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House of Commons

Monday 24 January 2011

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked-

Alcohol (Licensing)

1. Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What steps she plans to take to amend the licensing regime affecting the sale of alcohol. [35089]

2. Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): What steps she plans to take to amend the licensing regime affecting the sale of alcohol. [35090]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Government are taking forward proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill to reform the alcohol licensing regime. These include charging a fee for late-night licences, making it easier for communities to have their say on local licensing matters, doubling the fine to £20,000 for those found persistently selling alcohol to children and overhauling the temporary event notices so that existing loopholes can no longer be exploited.

Fiona Bruce: The Cheshire ArcAngel team does excellent work to combat under-age drinking and sales to under-age drinkers, including working with responsible retailers. Licensing officers inform me, however, that current procedures make enforcement action unwieldy and protracted, even when a sale to an under-age individual has clearly occurred. Will the Minister look into enforcement difficulties, such as problems identifying which salesperson to prosecute, the tactic of a swift change of a named licence holder making closure notices hard to apply and the omission of a power to require mandatory staff retraining?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for that question and join her in commending the work of ArcAngel in Cheshire. The work that it does is similar to that of other groups throughout the country. Certainly it is important for us not only to change the legislation to ensure that the things I set out in my original answer occur, but to ensure that enforcement takes place properly. I am sure we will be happy to look at the particular issues that she raises in relation to the difficulty of enforcement.

Gordon Henderson: A few weeks back, I spent a Friday night out on the streets of Sheerness with my local police licensing officer, backed up by a team of community policemen, checking out licensed premises in an effort to combat alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. I was deeply impressed by the licensing officer's professionalism and the dedicated way he went about his business. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as police forces look to reduce the number of back-office staff, one area that should not be cut is licence enforcement?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and commend him for going out with the licensing officer to see what is done in practice. Of course, licence enforcement is an important part of policing. It is not for us to tell chief constables how to allocate their resources, but they will look to ensure that they have the right mix of police officers and police staff to ensure that the licensing law is abided by and enforced.

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Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): As the Home Secretary knows, 50% of crimes are alcohol-related, according to the British crime survey. May I welcome the Government's proposals for a minimum price for alcohol? They are of course in keeping with the recommendations that the Home Affairs Committee made last year, but will she look at the level of pricing? She is putting it at 21p per unit, whereas health campaigners say that it should be 50p per unit. Let us make this a genuine exercise, not just a box-ticking exercise.

Mrs May: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I also commend the Home Affairs Committee for its work in this and a number of other areas. He refers to a minimum price for alcohol, but we are banning below-cost sales of alcohol, and we have set that cost at VAT plus duty. That is slightly different from a minimum per unit price for alcohol, but it is important to recognise that, in relation to cracking down on problem drinking, we have taken not only that step but a number of other measures of the sort that I set out in my earlier response.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): In reviewing the Licensing Act 2003, is the Secretary of State satisfied that police forces and local authorities throughout the country are using their existing powers as much as they should? Does the late night levy proposal, aimed at reflecting the cost of policing the late-night economy, risk being an additional tax burden on local businesses while the policing that they receive in return still falls as a result of the 20% cuts in police budgets?

Mrs May: I refer the hon. Lady to the actions of the Labour Government in introducing alcohol disorder zones. Yes, we are reviewing the Licensing Act 2003 that they brought in, because far from introducing the café-style culture that Tony Blair said it would bring, it did the exact opposite. Sadly, we have yet again seen increases in incidents relating to alcohol, and in admissions to hospital owing to alcohol-related injuries. That is why the coalition Government are taking the steps that are necessary to deal with problem drinking and giving local areas the ability to deal with their licensing problems.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I welcome the Government's commitment to tackling the debilitating impact of alcohol abuse. By how many do the Government expect the recently announced measures to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths? If they are unsuccessful in that, will the Government consider banning alcohol sales below a cost that includes production and transport costs?

Mrs May: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. We expect that there will be 7,000 fewer alcohol-related incidents and 1,000 fewer hospital admissions as a result of the ban on below-cost alcohol sales.

