House of Commons
Tuesday 17 June 2014
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
The Secretary of State was asked—
The FCO is playing a strong role supporting the 2014 organising committee. Our high commissions across the Commonwealth are also drawing on our contribution to London 2012 to ensure Britain makes the maximum impact from what I am confident will be another spectacular performance from Team GB.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the preparation of these games by the city of Glasgow and both the Scottish and UK Governments is a prime example of how well we all work together and how important it is that we remain a United Kingdom to ensure that 300 years of history, union and co-operation continue in the years ahead?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is another example of how Scotland has the best of both worlds. Scotland is the proud host nation of the Commonwealth games, but the UK is the host Commonwealth member state. We are working together on this very successfully. We are confident that the games will be a success and, of course, together in Team GB we have become a sporting superpower in the world. It is very important that we keep working together on sport.
Perhaps I should just remind my right hon. Friend that the constituent parts of the United Kingdom compete in their own right: there will be a Scottish team, a Welsh team, an English team and a Northern Irish team.
My right hon. Friend will be well aware that it is intended that there should be a service immediately after the Commonwealth games to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war. Can we be satisfied that my right hon. Friend and his Department will do everything to ensure that as many Heads of State from the Commonwealth not only visit the games but make themselves available for that service?
My right hon. and learned Friend makes a very important point. There will be many commemorations of the centenary of the first world war, including in Glasgow the week after the beginning of the games. There is every indication that that will be attended internationally and the FCO will encourage foreign visitors to come along.
2. What steps he is taking to support peace and security in Nigeria; and if he will make a statement. (904244)
The British Government fully support the efforts to combat terrorism in Nigeria. On 12 June, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary chaired a meeting with regional Foreign Ministers and representatives from the US, France and others to strengthen the international response. A package of measures was announced to support building peace and security in Nigeria.
It is obviously essential, as the Minister knows, that bilateral and international efforts concentrate on finding a long-term response to the problems caused by Boko Haram. Following that meeting, will the Minister indicate how the UK will work with our international partners to support the international effort that needs to be focused on this issue?
The hon. Gentleman raises an excellent point and I can confirm that the announcements we made after the meeting chaired by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary last Thursday specified offering direct tactical training and advice to the Nigerian and regional forces and strengthening the Nigerian Government’s capacity to deliver a co-ordinated and effective response, including support for an intelligence fusion cell. Importantly, we also increased our support for girls’ education, drawing, we hope, 1 million more children into education in northern Nigeria. In addition, we will increase assistance to Nigeria to ensure that services and infrastructure are provided in the medium to long term to withdraw the very root causes of the problem.
My hon. Friend raises an important part of resolving the challenges that northern Nigeria faces. That is why, the week after I went to Abuja to discuss with President Jonathan how the UK could be of assistance, I went to Cameroon to meet the Cameroon Government and assist them in continuing to strengthen our security co-operation. At the London meeting, we maintained the regional momentum by committing to implement a regional intelligence fusion unit and multinational taskforce patrols, as well as considering further focus on development, particularly empowering women and girls.
As other hon. Members have said, this is an important subject. May I press the Minister on regional co-ordination? Is he planning to speak further to other countries in the region? How can the UK make sure that all the partners are focused on the very significant challenges?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refocus on the importance of regional co-operation. At the meeting in the fringes of the end sexual violence in conflict conference last week, the Nigerian Foreign Minister as well as regional Foreign Ministers, including the Chadians and Nigerians, as well as representatives from multilateral institutions such as the African Union and the United Nations were all present to make sure that the thinking, the progress and the focus was all joined up—particularly on important regional issues such as shoring up the borders.
Nigeria is, in effect, two countries with an affluent south and a poor north that is part of a new front line of violent extremism in the western Sahel. Does the Minister agree that we need a robust security response? When the Foreign Affairs Committee looked at regional co-operation in our recent inquiry, we found a lack of clarity about where the responsibilities for the response lay. Could the Minister look at that?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the enormous diversity within Nigeria—now the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa, with parts of the country such as Lagos state growing at an extremely rapid rate. There is now, I think, a real focus both from the international community through the multilateral organisations and from the regional countries on ensuring not only that we do everything we possibly can to buttress and support the Nigerian Government in removing the security challenges of the northern part of Nigeria, but that we put in place long-term plans to remove the root causes of terrorism and build developmental and economic progress.
The original offer from the UK Prime Minister to President Jonathan, which I went to discuss with the President in Abuja, sets out four specific areas, including the use of the Sentinel aircraft, building capacity in the Nigerian military as well as for intelligence co-operation, interpretation and, indeed, putting resources into education into the northern parts of Nigeria under the UN safe schools initiative. We are working extremely closely with the Nigerian Government to make sure that the United Kingdom, France and the United States as well as the regional countries and the international multilateral institutions are doing everything possible to resolve the terrorist activities in the northern part of the country and to remove the root causes by making long-term economic and developmental progress.
My right hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the middle east and north Africa last discussed the matter with Israel’s chief negotiator on the middle east peace process, Tzipi Livni, on 12 June. We have been clear that reuniting Gaza and the west bank under a Government committed to peace is a necessary condition for resolving the conflict.
The Foreign Secretary has said that the United Kingdom’s continued support for the new Palestinian Government depends on their commitment to the principle of non-violence and acceptance of Israel’s legitimate right to exist. Does the UK’s continuing support for Israel also rest on the commitment to non-violence and the Palestinians’ right to a home of their own?
Long-standing recognition of Israel and support for its right to exist is evident in this country, but we want to see all sides in the middle east come together to agree a two-state solution that brings lasting security and peace to Israel and a sovereign, viable state for Palestinians. We will continue to press both sides to resume the negotiations, which are going through a pause at the moment, because time is running out to bring about that solution.
Does the Foreign Secretary believe that Hamas can currently be peace negotiators when only a month ago its Prime Minister called for the bombing of Tel Aviv?
Of course, our policy on Hamas is what it has been for a long time. We look to Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to accept previously signed agreements. We call on all those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage it to take these steps. It has not done so; it should do so. The new Government of the Palestinian Authority do not contain Hamas members. They have signed up to the Quartet principles, which we welcome.
The all-party group on Egypt was in Cairo over the weekend. We heard from the Foreign Minister the reassurance of Egypt maintaining its support for the long-standing peace agreement with Israel. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an essential pillar for going forward? Does he also agree with the view that, with all that is going on in the region, both the Israelis and the Palestinians would be unwise to miss the opportunity they have now? Unless they seek a proper negotiation and solution, the outlook for both is bleak if we cannot rekindle the middle east peace process.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said a moment ago, time is running out. Secretary Kerry, through his tireless work in the past year and a half, has created an opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians to succeed in negotiations on final status issues and on arriving at a two-state solution. Unless that opportunity, which is still open, is seized by both sides, the outlook will be very, very bleak within the next few years.
We deplore the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers. I discussed this on Sunday with the Israeli security Minister, Mr Steinitz. I will be talking to the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr Lieberman, later today. We again appeal for the safe return of the three teenagers.
I welcome the EU Foreign Minister’s statement, which condemned all extremism and all violence against civilians but welcomed Palestinian reconciliation. Is there any way in which the considerable economic ties between the EU and both Palestine and Israel can be used to encourage both parties back to the negotiating table?
For Israelis and Palestinians, the outlook for economic ties with the whole of the European Union would be very bright indeed if a two-state solution could be agreed. We have been clear that an unprecedented offer of close economic ties is available for Israelis and Palestinians. That is part of the great prize of settling these issues and a further incentive to do so.
We receive regular reports from human rights organisations on the treatment of vulnerable groups and the risks faced by human rights defenders in Honduras. Since December, Her Majesty’s ambassador has made three official statements highlighting our specific concerns, and has raised individual cases of reported abuses with the Honduran human rights ombudsman and the Attorney-General.
I thank the Minister for his response, but in a recent meeting arranged through Amnesty International a Honduran journalist told me that attacks on human rights defenders and journalists such as her are actually increasing. What further urgent steps will the Government take to press the Honduran Government to implement a proper national plan to protect human rights defenders and journalists, and to safeguard their human rights?
I am aware of the call by Amnesty International for a human rights action plan. Tomorrow, I shall travel to Geneva and meet the deputy United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. I will call on the UN to do more in Honduras, much along the lines recommended by Amnesty International.
Central African Republic
I look forward to visiting the Central African Republic as soon as practicable. In the meantime, we remain acutely concerned by the serious situation across the CAR. We will continue to work closely with the UN and international partners to strengthen the international response to the crisis in the CAR.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this important issue. I have met the interim President of the Central African Republic twice to discuss how the international community can best support efforts to restore peace and stability. The referral to the ICC, building on the work of the African Union, is a very significant step by the interim President. It demonstrates that the ICC is there to support African countries and African Governments when things go wrong. I also have to tell my hon. Friend that, very positively, at the end sexual violence in conflict summit last week, the African Union announced the launch of a pilot project in the CAR to respond specifically to the urgent needs of victims of sexual violence.
As the Minister will know, in conflicts such as those in central Africa, child soldiers are open to all kinds of physical, sexual and mental abuse. What are the Government doing to put pressure on those countries to stop the use of child soldiers in conflicts of that nature?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that important issue, which is of great interest to me personally. Last week, on the fringes of the ESVC summit, I held a very large and well-attended meeting with child soldiers—who described their personal experiences—along with excellent, hard-working non-governmental organisations such as War Child. The aim was to find a way in which the international community could work together to remove this scourge, and, in particular, to use the experience of countries that have achieved post-conflict successes, such as Sierra Leone—and the more recent progress that has been made in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to benefit those who are still suffering.
In the light of the Minister’s reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr Robertson), may I ask whether he agrees that it is the International Criminal Court, and possibly regional ICC sittings in Africa and, indeed, other parts of the world, that can deliver justice—and there can be no peace without justice—rather than the African Union regional court?
The International Criminal Court deserves our full and unconditional support. My hon. Friend has made the important point that the people who are responsible for crimes such as those that have been reported in the CAR and elsewhere must be brought to justice. I think that the move by the interim president is significant and welcome, especially as the CAR is not able to prosecute domestically, and further demonstrates the value that African countries ascribe to the ICC.
The GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign is now deployed in 144 countries in support of jobs and growth for the United Kingdom. We expect activity conducted in 2013-14 to deliver between £600 million and £800 million to the British economy, and the target for this financial year is £1 billion.
It is also interesting to note that the value of the top 50 brands in the UK has increased to £37 billion over the past year, and that some of that is attributable to the GREAT campaign. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the campaign has the support of all three main parties, and that the Government intend it to continue?
Having subjected the campaign to an independent assessment, we intend to commit ourselves to continuing it, and to increasing our support by 50% over the next two years. It is worth pointing out that trade activities related to the campaign have supported the export plans of more than 1,150 United Kingdom companies. By any measure, it is hugely successful: one might even go so far as to say that it is a great initiative.
All national campaigns need to be memorable, and emphasising the “Great” in Great Britain strikes the right note for this country and for my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating one company—Crockett & Jones, a shoemaker in my constituency—on exporting very high-quality products to markets all over the world, including the United States and Japan, thereby increasing the number of jobs in my constituency and improving trade for this country?
Having promoted, through the GREAT campaign, tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh, Lush cosmetics in Mexico City, British brands through The Beatles, and Bloomingdale’s in New York, I am more than happy to promote Crockett & Jones, and to pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the tireless work that he does on behalf of Northamptonshire shoemakers. There is, of course, no “one size fits all”, but I am sure that we can fit Crockett & Jones into our global campaign.
As the Minister sits in his tuk-tuk, he will know that one of the essential parts of this campaign is talking about British values. How would he define British values, and how is he going to face the Home Secretary, to tell her the campaign has been so successful and that so many people want to come to Britain that she cannot meet her immigration target?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, one reason why so many people from around the world wish to come to the United Kingdom is the excellent shape of the British economy, which is a direct result of the early action taken by this Government. He, like others, will no doubt be supporting our long-term economic plans.
The Chancellor and I will visit India shortly to meet the new Government. Our priorities will be to expand trade and investment, enhance our education links, strengthen co-operation on defence and security, increase collaboration on science and innovation, and build our people-to-people links through the UK’s 1.5 million Indian diaspora.
