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My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives ranged widely across a number of constitutional issues. I hope I will deal with all the points he raised, but I might be a little pressed. I will deal first with the issues he raised, as
it is his debate, and then touch on some raised by other Members. He started with the question of why the Government settled on 600 as the right number for the House of Commons. We were frank during the debate on the Bill. There is no magic about it; it is a judgment. The two coalition parties had different views before the election. They both wanted to shrink the size of the House of Commons: the Conservatives to 585, and the Liberal Democrats to 500, albeit with a change to the voting system. We settled on 600, which we thought was the right balance; as several Members have pointed out, constituencies should not be so large in population that Members could not do the job. With 600, most constituencies would be within a range that Members today would recognise, and we do not think it is an enormous leap.
The hon. Member for Rhondda said he would be against a dramatic cut in the number of MPs. The Government would be as well; we are not making a dramatic cut. We are making a modest reduction of about 7%. One can argue about it, but I do not think anyone can say that a reduction of 7% is dramatic.
I was aware of the Bill brought forward by the hon. Member for St Ives. He said that his Bill proposed a reduction to 500, primarily as a result of devolution. Prior to the formation of this Government, people argued that we should treat the parts of the United Kingdom that have a devolved Parliament or Assembly differently from those parts that do not, in terms of entitlement to seats at Westminster. That idea was put forward but the Government decided not to do that. We were keen to treat all parts of the United Kingdom in the same way, so the quota is a United Kingdom quota. Because of where we start from, the impact of the change in the number of seats will differ in different parts of the UK. That is because we want the weight of a constituent's vote to be equal across the United Kingdom, and that is an important principle.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid), wanted to know what principles guided us on the two exceptions. First, we wanted a set of principles that were widely applicable and that gave the boundary commissions the chance to allow it. We made only two exceptions out of the 600 seats for exceptional geographical reasons; the constituencies both have small populations but are large enough to sustain a Member of Parliament, as they do now, because of their dispersed geography.
I know that the matter is debatable. My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute demonstrated an encyclopaedic knowledge of his constituency, as one would expect from an assiduous Member of Parliament; he certainly taught me something. None the less, I still believe that the Government have made the right judgment about the two exceptional constituencies that he selected. I would not be so churlish as to suggest that he was pleading for anything special. However, the hon. Member for Rhondda did so; he engaged in special pleading for Wales, something about which those who participated in the debate on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill heard an awful lot. We heard much about the Welsh valleys and Welsh constituencies, as the record will show.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), who is not in her seat, made some specific
points about Cornwall. My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives spoke about what he called-I have to be careful here-the border between Cornwall and England. I think that he raised exactly the same point when we were debating the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. He referred today to the length of that debate; we had eight days of debate in the House, and he has obviously had the opportunity today to expand on the points that he made then.
In response to that debate, I said that although that view is shared by some in Cornwall, the Government's position is that Cornwall is part of England and the United Kingdom; we do not recognise that boundary in quite the same constitutional way as does my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. I understand why my hon. Friend takes that view, but I was surprised that the hon. Member for Rhondda appeared to suggest that the boundary had constitutional significance. I do not know whether the Opposition have changed policy and are trying to separate Cornwall from England, but I do not suggest that my hon. Friend takes that view.
My hon. Friend made some good points, including about the difficulty of getting to London from his constituency. That is something that he and I can both take up with First Great Western. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) has arrived for the next debate; he, too uses that train service and will concur. That will be the best way to deal with that problem.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives accepted in general the strong case for moving towards equal seats. I was most impressed by his novel arguments, which I have not heard before, for claiming significant parts of the Atlantic ocean as part of his constituency. We might get into all sorts of territorial difficulties if we did so, but it was a novel idea.
My hon. Friend and his fellow Members of Parliament for Cornish seats met the Prime Minister and me to make a pitch and to explain why they believe that the nature of Cornwall is unique. I would leave him with this notion. The Government do not subscribe to the view that one cannot represent constituents in Cornwall and other parts of the country, Devon being the most obvious. We already have Members of the European Parliament who represent the whole of the south-west of England, and so represent constituents in Cornwall, in Devon and, indeed, in Gibraltar perfectly ably. Cornwall and Devon also share a police force. The border is not inviolate.
I do not accept the argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives, although I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Sheryll Murray) shares his view, about a Member of Parliament representing, say, part of Plymouth and part of Cornwall. Of course, some things are more important to one group of constituents than to others, but that is true of many constituencies. I have a fairly large rural constituency, and at one end of it a particular range of matters will be important that have no connection with those at the other end because of the distance. Nevertheless, I have to represent them all and understand all those issues. That is part of the job of being a Member of Parliament. The Government do not share the view that it is impossible to deal with that.
Of course it is not impossible to represent Gibraltar and Cornwall; nor is it impossible to represent places on either side of the Scottish border.
However, the Minister has rather inventively twisted some of my evidence on what was so exceptional about the two constituencies that have been preserved. The question that he must address is what is the problem in allowing the Boundary Commission reasonable flexibility to allow constituencies that have a clearly shared view about where their boundaries should lie? That is particularly so as those areas outside them would not be affected and certainly would not be protesting against such a settlement.
Mr Harper: The principle that votes should be of more equal weight across the country is important. Several Members have used words and phrases such as straitjacket and the rules being too tight. If we were to say that all constituencies had to be exactly the same size, my hon. Friend's argument would have some force. However, although we are reducing flexibility there is still a 10% range in the size of constituencies. Based on the 2009 data, constituencies will broadly range from about 73,000 to almost 80,000. There is still a fair bit of flexibility, which allows the independent boundary commissions to take account of issues such as local authority boundaries, community boundaries and the geographic features that we have to contend with.
In evidence to the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, the boundary commissions said that they would be perfectly able to deal with the rules proposed in the Bill, and that it would not present them with insuperable problems. We are fortunate that the four boundary commissions are politically independent. Those who pretend that some sort of gerrymandering exercise is going on are simply wrong. That phrase emanates from the USA. As one of my hon. Friends said, it is not that there is just some political interference there; in some parts of the United States, the boundaries are drawn up by the legislatures. It is not that there is interference, but it is a political decision on where the
boundaries should be. We do not do that here. Parliament sets the framework, but decisions about where the boundaries should go are taken by boundary commissions.
Andrew George: That is the nub of the debate. The exception argument for the two preserved constituencies that the Minister has advanced this morning does not deal with the question of why that principle was decided upon, and why that reasonable flexibility should not also be applied for other constituencies.
Mr Harper: I shall deal briefly with the other two points raised by my hon. Friend, as they were important, particularly so in his part of the country. He was right to draw attention to the need for an accurate and complete electoral register. Our electoral registration system means that 91% or 92% of eligible voters are registered. Internationally, that is pretty good. However, the Government are not complacent and want to do better. That is why I wrote to every local authority in the autumn, inviting them to take part in pilots to consider using public sector databases to improve the accuracy and completeness of the register. We had a good response, and I shall announce which local authorities are to participate in those pilots in due course.
I wrote to my hon. Friend about dual registration, which I know is important in Cornwall. He referred to people who own second homes and who choose to pay business rates because they let those properties. The rules are fairly clear. People who let their property are not entitled to register to vote. There must be a residence qualification, and there is case law on the matter. Electoral registration officers have to make such decisions on individual cases, and they should do so. I have received letters from people who object to not being allowed to register to vote, but one test is for the electoral registration system to be robust with them. Those who own a second home who pop there for only a week every year for a holiday will almost certainly not fulfil the criteria for being resident and entitled to vote. Local authorities could do a lot to help with that.
Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): Every MP is proud of his or her constituency, and I, like the hon. Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), am specially privileged to represent the city of York. As the new film "The King's Speech" puts King George VI very much in the public eye, let me remind Members that on a visit to the city, he said that the history of York was also a history of England. When I tell people that York is applying for UNESCO world heritage status, they often express surprise that York has not already achieved such a status. To see why, one just has to look at York's city walls, York minster, which is the largest gothic cathedral in northern Europe and contains some 60% of our country's mediaeval stained glass, and the Roman Multangular tower that still stands 10 metres above the ground.
When I speak to people from abroad and tell them that I come from York, everyone, without exception, has heard of the city, and many have visited it in the way in which they have visited Florence, Athens or Jerusalem. York has an enormous international reputation, but I am afraid that that has made us complacent. Until a few years ago, we did not seriously think of applying to UNESCO for designation as a world heritage site, because we knew that we lived in one of the most precious gems in the western world and thought that nothing more needed to be said or done. I pay enormous tribute to Janet Hopton, who has led the campaign locally to seek world heritage designation for the city of York. I stress that it is a citizens' campaign; it is a campaign that has come not from politicians but from the people of York. None the less, the campaign has all-party support, and we will hear in this debate from the city's two Members of Parliament.
Over the past three years, I have worked with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister's predecessors, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) and Barbara Follett, the former Member for Stevenage, to discuss how we in the UK can possibly get the door open again so that UNESCO will consider bids from cities such as York. I should like to thank the Department and the Minister's officials for their support over that period.
If York had applied for this status a decade ago, I am pretty certain that our application would have been accepted. Now, however, UNESCO understandably and rightly wants to see a balance in its world heritage list. There are already many great walled cathedral cities in this country and other countries on the list, and UNESCO has new ambitions. It may not accept an application for the built heritage of a city such as York. That has made us think more clearly about what is absolutely unique and irreplaceable about York, and we came to the conclusion that it is not what is immediately apparent-the Roman, the Viking or mediaeval built heritage. It is not what is above ground, but what is still hidden underground.
York has been continuously inhabited as a city for 2,000 years. It is built at the confluence of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss, which makes the ground waterlogged. Such unique anoxic conditions-conditions where the water prevents oxygen getting to objects buried in the ground-preserve centuries-old objects,
which, in any other place, would have disintegrated. The water preserves organic material, such as wood, leather and textiles, that otherwise would simply rot away.
We have a Viking shoe and Viking cloth from the Jorvik dig. Wooden buildings from Jorvik can now be seen plank by plank, beam by beam, in the same way in which they would have been seen 1,000 years ago had they not been buried. Even the leftovers from meals are available for analysis. They tell us what people ate 1,000 years ago. There is nowhere else in western Europe with similar anoxic conditions. We know a lot about York from the excavations that have taken place, but only 2% of the ancient city has been excavated; 98% is fully preserved. That is what needs UNESCO's designation and protection.
If successful, York's bid would provide the only UNESCO world heritage site inscribed solely on the basis of its underground deposits. York's unique subterranean heritage is complemented by world-class archaeology in teaching, research, conservation and entrepreneurship. The university of York's department of archaeology is a centre of excellence in computing for archaeology and bio-archaeology through its environmental archaeology unit. The Council for British Archaeology, which promotes public engagement with archaeology, is a national body but is based in the city of York. The York Archaeological Trust is respected as one of the most successful archaeological trusts. It dug Coppergate 30 years ago and not only produced an incredible record of what life was like in Viking Jorvik but turned archaeology into a commercial success.
Some 17 million visitors have visited the Jorvik Viking centre since it opened in 1984, including the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair. I encourage the present Prime Minister and his family to come and join the many who have visited the Jorvik Viking centre, because I know that he visits north Yorkshire from time to time. The Archaeological Trust also runs the dig centre, which provides hands-on opportunities for young people to experience archaeology. There are also many other bodies based in York, such as the York Glaziers Trust, English Heritage, the Civic Trust, the Georgian Society, the Mediaeval Guilds, the Archaeological Data Service and others. Between them, they create a culture of support for scientific study and conservation of this wonderful and great city, which the hon. Member for York Outer and I have the great privilege to represent.
This bid looks to York's future as well as its past. We receive 7 million visitors a year, who spend almost half a billion pounds in York, which sustains 20,000 people in employment. We have a visitor economy; people have come to the great cathedral city of the north of England for centuries. The only thing that we really miss in York is a good saint, with relics in the minster. World heritage status would protect and enhance the city's global reputation.
Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con):
Just on the economic benefit that the hon. Gentleman describes, Skipton and Ripon has one of the other Yorkshire world heritage sites of Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey, and one cannot underestimate the huge benefits that such a status gives to the local economy. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his campaign and give it
all my support. For Skipton and Ripon, it makes a huge difference and it would also make a huge difference to York.
Hugh Bayley: That is a very valuable, very kind and very important testimony, because there are some people who believe that world heritage status would act as an economic deadweight on the city and it is my very strongly held view-one shared by all the parties on the city council-that nothing could be further from the truth. Inappropriate development of buildings in York cannot, should not and will not take place whether or not the city gains world heritage status, because York has a duty to respond as if it had the status whether it wins it or not. Nevertheless, the increased international recognition and support that York could receive to preserve the heritage of the city as a result of designation would further benefit the visitor economy.
I should perhaps say how pleased I am to see other Members from Yorkshire here for this debate-the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney)-as well as my fellow representative of the city of York, the hon. Member for York Outer, all supporting the argument that I am making to the Minister.
I have a few questions to put to the Minister. I would like him to clarify for us the timetable for the decisions by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the tentative list of bids for world heritage status. I ask him personally to read York's bid; I know that there are 38 bids, but I would like him to give a commitment to us during this debate that he will read York's bid. I want to tell him that he is welcome to visit York, to see what is being proposed and to discuss with some of the archaeology and heritage bodies in the city why the bid is so important. If he is not able to visit York but would like further briefing, we can arrange for people from the city to come and visit him down here in Westminster. I also want to ask him how many of the 38 applications he believes will end up on the tentative list and, finally, how many of those he would expect to receive approval from UNESCO and when.
Those are my questions to the Minister. I will sit down now, to leave a little time for the other Member for the city of York, the hon. Member for York Outer, to make his own contribution to the debate.
I congratulate my neighbouring parliamentary colleague, the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley), on securing this very important debate for our great city of York and I warmly welcome his speech, which I know comes from a great depth of knowledge. We may represent different political parties, but I have no doubt that he shares my desire to serve our great city for the benefit of all its residents. Indeed, as he has already mentioned, this bid for world heritage status has cross-party political support in the city, which is very important. It is vital that we put aside our tribal differences on this occasion
and promote what is great about York and its bid for world heritage status, because a successful bid would be so important for the city.
Of course, I am aware that time is short in this debate and it is very important that we hear from the Minister and give him plenty of time to respond to the debate. The hon. Member for York Central has put some specific questions that I would also like to hear the answers to.
The hon. Gentleman has also outlined the background to York's bid and he made some very powerful arguments supporting the city's attempt to be placed on the tentative list for world heritage status. Indeed, I fully subscribe to all the points that have already been made in the debate. The hon. Gentleman talked about people within the city and visitors to the city who are surprised that York is not already on the list for world heritage status, and I share their view; I have had that same experience of people expressing surprise that York is not already on the list. That is a very important point to make in this debate.