Immigration (Scotland)

3. Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the effects on Scotland of the limit on immigration. [35091]

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): A full impact assessment covering the whole of the UK will be published when we lay new immigration rules in March
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to implement the changes that will introduce the new limits from April. As the hon. Gentleman knows, immigration is not a devolved matter.

Jim McGovern: I thank the Minister for his response. In my constituency, there are two universities and a number of successful science and technology companies. I have been presented with cases at my constituency surgery in which promising employees and students have been rejected simply because the immigration limits have been reached. Those people are highly qualified and would be of significant benefit to the Dundee and UK economies. How can we simply turn them away?

Damian Green: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the purpose of the limit is to meet the need to control Britain's immigration system in a way that enables businesses to bring in the skilled workers that they need. I remind him and employers in Scotland that the unemployment rate in Scotland is above the UK average, at 8.4% compared with 7.8% for the UK. We should have regard to the needs of Scottish workers when companies look to recruit.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): When one of my great-grandfathers left the Gordon Highlanders as a pipe major, he could not find work in Scotland. Like many Scots, he came south to England. If there are job vacancies in Scotland, should people not be thinking of moving the other way? Is it not a bit strange for the Opposition to be on the one hand bemoaning unemployment levels, and on the other hand campaigning for higher immigration levels?

Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes exactly the right point. It was the previous Prime Minister who made the unfortunate point about British jobs for British workers at a time when British workers were not taking the majority of the jobs available in this country. This Government are determined to balance the economy better in many ways, in particular by ensuring that as many of the available jobs as possible are available to workers in Britain and, indeed, Scotland.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I think that everybody in Scotland is getting tired of the complacent response on these issues. The Minister has managed to unite all businesses, all universities, the health sector and all employers in Scotland in opposition to the immigration cap, because of the damage it will do to the Scottish economy. When will he acknowledge that Scotland's population issues are entirely different from England's? Will he accept that one cap does not fit all when it comes to immigration?

Damian Green: There are indeed differences in Scotland, and one is that unemployment in Scotland is higher than in England, and higher than the average for the rest of the UK. I dare say that those who are complaining about this matter do not include workers in Scotland, and do not include the unemployed in Scotland.

Youth Services (CSR)

4. Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): What funding her Department plans to provide for youth services during the comprehensive spending review period. [35092]

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The Minister for Equalities (Lynne Featherstone): As the Home Secretary told the House during oral questions in December, the Home Office does not provide youth services. However, it does contribute towards local youth crime prevention work, including youth offending teams and family intervention work. We will continue to fund activities that divert young people from crime and will set out our plans for future funding in due course.

Julie Elliott: Northumbria police are proposing massive cuts in support staff, which will take front-line officers off the streets, including those who work on youth crime prevention, to do back-room jobs that are currently being done by support staff. Will the Minister explain how that will not result in the level of crime going up in Sunderland and Northumbria?

Lynne Featherstone: Our challenge is to use the resources that we have in the most effective way possible by freeing up officer time to deal with crime. Front-line services will always matter most to the public. It is up to the local force in Northumberland how to deploy its forces, but other forces are increasing their front-line staff, so perhaps Northumberland should follow suit.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I accept what my hon. Friend the Minister says about her Department not having direct responsibility for the matter, but can she assure me that it and the police will contribute to the review of youth provision led by the Department for Education? There is a lot of learning and expertise in community engagement to be gained by the Home Office and the police.

Lynne Featherstone: I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. There is a lot that we can learn, and we will listen to all that comes out of the review and work with the Department for Education. As he will know, youth services are provided by that Department and not the Home Office, but we work closely together.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): But does the Minister understand the basic principles of the matter? Youth services are essential to directing young people into positive engagement, and they are better and more cost-effective for the Home Office than dealing with the consequences after young people have got involved in crime. Will she and other Home Office Ministers understand and pursue that, in the way that was suggested in the Justice Committee's report on justice reinvestment?