Will the Foreign Secretary prioritise speaking with the Indian authorities about the case of the ex-soldier Ray Tindall from Hull who, while working on a US pirate patrol vessel, was arrested for straying into Indian waters? As I understand it, the court case has been constantly adjourned. His family are desperate to find out when he will be returned to the UK.
We are constantly raising this issue. I have done so myself and the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), does so regularly. If it is not concluded, it will, of course, be a topic of conversation during my visit to India shortly. We hope that the court proceedings—the latest of which was, I think, scheduled for today—will be resolved soon. We must not prejudge what will happen in a court, but we will absolutely keep on top of this case.
Despite the concerns of some about Prime Minister Modi’s nationalist past, his record of delivering economic growth in Gujarat is undeniable—and is, indeed, in no small part the reason why he was elected in the hope that he could replicate that across India—but such rapid development must be sustainable. The Foreign Secretary did not mention climate change in his list of things he intended to discuss with the Indian Government. What can the UK do to encourage India to play a full and constructive role in forthcoming international climate talks?
The hon. Lady is right about the prospect of great economic progress. We do give great importance to trade and investment with India, and we are making good progress towards doubling bilateral trade by 2015, but she is also right that climate change is a very important issue. Our relationship with India is such that we need to discuss all global issues together, and that absolutely will include climate change. India will have a big role to play over the next 18 months in crucial climate change negotiations, so that will be on the agenda for our visit as well.
The current agreement with the US runs until December 2016. I expect my officials to begin substantive discussions with US colleagues about post-2016 arrangements later this year. The independent feasibility study on resettlement should be complete by early 2015.
My hon. Friend is assiduous in his commitment to the Chagossians in his constituency, but we need to be careful that we do not prejudice the outcome of the independent study, which has the full involvement of the Chagossians. I can assure my hon. Friend that the US is being kept informed, but the challenges to resettling these low-lying islands, which lack basic facilities and infrastructure, are very clear, as I saw myself in March. We will look at the report, however, and we will consider the range of factors—value for the UK taxpayer, long-term contingent liabilities and the defence requirements of DG to the UK and our allies.
Illegal Settlements: West Bank
I deplore the recent decisions taken by the Israeli authorities to expand the number of illegal settlements. The UK’s position on this is long standing: settlements are illegal—we neither support nor encourage trade, we make clear the risks to business, and we ensure all consumers can make their own choice through the labelling of goods.
In February, the Foreign Secretary said that the recent talks were the last chance for a two-state solution. Given the Netanyahu Government’s relentless expansion of the illegal settlements, which scuppered those talks, and the warning from Senator Kerry that Israel risks becoming an apartheid state, is now not the time for a recalibration of our policy towards Israel, beginning with the illegal settlements?
As the right hon. Gentleman knows and as I have just said, we are very clear about where we stand on settlements. But is the time right now for such a recalibration? I think the honest answer to that is no, because our efforts are geared towards a resumption of negotiations if it is at all possible. Secretary Kerry has said that there is a pause in the negotiations; we would like to see them revived. I think everything we do has to be consistent with supporting that, but we have made our views about recent settlements announcements abundantly clear.
What is my right hon. Friend’s assessment of how we can change the situation whereby Palestinian Arabs living in the west bank continue to be tried under martial law in the Ofer military court, whereas Israelis living there are subject to civil law?
Of course, this is a further continuing difficulty and it reinforces the case for these issues to be fully resolved, and for a final status settlement of these issues that brings about a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, there will constantly be the great variety of extremely troubling issues that are raised in this House.
Is not Britain’s role to get Israelis and Palestinians who believe in peace and a two-state solution working together and trading with each other, instead of campaigning for boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, which just drive people further apart? The Palestinians working at SodaStream are paid three times more than the average Palestinian, so boycotting such companies would actually hurt the very people they claim to be trying to help.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we do not encourage boycotts in any way. The British Government do not support boycotts or a de-legitimisation of Israel, but we do support, as did the last Government, labelling of products from illegal settlements in the west bank, and I think that is the right thing to do. But the hon. Gentleman is quite right that our emphasis is on bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, and this is a more important time than ever to try to do that.
It is certainly urgent. Does the Foreign Secretary believe that the public can have confidence in the labelling of goods from illegal settlements, or can the supply chain be sufficiently complex to ensure that the public do not have the information they may seek?
The evidence I have seen is that the guidelines on this are well observed, and work is going on on EU-wide guidelines. But of course, where there are serious problems with them, if my hon. Friend or others would like to bring that to our attention, I will investigate.
25. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that, to achieve a democratic solution, residents of East Jerusalem must be permitted to vote in the Palestinian elections—and that includes releasing Palestinian MPs who are held in administrative detention, and the free passage of movement? (904267)
Advances by terrorists are threatening the sovereignty of Iraq. Assad’s refusal to negotiate a political transition has led to the largest humanitarian tragedy this century and is exacerbating the terrorist threat. We are working closely with the United States and European and regional nations to try to bring stability, tackle terrorism and relieve humanitarian suffering.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the only two genuine democratic nations in the middle east—both Israel and Kurdistan in northern Iraq—face increased threat from terrorism: Israel through the recent kidnappings by Hamas, and Kurdistan through the activities of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on its border? What measures are the Government taking to assist these two democratic nations, and does my right hon. Friend not agree that softening our approach to Iran will exacerbate the problems of these nations, rather than help them?
Of course we work with other nations across the globe to counter terrorism, and the United Kingdom is absolutely relentless in its efforts to defeat terrorism all over the world. I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no softening of any of our policies in relation to Iran. We look to Iran to cease support for sectarian groups elsewhere in the middle east and to reach a successful conclusion to nuclear negotiations, but I believe that it is important to discuss such issues with Iran, and we need the ability to do so.
Having just returned from five days in Iran, I very much welcome the written ministerial statement on UK-Iran relationships. However, the events in Iraq have, for the first time ever, created a situation in which Saudi interests and Iranian interests have something in common, which is to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Is the Foreign Secretary doing anything to facilitate such a dialogue, and to bring those joint interests closer together?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. One thing that would be of enormous assistance in defusing many tensions in the middle east is an improvement in relations between Iran and many of its neighbours, including the Gulf states in general. I hope that that will become part of Iranian foreign policy, and will be responded to by others. We certainly encourage any movement in that direction.
21. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the new Egyptian Government? Does he agree that they will offer stability rather than instability, unlike the former Government, in their relationship with Israel, and particularly on the border with Israel? (904263)
We certainly hope that Egypt will enjoy a period of stability, but I must point out that stability is most likely to come from economic growth and from a steady opening up of political space, with human rights properly respected, so that Egypt can enjoy a democratic future as well as a stable one.
I recently visited Egypt and heard about its plans for parliamentary elections. In the Foreign Secretary’s contacts with Egypt, the President and other advisers, will he emphasise the importance of a strong Parliament that can hold the Executive to account to ensure that precisely the issues he has just mentioned move forward and that the people feel there is adequate representation in Parliament?
Basically, yes. It is of course for Egyptians to determine their own constitution, but the thrust of our advice to Egyptian leaders is very much in line with what the hon. Lady says. Long-term stability will come from accountability—from Governments being responsive to the people. That is true of any country in the world, particularly one that has been through a sequence of revolutions. So I do agree with what she says.
17. It was good to hear the Foreign Secretary condemn the abduction of three Israelis. Unfortunately though, Hamas, which is now part of the unity Government, declared the abduction to be a success. Will he further condemn the Hamas Prime Minister who, in April 2014, said:“Abducting Israeli soldiers is a top priority on the agenda of Hamas and Palestinian resistance.”We will not get peace with a unity Government who include people with such views. (904259)
Let me say again that the new Government of the Palestinian Authority contain no Hamas members and have signed up to the Quartet principles, but I absolutely condemn any encouragement to foment further tensions, including the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. That is exactly the sort of thing that obstructs a successful peace process and is presumably designed to do so. It is important that Hamas or anyone else desists from it.
Let me press the Foreign Secretary a little further on the subject of Iran. I welcome his announcement that the British embassy in Tehran will be reopened. Iran surely has a choice to make between being a stabilising and a destabilising force in an already volatile region, and Britain has a responsibility to try to ensure that Iran makes the right choice. Effective diplomatic links can surely assist in that endeavour. Will the Foreign Secretary set out his thinking on how engagement with Iran on tackling the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq could be used to help encourage a change of approach from Iran in relation to the conflict in Syria more broadly, which we all agree is intimately linked to the violence engulfing Iraq today?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I referred to this yesterday during my statement and in response to questions earlier: we would welcome, and we will press for, a wider change in the foreign policy of Iran. Nuclear negotiations are taking place now, and it is important that those issues are resolved between Iran and the rest of the international community. Iran has the capability to play a more positive role across the region. It has played, for many years, a divisive and sectarian role through supporting divisive and often terrorist groups in other parts of the region. We look to it to desist from that, and we will use the expansion of our bilateral relations to press for that as well as to encourage links between the peoples of our countries and to have a good understanding of each other’s positions.
Let me ask the Foreign Secretary specifically about the nuclear negotiations that are under way. As he well knows, the deadline of 20 July for agreeing a comprehensive nuclear deal is now fast approaching. Does he accept that it is vital, notwithstanding the renewed diplomatic engagement with Iran, that the United Kingdom continues to exert pressure on Iran in the coming weeks to make the necessary concessions to reach a final deal on that agreed international timetable?
Absolutely. Those negotiations are entering a particularly intensive phase as we come towards 20 July, which is six months after the commencement of the interim deal on the nuclear issue. We made provision in the interim deal for that deadline to be rolled over for another six months, but no plan has been made to do so at the moment. It is important that the negotiations make major progress before 20 July, and that will require a more realistic approach by Iran in the negotiations than anything we have seen in recent months.
With the election of President Poroshenko the Ukrainian people have sent a decisive signal of their support for reform and reconciliation, but illegally armed gangs continue to deny the citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk the opportunity to build a new future for their country. I urge Russia to cease support for those groups and to engage constructively with the Ukrainian Government.
I am grateful for that answer. What assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the impact of yesterday’s decision to freeze gas supplies to Ukraine on the prospect of improving relations between Ukraine and Russia, and between Russia and the rest of the EU?
We obviously regret Gazprom’s decision to do that. Such decisions damage the credibility of Russia in supplying energy elsewhere across Europe. It is another argument for the diversification of European energy supplies over the coming years to give greater energy security, not only to Ukraine but to many nations of the European Union. We support fully the role of the European Commission in trying to facilitate an agreement, and it will continue to work on this.
Given the fact that the Russians have recently switched off the gas to Ukraine, what does the Foreign Secretary make of the discussions that took place during the D-day commemorations between newly elected President Poroshenko and President Putin? Were they a waste of time?
It is never a waste of time for the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine to talk together. It was important that they did so, and I believe that they have since had a further conversation on the telephone. We encourage Russia to continue to talk bilaterally to Ukraine, but of course those talks have been damaged by the bringing down of a Ukrainian aircraft and the death of 49 people only a few days ago. That underlines the need for Russia to cease its support for illegally armed groups that are very seriously damaging the prospect of Russia and Ukraine working together.
18. Given that President Putin has acknowledged the outcome of the Ukrainian presidential elections, will the Foreign Secretary take up with his counterpart the fact that there are still weapons systems—tanks, rocket launchers and so forth—entering Ukraine that are coming from Russia?
Yes, absolutely. The arrival in Ukraine of three Russian tanks further underlines how Russia is allowing arms supplies to go to illegally armed groups in the south and east of Ukraine. Desisting from that will be fundamental to any understanding between the two countries, which it is in the interests of Russia to achieve.
Given the Gazprom decision of recent days of which the Foreign Secretary spoke a moment ago, will he set out what steps are being taken by the British Government along with our allies to continue to pressure Russia to engage more constructively with the Ukrainian Government in the light of what many will see as an aggressive and reprehensible act?
From across the European Union and from the United States pressure is being exerted on Russia to desist from supplying illegally armed groups, as I have said, and to ensure that they continue to talk to and work with President Poroshenko of Ukraine. That is a very strong message from across the western world and that work will continue, of course, over the coming weeks. We will discuss this among EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg on Monday and I believe that a strong and united message will come from that meeting.
19. I was a member of the OSCE who was fortunate enough to monitor that election in Ukraine. Does my right hon. Friend accept that it was a fair election in which the vast majority of those who wished to vote were able to do so and that this is an important building block to increase and enhance the stability of Ukraine so that it can move forward, so long as we can overcome the problems Russia is posing? (904261)
I thank my right hon. Friend and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House who took part in the election observation. The United Kingdom supplied a huge number of observers—10% of the total number—and these were well-conducted elections. The vast majority of Ukrainians were able to vote and they gave a clear and decisive result that should add to the stability of the country and the region.
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty
A successful transatlantic trade deal would be worth up to £10 billion a year for this country alone. Negotiations last month went well and we are now working with European and United States counterparts towards the next round in July with a view to securing an ambitious agreement in 2015.
In the conversations that Ministers from all Departments have with representatives of manufacturing, industry and other sectors from all parts of the United Kingdom, we emphasise the opportunities that would be available to them from a successful deal in the transatlantic trade and investment partnership. We are getting a strong, supportive response from all sectors of UK industry.
Arms Fair: London
I thank the Minister for that reply. My understanding is that last year the Government invited delegations to the DSEI arms fair from countries with poor human rights records such as Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and others. Will he assure the House that such countries will not be invited in future?
All countries have under the United Nations charter an inherent right to self-defence, but we judge any application for the export of defence materials from this country in the light of the consolidated criteria. When there is a risk that such exports would be used for internal repression or when such exports would be in breach of United Nations, international or EU embargoes, obviously we do not permit such exports.
I have announced to the House by written statement this morning that following discussions with the Iranian Foreign Minister we will be reopening our embassy in Tehran. Initially, that will be with a small diplomatic team, but it is an important step forward in our bilateral relations with Iran. In addition to discussing our common interests, we will continue to press Iran to reach a deal with us and the other nations of the E3 plus 3 on its nuclear programme and to promote stability in the region by ending its support for sectarian groups.
I welcome the visit of the Chinese premier to the UK this week. Does the Foreign Secretary agree that it is important that we continue to build a long-term relationship with China on the basis of our shared global interests as well as on the basis of trade? Trade is particularly important to businesses in my constituency and across the west midlands, where companies such as Jaguar Land Rover have been leading a surge in exports to China over the past two years.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That economic partnership is flourishing, as the Prime Minister’s visit to China in December showed. There are record levels of bilateral trade and investment, and UK exports to China were up 15% last year. China also invested more than £8 billion in the UK last year. Jaguar Land Rover is particularly to be congratulated on its fantastic export performance.
Mr Speaker, as you know, the next British European Commissioner will have to face scrutiny from the European Parliament before the nomination can be confirmed. Would it not be more appropriate for the British people to scrutinise that appointment first, through this House?
T2. Last year, the Palestinian Authority paid more than £60 million to Palestinians convicted of terror offences. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of that policy of financially rewarding terrorism? Is he aware of recent reports that the Palestine Liberation Organisation has been mandated by the Palestinian Authority to continue that awful practice on its behalf? (904235)
The Palestinian Authority is working very hard, as we want it to do, in its new incarnation and with its new members. It is committed to the Quartet principle of bringing about a lasting and peaceful two-state solution with Israel, and we look to it to do that. We expect all its actions to be consistent with doing that. We give considerable financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, and I know that the Department for International Development takes great care over the allocation and use of that aid.
T6. It took two years to bring the murderers of my constituent, Khuram Shaikh, to trial, owing to the close links between one of the suspects and the Sri Lankan President. The trial is now well advanced, but we have just learned that it might have to start again because the President is contemplating promoting the judge. For the sake of Khuram’s family, will the Minister work with his counterparts in Sri Lanka and press for the trial to run its course? (904239)
We continue to impress upon the Sri Lankan authorities the importance that we and the family of the murdered British national, Khuram Shaikh, attach to bringing those responsible to justice. They are in no doubt as to the seriousness with which we view these terrible events, and have assured us that they view them in the same way. We hope that, nearly two and a half years after this heinous crime took place, the accused will now face a fair trial that is free from political interference. The trial is now under way, and we continue to provide consular assistance to Khuram Shaikh’s family.
As I mentioned earlier, it will be of paramount importance that those elections, which are scheduled to take place within six months of the formation of the new Government, are free and democratic and that Palestinians throughout the occupied territories are able to take part in them. We will of course make representations to the Israelis and to the Palestinians about that.
T9. Given the far-too-regular incursions of Spanish ships into British territorial waters and the continuing long delays at Spanish border crossings, what further actions are Ministers taking to resolve the issue over Gibraltar? Will they give me a guarantee that a Minister will visit Gibraltar real soon? (904242)
In answer to the hon. Gentleman’s last question, I am hoping to visit Gibraltar again in the near future, and I remain in regular contact with the Chief Minister and the Gibraltar Government. We make protests to Spain in respect of every illegal incursion into British Gibraltar waters and, now that the deadline has passed, we are pressing the European Commission to take action to ensure that Spain respects her European responsibilities to allow the decent movement of people across the border, subject only to proportionate and fully justified checks.
T4. On a visit to Djibouti at the end of last year I saw the enormous investment that is going in there and the opportunities for trade and business links. What have the Government been able to do to reinforce the trade links between the UK and Djibouti, perhaps through UK Trade & Investment? (904237)
I know that my hon. Friend takes a keen interest in progress in Djibouti and the important UK-Djibouti links. He will be aware that we held a highly successful and well-attended Djibouti-UK trade and investment conference in London last year and there has been follow-up from that. We hope that will continue by taking UK companies to Djibouti, particularly in key economic sectors that are aligned with the priorities of the Djibouti Government.
Those of us who voted against the incursion into Iraq did so honourably on two main bases—first, there was no imminent threat to the United Kingdom, and secondly, the humanitarian problems that would be created and future discontent. How, therefore, can the Foreign Secretary now defend the actions of Tony Blair, who took us to war on a tissue of untruths?
All hon. Members on all sides of the House debated and voted honourably on that issue and we should respect the arguments made then and now on both sides. As I said to the House yesterday in the course the statement, we must await the outcome of the Chilcot inquiry before we try to pass judgment on those events, and we must concentrate for the moment on what we do now. I made it clear that we are not planning in these circumstances a British military intervention in Iraq.
T5. I welcome the announcement that our embassy in Iran is to reopen. In supporting improved relations between our two countries, we must not forget why the embassy had to close in the first place. It was because local security forces stood back and allowed a mob to storm the embassy and take it over. Has my right hon. Friend received any guarantees that this will not be repeated? (904238)
Yes; this is a very important point. As I set out in the written statement that I have issued today, our primary concerns when considering whether to reopen the embassy were that we had an assurance that our staff would be safe and secure, and that we had the confidence that they would be able to carry out their functions. The Foreign Ministry of Iran has given assurances. We will continue to discuss those issues in the run-up to the reopening of the embassy and they remain our paramount concerns.
In view of the rapidly changing circumstances in Iraq, and in view of the fact that the President of the United States has changed his policy a little, may we have continuing reports on the developing situation instead of relying on Question Time or a statement from the Foreign Secretary? I have had several e-mails in the past few days from women MPs in Iraq who are very concerned about their circumstances. What assurances can we give them?
I always try to keep the House thoroughly informed about a wide range of crises and I will do so on Iraq. If the right hon. Lady needs any specific information, she can contact my office in the Foreign Office. If she does that, we will supply all the information we can.
T7. Given the situation in Ukraine and the Russian military manoeuvres taking place, what support are we giving to NATO nations such as the Baltic states and Poland? (904240)
We are giving a great deal of support. My hon. Friend may be aware that we sent four Typhoon jets to take part in Baltic air policing patrols. Some of our soldiers have taken part in other exercises recently in the Baltic states. When we meet as NATO Foreign Ministers next week in Brussels we will discuss this and the further action that we can take to strengthen the credibility and the visibility of NATO’s commitment to collective defence.
T8. The Secretary of State referred to the pause in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but there has been no pause in the expansion of what he himself has described as illegal settlements. What is the point of something being illegal under international law if the international community is not willing to deal with the criminal breaking the law? Is not this softly, softly approach towards Israel failing to bring about peace and justice for the Palestinians? (904241)
No one has succeeded in bringing about lasting peace so far, but we have to continue to try to do so. The only way in which Palestinians will be able to enjoy what I think we all believe in here—a viable and sovereign state of their own—is through successful negotiations arriving at a two-state solution. All our actions are therefore consistent with promoting that.
May I turn the Foreign Secretary’s attention to the situation facing the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its neighbouring countries? There have undeniably been huge changes and improvements in the DRC and I commend him for his work on violence against women and rape as a weapon of war, but is he not concerned that last week there was an exchange of fire between Rwandan forces and the DRC, and that Rwanda still appears to have some military ambitions in that region? Will he put pressure on it to desist?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I can give him an assurance that we are heavily engaged from a diplomatic perspective in trying to support the international community in finding a resolution to the challenges that the eastern DRC has faced for far too long. To that end I met both the Rwandan Foreign Minister and Senator Feingold, the US special representative for the region, to encourage everybody to work together, both to find a lasting solution to remove the militia groups that operate in the eastern DRC, including the ADF and the FDLR, but also to find long-term solutions to the big problem.
We should welcome the resumption of diplomatic relations with Tehran and their normalisation, but is it not necessary to reassure our closest allies in the middle east that there are severe limits for the foreseeable future as to the kind of relationship that we can have with Iran? Will it not in fact be the kind of relationship that the west had with the Soviet Union during the cold war—diplomatic relations, trade and practical co-operation in specific areas?
There are limits, and it will start off with a small diplomatic team and we will seek to build that up in stages as relations develop, so it will be a small embassy to begin with. Of course, many difficult areas of relations will remain, including on the nuclear issue, on regional stability and on human rights in Iran, and we will not shrink from pursuing those issues just as strongly as we always have.
Further to Question 9, the Foreign Secretary will be aware of Prime Minister Modi’s belligerent comments about India’s relationship with Pakistan in the past. Will there be discussions on that relationship during his upcoming trip to India?
Of course, we will always discuss regional security issues, but we should welcome the invitation that Prime Minister Modi extended to other south Asian regional leaders to his inauguration, and the fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan responded so positively to that and attended the inauguration. That was the right way to start out, and we hope that policy will continue in the same vein.
On matters European, is there truth in the latest word coming out of Berlin that Chancellor Merkel is firming up in her support behind her preferred European presidency candidate? Where British Government influence upon her is concerned, was that decision assisted, in direct contradiction to the view of the Prime Minister, by the British Conservative MEPs voting to admit to membership of their group the ultra right-wing German Conservatives, who are the thorn in the flesh of the self-same Chancellor Merkel?
As the Prime Minister made clear, he regards the CDU/CSU as a sister party with whom we continue to enjoy close and positive relations. In respect of the proposals for the new President of the European Commission, we are of the view that it is important that the Commission is led by a man or woman who has energy, drive and a determination to take through an agenda of economic and political reform to face the serious challenges that Europe confronts, not least getting back to work the millions of jobless youngsters in Europe.
Has the Secretary of State emphasised to the Israeli Government that travel restrictions or other constraints that would prevent Ministers in the technocratic Government from meeting will mean only that they are unable to meet their responsibilities not just to all Palestinians but to the peace process?
Of course we want the technocratic Government of the Palestinian Authority to be able to function. They have committed themselves to the Quartet principles—that, to us, is a very important test—and so we want them to be able to function and to make decisions.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of which I have given notice to the planning Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Rushden Lakes is a retail and leisure development close to the towns of Irthlingborough and Raunds, which I represent. After a planning inspection concluded a year ago, we waited a long time for a decision by the Secretary of State when he called it in. Immediately as this Session of Parliament began, I tabled a written question to ask for the reasons for the delay and when the Secretary of State planned to announce the decision. On 11 June, I received a response from the planning Minister, dated 10 June, stating:
“The Department has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.”