In my opinion, York's outstanding range of archaeological gems is almost unprecedented in the United Kingdom. The city boasts Roman cemeteries, trading settlements and other deposits that can be traced as far back as the seventh century AD. However, thus far we have only scratched the surface. I know that the hon. Gentleman has already mentioned this point, but it is very important; local experts believe that only 2% of the city has been excavated so far, leaving 98% undiscovered. That is an important point that we must mention in this debate and in the wider context of the bidding process.
Indeed, it is the potential for further archaeological finds and breakthroughs that I find the most fascinating aspect of this whole process. Crucially, the bid is not solely reliant on the deposits that have already been discovered, although they are remarkably impressive. I am grateful to see so many of our regional colleagues here today, and Members who attended an earlier meeting will have seen some of those impressive artefacts. Nevertheless, we must also give great consideration to what we have not yet seen and what can potentially be discovered. In my view, we must ensure that a successful world heritage bid is not the end of the process but the beginning of a whole new chapter in the history of York and its archaeological finds. Building a legacy, rather than merely celebrating a legacy, is at the core of this bid.
The department of archaeology at the university of York is already recognised worldwide as a centre of excellence in the teaching of archaeology, and a successful bid would further boost interest and funding, ensuring that York remains a world leader when it comes to pioneering archaeological research.
The bid has attracted support from across the city. As I have already mentioned, there is cross-party support for it and again I want to say how grateful I am to see so many colleagues from the wider region here to support the bid today.
I also want to take this opportunity to praise the York world heritage steering group, which has led the bid with determination and vigour since 2006. We must pay tribute today to the group's determination to see this whole process through and the experience that it brings to the process.
For me, the potential benefits of a successful bid are countless. First, there are potential economic benefits, which are important. In the past, arguments have occasionally been made against the world heritage bid on the economic front, but I think that those arguments are invalid. On the economic front alone, it is estimated that 23,000 jobs would be safeguarded by a successful bid, with the potential for many more jobs to be created, which would further enhance York's vital tourism sector and contribute substantially to our local economy.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing this wonderful debate. As a Member of Parliament for a west Yorkshire constituency and as someone who was born in north Yorkshire, I hold the subject of the debate very close to my heart. York is a wonderful city. We have already heard lots of wonderful facts about it. Personally, I love bringing my children to the National Railway museum; I love meandering down the Shambles; I like showing Australians around York Minster, and we all enjoyed Royal Ascot when it was held at York race course just a few years ago.
So I just want to stress that there is cross-party support across the region for this bid and I am very proud to be here today to support this application for York to receive world heritage status. Good luck to everybody here, and I hope that the Minister can take on board all our cross-party regional support for this bid.
Julian Sturdy: I thank my hon. Friend for those kind words. It is really important that we already have cross-party support for this bid, as well as regional support, because this process is not just about York; it is about the region too and York is a key city within our region. If it is successful, the bid can bring so much to the city of York and to our great region, benefiting the regional economy and particularly tourism. That is another important point to take away from this debate.
York truly is a beautiful city, set in God's own county. As a proud, born-and-bred Yorkshireman, I know that York's heritage is world-class; not only the archaeological side but, as has already been mentioned, the National Railway museum and the Minster. I remember taking my children to the National Railway museum; indeed, I still take them. The city walls, the Minster-it really is a fantastic city.
It is a travesty that York is not already a world heritage site and its historical importance must be recognised. I urge the Minister to do all that he can to support York's bid, without compromising his position. I understand his position in the bidding process, but I urge him to do all he can to support the York bid as we enter what is undoubtedly a crucial phase. I look forward to hearing his comments on the bidding process.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (John Penrose):
It is a pleasure to have you in the Chair, Mrs Riordan, to look after us during this important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for York Central (Hugh Bayley) on securing it and being supported by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and other MPs from the Yorkshire area. It is timely, given where we are in the
process of assessing the various applications for world heritage site status, and it demonstrates strongly the widespread cross-party support that MPs have mentioned. It is reassuring to see such support not just in Parliament but, as I understand, at a local council and local government level. I am sure that it will underpin the bid's many strengths and help it dramatically.
I was thankful for a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer at the end of his speech. He said-I hope that everybody here will understand this-that I will have to be a bit careful in my remarks, as I must not prejudice my position in advance of the independent report from the committee of experts currently considering the various applications. I hope that everyone here will understand that although I share many of hon. Members' views on the quality of York's bid, I must ensure that I take a decision after comparing it against what I am sure will be strong bids in the other applications. Although I agree enthusiastically with many of the points made about York's qualities, no one should take that as a prejudice in comparison to the strengths and weaknesses of other bids. Others out there will also be good.
From the UK's point of view, it is particularly important that we have as many high-quality bids as possible. As the hon. Member for York Central pointed out, world heritage organisations have become a great deal more choosy and careful about what kinds of application they are willing to accept, and are raising the bar. To paraphrase him, a large number of northern European cathedral cities, many of which are excellent, wonderful and fully deserving of their status, are world heritage sites. As York is not one of them already, it must distinguish itself in some other way, because there are many other deserving sites in other parts of the world that also deserve proper consideration. He was right to draw that to our collective attention.
The hon. Member for York Central asked whether I would like to visit York. I already have. I am delighted to say that after I became Minister with responsibility for heritage, I did an extensive tour of Yorkshire. I spent some time in York and had the opportunity to see some of the attractions and heritage features that he mentioned, both above and below ground. He is absolutely right: there are some amazing things to see, from the city walls to the minster. I was lucky enough to be shown around the minster, as well as to see stonemasons working on the very fine stonework, which must be replaced continually due to the effects of anno domini on an amazingly complex and old building.
I also visited the Yorkshire museum, where at one point I had the chance to stand on a Roman mosaic set into the floor. I must confess that I was slightly conflicted about doing so. Part of me was amazed and delighted to see such a beautiful piece of Roman mosaic, but standing on it somehow felt wrong. It is a wonderful piece of interactivity. I am told that school parties going through the museum love the chance to interact with an incredibly ancient piece of architecture. However, I also worried, standing on it, that future generations might have half a millimetre less of it to enjoy due to the wear and tear of feet going over it.
There is no doubt that York has plenty to see, much of it involving the city's amazing architecture. However, as both MPs for York have pointed out, it has a huge wealth of heritage that is almost certainly undiscovered;
98% is the figure commonly used. Clearly, therefore, this is a great opportunity for more to be discovered and for continuing richness to be elaborated and shown to future generations.
The hon. Gentleman asked for more details about the process. I will summarise it briefly. In case I miss anything, I point out that we have put more details of the dates and timetable up on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website; that should be happening about now. I am told that that information was on the DCMS website but, for some reason that no one can fathom, was taken down by accident recently. We are now putting that right, so more details will be available after this debate for anybody who wants to discover anything extra.
In broad terms, we have encouraged people to apply to be put on the new tentative list. We have received 38 extremely good and varied applications; I am delighted that we have had so many. Those applications are being considered by a panel of independent experts who are assessing them, weighing them up and comparing their relative merits. The panel is at work as we speak, and I expect it to report to me in March, when my officials and I will consider its report and decide on that basis.