Lynne Featherstone: That is exactly why the Department for Education's early intervention grant, worth £2.2 billion in 2011-12, is in place. Early indications of how local areas might make best use of that grant were given in December 2010. It will give them the flexibility to target funding on early interventions, which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, are absolutely vital.

Police (Rural Areas)

5. Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): What assessment she has made of the challenges faced by police forces required to police large rural areas. [35094]

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The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Rural areas can present challenges for policing because of their geographical size and the remoteness of their communities. The Government's reform programme to reduce bureaucracy will help policing in rural and urban areas alike.

Julian Smith: I thank my right hon. Friend. Will he urge police forces to work much more closely with fire services and others to share back offices and facilities in rural areas and save taxpayers' money?

Nick Herbert: The short answer is yes. Police forces could make huge savings by collaborating with each other and with other authorities. An example is the proposed national police air service, which will save £15 million a year once it is fully in place. I hope that police authorities will agree to it.

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): Would it not be a mistake to prop up rural police funding by plundering the police resources of urban areas? For example, many people in my constituency are worried about the future of Sherwood police station. Why are the Government cutting the most from the least well-off communities?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that would be a mistake, and we certainly do not make funding allocations on that basis. Of course police forces have had to make savings, but we have decided that the fairest approach is to ensure that all forces make an equal share of the savings. The majority of grant is, of course, allocated according to the formula.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Although co-operation among forces, and indeed between the police, ambulance and fire services, is essential, as the Minister correctly suggests, does he not agree that there is a real risk that if a rural police force such as mine in Wiltshire were to co-operate too closely with, say, Bristol on one side or Swindon or Reading on the other, resources would be pulled out of the rural areas and into the urban ones? Keeping a rural police service is extremely important.

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of keeping rural policing services. In the end, these are matters for the determination of chief constables, who must remain operationally independent and allocate resources properly, and their police authorities. We do not seek to interfere with that, but we do seek to drive savings where they can be made by greater collaboration between forces.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): The chief constable of North Wales says that it will be impossible to protect front-line services with cuts of £22.6 million over the next four years. Will the Prime Minister please tell us- [Interruption.] I apologise for what may appear to be a promotion. Will the Minister explain what assessment he has made of those figures?

Nick Herbert: That is easily the nicest thing that has been said to me since I have been in this job-indeed, it may be the only nice thing.

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I want to discuss these issues with the chief constable of North Wales. We believe that by making significant savings in their back and middle offices, by sharing services and by improving procurement, it is possible for police forces to deal with funding reductions while protecting front-line services. It is up to the police authority and the chief constable to do everything they can to ensure that that is the case.


6. Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): What recent progress has been made towards the Government's commitment to reduce net migration. [35095]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): We have already announced that we will introduce a new permanent limit on non-EU economic migrants, with a reduction in visas from tiers 1 and 2 in the next financial year from 28,000 to 21,700. Those changes to the economic routes will be introduced in April. We are currently consulting on changes to tighten the student route and will consult on family and settlement later this year.

Gareth Johnson: I am grateful to the Home Secretary for her answer. I am sure she agrees that reducing net immigration is essential to the United Kingdom. How successful was the points-based system in controlling immigration to this country?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend is right, and that is why the Government have the aim of reducing net migration to tens of thousands from the hundreds of thousands. Of course, it reached the hundreds of thousands under the points-based system that the previous Government operated. However, the problem was not the points-based system, but the fact that the previous Government had no proper policy for ensuring that immigration was brought under control. This Government will ensure that immigration is controlled and that net migration is reduced.

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): What is the exact reduction that the Secretary of State will achieve in the net migration figures this year and in each year up to 2015 to fulfil the firm pledge, which she appears to have again relegated to the status of an aim, to cut net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015? [ Interruption .]

Mrs May: As one of my hon. Friends just said, "Nice try." Of course, I am unable to give the hon. Lady an exact figure for net migration this year. There will be people across the world who have not decided whether they want to apply to come to the UK, and people in the UK who have not yet decided whether they want to leave. Nobody knows exactly what that figure will be.