I communicated this news, which indicated further delay, to my constituents.
The following morning, while I was in Parliament, I heard that the Secretary of State was on his way to east Northamptonshire. This clearly indicated a favourable decision and pre-empted the Department’s proper announcement. I further learned that journalists, local councillors from my constituency and others, including the Conservative parliamentary candidate for my constituency, had been invited to the event. Some had known about it for days, others perhaps for longer. The written answer dated 10 June then disappeared from the Parliament website and has been removed from TheyWorkForYou and other sources.
I am delighted that Rushden Lakes is going ahead, but I am disappointed by the way that I was misled and the discourtesy to my constituents, and concerned about the attempt to expunge this from the record. I would be grateful, Mr Speaker, for any advice you can give me on this matter.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. There are two issues: the answer to his written parliamentary question and the ministerial visit. On the first, I am not responsible for the content of answers, as a rule, but I remind the House, and particularly Government Front Benchers, of the words of the resolution of the House of 1997:
“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to disclose information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.
On the second point, I think it is generally reasonable for any hon. Member to expect that a Minister would inform him or her whenever a matter affecting that Member’s constituency is likely to be the subject of an official announcement, especially if an hon. Member has shown a specific and recent interest in the matter. That must, of course, be a matter for the Minister’s judgment, but I would hope that Ministers would incline towards inclusiveness whenever possible. I am sure that if the Minister feels, on reflection, that the hon. Gentleman is owed an apology on any count, it will be forthcoming. I know that the Minister is both an honourable and a courteous man. Perhaps we can leave it there for now.
Criminal Justice and Courts Bill
Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
New Clause 52
Procedure for certain planning challenges
‘Schedule (Procedure for certain planning challenges) contains amendments—
(a) that require leave of court to be obtained before certain planning applications may be made, and
(b) that set out a procedure for challenging costs orders made in connection with certain planning orders and decisions.’—(Mr Vara.)
This amendment introduces a new Schedule (see amendment new Schedule 3) which provides that challenges to a range of planning-related decisions and other actions may only be brought with the leave of the High Court; and enables challenges to costs orders connected with some planning decisions and actions to be challenged as part of the same application.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government new clause 13—Periods of time for certain legal challenges.
New clause 53—Application of provisions to environmental claims—
‘(1) Sections 55 to 60 of this Act shall not apply to judicial review proceedings which have as their subject an issue relating wholly or partly to—
(a) the state of elements of the environment, such as air and atmosphere, water, soil, land, landscape and natural sites, biological diversity and its components, including genetically modified organisms, and the interaction among these elements;
(b) factors, such as substances, energy, noise and radiation, and activities or measures, including administrative measures, environmental agreements, policies, legislation, plans and programmes, affecting or likely to affect the elements of the environment within the scope of sub-paragraph (a) above, and cost-benefit and other economic analyses and assumptions used in environmental decision-making;
(c) the state of human health and safety, conditions of human life, cultural sites and built structures, inasmuch as they are or may be affected by the state of the elements of the environment or, through these elements, by the factors, activities or measures referred to in sub-paragraph (b) above.”
This amendment limits the application of the provisions of this Act on judicial review proceedings which relate to the environment, in line with the definition of environmental information in the Aarhus Convention.
Government new schedule 3—Procedure for certain planning challenges.
Government amendment 1.
Amendment 23, page 55, line 12, leave out clause 55.
Amendment 24, in clause 55, page 55, line 16, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 25, page 55, line 18, leave out “not” and insert “decide not to”.
Amendment 26, page 55, line 20, leave out “highly likely” and insert “inevitable”.
Amendment 27, page 55, line 31, leave out “highly likely” and insert “inevitable”.
Amendment 28, page 55, line 32, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 29, page 55, line 35, leave out
“conduct (or alleged conduct) of the defendant”
and insert “procedural defect”.
Amendment 30, page 56, line 15, leave out
“conduct (or alleged conduct) of the respondent”
and insert “procedural defect”.
Amendment 31, page 56, line 19, leave out “highly likely” and insert “inevitable”.
Amendment 32, page 56, line 21, leave out “must” and insert “may”.
Amendment 33, page 56, line 28, leave out clause 56.
Amendment 34, page 57, line 25, leave out clause 57.
Amendment 35, page 58, line 2, leave out clause 58.
Amendment 36, in clause 58, page 58, line 11, leave out subsections (4) and (5).
Amendment 51, page 58, line 11, leave out subsections (4), (5) and (6) and insert—
‘(4) On an application to the High Court or the Court of Appeal by a relevant party to the proceedings, the court may order the intervener to pay such costs as the court considers just.
(5) An order under subsection (4) will not be considered just unless exceptional circumstances apply.
(6) For the purposes of subsection (5), exceptional circumstances include where an intervener has in substance acted as if it were the principal applicant, appellant or respondent in the case.’
Amendment 37, page 58, line 18, leave out “or (5)”.
Amendment 38, page 58, line 34, leave out clause 59.
Amendment 42, in clause 59, page 58, line 41, leave out
“only if leave to apply for judicial review has been granted”
“at any stage of the proceedings.”
Amendment 39, page 59, line 32, leave out subsections (9) to (11).
Amendment 40, page 60, line 11, leave out clause 60.
Amendment 44, in clause 60, page 60, line 29, leave out “must” and insert “should normally”.
Amendment 41, page 60, line 31, leave out subsections (3) to (5).
May I say at the outset that I propose to speak first to the Government amendments and then to let hon. Members speak to their amendments, to which I will reply at the end of this debate?
Clause 62 creates a permission stage for statutory challenges under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 in relation to English matters. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) tabled a number of technical amendments that sought to tidy up and harmonise procedures across the planning regime. I responded that we needed more time to properly consider the amendments.
Following further consideration and discussions with my hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), who has responsibility for planning, the Government now seek to advance proposals to extend the permission stage to other planning-related statutory challenges; to simplify procedures to enable challenges to costs awards connected to some planning and listed building decisions to be challenged as part of the same application; and to standardise the start time for various planning-related statutory challenges.
Amendment 1, new clause 52 and new schedule 3 omit clause 62 and replace it with a new clause and schedule that set out where leave of the court is required to bring planning-related statutory challenges. The amendments to section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act that were originally set out in clause 62 affected only challenges to decisions concerning English matters. The amendments in this new schedule are broader, ensuring that the leave requirement applies in all section 288 cases.
The new schedule also requires leave of the court before challenges can be brought to a range of planning-related decisions, orders, actions and documents. It will affect section 287 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which relates to challenges to decisions concerning simplified planning zones, highways and rights of way orders, and relief of statutory undertakers from obligations. It will also affect section 63 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, which concerns challenges to listed building consent procedures; section 22 of the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990, which relates to challenges to hazardous substance consent decisions; and, finally, section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, which relates to challenges to development plans.
It makes sense to have consistency across these different types of challenges and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst for bringing the issue to my attention. I agree with him that requiring leave in some types of cases but not in others could create difficulties for the new planning court, at a time when we are trying to make things simpler and speed up planning cases. The efficiency of the court system is a matter for Government to consider across both England and Wales, and these amendments apply to the whole jurisdiction.
New clause 52 and new schedule 3 also permit challenges to awards of costs relating to planning and listed building decisions to be brought as part of the substantive challenge under section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act or section 63 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act.
At the moment, when an award of costs is made, it can be challenged only through an application for judicial review. That is separate to the application for statutory review of the substantive decision. Allowing costs to be challenged as part of the section 288 or section 63 challenge would remove the need for an aggrieved party to make two separate applications to the High Court and pay two separate filing fees.
New clause 13 standardises the date from which various challenges may be brought to the day after the relevant decision has been made. Planning challenges have to be brought within six weeks. Moving the start time to the day after the decision date is consistent with the approach taken in the civil procedure rules for judicial review claims. This is a harmonisation measure designed to assist in the smooth working of the new planning court and to reduce the scope for error by claimants.
I urge the House to accept amendment 1, new clauses 13 and 52, and new schedule 3.
I will address all the Government and Opposition new clauses and amendments, but I will spend more time on the provisions dealing with judicial review than the new clauses on planning, partly because the latter are relatively uncontroversial.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister held a party for the 799th birthday of Magna Carta. He said that it was the foundation of all “our laws and liberties”, and made us citizens not subjects, with “rights, protections and security”. He is right about that. Later this afternoon, we will debate new clauses on sentencing for a second offence of possessing a knife. The Deputy Prime Minister objects to that proposal, partly because it includes minimum sentencing, which carries
“a serious risk it could undermine the role of the judges”.
He is wrong about that in relation to the new clauses, and he and his party have supported minimum sentencing when it has suited them to do so. Right or wrong, however, one has to applaud the sentiment that the rule of law and the importance of a strong and independent judiciary are the most important protections against the arbitrary or incorrect use of Executive power, especially in a country with no written constitution.
Sadly, such sentiments and lip service are all we can expect from a coalition Government who, in no less a person than the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, have done more to undermine the rule of law and the operation of the legal system than any Government in modern times. They have presided over the dismantling of civil legal aid and now of criminal legal aid, the privatisation of the probation service, chaos in those courtrooms that are still open, an overcrowding crisis in our prisons, the expansion of secret courts, attacks on human rights, and restrictions on access to justice for victims and those of limited means. Yesterday, to mark Magna Carta day, protests took place outside courts across the country.
In part 4 of the Bill comes the coup de grace—a frontal assault on the key legal remedy of judicial review. Alongside new fees, cuts in legal aid and shorter time limits, the cumulative effect of the proposals in the Bill is to hobble the principal method by which the administrative court can prevent unlawful conduct by the state in the way in which it, in all its manifestations, makes decisions.
One of the 17 experts who gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee memorably described the Government’s proposals for judicial review as a “constitutional provocation”; 16 of the 17 opposed them outright. The seventeenth, the head of planning for Taylor Wimpey UK, did support them, but slightly undermined his case by confessing:
“I have only had sight of the Bill…and I am attending at late notice”.––[Official Report, Criminal Justice and Courts Public Bill Committee, 13 March 2014; c. 151, Q341.]
It is not surprising that the Secretary of State could find no one qualified to support his position, which, as usual, is based on his gut instinct that judicial review is used to defeat Government policy for political reasons and that, as he confided to the Daily Mail, it is
“a promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners.”
The truth is that it is inconvenient for the Government when, for example, the High Court and the Appeal Court rule that they acted unlawfully in trying to close Lewisham hospital A and E. No doubt some doughty left-wing campaigners supported that judicial review—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) and for Lewisham West and Penge (Jim Dowd), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Dame Joan Ruddock)—but they won because the Secretary of State for Health acted outside the law.
Clauses 55 to 60 will give protection to such unlawful acts in the future. That is why Labour wholly opposes the proposals for judicial review, and wishes judicial review to be preserved as an essential check on Executive power, as does every serious judicial and professional body that has spoken on the matter. Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, has said that
“there is no principle more basic to our system of law than the maintenance of the rule of law itself and the constitutional protection afforded by judicial review”.
The former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf has said:
“In our system, without its written constitution embedded in our law so it can’t be changed, judicial review is critical.”
He added that the Ministry of Justice is showing a
“remarkable lack of concern for the precision of the facts”.
Lord Pannick has said:
“It is ironic that judicial review now needs protection from a politician whose reforms would neuter its force by the use of political slogans that have no factual basis and are ignorant of legal and constitutional principle.”
Most recently, the Joint Committee on Human Rights—I am pleased that its Chair, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), is in the Chamber to take part in the debate—found no merit in any of the Government’s arguments. Its report stated:
“We…do not consider the Government to have demonstrated by clear evidence that…judicial review has ‘expanded massively’ in recent years as the Lord Chancellor claims, that there are real abuses of the process taking place, or that the current powers of the courts to deal with such abuse are inadequate.”
The truth is that any problems in the administrative court that were caused by the growth in the number of judicial reviews in the area of immigration were resolved by transferring such cases to the immigration tribunal. The process of rationalising the tribunals system, which we started in government, is continuing with the setting up of the planning court.
The first group of new clauses and amendments complement that approach by bringing planning challenges in line with the processes for judicial review in respect of leave and time limits. First, certain decisions may be challenged only by a statutory review, but leave is not required to bring a challenge. The leave of the High Court will now be required in such cases. Secondly, challenges to costs awards will be dealt with as part of the statutory review of a decision. Thirdly, the six-week challenge period will be calculated from the day after the decision is taken. Those practices are more restrictive than the current ones, but we do not oppose them, on the basis that they are tidying proposals that are consistent with other processes that are in place.
I will move on to the amendments that appear in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis). We do not support any of the Government’s proposed restrictions in clauses 55 to 60, which we seek to leave out of the Bill. As there will not be time to vote on every amendment, however, we will seek to divide the House on removing the two most immediately damaging proposals. Amendment 23 would delete clause 55, which is known as the highly likely test, and amendment 35 would delete clause 58, which imposes costs on interveners. It seems to us that that is the clearest and most thorough way to improve the Bill, but, for completeness, we also support the other amendments in the group that have been tabled by the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and others to amend the existing clauses to similar effect.
Clause 55 requires that, where a respondent asks, the court should consider whether, had the relevant authority acted lawfully, it would be
“highly likely that the outcome for the applicant would not have been substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred.”
Our belief, which is shared by the Joint Committee, is that that reveals a significant lack of understanding about the purpose of administrative law and the function of judicial review. It confuses unlawfulness with remedy and will encourage bad decision making by the Executive. We want the status quo to prevail. That is, the test should be whether the same outcome would be inevitable. Amendment 23 would leave out clause 55 entirely. The alternative amendments, amendments 24 to 32, would restore the status quo. All those amendments have the support of the Joint Committee in its report.
Amendments 33 and 34 would leave out clauses 56 and 57. Those clauses require the court to consider whether to make an order for costs against any organisation or individual beyond the applicant. Justice, the civil liberties group, gave troubling examples of how those proposals may have a chilling effect. If a charity obtains a donation for the purposes of pursuing litigation, will the court be capable of enforcing a costs order against the donor for any sum? What will happen if a solicitor or law centre acts pro bono when a claimant is unable to secure legal aid? Will family members who support litigation brought by a vulnerable or disabled relative who is seeking to challenge the withdrawal of services be affected? Those questions have not been satisfactorily answered and the changes that are proposed in clauses 56 and 57 should be better defined before Parliament approves them.
Clause 58 states that third parties such as non-governmental organisations, charities and human rights organisations—all those who regularly intervene in judicial reviews—will face orders for costs against them on an application by any party, except in exceptional circumstances. That the Government would target interveners in that way is both chilling and counter-productive. The role of interveners is most often to assist the court, and the most frequent interveners are organisations such as Liberty and Justice, whose expertise has proven invaluable in many cases. Often, in an adversarial system, it is only the intervener who identifies the core issue for the court to decide.
Opposition amendment 35 would leave out clause 58. Amendments 36 and 37 would have much the same effect by restoring judicial discretion as to costs. The hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) and others have tabled amendments on this subject. I hope that they will see the force of the argument for voting out clause 58, which would have much the same effect as their amendments. I do not think that we need to split hairs over this matter.
Clauses 59 and 60 place the making of protective costs orders on a statutory footing. Opposition amendments 38 to 40 and 42 agree with the views of the JCHR, which concluded that restricting PCOs to cases where permission for judicial review had already been approved was
“too great a restriction and will undermine effective access to justice.”
It also rejected the
“need for the Lord Chancellor also to have the power to change the matters to which the court must have regard when deciding whether proceedings are public interest proceedings.”
Clause 61 purports to give protection in costs in environmental cases, as required by the Aarhus convention. Although we do not oppose that, we believe that the proposal is flawed because it is not comprehensive and because the precise effect of this important issue is left to the Secretary of State by way of regulations. Opposition new clause 53 would remedy those defects.
Taken as a whole, these changes are designed to hobble judicial review to such an extent that its true purpose—to hold the state to account—may be severely weakened, if not lost. That is an extraordinary position for a Lord Chancellor to take. We know that he is the first non-lawyer to hold the post of Lord Chancellor in more than 300 years, but he must brush up on his British constitutional history. Now that the Secretary of State for Education has stopped the circulation of the Prime Minister’s copies of Magna Carta to schools, there must be a lot of copies lying around in Downing street. The next time the Lord Chancellor is there—unless it is for the reshuffle—perhaps he should read a copy. He will find the memorable words:
“We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”
Upholding the rule of law and allowing the citizen to challenge the state and other powerful interests are at the heart of our constitution. Judicial review became, in the 20th century, an effective tool for effecting those rights. It is that which the Government now seek to fetter.
I will speak in particular about clause 58 on interveners, about which the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has just spoken, and about amendment 51, which I tabled. I spoke about this issue in some detail in Committee and my view has not changed. In the interests of other Members, I will not go through every single argument that was made in Committee.
There is no doubt that interveners are a positive thing. We should welcome them in our legal system. Baroness Hale of the Supreme Court said:
“interventions are enormously helpful... They usually supply arguments and authorities, rather than factual information, which the parties may not have supplied.”
We should be grateful for that work and for the benefits that we receive.
The status quo does not allow just anybody to intervene. No organisation has a free right to intervene whenever it wants. It is up to a judge who intervenes. The judge can say, “Yes, I would like to hear from you. I don’t want to hear from you about this point. I would like to hear about that issue.” The judge has complete control. They can take lots of interventions or a small number. They can say how much information people are allowed to provide. The judge also has the right to invite somebody to intervene who has not even applied. A court can say, “We would very much like to hear from this person.” Judges therefore have huge discretion. Where there are abusive cases, judges already have the ability to say that they do not wish to hear from somebody.
We made some progress in Committee. We clarified that when a judge invites somebody to intervene, clause 58 will not apply to them. That is very important and it was not clear previously. It certainly was not clear to me and I do not think that it was clear to others. It would obviously be unreasonable to say, “The court has asked you to do something and now you must pay not only your costs, but everyone else’s costs for the privilege.”
I am yet to meet an organisation that intervenes that particularly wants its costs to be covered. That is not the way it usually works. Such organisations accept that they should pay their own costs. What they are concerned about—quite rightly—is the idea that they should have to pay the unenumerated costs of other people. They will have no idea at the beginning of a case how much those costs are likely to be. There could be a very high bill and that will have a chilling effect.
The case the Minister has put repeatedly—as I am sure he will do later—is that there are abusive cases such as when, for example, an organisation finds somebody typically impecunious to front-up a case for judicial review. The organisation then intervenes to make the case, but it knows that the costs cannot be met because the individual is impecunious—I hope the Minister will agree that that is the description he has given. If there are such cases, they are an attempt to avoid the normal rules—fiddling a judicial review—and I share concerns about that. I would be interested to hear how many such cases there have been.
There are, however, many other cases where interveners do not act. In some cases, interveners are intervening on and helping with a specific, exact case, which we should welcome and support. There are also instances where interveners help with a specific case and highlight a general case. To take the example of a child who is not getting support from the local authority—I am aware of many such cases—the problem is not only that that child is not getting help, but that many other children do not receive help. It would be helpful for local authorities and the justice system for everybody to know the rules. We should not just fix one wrong; we must make clear how the system ought to work.
I took a particular interest in the S and Marper case in which Liberty intervened. When it intervened in the Court of Appeal, Lord Sedley said that he found the written submission “of great assistance”—it was a written submission, so it should not have taken long in court—and that the distinction was “crucial” to what the Court had to decide. That was not because of the individuals involved, but because of a broader general issue.
I reject completely the idea that, as I think the Justice Secretary said, such cases are brought only by “left-wing lawyers”—left-wing lawyers such as the Countryside Alliance, the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, the Treasurer of UKIP, Conservative peer Lord Rees-Mogg, and various Conservative councils. All sorts of people make use of the powers for good reason.
In Committee I proposed an amendment to remove clause 58, as that seemed the cleanest and simplest way to keep to the status quo and retain judges’ ability to intervene. Since then, I have accepted that there may be some abusive cases where the current system does not quite work, and although judges still have such power, I accept the argument that in those rare cases something could be changed.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman letting me make an intervention and therefore be an intervener. He says there may be rare cases of frivolous or exploitative interventions, yet none of the witnesses before the Committee could give examples of when they were aware of that.
The hon. Lady is right and I will not charge her for my costs in responding to her intervention—I am sure the Minister will not want to either. She is right, but my challenge was to the Minister to identify such cases. If there are any cases—I imagine that there are, because not being a lawyer I know that lawyers are creative at finding ways around the rules—we should try to fix that. However, I think such cases are the minority.
I withdrew my amendment in Committee because I wanted to see what the Minister could do, and he agreed to consider whether there was a way to improve the clause before Report. I had high hopes that the Minister—who comes from the wonderful county of Cambridgeshire—would have been able, with all the resources of the Ministry of Justice, to come up with something that would capture what we do. We should make it clear that we are clamping down on abusive cases, and say, “Whether or not they are happening, they can no longer happen”, and leave everything else alone. I hoped that in just under three months since the Committee proceedings the Minister might have achieved that, but it has not happened. I am disappointed, because it does not seem to be too hard.
I have done my best to provide suggestions, and I have met the Minister and sent in a number of possible ways forward. Today I wish to debate one of those possibilities, to see whether I can get a formal response from the Minister and whether he will look at it as a way forward and ensure we address the issue, even if that has to be in the other place. I turned to the Supreme Court rules as a possible approach. The Government seem happy with those rules on interveners and are not proposing to change them in any way. The rules would certainly be accepted by many legal professionals, given that they seem to work for the Supreme Court—I have heard no concerns. Article 46(3) of the Supreme Court rules state:
“Orders for costs will not normally be made either in favour of or against interveners but such orders may be made if the Court considers it just to do (in particular if an intervener has in substance acted as the sole or principal…appellant or respondent).”
That seems to capture what the Minister says he was trying to achieve, and I think we would all be relatively happy with that. There would not normally be such measures, but where somebody has acted as though they should be the person taking the case, it would be covered.
That led me to table amendment 51, which tries to capture that concept—it may not have caught it absolutely and I would be happy to hear the details, but it strikes me as a way forward. It provides a way to deal with the problems the Minister is concerned about, without stifling the interventions that I think all in this House—from the Joint Committee to many Members from all parties who I have spoken to—would want to protect.
The clause is not acceptable as it stands, and I do not think it will or could become law as currently drafted because of the problems it would cause. I hope the Minister will fix this issue promptly at an early stage in the other place, and that he will consider amendment 51 as a possible way forward.
I wish to speak broadly to amendments 23 to 32 to clause 55 in part 4 of the Bill, and to the “highly likely” test on judicial review. I also wish to share my thoughts on the specific proposals for judicial review, based on the recent experiences of the Liverpool City and South Yorkshire regions, which directly affects my constituents. As a precursor, I should say that I accept that the number of judicial review cases has risen in recent years, but I am not certain that the proposed revision of judicial review would give a fair outcome to those parties seeking review, or tackle the reasons why instances of judicial review have increased.
In particular, I wish to address the idea that the likely outcome would be assessed as part of the process leading to the granting of a judicial review, rather than the legality of the process leading to the said outcome. On 7 February the South Yorkshire and Liverpool regions won a joint High Court action that ruled that cuts in European funding were unlawful. Lawyers bringing that action argued that the significant reduction in funding of 65% was disproportionate compared with other areas.
Evidence presented to the Court at the time showed that Ministers allocated €150 million less to Liverpool City region, and almost €90 million less to South Yorkshire, than they had estimated their share to be. Obviously, that could not be fair. It meant that over the next seven years, funding to Liverpool City region worked out at €147 per head, compared with €380 in the previous funding round from 2007 to 2013. A judicial review case was filed in September 2013, and the process, rather than the outcome, was deemed out of order. The judge requested the High Court to order the Government to adjust their allocation of funding from Europe because of the flawed calculation method used to distribute €10 billion from the European regional development and European social funds. Had that decision not been challenged, the funding that would have been allocated to Liverpool City region and South Yorkshire would have been spread across other regions.
Under the judicial review process as it stands, South Yorkshire and Liverpool were right to file for judicial review, as they believed that the process by which the decision was made was flawed. Logic would suggest that if the process behind the decision was flawed, the likelihood is that the decision itself would be flawed. Unsurprisingly, the judge ordered the Government to reconsider the funding arrangement.
The difficulty is that we will never know what would have happened if the Government’s proposals on judicial review had been in place at the time of that specific case. I suspect that the Government, already having a series of funding arrangements in mind, would have granted the same levels of funding to South Yorkshire and Liverpool, regardless of the process under which the funding allocation was decided. If, at the application stage, it was deemed that South Yorkshire and Liverpool would have been likely to receive the same amount of funding, their application would have been taken no further. To be clear: in South Yorkshire and Liverpool, I suspect that the likely outcome would have been assessed as the same in this case, regardless of the flawed process. Therefore, at the beginning of this process, the case may have been unable to proceed—a case in which 3.6 million people living in those regions would have not been able to access €10 billion-worth of funding.
Such considerations—those predictions of likely outcomes—will now become law under the Government’s plans. I have no doubt that in some areas judicial reviews may be seen as wasteful, but at the same time I strongly believe that the case I have referred to would not have made it to court under the new proposals.
Was the process flawed? Yes. Is the outcome likely to be similar? Perhaps, yes. Does that mean that the people of the Liverpool City and South Yorkshire regions should not have been afforded the opportunity to challenge? No. On the slim chance that the outcome would change for them, taking the case to the courts would have seen the two regions immeasurably better off. It is only right that the people of those regions be allowed to challenge that decision.
A faulty process often leads to a flawed decision, and even if the outcome might be the same, we need to consider those rare cases in which the outcome is predicted to stay the same so judicial review is not granted, but the outcome is then prevented from being different. In their current form, these plans would prevent case law from forming based on the one in 100 cases in which the outcome might have been predicted to stay the same but in fact did not stay the same. We are taking the power of the formation of case law away from judges, and we are instead putting the power of decision making into the hands of people less experienced in making such decisions.
I implore the Minister to look at the case of the Liverpool City and South Yorkshire regions as an example of why judicial review should be granted not on the basis of the likely outcome, but on the basis of the process of decision-making. We must allow flawed processes to be challenged, so that for the cases in which an outcome is different, the people involved are granted that outcome, rather than having it snatched away from them before it goes to court.
I thank the Minister for the constructive way in which he has engaged with me and others on the planning amendments. I welcome the stance that the Government have taken on these matters and I know that welcome is shared by the legal profession and planning professionals. The Minister is right to say that these are not necessarily the most headline catching of measures in the Bill, but they are important and valuable because they are consistent with the approach that the Government have adopted—in this instance, also supported by the Opposition, I am glad to say—towards the rationalisation of the planning process and the speeding up of the process of development.
These measures are significant, because a successful and smooth planning process, including the judicial element of potential challenges, is critical, not only to the legal process but to environmental protection and the economy. One of the problems that has been encountered in the past is that some of the duplications and delays in the system were a disincentive to bringing forward the sort of development that we all want to see. This is an opportunity to rationalise the process, and I am glad that the Government have taken it.
I also thank the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) for his approach in Committee, as well as the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles). I also thank officials in the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Communities and Local Government—some of whom are in earshot—who took my Lazarus-like reappearance on the scene of planning law in good grace and engaged most constructively with me. I also want to thank Richard Harwood QC and other members of the planning and environment Bar who did a lot of work in the drafting of the detail of the amendments.
My hon. Friend the Minister has given me the bulk of the cherry that I asked for in Committee, but the Government have not been able to make progress on a couple of issues. I invite him to be mindful of the need to keep a careful eye on the operation of the planning court, because some matters may be picked up through the civil procedure rules and may provide a constructive means of taking forward further reforms.
My right hon. Friend takes a particular interest in these matters, and we are ad idem—as lawyers would say—on the subject. I think we can achieve a significant saving in time. For example, it will no longer be necessary to bring parallel applications for judicial review and costs, and that will save time and costs, because it is clearly a disincentive to have to bring two separate sets of legal proceedings. Even if they are later consolidated for the purpose of the hearing, costs are involved.
My right hon. Friend makes the important point that there will be a saving in terms of costs to the litigants—the potential proponent of a scheme and those who might have cause to object—and a hidden opportunity-cost saving to the Courts and Tribunals Service. Even if the hearings are ultimately consolidated, there is an administrative burden on the courts in processing the parallel matters. Significant sums—reckoned to be in the millions of pounds—can be saved. That may not seem like a massive amount in the overall scheme of things, but it will be valuable.
I also hope that the proposals will help to change the culture. That is an important point that my right hon. Friend and I have talked about in the past. Litigants in planning matters will be encouraged to resolve matters at the earliest possible opportunity and bring forward cases that have been sensibly brought together.
The setting up of the planning court has been warmly welcomed by the profession, but it has one concern that my hon. Friend the Minister might take back to the Lord Chancellor—and, through him, to the Lord Chief Justice—about the supply of judicial material, if I may put it that way, for the courts. There are a limited number of experienced judges and deputy judges in planning work. Now that we have this new, improved and streamlined structure, it is important that we have sufficient judicial personnel to man the court to carry out the process adequately. It is a rarefied and specialist sphere, although I regret to say that it is not one that I practised at the Bar—probably to my disbenefit, and certainly to the disbenefit of my bank manager. The pupillage in criminal chambers came through before the pupillage in planning chambers that I had also applied for, so I ended up in the same boat as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright)—as a criminal practitioner.
One further point on planning may be a deliberate or passing omission. I wish to check with the Minister whether he intends to look, in due course, at the time frame for proceedings under section 113 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. It would seem logical to try to deal with those matters at the same time, and I hope that it will be possible. That does not appear in the new clause and schedule, which encompass most of the other matters, but perhaps it can be considered in the other place. It relates generally to development plan challenges, which we have not discussed, and I accept that it would raise broader issues, but it may be appropriate to return to the subject at a future point.
The unanimity across the House on planning matters may end when we come to the issue of judicial review. I am afraid that I cannot accept the overblown and overstated arguments made by the Opposition spokesman on that issue. Of course judicial review is important, but it is worth putting it into context. Before I unwisely took the criminal pupillage instead of the planning pupillage, I was a young law student at the London School of Economics in the days of the great John Griffith, who was professor of public law. Judicial review was a virtually unheard-of concept. Although the prerogative orders of mandamus and certiorari go back to the common law, judicial review was scarcely ever used.
It is interesting, and ironic given the stance taken by the Labour party, that the growth of judicial review in its modern form is sometimes dated to the judicial activism of the late Lord Denning at the tail end of the Wilson Government in the ’70s. It was a Labour Attorney-General, the late Sam Silkin, to whom Lord Denning addressed the famous words:
“Be you never so high, the law is above you.”
There were legitimate grounds for extending the jurisdiction. It is ironic, therefore, that the Labour party now seeks to pose itself as the proponent and supporter of unrestricted judicial review. That was certainly not the view of the Labour Government in the 1970s.
None the less, things have moved on. Judicial review is essentially an issue of proportion. I very much doubt that Lord Denning envisaged the concept of judicial review developing from the way he had in mind in that very famous case. There is a real concern—I have seen it as a lawyer, in my time as local government Minister and, before that, as a local councillor—that the growth of judicial review has become an inhibitor to good decision making, rather than, as suggested by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, being a tool to ensure good decision making. I suggest that the reverse has been the case. A number of examples of that can be given.
Let me start at the decision-making level within Government and local authorities. The growth of judicial review has encouraged a culture of risk-aversion in decision taking. All too often, good and honest civil servants and local government officers are restricted in taking what can sometimes be bold courses of action. Ministers can sometimes be counselled against taking bold and radical action because of the risk of judicial review. That harms the governmental process, rather than improving it.
I am enjoying all the autobiographical stuff, but I would love to hear why the hon. Gentleman thinks that a remedy that promotes good decision making and careful consideration by civil servants is a bad thing. Should we be having civil servants taking risky and outlandish decisions because they know that they can no longer be challenged? That seems to be what the Bill proposes.
I am sorry to say—perhaps not for the first time—gently, and with the affection of one legal professional to another, that the hon. Gentleman rather misses the point. We all want good decision making and nobody is saying that there is not a role for judicial review. When I listen to some of the rhetoric from the Labour Benches, I am tempted to think that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor is proposing to abolish judicial review. No such thing is proposed and it is nonsense to say so. But there has been a significant degree of mission creep, to use a popular term, in judicial review. It is reasonable to say that that now needs to be rolled back. That is what the Bill seeks to do.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the real risk here is that those people who are least able to access justice—people with the least means to pay for advice—are the most likely to be squeezed? I hope later to give examples of where judicial review has really helped the little people. The problem with these clauses is that we risk giving ordinary people less access to justice.
I cannot say that that has been my experience. If we were removing the process of judicial review and challenge, that would be a legitimate criticism. But we are not. To change a threshold around, for example, the “highly likely” test does not exclude a deserving case from seeking remedy. To deal with the issue of interveners does not remove a deserving case from the prospect of remedy through judicial review. If it imposes a degree of discipline in the thinking behind the bringing of such challenges, that is a good thing and we should not apologise for it.
With respect to the hon. Lady, it is seldom persons in that category who are the interveners; they are much more likely to be the bringers of the review. I will come to the role of interveners in a moment, but let me finish the point about the way in which there has been mission creep in judicial review and the sometimes damaging effect that that has on the decision-making process.
The situation is a little like what we found with local government finance at one time, when officials tended to play tick the box so that someone qualified for the right number of grants. There is an element of that sometimes in the decision-making process, where decisions are always taken with an eye over the shoulder at the risk of judicial review rather than getting to the merits of the matter. If these clauses help, as I think they will, to move away from that culture, that is a good thing, as it will then encourage imaginative and radical, but always fact-based, decision making. It will always have to be fact-based because, after all, the Wednesbury reasonableness test is unchanged; it remains in any event. There will always be scope for challenge of irrational decisions, or of decisions that are genuinely not based on evidence. But removing the threat of judicial review to the extent that it now hangs over decision makers is sensible and proportionate.
My hon. Friend is making a good point about the impact of the threat of judicial review on local authority decision making. It has almost become the expectation before a decision is taken that it is liable to be judicially reviewed, adding a layer of bureaucracy and a length of time to decisions that sometimes need to be taken in a more timely fashion.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who leads me neatly on to the next point I wanted to make. It is suggested somehow that this is the state seeking to prevent challenge. Very often, those on the receiving end of unmerited judicial reviews are local authorities—democratically elected bodies who find their decision challenged by some vested interests. Very often, that vested interest is propped up by an intervener. That is why the proposed changes are legitimate and proportionate. My hon. Friend is quite right. That is an impediment not only in areas such as development and planning matters, but in relation to other forms of decision making such as housing and other types of policy.
I am not sure whether you would agree, Mr Speaker. I take the hon. Lady’s point, but I do not think that she follows it through logically. It comes back to this: the basic tests of Wednesbury reasonableness remain. The opportunity for judicial review remains and putting some balance or check in the process to say, “Before you intervene, you have to consider the costs” is not unreasonable.
Any decision maker can, of course, get things wrong, which is why we have judicial review. That remains. But equally, it is not unreasonable to say that when a challenge is brought, those who litigate ought to bear in mind the costs of their doing so. I understand the hon. Lady’s points, which she made eloquently in Committee. I have some sympathy with her, but the Bill does not do what she believes it does. I do not believe it undermines the scope for meritorious judicial review. It is not in the interests of anyone that the courts be clogged up with unmeritorious judicial review cases. There is no doubt that there have been a number of those.
On local government, let me suggest two instances of such cases. It is suggested that those who bring judicial review are often the aggrieved small people. That is not always so. When I was a Minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I suffered at the hands of CALA Homes in a very famous judicial review decision when we were attempting to carry out the will of the House and, clearly, of the electorate and remove the regional spatial strategies, which were discredited. A judicial review was brought against the Secretary of State and against the democratically elected planning authority, Winchester city council, which had gone through the process of standing up for its residents who did not wish to have a particular piece of land developed. What happened was that judicial review was used by, in effect, a predatory developer. There are many cases around the country where it is the big battalions who will use judicial review against elected local authorities. Redressing the balance is fair in that instance, too.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s giving way on this point. In Northern Ireland, we have the ludicrous situation whereby one Minister, namely the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland, will take on other Departments to prevent them from implementing decisions that have been taken democratically. Does he agree that we are now in a terrible situation, whereby before a Department takes a decision, it seems to need to have lined up behind it the right person to fight the judicial review, which will inevitably come in any case once the decision is taken?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As an ex-Minister, I break no confidence in saying that when decisions are being taken, part of the advice will regularly be about the judicial review risks. Anyone who serves in an English local authority will know that part of the significant conversation nowadays is, “Okay, we think this is the right thing to do. How do we defend it against judicial review? We know, even though we have done the right thing, consistent with our democratic mandates, that a judicial review will be coming.” That cannot be in the public interest.
Order. It is always a delight to enjoy the free-flowing eloquence of the hon. Gentleman as he develops his tutorial, but may I gently ask him to bear in mind that a number of others wish to speak, notably his right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), and time is not limitless? Although we are savouring the hon. Gentleman’s delights, all good things must eventually come to an end.
I rather suspect, Mr Speaker, that you have anticipated how my ministerial career came to an end as well, delightful though it was at the time. I am happy to draw my remarks to a close, because I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) has a great deal of expertise on this matter. I will also welcome the contribution of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis), not least because his predecessor was a member of my chambers who led me on a number of cases, including some judicial review matters with which he dealt expertly. [Interruption.] I am sorry to have driven you from the Chair, Mr Speaker.
Let me conclude with these thoughts. The judicial process is important for its checks and balances. That position is not being changed by the Government’s proposals; what they are providing is a reality check on the process of judicial review. On the issue of interveners, if someone chooses to intervene in litigation, they should not do so without being aware of the costs that their intervention can bring. That is what we are seeking to do. It is often the intervener, rather than the initial parties, who takes up the bulk of the time in the case. It is logical for someone who seeks to intervene in a case—no one is obliged to do so, after all—to face the discipline of the potential costs.
My hon. Friend is making an important point. When constituents write to me about planning inquiries and the like, they want to know the true cost, because ultimately, one way or the other, the taxpayer is paying for all this. The facts must be clearly put out there. I thank my hon. Friend for the argument he is proposing.
I am grateful, and that provides a suitable point for me to conclude. The costs apply not just to individual litigants and therefore to companies and local authorities, because the cost to a local authority is ultimately a cost to the taxpayer, and then there is the opportunity cost to the planning system and the court system that comes from bringing needless judicial reviews. There is nothing in the Bill to prevent a meritorious claim from coming forward and being heard, but it provides some checks and balances in the matter—a reminder that the common law does not exist independently of the House. Ultimately, accountability lies here through Parliament. The judiciary has an important role to play in interpreting the will of Parliament.
Occasionally, I look at judgments in judicial review cases and gain the impression that one or two of the senior judiciary have rather concluded that the common law somehow exists in isolation. The development of case law is important, as suggested, but it should happen within the framework set by this democratically accountable House. We need to redress the balance to ensure that while the House is accountable, a democratically elected local authority is the right primary accountable body in its sphere of competence. I thus commend both the planning and the judicial review provisions.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), not so much for the content of his contribution as for its tone and humour. I am afraid that I will not be able to match his humour. He beat me to the punch by telling us about his friendship and legal partnership with my distinguished predecessor, Lord Morris of Aberavon. I suspect from the tone of the hon. Gentleman’s contribution that he must have learned it at the feet of my predecessor. The general tone of this debate has been very constructive, so I hope the Minister will respond positively to the constructive contributions.
I particularly commend the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and of the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)—I was about to call him my hon. Friend—who contributed progressively and constructively to the work of my Joint Committee on Human Rights earlier in this Parliament.
I shall propose my own amendments 42 and 44 and speak in support of amendments 24 to 32 and 36, tabled in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) and recommended by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which I chair. Let me remind everyone that the Joint Committee is made up of members of all parties and that the majority of its members are from the coalition parties. When a report from our Committee is unanimous, it means that it was supported by Government Members.
My Committee has done a lot of work on the implications for access to justice of the Government’s proposals to reform both legal aid and judicial review, and we continue to take evidence on these important matters. Earlier this year, we concluded a detailed inquiry into the Government’s judicial review reforms. Our report, which came out in April, pointed out—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith in this debate—the crucial importance of judicial review to upholding the rule of law in this country. It is, I believe, one of the fundamentals that seems to be in everyone’s list of “British values”—much discussed of late.
Amendments 42 and 44 were recommended in my Joint Committee’s report. They are necessary to ensure that the Bill does not go too far in curtailing one of the most important developments in recent years, which has increased effective access to judicial review to hold the Government to account. The courts have carefully developed costs capping orders, which are also known as protective costs orders, to ensure that meritorious challenges to the legality of Government action are not prevented by the fear of a crippling bill for costs. In appropriate cases, they remove the disincentive to litigation of the ordinary “winner takes all” costs rules.
Corner House Research, a non-governmental organisation with expertise in countering bribery and corruption, brought judicial review proceedings against the Department of Trade and Industry for not doing enough to counter bribery and corruption through its export credits guarantee scheme. The courts believed that the legal challenge raised important issues of public interest that needed to be decided. The case was, however, brought only because of a costs capping order limiting the costs exposure of this important NGO.
The Government are concerned that the test for providing such costs protection has become increasingly flexible, as a result of which costs capping orders are being granted too frequently. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice said that they seem to have
“become the norm rather than the exception”.
According to his way of thinking, a lot of well-off campaign groups are bringing cases safe in the knowledge that their costs exposure will be kept down by a costs capping order. My Committee looked into this issue in detail and found the Lord Chancellor’s concern to be exaggerated. The senior judiciary, in its response to the consultation, also doubted the Lord Chancellor’s claim. Other than in environmental cases, where a special cost regime applies because of the UK’s EU obligations, the judges’ experience is that the use of costs capping orders is not widespread.
We welcome much of what is in the Bill on costs capping, including the Government’s decision to put costs capping orders on a statutory footing and to enshrine the common law principles into a statutory code. This seemed to my Committee to be a welcome recognition in principle of the importance of costs capping orders as a way to ensure practical and effective access to justice. We also found that the new statutory code in clauses 59 and 60 is a broadly accurate reflection of the principles developed by the courts, and for the most part merely reflects the restrictions on the availability of costs capping orders that are already applied by the courts.
In one very important aspect, however, the Bill includes a restriction that has the potential to limit very severely the practical effectiveness of costs capping orders. Clause 59(3) provides that a costs capping order may be made by the courts
“only if leave to apply for judicial review has been granted.”
The Government’s justification for this restriction is that only cases with merit should benefit from cost capping orders, and the test of whether a case has merit is whether it is granted permission to proceed by the court. In practice, however, this provision seriously undermines the utility of costs capping orders and may lead to meritorious judicial reviews not being brought because the cost risk is too great.
Can the hon. Gentleman provide any examples of where that might have occurred? I am finding it very difficult, and I think the taxpayers of South Derbyshire will find it very difficult, to think that people’s rights to open justice are being curtailed in any way when we are not seeing meritorious cases that ought to come to court. Judicial reviews have got out of hand, my friend.
That is not the view of my Committee. I commend our report to the hon. Lady, if she has not read it, because it deals with this point very thoroughly.
Pre-permission costs in judicial review proceedings are often substantial: the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law told our inquiry that they may comfortably exceed £30,000, and that restricting the availability of costs capping orders until permission is granted will in practice undermine their usefulness in ensuring effective access to justice. It is worth repeating the words, which we quote in our report, of the Bingham Centre on judicial review proceedings:
“The risk of unknown and potentially substantial pre-permission costs is a risk that those who would otherwise qualify for costs protection cannot possibly take. If a PCO cannot be obtained to protect against such a costs risk, very many claims with substantial wider public interest will not be brought. A PCO that cannot be obtained until it is too late to prevent the chilling effect”—
the chilling effect—
“of uncertain and unlimited costs exposure is a pointless PCO: it does not achieve the aim of enabling access to justice for those who cannot expose themselves to substantial costs risk.”
The whole point of costs capping orders is that they provide assurance to litigants in advance, before the defendants to judicial review proceedings start running up costs that, without a costs capping order, the claimant may have to pay. To ensure that costs are not a barrier to upholding the rule of law, that protection should be available in relation to costs incurred at the very outset of the proceedings, before permission is granted. That is what amendment 42 is designed to achieve.
My Committee recommends amendment 44, which would prevent the Bill from going too far in the provision relating to cross capping. A cross-cap is a reciprocal order limiting an unsuccessful defendant’s liability for the claimant’s costs. The Government, in their consultation paper, proposed that, where a costs capping order is made, there should be a presumption that the court will make a reciprocal order capping the defendant’s costs. The Bill, however, goes further than this by imposing a duty on the court to make such a cross-capping order.
In conclusion, the Committee thinks there should still be room for judicial discretion in deciding whether it is appropriate to make a cross-capping order in the circumstances of a particular case. Amendment 44 would achieve this untying of the courts’ hands by replacing the duty with a presumption. I support amendment 39, in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and for Barnsley Central, which is recommended by my Committee. It would remove from the Lord Chancellor the unnecessary and problematic power the Bill gives him to change the matters to which a court must have regard when deciding whether proceedings are public interest proceedings.
I support the Government’s aim to tame, but not to undermine, judicial review. As I understand the Minister’s wish, it is that judicial review should remain as a necessary way of challenging bad decisions, but that there needs to be some control over the large number of inappropriate or frivolous applications that can now be made thanks to cost control and to the way our lobbying system seems to work.
I start from the proposition that the main way people should still get redress for bad government is through their Members of Parliament, as their representatives, and through this House of Commons putting pressure on Ministers; or through their elected local councillors doing the same thing to change or get redress for mistakes and errors by local councils. Resort to the courts is not open to many people; they have to be either very rich or very poor to gain access to the courts. It is difficult for people on modest means to do so. Largely, it is lobby groups and institutions that have the access that many of our individual constituents do not have, because of the fear of the costs of the legal process, and we need to bear that in mind.
I am quite happy with part 4, which is the subject of this group of amendments, because I think it seeks to make that balance. If anything, it is really quite cautious. The main thing it does, just to remind the House, is to say that, when considering whether to grant leave to make an application for judicial review, the High Court has to look into it. If it appears to be highly likely that the outcome for the applicant of that judicial review would not be substantially different if the conduct complained of had not occurred, it should not proceed. That is a very cautious amendment to our right of judicial review. It makes the common sense point that there are certain cases where even if the process or the way the decision was taken was not strictly correct, if none the less it had been done properly and the outcome would have been the same, there is no real point in proceeding with the judicial review. It is just a lot of cost for lawyers. Were the court to find eventually that the judicial review was correct, the decision would remain the same, so the litigant would not succeed.
There are two major differences. First, bad decision making is bad decision making, whatever the outcome, and we would like to see better decision making. Secondly, this will invoke a trial process on the issue—not on the decision making, but on the issue—probably at the permission stage. It will front-load judicial review and change the whole nature of it. This is the most obnoxious clause of all. Far from being mild, it would be extremely radical in its effect.
I beg to disagree. I entirely understand what the Government are trying to do. They are trying to warn certain potential users of judicial review that it is a fatuous process if it turns out that the original decision was perfectly reasonable, although there may have been some difficulties with the process. If too many decisions are subject to too much court examination continuously, it is often possible for a clever and well-paid lawyer to find something slightly inappropriate or questionable in the way in which a council or Government Department made a decision, although the decision itself was correct. It might be better if the money were not spent, and if the courts’ time were not taken up with applications when the position cannot be improved for a litigant who remains in dispute with the council or the Government, and who will not secure a reversal of the original agreement.
The bulk of the work to which the new clauses and amendment relate lies in the intricate and sometimes opaque drafting of new schedule 3, with which we non-lawyers are perhaps struggling a little. It is a complex piece of work, because it amends various pieces of underlying legislation. I have one or two queries with which the Minister may be able to help me, knowing as he does that I approve of what he is trying to do, and am merely trying to clarify some of the ways in which it would operate. For instance, I do not quite understand the logic of paragraph 4(7) of new schedule 3, which provides for new subsection (6) of section 288 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to state:
“The High Court may not suspend a tree preservation order under subsection (4C) or (5)(a).”
That is not entirely similar to some of the other proceedings.
I am also interested in the timings. The period during which due consideration must take place seems generally to be specified as six weeks, but I wonder what the overall period will be when the High Court finds that the judicial review process should proceed. In the case of planning issues in particular, delay can impose complexity, blight and difficulty in the area involved, and if the end result is that the development goes ahead anyway, it becomes a real issue. I am sure that questions of timing and delay lie behind some of the work that the Government have been doing.
I think that my right hon. Friend has hit on a very interesting point. It seems to me iniquitous to build in delay in cases in which the result could not have been changed in the first place. I hope that the Minister will be able to explain why he considers this to be such an important tidying-up mechanism.
I do wonder whether a period of six weeks is required. Presumably the proposal relates to a typical case in which those who are likely to object have followed the earlier processes of the application in great detail. After the original decision there may have been a planning appeal, and they will surely have all their arguments prepared and be ready to move before six weeks have passed. That period seems fairly generous in the circumstances. I wonder how much longer the process is likely to take, and how much High Court capacity there is for dealing with such cases expeditiously.
While I am keen to defend the green fields in my patch from inappropriate development, and am very accustomed to the techniques that we sometimes need to use for the purpose, I am also aware that we need land for building, and that people sometimes object to developments in certain locations that independent-minded people would deem perfectly reasonable. I suspect that in the case of applications of that kind, we might get into difficulties. I am pleased to see that you know exactly what I mean, Mr Deputy Speaker. When we seek to represent our constituencies, we all try to balance such considerations. I am strongly in favour of new growth and new development, but I am equally strongly against its taking place in certain localities where I would find it objectionable, as would many of my constituents.
Let me make two more brief points. I note that new schedule 3 proposes an amendment to the Planning (Hazardous Substances) Act 1990. It states, of course, that leave cannot be granted without the High Court’s approval, but I think that the main issue is whether it poses problems of a different kind, which, given that hazardous substances need to be controlled carefully, might make a more timely result even more crucial.
The new schedule also refers to the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. Perhaps the Minister will tell us whether any different considerations apply when someone’s property is the subject of compulsory purchase. I would expect a higher standard of proof, and more rights for people to object, to apply when the estate or the council envisages a better use for land that they own than when a piece of land which is near to where they live, but which belongs to someone else, has been subject to various planning processes and the owner wishes to develop it. I think that those are slightly different cases, and that litigants should be given more protection when they are subject, under the Act, to a compulsory purchase to which they object or which they do not welcome.
I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify some of those points.
The Government tell us that they want to make changes to the judicial review process because too much money is being spent in court and people are making frivolous, vexatious or irrelevant claims, but the statistics do not bear that out. It is true that there has recently been an increase in the number of judicial review cases, most of which have involved immigration. However, under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, immigration cases now go to the upper tribunal to be resolved. In reality, the number of cases dealt with by judicial review is no greater than it was some years ago. I must therefore tell the Government, with all due respect, that the cost-based argument is complete hogwash. Something else is motivating the Government and, in particular, the Secretary of State, who has made the telling comment that judicial review is generally
“a promotional tool for countless Left-wing campaigners.”
In his speech, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) listed a number of organisations that were not of the “loony leftie” variety. The Government’s motivation has become clear, and I think that it is very sad for our judicial system that they are curtailing the basic right of judicial review for the sake of their own political agenda.
The hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) seemed to suggest that virtually all judicial review cases were frivolous and a waste of time, and that we did not need the process. He even made what I would describe as the rather irrelevant political point that in the 1970s the Labour Government had not been particularly pro-judicial review. Governments of all complexions make wrong decisions, but that does not mean that 40 years later a political party cannot change its mind about a matter such as judicial review. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, although I do not know whether he still practises.
Does the hon. Lady not understand the point that I was making? It is erroneous to suggest, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) did, that placing a restriction or limitation on judicial review undermines fundamental freedoms, Magna Carta and so forth. In fact, it is a fairly recent innovation in our public and administrative law.
I happen to believe otherwise, and I do not think that I am alone. For instance, Lord Dyson, the Master of the Rolls, has said that
“there is no principle more basic to our system of law than the maintenance of the rule of law itself and the constitutional protection afforded by judicial review.”
I agree with him. Although the concept is only 30 or 40 years old, it has resulted in one of the most revolutionary developments in our legal system.
It is very easy to say about some of the more political cases, “These are loony leftie agendas”, but the hon. Gentleman may remember from his study of the courts—I remember studying them when I was doing my law degree—the number of cases where judicial review came in and was the only mechanism open to people who had suffered incredibly because of decisions made by a local authority, a public authority or the Government. To say that judicial review only came into being about 40 or 50 years ago and that it is a new concept is irrelevant. It may be newish, but it has had an important effect on our judicial system, and there are a lot of rights and benefits that people now take for granted—whether they are in a care home or one of the many different types of institution in our country, or in respect of public authorities that pass legislation or take actions that affect a whole range of ordinary people. For such people who are not able to get justice, it is judicial review and our courts being proactive that allow them to have their rights asserted. The hon. Gentleman talked about Lord Denning. It is absolutely right that he was one of the most brilliant judges we have had, and he truly helped ordinary people.
Does the hon. Lady not accept that judicial review can be used by people on the right as well as the left—and, indeed, it is so used—and that the Government probably would not welcome a judicial review from UKIP any more than they would from the Greens? Are certain things not so political that they ought to be hammered out here in Parliament and in general elections, not in court?
Walter Bagehot talked about the fact that in our system we needed the three separate bodies—the Executive, the judiciary and obviously Parliament—and that all three must be strong to be able to act as a check on each other.
The fact that we in Parliament are elected does not mean that we do not make mistakes. In the history of Parliament, some appalling pieces of legislation have been passed which have turned out to be wrong. It is only because we have a strong judiciary and a proper judicial review system that those pieces of legislation have been found to be wrong. It is because of that that ordinary people have been able to get justice—the people of this country, the people we are supposed to be representing.
Although we talk about democracy, bad laws have been created, and we cannot wait five years until the next election for such laws to be changed. I say with respect to the hon. Gentleman that that would be completely wrong. If an election takes place tomorrow and a bad law gets passed, are you really saying our people should have to wait five years and change the Government?
I think I am getting a little confused, and it may be entirely my fault. I was under the impression that judicial review was about challenging in court the method by which the decisions of public authorities and the Executive had been arrived at. The judicial review court does not say that a decision was right or wrong; it criticises the process. So there is no question of a court repealing legislation, as the hon. Lady seems to be implying.
I entirely agree with that. Those of us who have been practitioners of law—a few such Members are present—will know that since coming into existence judicial review has been revolutionary for our country. We do not have a written constitution, and Lord Woolf has said:
“In our system, without its written constitution embedded in our law so it can’t be changed, judicial review is critical”
and the Ministry of Justice is showing a
“remarkable lack of concern for the precision of the facts”.
You might say, “Well, maybe Lord Woolf has an agenda here because he’s a lawyer and perhaps he wants money to be available,” but I am sure that highly respected individuals such as Lord Dyson and Lord Woolf, who understand the issue about the public purse as well legal matters, would not be saying these things if they did not believe that these parts of the Bill are fundamentally wrong.
In the 21st century, when we have now got a society that is fairer and kinder to its people, it is sad to have a go at people who are challenging the might of the state. Local authorities, institutions and Departments are still more powerful than the individual litigant or even pressure groups. You may not agree with a pressure group’s policy, but they are not as strong as the might of the state, and we should always have equality of arms. That is one of the fundamental principles of our law. You cannot have one side—local authorities and Departments—with all the money at its disposal and the best legal brains available against the ordinary person on the other side who has none of those benefits, or even pressure groups, who often do not have enough money to be able to spend hundreds and thousands of pounds on top barristers. They therefore cannot afford to lose.
We have to have parity of arms, instead of the state effectively using this opportunity to strangulate and stop the individual—the little person—or even the pressure group, many of which represent a group of our people who are interested in an issue. Pressure groups do not exist just for themselves: they are there because a whole lot of people in the country object to something or feel that there is a problem with an issue. They do not have the resources and they are being strangulated, yet the hand of the state is being strengthened.
I am surprised that a Conservative Government are trying to do this, as they have always taken pride in protecting liberties. What you are doing through all the various provisions and the changes being made to the judicial review, however, is effectively preventing the ordinary person from challenging the decision.
We say that judicial review will somehow make civil servants or public officials think, and wonder whether they might be challenged. Well, I think that is right. In a proper democratic system, local authority or state civil servants should be thinking about the effects of their actions. They should not be above the rule of law. They should be thinking about whether everything is right or not.
As a lawyer who has done some judicial review cases in my life and as somebody who worked in the Crown Prosecution Service as an in-house lawyer, I think it is right that a decision made by a prosecutor should be subject to challenge. When I am making my decision on whether a case should or should not proceed, it is right that that should be able to be challenged, because that would make sure I did my job properly as well as holding me to account. That is very important in our system. Civil servants and local authority officials absolutely should have to look over their shoulder to see whether they are making the right decision, because at the end of the day they are paid by the state and they are supposed to represent and govern our country in a proper way. If they are acting properly, professionally and honestly, they have nothing to worry about from judicial review. Only people who are not acting properly should be worried about judicial review.
What would the hon. Lady say to the residents of Wickford near the Dale farm estate whose local council was found by the courts to have acted entirely properly, but removal of a Gypsy Traveller site was delayed for years by the abuse of the judicial review process? What defence does she have for those people?
I am not going to talk about individual constituents in particular constituencies, and I cannot comment on their issues, but your using that example as a reason to constrain judicial review is not very credible. In doing so, you are detracting from the seriousness and importance of judicial review. By introducing this provision, you are effectively reducing the number of cases in which judicial review can take place. It is very easy to say, “The local authority got involved but the Traveller sites could not be removed and there were delays”, but that is just one small aspect of judicial review. You and I know—
I am sorry, Mr Deputy Speaker; I got a bit carried away.
In a civilised society and a democratic country, access to law is very important, and that includes judicial review and those who have been charged with criminal offences. It is fundamental to a civilised society. The Government’s proposed restriction of judicial review is wrong and will cause problems. I ask them to reconsider, especially as immigration cases have now been taken out of the judicial review process. The number of judicial review cases is therefore similar to past levels, so the argument that there are too many such cases and money is being wasted is not credible.
It has been said that people can simply go for judicial review without any challenge: that they can walk into the High Court and say, “I want a judicial review” and get one. Everybody knows that the first thing someone has to do is to seek leave to obtain judicial review. High Court judges are some of the best and most experienced legal brains in the country; they do not grant judicial review applications willy-nilly and then set a hearing date. Many people apply for leave—that is the important part—to seek judicial review, but those applications are sifted and a lot are rejected. Weak, frivolous and vexatious cases get thrown out, and only a very few go on to the next stage, at which leave is granted for judicial review to be considered and a date is set. The sifting stage takes out all the rubbish anyway, and only the good cases of substance and merit go forward. Then, a full hearing takes place and in some cases, people are successful and in others not.
So the suggestion that I can somehow walk in off the street and ask for a judicial review and the court will grant it and set a time for it is a load of rubbish. I am surprised that Members who should know better—who know that that is not the situation—are trying to suggest that that is happening in our courts. It is not. Very few cases reach judicial review, which is still only sparingly used, but it is very important and fundamental to our legal system.
I remind Members that although we now accept that we can challenge the decisions taken by the various local authority and Government Departments and institutions such as quangos, there was a time when we could not. It is only because people are able to challenge the decision-making process that, today, we have a much fairer, much more equal society in which ordinary people feel that they get justice. That was not the case 40 or 50 years ago, and if we compare the situation then with now, we see it has improved tremendously, and active judicial review has been the biggest source of that improvement.