The hon. Gentleman asked how many applications we are likely to put on the tentative list and how many applications on the tentative list are likely to be inscribed as world heritage sites. I am afraid that I cannot tell him, because that will depend partly on the report from the independent panel of experts. Clearly, the experts would not be very independent if I told them how many to choose; it will depend on their conclusions. We are allowed to propose only two individual sites from the tentative list for consideration in any given year. If we have a list of 20, we will put those 20 forward in a steady trickle rather than all at once. It will then be up to the world heritage organisation to decide which ones it wants to adopt. We cannot tell whether any will be successful. Obviously, I hope that as many as possible will be.
I will finish with a comment on the questions raised and certainties expressed by both Members for York about the benefits of world heritage status. I agree with
both their comments. Some people worry that world heritage status might incur additional costs of one kind or another in increased heritage protection and preservation, or that it might stunt economic growth. I take a different view, as I think do most people. Particularly in places such as York, many entirely sensible measures necessary to preserve heritage are already in place. Little, if any, additional cost would be incurred.
Making it clear that a place is special and distinct adds to its aura and demonstrates that it is worth visiting and a wonderful place to live. It makes the place distinctive. It is not just a question of tourist pounds and dollars, although they are tremendously important for any local economy; it is also important from the point of view of the beauty and sense of a place, and what makes it distinctive, different and worth living in. Therefore, I argue that from a cultural, heritage and economic point of view, the benefits of being a world heritage site are tremendous for a location such as York, and for many other places as well.
Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): I accept that point entirely. World heritage site status for York would undoubtedly boost its already fantastic tourism industry, but it could also have a knock-on effect in surrounding areas such as my neighbouring constituency. Selby has fantastic gems, including two famous battlefields and a wonderful abbey, and it was the birthplace of a king of England. I support the bid, and I hope the Minister will take on board the wonderful representations made by the hon. Members from York.
John Penrose: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He is absolutely right that a halo effect can be expected from a world heritage site. I have no doubt that the benefits would knock on to other parts of Yorkshire as well.
My only point of difference is with the assertion by my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer that Yorkshire is God's own county. As someone from Somerset, which of course has better beer and better cricket, I cannot let that go by. Other than that-I had better stop before I get lynched-I am delighted that there is such strong and cross-party support for what I am sure will be an excellent bid.
Damian Collins (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): Today I want to ask questions relating to the negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, whether its conclusion made the release of the Lockerbie bomber, al-Megrahi, more likely, and whether, despite assurances that the decision to release him was one for the Scottish Executive to make alone, the UK Government set the stage for the release and could have intervened to stop it had they wished to do so. I am grateful that the Minister is here to respond to the debate, because his Department played a pivotal role in negotiating the agreement and advising Government Departments and the Scottish Executive on its consequences.
In December 2010, members of the United States Senate published their report on the release of Megrahi. Their conclusions are not much different from the views expressed by many other individuals who have followed the affair. They conclude that the UK Government were prepared to agree in principle to the release of al-Megrahi in return for the protection of British commercial interests in Libya, particularly those in the energy industries, and that they made it clear to the Scottish Executive that they wanted Megrahi to be released and did nothing to stop that happening. Many people find it hard to believe that the UK Government were powerless because the release was entirely a matter for Scotland and that they rightly chose to apply no pressure to Scottish Ministers on that. However, Parliament has not had the opportunity to explore the matter properly.
Like many other Members, I believe that the release of Megrahi was wrong, and like the authors of the US Senate report, I believe that there should be an inquiry to establish exactly how and why the release came about. I would rather see such inquiries and reports produced by Parliament or the UK Government. I also urge the Cabinet Secretary to conclude his review of the unpublished Government papers relating to the negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement and the release of Megrahi. He was asked by the Prime Minister to conduct that review last summer, and we are eager for its results.
The purpose of the debate is not to bring forward any criticism of the Libyan Government, who have been clear about their intentions in the negotiation of the PTA and always intended that successful negotiations should lead to Megrahi's release. One might wonder at the significance of the agreement for them otherwise, as only 20 of the 13,429 foreign prisoners in the UK are Libyan, compared with 188 from neighbouring Algeria.
The former Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for South Shields (David Miliband), stated in an interview that to link the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya to British commercial interests in that country was
"a slur both on myself and the Government".
"there was no deal for the release of Megrahi in respect of trade, and that is absolutely right."-[Official Report, 12 October 2009; Vol. 497, c. 35.]
The key period of the negotiations came in late 2007. On 23 September that year, the then Lord Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), offered an unequivocal assurance to the Scottish Government that
"My officials will make clear to the Libyan authorities that without this addition"-
"it will not be possible to conclude a prisoner transfer agreement".
However, on 17 December a Ministry of Justice internal briefing note to the PTA negotiations confirmed that the Libyan government had threatened to halt commercial contracts unless the PTA was agreed. It stated:
"Despite a consistent negotiating line that the case of the Lockerbie bomber would not be covered by the PTA, the Libyans have continued to press for a general agreement and linked the fate of some commercial contracts to its successful conclusion."
Why did the Government drop their insistence on a clause excluding Megrahi from the PTA, and what advice did officials give to Ministers on their decision to drop the clause? They must have known that that would lead to an application from the Libyan Government for his release. Was the Ministry of Justice satisfied with that? Had the then Lord Chancellor been successfully lobbied by representatives of British commercial interest-the US Senate report states that he was lobbied by BP on three separate occasions-or was he lobbied by his colleagues in Government and convinced that it was not a fight worth having? The picture remains unclear. Former Ministers have acknowledged that it is perfectly proper for a Government to consider the importance of commercial relations as part of improving relations between Britain and Libya, but they were reluctant to make the link publically in that instance.
Ministers seemed at pains, once the agreement had been made on the PTA, to stress its relevance to the Libyan Government's long-standing desire to see Megrahi released. The former Europe Minister, Bill Rammell, wrote to the Libyan Government following the negotiations to explain
"the processes that would apply as regards any consideration of transfer or compassionate release on licence of Mr Megrahi"
and noted how the PTA was "relevant" to this. Mr Rammell also confirmed to the Libyans in a meeting in Libya that the Government did not want to see Megrahi die in prison. Once agreed, the PTA, although offering no guarantees, was clearly a mechanism designed to support that wish. The former Lord Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Blackburn, also advised that a decision on the transfer of a prisoner under the terms of the PTA
"may be subject to judicial review".
Therefore, even if a Scottish Minister had refused release, the decision could have been reviewed by the courts. Is that still the view of the Ministry of Justice on how the PTA could work in practice?
Despite the often repeated line from Ministers that the final decision to release Megrahi was one for Scottish Ministers, the sensitive nature of his release, its consequences for international relations and the fact that his imprisonment was the result of his conviction for an international terrorism offence, meant that the UK Government could and should have intervened. That was certainly the view of many people around the world who were so aggrieved
by his release, particularly in the United States. It is an issue that the US Senate report also explored. Does the Ministry of Justice believe that the UK Government could have intervened in such a way had they wished to do so? The principle seems to have been conceded by the former Foreign Secretary in his statement to the House of Commons in October 2009, when he said:
"Notwithstanding that any decision on release was for Scottish Ministers and the Scottish judicial system, the UK Government had a responsibility to consider the consequences of any Scottish decision... British interests... would be damaged-perhaps badly-if Megrahi were to die in a Scottish prison."-[Official Report, 12 October 2009; Vol. 497, c. 35.]
In that case, the previous Government seemed to give greater consideration to the impact of feelings between Britain and Libya than with the USA if he was released. It is clear from his remarks that there was a foreign policy dimension to the decision, and this was a matter for the UK Government to consider.
I do not wish to go into the question of the diagnosis of Megrahi's cancer or his life expectancy. Others can draw their conclusions from the fact that a man who was given three months to live more than 18 months ago is still with us. That may say something about the quality of his diagnosis in Scotland, or the quality of health care and treatment in Libya. When the moment for Megrahi's release came, the Scottish Government decided that they could not accept it under the PTA as that would compromise an understanding that had been made between the UK and the USA, and so they released him on compassionate grounds as a free man, rather than transferring him as a prisoner. Whatever path they had taken, once the PTA had been agreed, only one outcome looked likely.
The memorandum of understanding between the UK and Libyan Governments that led to the negotiation of the PTA was agreed in the same month that BP signed its agreement with Libya. The relationship between UK commercial interests and the fate of Megrahi has been a constant thread throughout the proceedings. Their conclusion angered many people around the world, particularly the families of the Lockerbie bombing victims. I ask that we have either a full disclosure from the Government of the decision-making process that led to that, or an inquiry to establish why that happened.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on securing this important debate and on the way he set out his argument, particularly the questions he has asked the Minister. The question being discussed today is whether al-Megrahi should have been released in the way he was. Some of my constituents have written to me on the issue. They and many others across the country are worried that the former Prime Minister or his colleagues did a secret deal on the release of al-Megrahi to help BP win oil contracts with Libya, and that devolution was used as a fig leaf for commercial purposes. It is a serious accusation to make. Like many people in Scotland and across the country, everyone is anxious to know the real facts.
As I noted last year in my early-day motion 575, in September 2007 the right hon. Member for Blackburn
(Mr Straw), the then Justice Secretary, assured the Scottish Government that al-Megrahi would be excluded from the final prisoner transfer agreement. In December 2007, the Scottish Government were told by the UK Government that they had been unable to secure an exemption for al-Megrahi and had decided to go ahead with the agreement
"in view of the overwhelming interests of the UK".
In January 2008, Libya ratified a major oil deal with BP that had previously been stalled. That is why I asked the current Prime Minister on 6 September 2010 what meetings his predecessor or his predecessor's officials had held with BP or the Libyan Government between July 2007 and March 2008, and whether the subject of any such meetings was
"oil drilling off the coast of Libya."
"I have asked the Cabinet Secretary to review all the papers relating to this issue, and we will report shortly on his conclusions."-[Official Report, 6 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 2W.]
"The Cabinet Secretary expects to conclude his work shortly. Dependent upon the outcome, this may include publishing additional relevant papers."-[Official Report, 2 November 2010; Vol. 517, c. 681W.]
In the end, al-Megrahi was released not under the prisoner transfer agreement but on compassionate grounds. Despite the reports of terminal cancer, he is still alive today. Whatever the commercial effects on BP, al-Megrahi was tried and convicted in a British court of murdering 270 people. A mass murderer convicted by our courts was let out of prison and sent back to a dictatorship where he was welcomed as a hero and now lives in freedom. That is not something that we can forget. We need to know whether the release was legitimate, or whether it was a distortion of the will of a British court.
Let me be clear: the coalition Government are doing absolutely the right thing on transparency and opening up information to the public. I welcome this debate because Britain deserves to know the facts. I urge the Scottish Cabinet Secretary to move swiftly, so that the Government can report as soon as possible on his conclusions. Devolution or not, never again must a known mass murderer be released under such controversy.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): I would like to follow the usual courtesies and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on securing this debate. The prisoner transfer agreement with Libya has attracted significant parliamentary and media attention since the negotiations began in 2007, and I know that since his arrival in the House, he has sought information relating to those negotiations and the subsequent release by the Scottish Executive of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. I hope during the course of my remarks to address a number of the points that he made, and I hope that I will have some satisfactory news about the Scottish Cabinet Secretary at their conclusion.
Let us be clear: Abdelbaset al-Megrahi was convicted of causing the largest peacetime loss of life on British territory. His actions and those of his backers resulted
in the death of 190 Americans, 43 Britons and 19 people of other nationalities. Shortly before Christmas, families and friends of the innocent victims commemorated the 22nd anniversary of their murder. I am sure that their pain is still great, and that the memory of what happened that night will live with them always. The release of al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds can only have added to that pain. In that sense, I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) at the conclusion of his remarks.
Al-Megrahi's release from custody was a decision made solely by Scottish Ministers in accordance with Scots law. My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe will be aware that the Scottish First Minister and the Scottish Minister for Justice responsible for the decision have made that clear in their public statements, and that the Scottish Minister for Justice has also set out publicly the reasons for reaching that decision. Many hon. Members disagreed with it. At the time, my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary both condemned the decision to release al-Megrahi on compassionate grounds, and described it as wrong and misguided. Nevertheless, it is important to recognise that the decision to release al-Megrahi was a legitimate decision for the Scottish Executive to make.
I now turn to the negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement, but I should first make it clear, as my hon. Friends the Members for Harlow and for Folkestone and Hythe did, that it was not the means used to facilitate the release of al-Megrahi. Indeed, his request for a transfer to a Libyan prison was refused by Scottish Ministers, in line with the terms of the agreement.
Hon. Members will be aware that in May 2007, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, visited Libya for discussions with the President, Muammar al-Gaddafi, and that during the course of that visit a memorandum of understanding was signed between the United Kingdom and Libya which provided for the negotiation of four agreements in the field of judicial co-operation. The agreements related to extradition, criminal and civil law, mutual legal assistance and prisoner transfers. They were intended, in part, to mark the return of Libya to the international community following its renunciation of support for international terrorism and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. That was an important policy objective of the UK Government and their European partners at the time.
Responsibility for the negotiation of prisoner transfer agreements on behalf of the UK rests with the Ministry of Justice. Since 1985, the UK has negotiated 23 bilateral prisoner transfer agreements, including the one with Libya. In addition, it is a signatory to two multi-party prisoner transfer agreements. In all, the UK has prisoner transfer agreements with more than 100 countries and territories, so the essence of the fact that there are only 20 Libyans in our prisons is not necessarily unique in terms of the arrangements that we have with other countries. There are not that many Rwandans in our prisons either; again, we have a prisoner transfer agreement with Rwanda.
Negotiation of the prisoner transfer agreement with Libya was conducted over several months by a small team of officials from the National Offender Management Service with the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which is normal practice. The right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw), then
the Secretary of State for Justice, was the Minister responsible for the negotiations. The officials responsible for negotiating the prisoner transfer agreement did so on the basis of a negotiating mandate agreed at each stage with Ministers. At the outset, it included a remit to exclude from the prisoner transfer agreement al-Megrahi and anyone connected with the Lockerbie bombing.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe will understand that I am bound by convention in what I can say about the actions of a previous Administration. That is particularly the case in describing the motives of the previous Government in seeking to conclude a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, and their subsequent decision not to insist on a clause that would exclude al-Megrahi from it. In that sense, I am unable to endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow about its being a secret deal, with devolution being a fig leaf.
"In May 2007, Prime Minister Tony Blair made his second visit to Libya. His summit with Colonel Gaddafi at Sirte covered the full range of our interests with Libya. Mr. Blair signed a defence accord and witnessed the public signature of a major BP exploration contract. Also agreed was a memorandum of understanding on negotiations for a judicial co-operation package, including a prisoner transfer agreement and agreements on mutual legal assistance, extradition, and civil and commercial law.
The UK had a model agreement, based on Council of Europe arrangements, that was the starting point for negotiation on our prisoner transfer agreements with any country and that provided the starting point for negotiations with the Libyans. Four points are relevant. First, a PTA provides for prisoner transfer, not prisoner release. Secondly, it provides a framework for transfer, not a right to transfer. Thirdly, a PTA cannot be used when appeals, including by the prosecuting authority, are outstanding, as in this case. Fourthly, Ministers in the sentencing jurisdiction-in this case Scotland-have an absolute right to veto any transfer.
This standard draft had no provision for any carve-out for any named prisoner. However, the Scottish Executive made strong representations for us to seek to alter the standard PTA so as specifically to exclude Mr. Megrahi. The UK negotiation team, led by the Ministry of Justice, sought in good faith to achieve this goal.
The Libyans insisted that the only PTA that they would sign was a PTA without any exclusions. So the Government had a clear choice. We could agree to a standard PTA with no exclusions, retaining for Scottish Ministers an absolute veto over any request for prisoner transfer in the case of Megrahi-a veto which they used in August this year"-
"or we could have ended the negotiations to prevent an application for prisoner transfer. This would have set back our wider national and commercial interests that flowed from normalised relations, as the Justice Secretary has made clear."
I note the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe that some of his disappointment with the actions of the previous Administration is caused by the fact that they were not prepared to be clear about the interests at stake. The then Foreign Secretary continued:
"Since the PTA involved no prejudice to the rights of the Scottish Executive, nor pressure on the Scottish Executive, the Government decided it was right to go ahead. The PTA finally took effect in April 2009."-[Official Report, 12 October 2009; Vol. 497, c. 30-31.]
There has been speculation surrounding the role that commercial interests-primarily those of BP-played in the decision not to seek the exclusion of al-Megrahi from the terms of the PTA. In July 2010, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary wrote to Senator Kerry, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, setting out the extent of BP's involvement. During the several months of discussion in 2007 about Libyan opposition to the possible exclusion in the PTA, there were a number of conversations between BP and the then UK Government. Specifically, there were three discussions between BP and the right hon. Member for Blackburn, or his office, between October and November 2007; at least two contacts in the same period between BP and the then Prime Minister's foreign policy adviser; and contacts with Her Majesty's ambassador in Tripoli. During those discussions, the progress of negotiations on the UK-Libya transfer agreement and the likely timing of the agreement being signed were discussed. As BP made clear in its statement on 15 July 2010, it had been made aware by the Libyans that failure to agree the PTA could have an impact on UK commercial interests, including Libyan ratification of the BP exploration agreement signed in May 2007, and it wished to bring that fact to the attention of the UK Government.
Damian Collins: For the record, I want to make it clear that the contact of Sir Mark Allen of BP with the right hon. Member for Blackburn coincided with the change in the British negotiating position on the PTA and the decision to withdraw the exclusion of al-Megrahi.
Mr Blunt: I confess that I have insufficient detail on the times and dates of all the contacts between BP and the various parts of the Government to be able to agree with my hon. Friend, but I imagine that what he says is probably broadly correct and probably not a matter of dispute. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made clear to Senator Kerry, it was perfectly normal and legitimate practice for a British company to draw to the attention of the UK Government the interests at stake.
A significant amount of information relating to the negotiation of the PTA, including correspondence between the then Justice Secretary and Scottish Ministers, has already been made public, and I have drawn upon it in my remarks this afternoon. However, to ensure the fullest possible explanation of the circumstances surrounding the decision, the Prime Minister has instructed the Cabinet Secretary to review the papers to see if more needs to be published about the background to the decision. I know that my hon. Friends eagerly anticipate that report. I can tell them, in civil service language, that it will be published "very shortly", so I hope that they will not have to wait very long for more information to be placed at their disposal and to see whether it brings new matters to our attention.
Damian Collins: The report of the US Senate suggested that the UK Government had legal authority to intervene in the matter. In my remarks, I asked whether that was the view of the Ministry of Justice.
Mr Blunt: I am grateful for that intervention; I meant to pick up on my hon. Friend's point. I am advised that, no, it is not a matter on which the UK Government would be in a position to intervene. It is properly a matter for the sentencing authority-in this case, that is Scottish Ministers-to make the decision. They cannot be second-guessed by the UK Government exercising a different authority under the agreement.
My hon. Friend also asked about judicial review of the Scottish decision. The truth is that any prisoner could seek judicial review, and the outcome would be up to the judge who heard the review, but I am advised that it is very difficult to see how a review in those circumstances would meet the test for judicial review or for a decision to be overturned.
Following the request from the Prime Minister, we can look forward to more information from the Cabinet Secretary in a short time. I note that my hon. Friends have urged that the review be brought to a rapid conclusion, and I am confident that their request will be noted and accepted.
Mr David Lammy (Tottenham) (Lab): Thank you, Mrs Riordan, for allowing me to have this debate, which comes at such a crucial time for my constituency, wider north London and the upper Lea valley. This is one of the first times that I have had the opportunity in the House to give a speech that surveys my entire constituency. I do not think that I have spoken in this way since my maiden speech 10 years ago. I said then that we have to invest in the souls of Tottenham people as well as their skills.
The decision before us would rip the soul out of my constituency and wider north London, and affect the entire upper Lea valley. I will explain why that is so in relation to regeneration. Three things make being the MP for Tottenham particularly special: one is our history, which is wrapped up in our football team, but also in our special part of north London. Tottenham is on the A10 corridor and the old Roman road that ran from Bishopsgate to Lincoln, York and the north. It is historically part of Middlesex and the home of the Somerset family. Tottenham, and the London Borough of Enfield, is a part of London that people have come to from all corners of the world to make their home, because of the nature of its housing stock and its position near places where people could find jobs.
That point brings me to the second special thing about the constituency, which, of course, is its people. In the past 50 or 60 years of Tottenham's history, they have been people working in the rag trade, Jewish refugees from violence and prejudice in Europe, and immigrants from the Commonwealth who came to make a new life. Those immigrants included my father, who arrived in this country in 1956. Tottenham is where I grew up. I went to primary school there and I know the streets, so this debate is personal. It is an important opportunity to raise these issues.
The third special thing about my constituency is that it is always wonderful to represent a seat with a top premiership club. It is important to think about the history of the club. Spurs was started 120 years ago by local schoolboys from the Hotspur cricket club, and played in Northumberland park. The team was first brought together by a bible teacher from All Hallows church in Tottenham, and was represented by heroes from the community, many of whom were born and brought up in Tottenham. Successive generations have supported the team for 120 years, paying for tickets and supporting the team throughout its highs and lows.
During the dark days of the 1980s, we saw some of the worst violence that we have ever seen on the streets of this country, but not long afterwards, Tottenham won the FA cup and there was cheering that lifted my spirits at a bleak time. Regeneration of communities such as Tottenham, Moss Side in Manchester, Toxteth in Liverpool and the Gorbals in Glasgow also regenerates our country. Our country's success is guided by the poorest and the weakest in our communities, so this debate and the decision that may lead to the football club leaving one of London's poorest communities is grave. Who allowed that to happen? Whose bright idea was it to encourage Tottenham Hotspur to bid for the Olympic stadium on the other side of London, which would leave one of the biggest regeneration holes in
London that we have seen for a generation? There are rumours that the Mayor encouraged Spurs to bid, which seems an absurd and ridiculous decision in the context of the regeneration of one of the poorest communities in the country.
At the turn of the 21st century, Tottenham was a town that the Government had forgotten in a part of London that too often failed its residents and especially its young people. When I became the MP for Tottenham, more young people there were going to prison than to university. Tottenham was still scarred by unemployment, with levels of more than 20% in the 1980s and 1990s, and in some communities it was higher than 40%. Some housing estates and communities experienced unemployment of more than 50%.
Imagine what that meant for hundreds of young people growing up without work, and for their families. Imagine the legacy that we still live with because of that unemployment. I need not name the headlines about Tottenham, because they were national headlines that usually involved vulnerable children who were knifed or who died in other ways-I am thinking of Victoria Climbié and Baby P. Much of that poverty relates to that legacy, and the decision on regeneration is one of the most pressing that faces the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is my job to remind the Department of that, and to ensure that plans exist for Tottenham if the team leaves.
The community has faced enormous tension and unrest and has been stigmatised, as have others in the past, but over the last decade it has begun to mend. More young people now go to university than ever before in our history. Schools have been rebuilt, and some are now national beacons of success. I am thinking of Gladesmore community school where the head teacher has been recognised by the Queen for all that he has achieved. I am thinking of the accident and emergency department at the Whittington hospital, where I was born, and the North Middlesex hospital, which have been largely renewed and rebuilt. I am thinking of the £50 million that we received in the new deal for communities, to which I am sure the Minister will refer. All of that lifted hopes and aspirations-unemployment was falling back a bit, but is now on the rise again-and happened over the recent period in order to renew the community. Housing estates have seen their housing stock renewed and rebuilt. Prior to the economic downturn, there was a period of hope for the community, but clearly, a decade to achieve all that we wanted to achieve against a backdrop of such disadvantage was always not going to be long enough. That is why we stand at a crossroads-do we march forwards or backwards? That is the decision that lies ahead. The story is not yet finished.
Tottenham still has the highest rate of unemployment in London, with more than 6,000 people currently out of work or on benefits. Tottenham still has one of the largest numbers of households living in temporary or emergency accommodation, with more than 5,000 families in Haringey having no fixed place to live. Four in five children born in Tottenham are still born into poverty, one of the highest rates in the country. It is clear, Mrs Riordan, that although things have got better, we have a long way to go if we are to ensure that every child in Tottenham grows up in a decent home, free of poverty, and in a community in which work is the norm, not the exception.
That brings me to the third factor that makes Tottenham special-Spurs. Since I have been the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, I have worked closely with three successive chairmen and owners of the club. The first was Alan Sugar-he has since been knighted-of "The Apprentice" fame. The second was David Buckler who came in for a brief period after Alan left to stabilise the club and led the way to the current owner, Daniel Levy. Before I became an MP, Spurs was not doing much in the community relative to other clubs. I am thinking particularly of clubs such as Sunderland in the north-east-I will not mention our near rivals, although I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has taken his seat and he may mention the name of that other north London club. Spurs was not doing much in the community, but there has been a transformation.
I worked with Daniel Levy to establish the Tottenham Hotspur foundation as a model, and it is now a beacon in the premiership. It was established with £4.5 million of funding, and enables thousands of young people throughout north London to take part in projects. It is transforming their lives and attracting match funding, and not just in sport. There are wonderful things happening with disability groups and pensioners, not just in Haringey, but in Enfield, Barnet and Waltham Forest where the foundation is making a huge difference.
The club has attracted a succession of top-class international players, such as Freddie Kanoute, Mido, Berbatov, who was with us for a while, and Wilson Palacios. My office assisted them and many others with work permits, and immigration requirements to enable them to come to the community. Despite opposition from some local councillors, I strongly supported the application by Spurs for a new training ground in Enfield, and permission was duly granted despite that opposition.
The club is an immense source of pride for my community, and the young people in it. In what can feel a parochial, mundane and sometimes hostile and discriminatory atmosphere, it is a permanent badge of excellence. It shows people that they can achieve sporting excellence on the doorstep, and that reads across not just to sport, but to every area of life.
That is why I am so angry about what is taking place without proper public consultation with either the fans or my community. Those young people, whose hopes were lifted when we won the Olympic dream, are now to be dumped on from a great height because of this irresponsible decision to rip excellence from the constituency. It is unacceptable. Someone is responsible, and it is not just the club, which is being encouraged to ignore its history and its community, but local, regional and, potentially, national politicians. I want answers about how this has come about, and why this is to happen to one of the poorest communities in London.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):
My right hon. Friend knows that I represent Islington North and am a very proud supporter of Arsenal, the other club in north London. The relocation of stadiums is a difficult issue. Arsenal and Islington worked very closely to ensure that the new stadium was built in Islington without any public subsidy. The presence of Arsenal has meant that there is a very large number of jobs at
the stadium, with all its related facilities, and a huge local community programme with more than 1 million hours spent on community training in football.
It is a badge of honour for the kids in Islington and from nearby to be supporters of Arsenal, and to be part of that community, and the same applies in Haringey, where I used to be a councillor. If we do not retain Tottenham Hotspur there, not only do the jobs and facilities go but the whole heart of the community goes with them. I strongly support and endorse what my friend is doing to try to ensure that Spurs remains at White Hart Lane, and to ensure that we can carry on being north London rivals, a rivalry of which I, of course, represent the better half.
Mr Lammy: I am very grateful for what my hon. Friend has said, but he knows that he actually represents a south London club, and that is why this is even more important. All those years ago, the club moved from Woolwich, but at that time it was not of the size that we see now, making the kind of contribution that both Arsenal and Tottenham make to this very, very poor part of London. I challenge anyone to visit parts of my hon. Friend's constituency, in Holloway, parts of mine, or the constituency of our colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) and say that these clubs are not making a huge contribution. Things would be considerably worse were the clubs not there.
That is why we welcome Spurs' plan for a new 56-seater stadium in Tottenham, why I supported the club in overcoming problems with English Heritage, and why I brokered meetings with both the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and Haringey council. Historically, relations with Haringey council have not always been at their best, but we got planning permission in record time, and in a shorter time than Arsenal. As my hon. Friend has said, it is nonsense to suggest that Arsenal received state aid, and Spurs would never have done so. However, the club is right to say-and so am I-that we need more investment in this constituency.
I have not witnessed in my constituency the kind of transformation that we have seen in cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, and that we are witnessing now in the east of London. So, is Tottenham the next big regeneration challenge for this Government? It ought to be. The people deserve it to be, and the club rightly wants to see that. The plan was that off the back of the redeveloped stadium at White Hart Lane, which has received the approval of Haringey council and the Mayor, we would get further investment from Europe and from the Government, so that yes, we would see a new supermarket, yes we would see new housing, but we would also see the new stadium. As Daniel Levy has said, the stadium has
"the potential to act as a real catalyst for the much-needed, wider regeneration of the area."
"it's closer to Canary Wharf and to the City; and it'll attract more sponsorship".
I have also been very concerned about internet rumours of Spurs' owners selling up to Qatari investors and seeking planning permission at White Hart Lane and the Olympic stadium so as to sell the club on and make more money. When Mr Levy says to me, "I'm acting in
the interests of shareholders," it is my job to remind him that he owns 70% of the shares. So, who will profit ultimately from the decision? This is important.
It is also important to recognise the entire ecology of London, and in so doing it is also important that we say, "Can it possibly be fair that Tottenham's legacy from the Olympics is for the largest private employer to be allowed to leave the constituency?" Let me reiterate, if Spurs is allowed to leave, this Government's legacy for the constituency with the highest unemployment in London will be to have removed the largest private employer. That cannot be right.
Is it also the case that the Olympic Park Legacy Company should take note of the entirety of London and not just regeneration in the east of the city? In my constituency, unemployment is running at 11.2% and incapacity benefit claims are at 11%. Those are some of the highest levels in London. Life expectancy is lower than in the Olympic borough. Mortality rates for women in my constituency are lower, and unemployment is higher, than in the combined Olympic boroughs. Right across the sweep, the statistics suggest that Tottenham is finding it harder than the combined Olympic boroughs, and I am sure that the Minister is aware of that.
Does the Minister believe that it is acceptable to secure a legacy in east London by condemning an area of north London to become effectively a dust bowl? Does he believe that it is fair that the largest economic project in my constituency for a generation may be sacrificed-a brand-new stadium demolished just to build a new one with a supermarket attached? The Olympics were meant to bring a unique experience to the doorsteps of ordinary Londoners. Should Spurs leave, the experience will leave a particularly bitter aftertaste in N17. Who encouraged Spurs to make the decision? What leverage are the Minister and his Department placing on the Mayor as that decision is reached? I am told that the Olympic board will reach the decision on 28 January; what consultation is going on with Haringey council and with us on a decision that is now imminent and pressing? Does the Minister not believe that consultation with my constituents by the Olympic legacy body is absolutely mandatory? Is he concerned that there has been only one phone conversation with the company and with Haringey council? Spurs owns 20 acres of site on the north side of Tottenham high road that has now been blighted. How can due diligence be done on the Spurs bid if only one conversation on the planning application has been had with the local authority?
I hope that the Minister understands that this matter is urgent; that is why I have taken the time to put it on the record for the House, and for others who are listening and watching. This is the most important thing that could have happened in relation to economic regeneration in my constituency in the past decade.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Riordan, and to respond to the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy).
I first want to acknowledge the passion and knowledge that the right hon. Gentleman brings to this issue, and to acknowledge how he has forthrightly stood up for his
constituents. He has outlined the problems, the progress and the opportunities for his constituency and for the borough, and has, with very considerable force, made clear his views about his premiership football club; about its record of success and its community involvement, which, as he has said, has been developed for the better over the past few years and, most important, his views about its future. I think I heard him talk about a plan for a 56-seater stadium, but I am sure that he meant 56,000.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman has arranged a meeting with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport so as to raise these issues with them. A number of the points that he mentioned, whatever their merits one way or the other, are matters for discussion with that Department, rather than the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not mind too much if I say something about the broader approach to regeneration taken by the Government, and perhaps I can give him some assurances. On his specific questions about how we got to our current position and where we are going, let me remind him that for the most part, those decisions are not the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Mr Lammy: Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is a member of the Olympic board and that ultimately, the decision of the company will come to the Olympic board? Is there a seat for the Mayor, for DCMS and for DCLG to stand up for regeneration in London?
Andrew Stunell: The Secretary of State certainly has a role in the matter, and I do not seek to avoid that. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman understands fully that the lead Department will be the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Perhaps I can put a broader perspective on the way the Government work. We think it is important to ensure that local businesses, of all scales and whatever the business, have the opportunity to thrive. We want to support economic growth and regeneration, and we have made it clear that areas such as the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, which are behind in the economic race, need to be given support. We want to see that done by giving power and the capacity to take decisions back to local councils and to London collectively, and not by having micro-management from Whitehall on every aspect of business delivery.
We have a strategic and supportive role to play, and it is important to get the macro-economic situation right. We must provide incentives, remove barriers and provide access to targeted investment. Despite all the financial pressure faced by the Government and the country, we have given the green light to some important and significant infrastructure projects.
Let me take the Minister back to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy). I understand the philosophy behind the future planning arrangements, but in the immediate term we have two bids going in for the Olympic stadium-from West Ham and Spurs. West Ham is a local club that would essentially seek to develop the Olympic stadium for the continuation of local activities as an east London club. Spurs is in
Tottenham and is an important part of the local economy. Surely the Government have a duty to take into account the effect on the local society and economy of Haringey should the transfer of Spurs to the Olympic stadium be approved, rather than if the club continues where it has been for a long time and where it is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, a major part of the local economy.
Andrew Stunell: I understand the concern that was raised by the right hon. Member for Tottenham and brought to my attention again by the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Of course it is an issue of controversy that the shortlist contains those two clubs; I understand that. The Olympic Park Legacy Company is negotiating with each club, and expects to have reached a settled position on the legacy by the end of the financial year. I was not aware of the specific date that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned a moment ago. It would not be right for me to comment on the progress of that bidding process or on the state of those negotiations, and neither would it be right for the Government to seek to interfere with that. As the right hon. Gentleman says, at some further point the decision will come back for endorsement by the Olympic Delivery Authority, and no doubt points of view will be taken into account when that decision is-or is not -signed off.
Perhaps I can return to the broader picture. It is important to ensure that the Olympic investment and legacy benefits the whole of London; it is not intended to be a one-shop stop. An intrinsic part of the bid put forward by the previous Government and supported by all parties in the House, was that the value of the Olympic bid would be in the legacy that it would bring not only to a geographical area but to young people, by providing opportunities to promote excellence far into the future. All parts of that legacy programme are still in play as far as the present Government are concerned.
We must also recognise that we are devolving powers. We are taking powers out of Whitehall and passing them down to the Mayor of London, the London boroughs and the London assembly. Proposals have been published in the Localism Bill, and they will be considered by the House.
The progress of the legislation means that if the timetable I have referred to is maintained, and the decision is taken by the end of the financial
year, that will precede the Localism Bill coming into force. The decision will be made in the context of the current legislative framework, and the roles and responsibilities are those already set out.
Mr Lammy: A decision is being made that has a once-in-a-generation effect on my constituency. I am the elected representative of my constituents, but they have not been consulted. The Mayor has fixed a date for a meeting with me on 24 February, but that is unacceptable given that the Olympic board will consider the issue on 28 January. As the Minister responsible for regeneration in this country, will he urge the Mayor to meet with the elected representative of Tottenham and its constituents? Will he urge his colleagues to think carefully about their responsibilities to my locality through their elected representative?
Andrew Stunell: I undertake to ensure that this debate and the views of the right hon. Gentleman are clearly drawn to the attention of the Mayor. The Government certainly hope that there will be proper discussions with the democratically elected representatives of communities, but it is for the Mayor to decide what processes he will follow to achieve that.
Ensuring that the Olympic legacy delivers on what was offered in the bid is an interesting and challenging project. The Olympics will come after a period of economic retrenchment. Ensuring that the legacy is delivered, that the benefits are not frittered away, and that we can look back in 10 years' time and see that the games were not only a success in themselves but that the legacy has endured, is an important and significant challenge for the Government, the Mayor and the London boroughs. The right hon. Gentleman has made a strong plea that the borough of Haringey should not be left out of that. I assure him that as our proposals for localising economic growth come to fruition, we will ensure that the borough of Haringey and Tottenham are not left out.
If we are to achieve success, we must ensure that the economic and financial framework facing the country is put right. That must be our top priority and that is why we have been working so hard at a national level to deliver on the financial programme. It is also why it is important to take the responsibility and powers for decision making on regeneration issues out of Whitehall, and give them back to the regions and communities where they need to be.