Non-EU Student Immigration

7. Mr Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con): What steps she plans to take to control student immigration from non-EU states. [35096]

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11. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What steps she is taking to control levels of student immigration from non-EU states. [35100]

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The Government launched a public consultation on proposed changes to the student visa arrangements on 7 December 2010. The proposals will result in a more selective system and reduce the numbers to support our aim of reducing net migration to sustainable levels.

Mr Swayne: What importance does the Minister attach to student visas in his overall objective of reducing net migration to a sustainable level?

Damian Green: It is an extremely important part of the overall reduction that we need. Taking action on students is particularly important as they make up roughly two thirds of non-European economic area immigrants, and the number of student visas issued has been rising in recent years. Getting a proper grip on the out-of-control system that we inherited requires action on all the main routes of immigration, and that is precisely what the Government will do.

Andrew Selous: Will my hon. Friend reassure me that in future there will be robust checks on the departure of all foreign students whose visas have expired?

Damian Green: Yes, we are proceeding with the e-Borders system, which already manages to track the journeys of roughly 55% of those who come in and out of the country. By the end of the Parliament, that figure will be up to mid-90%. My hon. Friend identifies a key problem: it is not just a question of who comes but of how long they stay and whether they go at the end of their stay.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): In taking the action on students about which the Minister has spoken, will he acknowledge the importance of non-EU students to British institutions of higher education and learning? Will he ensure that he clamps down on the bogus colleges that have violated those students' expectations?

Damian Green: I am happy to agree with both points in the hon. Gentleman's question. Of course we want our universities to flourish and the brightest and best students to come to this country and study at good, genuine institutions. However, we are already cracking down on the bogus colleges and on those that do not provide a proper education. The significance of the distinction between those two things, which the hon. Gentleman rightly makes, is that more than 40% of those who come here on student visas study at below degree level. Often, the public perception of a student as somebody who studies at a university is simply wrong in the case of those who come here from abroad on student visas.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): But if, as the Minister says, 40% of students are on below-degree courses, his policy could have a major impact on the funding of colleges and universities. Has he had discussions with Government colleagues about the impact of achieving the 40% reduction that he is apparently looking for?

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Damian Green: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Home Office questions as the Labour party's immigration spokesman. Yes, of course we have extensive discussions within the Government on the effects of the controls that we will introduce. He will have seen that very surprising numbers of people come here to do sub-degree courses not at public further education colleges but at privately funded colleges. He will be aware that there are many hundreds of those colleges, and that they are-frankly-of variable quality.

Crime Levels

8. Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the change in the level of crime since 1997. [35097]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The two main measures of crime-the British crime survey and police recorded crime-provide either a partial or confusing picture of trends in crime since 1997. It is crucial that we have a measure of crime in which the public have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to lead an independent review of how it is produced.

Barbara Keeley: The picture of crime in Greater Manchester is neither partial nor confusing-between 1998 and 2009, the number of police officers rose by 1,200 and crime fell by a third. However, with the cuts imposed by this Government, Greater Manchester police will lose 1,400 police officers. Our chief constable told the Select Committee on Home Affairs that that will mean changes to policing, fewer police on the streets and a lesser service. What does the Minister-in his current role or any future exalted one-plan to do if the Government's cuts lead to a rise in crime, as my constituents fear they will?

Nick Herbert: I should first of all point out to the hon. Lady what the chief constable of Greater Manchester police actually said. He said that

If she is going to mount her attack on the basis of police numbers falling, perhaps she will reflect on the fact that police numbers in Greater Manchester fell in the last year of the Labour Government.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Under the previous Government, more than 4,000 new offences were created-an average of 28 new offences for every month of that Government. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not have a deluge of new offences under this Government?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend that the previous Government's record was repeatedly to introduce criminal justice Bills and to create more and more offences. This Government want to ensure that the police can focus on crime fighting rather than on form writing and the bureaucracy that they were landed with by the previous Government.

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Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): As the British crime survey was established by the previous Conservative Administration to produce greater accuracy in assessing levels of crime, why does the right hon. Gentleman not show the same courage as the former Home Secretary, now Lord Howard, and simply admit that crime went up inexorably until 1995, and that since then, on the Conservative's own measure, crime has consistently fallen to one of the lowest levels that we have seen in three decades?

Nick Herbert: I note that on the right hon. Gentleman's measure, crime started to fall two years before the advent of a Labour Government. He knows as well as I do that the British crime survey excludes important crimes-those against young people and property-and we therefore believe it is important that we have measures in which the public can have confidence. That is why we have asked the national statistician to conduct an independent review of those matters. I urge him and Opposition Members to join us in giving evidence to the national statistician. Let us reach a measure in which we can all trust and have confidence.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that a DNA database, CCTV cameras and having as many criminals in prison as possible all contribute to a reduced level of crime? Would he like to comment on what impact the Government's plans will have on levels of crime in future?

Nick Herbert: As so often, I do not agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Of course, the national DNA database and CCTV are important, but it is equally important that there is proper governance of them and that we achieve a proper balance between civil liberties and crime-fighting measures.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): It is a pleasure to be working once again opposite the Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May). I am only sorry not to be asking my first Home Affairs question of her.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said that there is no link between the number of police officers and the level of crime. However, the Birmingham Mail has reported that some parts of Birmingham have already seen a recruitment freeze, a cut in the number of officers in the neighbourhood team and a significant increase in the number of burglaries in the past nine months. The local police, who are being put in a very difficult position by the Government, have said that they are struggling to fight crime in the area as a result. Does he still stand by his claim or will he admit, to the police and the public, that he has got it wrong?

Nick Herbert: May I first welcome the right hon. Lady to her post? I look forward to debating these issues with her, although I hope she will not follow the poor example of her successor- [Laughter.] I mean her predecessor. I hope that she will not follow his poor example by partially quoting Government Members. I did not say that there was no link, and she should know that. Instead, I should point out something said by somebody with whom I believe she has regular conversations: that this was a tighter environment for police spending, and would be under any Government.
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That was what the new shadow Chancellor said to the Home Affairs Committee on 22 November 2010, when he was shadow Home Secretary.

Child Protection

9. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): What factors she took into account in reaching her decision to merge the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the national crime agency. [35098]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the Government, and we believe that the work of CEOP is central to ensuring that children are protected at a national level. Whatever final decision we make on the future status of CEOP, we will carefully take full account of the particular characteristics needed to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive in the future.

Jo Swinson: CEOP is well respected for the excellent work it does, including in improving protection on social media-for example, the panic button on Facebook. The resignation of Jim Gamble will cause great concern to many parents, so what reassurance can the Government give that child safety online will be prioritised and enhanced under the new structure, and certainly in no way compromised?

James Brokenshire: I thank the hon. Lady for her comments because they allow me to underline the Government's gratitude for the continuing work of CEOP and the importance that we place on it. That has certainly been highlighted by the thematic assessment that it is undertaking of the appalling incidents uncovered as a consequence of Operation Retriever. We are looking closely at the specific characteristics that need to be retained to ensure that CEOP continues to thrive, including a clearly delegated authority for its budget, operational independence and the ability for external partners to continue to work alongside it. We regard CEOP as very significant, and will continue to support it.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): On that last point, I am sure that the Minister will acknowledge that one of CEOP's great strengths is the partnerships it has created with the private sector and children's organisations. What evidence can he give to the House, therefore, that under his proposals CEOP will continue to be able to raise about one third of its running costs from sources outside Government?

James Brokenshire: An important point to make is that some people have suggested that were we to decide that CEOP should form part of the new national crime agency, it would in some way change its characteristics. The right hon. Gentleman will know probably better than most that CEOP is already part of the Serious Organised Crime Agency, where it has been able to attract partners from the voluntary and community sector as well as the private sector. We are clear that that relationship needs to be maintained into the future, whatever the format or wherever CEOP sits when we finally reach our conclusions in the current review.

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Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Cuts in police officer numbers will mean reductions in the numbers of specialist officers and specialist units. CEOP has been a great success, working with others to protect children. