropriate use of those powers.
The proposals I have outlined today amount to a comprehensive package of reform. I believe they should contribute to a significant reduction in the overall use of stop-and-search, better and more intelligence-led stop-and-search, and improved stop-to-arrest ratios. But I want to make myself absolutely clear: if the numbers do not come down, if stop-and-search does not become more targeted, if those stop-to-arrest ratios do not improve considerably, the Government will return with primary legislation to make those things happen, because nobody wins when stop-and-search is misapplied. It is a waste of police time. It is unfair, especially to young, black men. It is bad for public confidence in the police. That is why these are the right reforms and why I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for early sight of the statement.
It is four years since the Equality and Human Rights Commission report described serious problems with the way stop-and-search was being used, describing disproportionate and inefficient use of stop-and-search and raising concerns about racial discrimination, because we know that, as the Home Secretary herself said, young people from ethnic minorities are six times more likely to be stopped. Since then there has been strong support across the House for reform, and it is welcome that the Home Secretary has finally come forward with proposals, but these proposals are extremely limited. They do not match up to her previous promises and they do not go far enough.
We all agree that the police need to have powers to stop and search individuals suspected of crime or to prevent a serious threat. Officers have to deal with serious problems such as teenagers in gangs carrying knives and organised criminals carrying guns or stolen goods or dealing deadly drugs, and intelligence-led targeting of suspected criminals helps to cut knife crime and youth murders. The right hon. Lady and I agree that too many searches, however, have not been targeted at all. Last year there were a million stop-and-searches; of those, only 10% led to an arrest. That means hundreds of thousands of stops and searches led only to resentment.
The Home Secretary and I agree that resentment creates barriers between communities and the police, particularly in ethnic minority communities that are most affected. That is bad for the innocent people who are regularly and unfairly stopped, bad for the police because it is an expensive waste of time, and bad for community safety because it undermines the very relationships we rely on for policing by consent.
The Home Secretary has powerfully described the problem, but four years on her proposals are very limited. They are welcome but they do not match the scale of the problem that she herself has described. A new assessment for police officers using stop-and-search is sensible and welcome. Revising the code of practice is fine, but it is not clear why she could not have done that straight after the EHRC report four years ago. Commissioning the College of Policing to review training is sensible, but she could have done that last July. A new “best use of stop-and-search” scheme that sounds very sensible will be only voluntary.
What about the things that we called for? Why is the Home Secretary not banning the use of targets given to police officers to stop and search a certain number of people? Why will she not put the guidance on race discrimination on a statutory basis? Why will she not insist that all forces abide by case law, rather than some? That is what she called for five months ago. She wrote to the Prime Minister in December saying that she wanted to change the law on section 60 stop-and-search
“so that the test for the power’s use is ‘necessary’ and ‘expedient’”.
We agreed, but instead all she is introducing is a voluntary scheme. She said then that she would raise the authorisation to a senior officer and strengthen the test for using the powers. We agreed. Instead, she has a voluntary scheme that forces do not even have to sign up to. Her plans have been frisked of serious substance and we need to know why the Home Secretary has backed down.
The right hon. Lady’s advisers have blamed regressive attitudes in No. 10, but why has she listened to them? She was right and they were wrong. These proposals are too weak and the Home Secretary has given in. Why is the Prime Minister ignoring the voice of ethnic minority communities? Why is the Prime Minister ignoring the impact on good policing, and why is he blocking sensible reform? Why is the Prime Minister not listening to his Home Secretary?
That was a disappointing response from the shadow Home Secretary, but it was characteristic of her. She complains that we are not going far enough and seems to imply that Labour would like to go further on stop-and-search, but perhaps I could remind her of some of the facts.
When Labour was in power, overall stop-and-search powers were not curbed; they were extended. Perhaps she has forgotten the stop-and-search powers introduced by the Terrorism Act 2000—powers extended by her Government and limited by this Government. When Labour was in power, section 60 powers were not curbed; they were extended. Has she forgotten the decision to extend the reasons for the police to be able to use section 60, the extension of the time limits for section 60, or the decision to reduce the rank of the authorising officer from superintendent to inspector for authorising section 60—powers extended by her Government and now limited by this Government?
When Labour was in power the PACE codes of practice were not strengthened; they were weakened. Has the right hon. Lady forgotten the date when breaching the PACE codes ceased to be a disciplinary offence? That date was April 1999, when her party was in power. Checks and balances were weakened by her Government and strengthened by this Government. When Labour was in power, no-suspicion stop-and-search did not go down; it went up. Section 60 stops went from fewer than 8,000 in 1997-98 to 150,000 in 2008-09, but down to 5,000 last year. [Interruption.] Stops under the Terrorism Act went from 32,000 in 2002-03 to 210,000 in 2008-09, but down to zero last year. No-suspicion stop-and-search was up under her Government but down under this Government.
When Labour was in power the overall use of stop-and-search did not fall; it went up from just over 1 million in 1997-98 to more than 1.5 million in 2008-09 and down to 1 million last year, so overall stop-and-search under the right hon. Lady’s Government went up and it has gone down under this Government. The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), a former policing Minister, was commenting from a sedentary position earlier. Speaking in 2008, he boasted: “We have increased stop and search powers”.
In 2007, when the Home Affairs Committee recommended:
“Alternatives to stop and search that might help the police engage better with young people should be considered”,
Labour’s Home Office replied, “We disagree.” Let us not rewrite Labour’s history when it comes to stop-and-search.
This is a serious subject. It is about the relationship between the public and the police, and it is about police time. The right hon. Lady mentioned a few issues to which I will turn. She mentioned the EHRC report from four years ago and seemed to imply that there had been no Government action since then. In fact, I have been working with HMIC, the Association of Chief Police Officers, chief constables and, in particular, the Metropolitan police since I became Home Secretary. I refer to my earlier point that the powers were extended under the right hon. Lady’s Government and have been reduced and limited under ours.
The right hon. Lady asked about the issue of officers having targets to stop and search people. I am clear that that is entirely unacceptable, and in my letter to chief constables I have told them that any such targets should be abolished.
The right hon. Lady asked about section 60 and why I was not introducing legislation now. She commented on the need to change the law so that stops can be used only when they are necessary to prevent incidents involving serious violence, rather than expedient. She obviously did not hear what I said in my statement and she obviously does not appear to know that the case law established in Roberts effectively does precisely that. There is no longer any need to legislate in that respect. The right hon. Lady commented on legislation to bring in action, but what we are doing will bring in action this summer, whereas legislation, as she well knows, would take a considerable amount of time.
The right hon. Lady talked about some of this just being voluntary. The Metropolitan police has signed up to it. I say to her that if she wants to see these changes and the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme extended, she should be encouraging the Labour police and crime commissioners in metropolitan areas to adopt these exact proposals, and I hope she will do just that.
I am afraid the right hon. Lady has just shown a complete lack of credibility on this issue as she carries on complaining and playing party politics. Whenever I have raised this subject in the past, she has said nothing about it. She only got interested in it when it appeared in the newspapers and she thought she could play party politics with it. She can play party politics, but I am interested in the national interest. I am clear that stop-and-search should be used less. It should be targeted and it needs to be used fairly. If that does not happen, we will bring back primary legislation. The difference between her party’s record and that of mine and this coalition Government is clear: we are serious about stop-and-search reform and she is not.
May I welcome these important reforms? I am well aware that many people in ethnic communities in my constituency have said that they would like to work more closely with local police, but that they have felt alienated by the current stop-and-search policies and powers. I think these important reforms will make a real difference to that relationship.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. That is precisely one of the problems. When stop-and-search is misused, it leads to a lack of confidence between the police and the public. If the police are willing to work with local communities to target the use of stop-and-search much more clearly and to inform them about why they are using it and what is happening as a result of having used it, we will see precisely the confidence my hon. Friend talks about.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement and endorse her plan of action, which is in keeping with a number of the recommendations of the Home Affairs Committee. She is right to single out the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who has made a huge difference to the way in which this has been accepted and adopted.
Two things, however, trouble me. First, did the police give a reason in the responses to the consultation as to why this disproportionality existed in the stopping and searching of black and Asian individuals? We have known about it the whole time we have been in Parliament—the Home Secretary is not saying anything new—but did the police advance a reason as to why it was happening? Secondly, I endorse what the Home Secretary said about getting a voluntary arrangement, but if it does not work, what is the timetable for legislation?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his tone and the approach he has taken to this matter. Once again, he has taken a very responsible approach, in contrast to that taken by those on his party’s Front Bench. The consultation responses have been placed in the Library. I think I am right in saying that it did not specifically ask the police that particular question, so it does not appear in the responses. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of some of the issues that the police have raised previously, including in relation to when the EHRC cases were raised.
I am not able to give the right hon. Gentleman a timetable at the moment. He will appreciate that as we approach the last Session of this Parliament, it is harder to give timetables on such matters, but I am clear that if the voluntary code does not work we will introduce primary legislation.
I thank the Home Secretary for her statement and welcome in particular her commitment to a wider legislative review. Police powers in the Road Traffic Act 1988 are also disproportionately used to target young black men in cars. Does the Secretary of State agree that reforming stop-and-search culture and restoring the faith of black and minority ethnic groups in the system will be a process and not a single legislative event?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming the wider work I have commissioned from HMIC. She is absolutely right. I have announced a package of proposals today. Obviously, we have to see those being taken up by forces. This is about a process, and it is about changing attitudes in the way my hon. Friend has described as so necessary.
The Secretary of State will be aware that after the riots, the victims panel set up by the Government targeted section 60 blanket notices as the root cause of stop-and-search. I was also grateful to be able to serve on the review set up by HMIC. I say to the Secretary of State that this will require legislation. I welcome the progress she has made, but section 60 came in through legislation and we need to change it through legislation.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman not only for the explicit work he has mentioned, but for raising the issue over the years during his time in this House. The Roberts case has established case law in relation to the interpretation of section 60, and that makes it clear that there must be necessity rather than just expediency.
I congratulate the Home Secretary on her statement and her work to control these important but overused and discriminatory powers. More than 500,000 stops are drugs-related, but 93% of those stopped did not have anything illegal on them. Does she agree with the Runnymede Trust and StopWatch that heavy-handed policing of the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use is damaging community relations?
My hon. Friend and I have had discussions on these matters in the past and we take a slightly different approach to drugs and dealing with them. The Government have a very clear drugs strategy. Where he is right is that when there is a stop-and-search of somebody who is innocent and there are no reasonable grounds for suspicion or purpose behind it, it engenders exactly that distrust and lack of confidence. That is why targeting it more carefully, and changing and making absolutely clear what reasonable grounds for suspicion are, will help to address the issue.
Is not the crux of the matter that a law-abiding white person is unlikely to feel that he will be subject to stop-and-search, but that that is not likely to be the position of a law-abiding black person? May I also tell the Home Secretary that in my first Parliament, which was a long time ago, Labour passed legislation to ban for the first time any form of racial discrimination? I was very proud to support that law.
The hon. Gentleman has more experience in this House than me in terms of the number of years served. The first issue he raised is absolutely one of the problems. I attended a public meeting held by the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) in the House of Commons, when she brought people from black and ethnic minority communities to the House to talk about their experience, and they very forcefully made clear to me what that experience was. I more recently met a group of young students from a school in Wandsworth who were very clear about the impact stop-and-search has on their attitude towards the police. Their assumption is that it will happen to them, whereas, as the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) says, the figures show that the assumption of a young white male is that it will not happen to him.
I warmly welcome the package announced by my right hon. Friend. It is wide-ranging, long-needed and, as has been said, in line with what the Home Affairs Committee has been saying for a long time. Does she share my hope that it will take some of the controversy out of stop-and-search, and that in future there will be a consensus whereby stop-and-search is used effectively in the interests of protecting the public and that it will recognised in all quarters as such?
I absolutely agree. We need to restore the public’s confidence in stop-and-search, but all the evidence —as we are already seeing from the steps taken by the Metropolitan police and one or two other forces—is that when the power is targeted and used effectively and well, not only is it more effective in its purpose of protecting the public, but the public have greater confidence in it.
For many people, the critical issue is that if I am stopped by a police officer, I am treated as a nice middle-class, middle-aged lady and our relationship is very positive, but young people very often do not have that experience. What will the Home Secretary do to make sure that police officers share the experience of the communities they police so that there is not the tension that very often exists between police officers and young men, particularly young black men on the street?
We intend to introduce policies at a local level that will enable members of the public to apply to go on patrol with the police, and to talk to the police about what they are doing and their experience. Crucially, training not just of new police officers coming through, but of existing officers is of course key to this, which is why what I am asking the College of Policing to do is so important. As I have said, it should be clear that if police officers do not know how to use the power properly, they should not use it.
With the utmost respect to the Home Secretary, may I put on the record my concerns about some of the proposals? I suggest that one thing that is lacking is a change to PACE that would allow officers who stop somebody with serial offences of carrying weapons or drugs to use that previous criminal record as grounds for a search. Those grounds are specifically banned under PACE at the moment. If the power is about targeting real criminals, we need to make sure that it helps police officers to go after the real criminals, as well as perhaps making it harder for them to go after those who are not committing crimes.
I recognise that my hon. Friend, as a special constable, has particular experience in these matters. I will reflect carefully on his comment. I want to reiterate that I accept that stop-and-search is a very important power. What is crucial is to make sure that it is used properly, because if it is not used properly but is misused, then it falls into disrepute.
No one can excuse the abuse of stop-and-search powers, but does the Home Secretary accept that the Security Service believes that it cannot move effectively against organised crime without the proper and appropriate use of stop-and-search? Will she therefore assure the House that her proposals will not undermine the safety and protection of the community?
Yes, I can. I am absolutely clear that this is an important power, but it is an important power that should be used properly and effectively. I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he asks for by again citing the experience that the Metropolitan police has already had: it has reduced its no-suspicion stop-and-searches by 90% and its overall stop-and-searches by 20%; yet stabbings and gunshot crimes have actually fallen over the same period. It is therefore possible to use this important power more effectively than it is being used at the moment.
I thank the Home Secretary for her announcement. She will recall that we recently met a young man who has been stopped 50 times in the past five years, from the ages of 13 to 18. That state of affairs just cannot continue. The last time he was stopped he was collecting some milk for his mum. I welcome the announcement, but I say to the Home Secretary that I thank God my children are not stopped regularly, because I would have a sense of total desolation and alienation if that happened to them.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The testimony of that young man really brought home to me both the extent to which the misuse of stop-and-search can alienate people, and the problems that people from particular communities, such as that young black man, have experienced over the years. What was distressing was his assumption that, “It will happen to me because I am black.” That is appalling and must not be the case, which is why the reforms are so important.
The Home Secretary will be aware that concern about stop-and-search in urban communities goes all the way back to the 1980s and the original Brixton riots. Given that successive Governments have failed to act, she gets some credit from some of us for taking things as far as she has, but there is no single issue that poisons relationships between urban communities and the police more than stop-and-search. We all heard her say that unless the ratio between stops and arrests gets better, there will need to be legislation. She must be aware that she will be held to that.
The Home Secretary’s statement will be welcomed by everyone who believes in fairness, irrespective of the community they come from. She has taken a really common-sense approach. She mentioned community involvement in the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme. Will she outline in a little more detail the mechanism for formal engagement between the police and communities?
There are two elements of the extra community involvement that we are introducing. One is the requirement that forces will have policies at local level to enable members of the community to apply to go out on patrol with them, so that they can see what is happening and can comment on that. The other is the new community trigger in relation to complaints. We will work with forces to ensure that there is a process, such that if there has been a considerable number of complaints about the use of stop-and-search in an area, the police will need to engage with the community about it.
I want to see what is anyway supposed, under the code of practice, to be there, which is that police forces are working with their communities—talking to them about where particular powers are used, and explaining how those powers are targeted—so that police forces can get community buy-in from the very start.
The Home Secretary’s comments are very welcome. One of the big issues in my constituency and around the country is not the number of stop-and-searches, but the manner in which officers conduct them. I hope that the training will take into account schemes such as a “changing places” scheme that has been pioneered in Hackney. She has talked about the proposals being taken up voluntarily, and I hear her argument about that being quicker in the short term, but will she tell us how many forces have said that they will sign up?
In response to the hon. Lady’s last point, as I said in my statement, the Metropolitan police has signed up and I have written to every other force asking them to sign up. The police and crime commissioners in the major metropolitan areas, where the power is likely to be used to a significant extent, are of course Labour police and crime commissioners, and I entirely trust that Labour Front Benchers will encourage them to adopt such processes.
Does the Home Secretary agree that, beyond the PACE codes and top-down guidance, another layer of protection for the individual is the entrenched discretion in the office of constable? Whatever the PACE codes say and whatever she or chief constables say, any search is illegal unless the individual officer suspects the individual they search.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The figure in the HMIC survey showing that 27% of stop-and-searches did not have reasonable grounds was shocking. That is precisely why we will change the code of conduct—code A—under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to make absolutely clear what reasonable grounds of suspicion are.
As I have made clear, I want the number of stops to come down. The Metropolitan police has already been able to do that through the changes it has made. I want the stop-to-arrest ratio to go up. We will ensure that the training of officers is such that, with the other measures that I am taking, I expect precisely such changes to come through as a result of our reforms.
The figures given by my right hon. Friend on stop-and-search are frankly a stain on British policing. The vast majority of stop-and-search powers are exercised under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, and police officers are required to have reasonable suspicion before exercising those powers. Do not the figures indicate that, sadly, in a large number of cases it is nothing but the colour of the skin of the person being stopped that has caused the stop-and-search to happen?
I am sorry to say that my hon. Friend is right. It is clear that in a large number of cases, there were no reasonable grounds for suspicion. Given that a black person is six times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, one can only assume that it is the fact that the person is black that leads to the stop-and-search taking place.
It is absolutely disgraceful. Sadly, as I indicated in response to another hon. Friend, the feeling has been passed through to young people in black and minority ethnic communities that this is what happens and is, if you like, a fact of life. I want to change that and ensure that it is not a fact of life.
The charity Release published figures to show that the chance of being stopped and searched was seven in 1,000 for white people, 18 in 1,000 for Asian people and 45 in 1,000 for black people. One of the worst areas in the country for the stopping and searching of Asian people was Gwent, where they were six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Will those disparities be obvious under her new plans, and will she identify and deal with them?
Absolutely. We will put the figures on stop-and-searches on the www.police.uk website, alongside the crime maps, which have proved to be successful and popular. The figures that the hon. Gentleman has given for Gwent show the problem of disproportionality in the stop-and-searches that are being undertaken. I hope that he will play his role by encouraging the police in Gwent to sign up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme so that we can change behaviour there, as in other places.
I grew up in Belfast in the early 1970s and, even in the context of a live terrorism situation, there was widespread resentment of the use of random stop-and-searches, which led to the alienation of some parts of the community. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is the abuse of the power, rather than the power itself, that needs to be dealt with? Will she comment further on what she said about holding officers to account for their use of the power? Will she confirm that it is not just police areas that will be held to account, but individual officers?
I am happy to confirm that to my hon. Friend. He is right to say that this is an important power and that it is its abuse that causes the problem. It is the abuse of the power that brings it into disrepute. The revised code will emphasise that when officers do not use their powers properly, they will be subject to formal performance or disciplinary proceedings. The individual officer has to ensure that they are using the powers properly. If they are not, action will be taken against them.
The Home Secretary will be aware that the main reason for the Brixton riots was the notorious sus laws. Lord Scarman’s inquiry confirmed that and led to the PACE legislation. I am pleased to hear the announcement this afternoon, although I would have preferred further legislation. Given that young people in particular have been affected by stop-and-search, will she reassure me that there will be continuous monitoring of the use of this power? Will she confirm, as has been said by other Members, that people who abuse the power should be held accountable?
The use of the power will be monitored in a number of ways. As I have said, the figures will be on the website. We are introducing the requirement for extra information to be recorded so that it will be possible to monitor the extent to which stop-and-searches lead to a disposal, arrest or other action. We will then be able to look even more closely at how the power is being used. Getting that information will be an important part of the process.
Like many other people, I thank the Home Secretary for addressing seriously the misuse of stop-and-search powers, which is probably the worst form of legal racial abuse in our country, and for demolishing so effectively the arguments of the shadow Home Secretary by confronting her with the fact that Labour did nothing in office to stop the abuse. May I point out that there are Conservative Members who feel that legislative changes may be required? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that if the changes are not made, she will have no hesitation in coming back to the House and asking for primary legislation?
I give my hon. Friend that absolute assurance. However, as I said earlier, the situation has changed because of the case law that was set by the determination in the Roberts case. I am very clear that if I do not see change, I will be back with primary legislation.
As someone who secured a Westminster Hall debate on stop-and-search two years ago, I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments in as far as they go. In my constituency, there is undoubtedly huge concern about the misuse of stop-and-search powers, but the number of complaints to the police does not necessarily reflect the concern in the community. What does she plan to do to raise awareness among the people who are most often on the receiving end of this policing tool of how to make complaints and of the standards that they should expect when they experience it?
We are exploring how we can best get that message across. As I have mentioned, part of the package that we are introducing in “best use of stop-and-search” is that a significant number of complaints on the use of stop-and-search in an area will trigger a response from the police. We are looking at how we can best use various means of communicating with people, particularly young people, about the extent to which they can complain. As the hon. Lady and others will know from their experience, the sad fact is that because so many people accept that this is just what happens, they do not complain. When the power is used improperly, we want complaints to come through. We are looking at what information we can put out about how stop-and-search should be conducted. The point that the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) made earlier about the manner in which stop-and-search is undertaken is important and has been raised with me by young people. They say that if it is done with respect, they have less concern about it than if it is done in the usual way.
It is worth repeating that the number of people stopped and searched under the Terrorism Act 2000 was 32,000 in 2002-03 and 210,000 in 2008-09, and that last year the figure fell to zero. Does the Home Secretary agree that that makes the Conservative party, and not Labour, the real party of the reform of stop-and-search?
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement for reasons that have already been expressed. She says that the community trigger hinges on a large volume of complaints. Will she ensure that that does not become a working quota that must be met before a public explanation by the police is needed? Who will set the threshold for the trigger, and will it be locality sensitive, rather than force-wide? Will a public explanation be given if the number of complaints is short of the threshold, but there is a suggestive pattern of concern?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the new power has to be used carefully and properly so that it does not become a mechanistic process or something that is abused in any way. I want to see a situation where it does not have to be used because police forces talk to the communities in their locality in advance and ensure that they are involved in and understand the use of stop-and-search. We will look into exactly the sorts of issues that he has raised, such as whether the process will be locality sensitive and how it will be put in place, to ensure that it is effective in the places where it is necessary.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s action today and her invitation to all police forces to sign up to the scheme. Does she share my expectation that if a police force does not sign up to the scheme, it will owe it to its community to explain why it has not done so?
May I press the Home Secretary on the number of police forces expected to sign up, and on the time frame over which she will be monitoring this measure to decide whether legislation is needed?
I want all forces in England and Wales to sign up to the code, and I hope that Members of the House will do what they can to encourage their local police and crime commissioners and chief constables to do just that. As I indicated earlier, I will not set a timetable for introducing legislation, partly for the reasons I set out in response to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. I have long advocated intelligence-led policing, and this is a significant step along that road. Does she agree that the amendments to PACE code A—which are statutory because PACE code A is a statutory instrument—will represent real change for the vast majority of stop-and-searches, and that her approach on section 60 stop-and-searches replicates what has happened with stop-and-searches under the Terrorism Act 2000, where we have seen a reduction to nought without primary legislative change?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and it is a pity that everybody seems to have ignored or missed the point about the importance of PACE code A and the impact that it has on forces. That is why it is so important that, as I said, we will be amending that code in a number of ways, particularly to make it absolutely clear what are reasonable grounds of suspicion.
Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the tragedies of the misuse of stop-and-search powers is that it puts up barriers between the police and communities that themselves are often the victims of crime? In the process of consulting on this—I know West Mercia police has been consulting widely in my area with ethnic minority communities—police forces should be trying as hard to ensure that they address the concerns of communities about crime as they do about stop-and-search.
My hon. Friend is right, and I also hope that by addressing concerns about stop-and-search, people will see it being used more effectively to help deal with crime that has taken place in those communities. As he says, the problem is that when there is that alienation, often information does not come to the police that could be helpful to them in stopping those crimes or dealing with those committing them.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement, and particularly her praise for the enlightened leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe. He has done a brilliant job in London in turning round a difficult situation. We are seeking to transform the culture of the police force. One way that could be done is if at the pre-shift roster meetings held every day, the police inspector or sergeant who is briefing the constables going on the streets repeatedly reminds officers of their duty and of what they need to do to ensure they gain the trust of the public.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. That is an operational matter and it is for the police to decide how they undertake those briefings and the information they give to officers. However, he is right to commend Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe for the changes he has already put in place in the Metropolitan police, and I am pleased that the Met has signed up to the “best use of stop-and-search” scheme, so that we can see further changes still.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement and on so clearly highlighting the difference between the records of this Government and the Labour Government. Does she agree that it is entirely unacceptable for anybody to be stopped and searched on the basis of the colour of their skin?
As a serving special constable with the British Transport police, I warmly welcome the Home Secretary’s proposals. Which police force is best at stop-and-search, which has the best stop-to-arrest ratios, and how might they be involved in training other police forces? Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) about the lad who was stopped 50 times, can we ensure that such individuals are involved in the College of Policing and in devising training programmes, so that police constables have real life examples of where things have gone wrong, which would then be in their minds when they go out on the streets?
The most improved force, certainly in relation to stop-and-search, is the Metropolitan police force with the work that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe has been doing to change its approach to stop-and-searches. We have seen across the board that there is often good practice in pockets of forces. The first stage of the work that I have been doing with forces on stop-and-search was precisely to encourage the Association of Chief Police Officers—as the business leads were then under the aegis of ACPO—to spread good practice. However, it has been necessary to come forward with this wider package of reforms to ensure that best practice is spread. My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, and the more we can alert police officers to the impact of what they are doing by talking to people who have been on the receiving end, the more they will come to understand the problem.
National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement)
Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring a Bill to make further provision for the National Planning Policy Framework; and for connected purposes.
The planning community involvement Bill seeks to build on the initiatives in the Localism Act 2011 to give communities more of a say in planning decisions, and to amend the national planning policy framework. Despite having much to commend it and despite it being a much-needed simplification of planning law, that framework has still not got the balance right between the rights of developers and those of local communities. It is also not being properly implemented by some local authorities.
In a June 2011 guide to the Localism Bill, the then planning Minister stated that the purpose of the Government’s localism agenda—one I warmly welcomed —was
“to help people and their locally elected representatives achieve their own ambitions”.
Although I am delighted that the coalition Government have taken many steps in the right direction, including the assets of community value scheme, neighbourhood development plans and a number of measures, in reality many of our constituents—including those of Members from both coalition parties, and around the House—know that unwanted development is still being imposed on them, often with little chance to do anything about it.
Developers are still cherry-picking greenfield sites and building expensive multi-bedroom houses in areas that do not want and cannot support significant development. That is not what the country needs; we need more affordable homes in key areas and more social housing. Reform is needed to ensure that building happens where it is wanted and needed by communities and regions, and on brownfield sites first, not simply where developers will make money building homes that are out of the reach of the pockets of ordinary people.
These are sensible measures; they are not radical and this is not nimbyism. I do not propose to try to stop development everywhere, and I am certainly not trying to discourage the housing we need. The measures in my Bill are supported by organisations such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has suggested a number of measures, the Campaign for Real Ale and Civic Voice, and also by the Local Government Association and local councils. I hope that the Bill will start a debate about how we can reform the planning system to get it right as we approach the general election, which is now just a year away. In Leeds, many communities such as Cookridge, Bramhope, Pool-in-Wharfedale and Adel, are already facing huge increases in housing, including on green-belt land. That is at a time when many parts of the city and region are crying out for housing of the sort that we need, yet those sites are simply being land-banked and ignored.
There are also issues with housing targets. For example, Leeds city council is proposing to build 70,000 homes by 2028. That is the highest figure among all major UK cities, despite it having the lowest population increase of any major city since the 2001 census. It does not make sense. A local campaign group, Wharfedale and Airedale Review Development, has pointed out that if figures are calculated on the 2011 census, the figure should be only 48,000, yet a higher target is being imposed on local people. That is the situation in Leeds, but it is reflected around the country.
We also have permitted development rights for assets and local facilities that clearly involve a fundamental change of use, and the loss of that community facility. That can apply to community centres, local shops, post offices and pubs. It is great news that the Government have now responded on betting shops. It was clearly an absurdity to allow betting shops to go through without planning permission, and it is also absurd—and I speak in this regard as the chairman of the all-party save the pub group—that pubs can become supermarkets, solicitors’ offices or payday loan shops without having to go through the planning process and without any opportunity for the community to have a say.
The Department for Communities and Local Government says that that problem is solved by the assets of community value scheme and article 4 directions, but it is not. The ACV initiative is being undermined by the inadequacy of the planning system, and in many areas the Localism Act 2011 is being ignored. For example, recently in my constituency an application was made to build houses and a supermarket on a playing field, in an area where local schools do not have their own playing fields. Despite a campaign by the local Hyde Park Olympic legacy group and a pending asset of community value application, the application went through. That is scandalous, and my Bill would address that.
Some 350 pubs have been listed as ACVs, but how many have actually been saved? The answer is only a few. In London, the Campaign for Real Ale has pointed to several pubs—the Castle in Battersea is a heap of rubble, the George IV in Brixton is a Tesco store, and the Chesham Arms is an office with an unauthorised flat. The initiative is being undermined.
My Bill would abolish the right of developers to appeal. There has been an inequity between communities and developers for too long. A report by Savills estate agents shows that 75% of all planning appeals for large housing developments are allowed after local councils have originally voted them down. My Bill proposes the simplest and cheapest solution, which is to abolish the right to override local authority decisions by appealing to a distant planning inspector. That would be good news for the Treasury, because we could abolish the Planning Inspectorate, saving £50 million a year.
I acknowledge that we need new homes, but paragraph 49 of the national planning policy framework should be amended to demand that developers must still meet local policy objectives, such as where a local authority seeks to prioritise development on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, and sweep away the nonsense of councils being unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply.
My Bill would also drop the requirement in the NPPF that local authorities should allocate an additional 20% buffer of deliverable housing sites. Developers can cause a 20% buffer to be required, rather than a 5% buffer, by under-delivering housing, so they are manipulating the system.
My Bill would give councils the power to refuse applications on prematurity grounds. Local plans and neighbourhood development plans can often take a long while to develop. Developers know that and exploit it. With an increasingly transient population, we should stop focusing simply on local authority areas and having artificial targets set by the local authority—in the case of Leeds, they are wrong—and look at how local authorities can work together, rather than in isolation, to address the country’s housing needs and where we should be building homes.
We need an overhaul of the plans panels process, which is frankly a fig leaf. Plans panels are presented as a quasi-judicial process, but they break every norm of any fair or just process. In Leeds, they allow a lengthy presentation by the developer and then only three minutes for two individuals to speak against. We need a proper process, with an independent chair, that gives equal time to proposers and opponents of significant developments.
We need to do more to prioritise brownfield land, and my Bill would put a specific requirement on developers, as well as local authorities, to prioritise brownfield sites through controlling or phasing the order in which allocated sites become available for development. My Bill would also ensure that councils have the power to refuse applications on greenfield sites until such sites have actually been brought forward for development. Developers are deliberately not bringing such sites forward so that they cannot be considered, and then the developers can use the loophole to get planning permission.
The Government have had the common sense to deal with betting shops, and my Bill would do the same thing to stop the nonsensical conversion of assets of community value to uses that are clearly different, including those suggested by CAMRA. The ACV scheme was a good start, but our communities deserve more than simply a right to try to raise money to make a bid that can then be ignored. My Bill would do what the Localism Act 2011 should have done and bring in a genuine community right to buy. It would also tighten the legislation and guidance so that councils do not unreasonably deny communities the right to list local assets, as has recently and disgracefully happened in Leeds.
Ministers have made considerable improvements to make the planning system simpler and more accessible to the public—and to involve local communities—but they need to go further to achieve their ambitions. We need further reform as soon as possible.
Question put and agreed to.
That Greg Mulholland, Rosie Cooper, Mr Jim Cunningham, Jason McCartney, Stuart Andrew, Philip Davies, Martin Horwood, Chris White, Ian Swales, Mike Thornton and Dr Julian Huppert present the Bill.
Greg Mulholland accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 June, and to be printed (Bill 203).
Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993
I beg to move,
That this House approves, for the purposes of Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993, the Government’s assessment as set out in Budget 2014 and Autumn Statement 2013, combined with the Office for Budget Responsibility’s Economic and Fiscal Outlook (2014) and Fiscal Sustainability Report (2013), which forms the basis of the United Kingdom’s Convergence Programme.
I welcome this opportunity to listen to Members’ views on the information that will be provided to the Commission this year under section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. As in previous years, the Government will inform the Commission of the UK’s economic and budgetary position in line with our commitments under the European Union’s stability and growth pact. The Government plan to submit their convergence programme today, with the approval of both Houses.
The convergence programme explains the Government’s medium-term fiscal policies, as set out in the 2013 autumn statement.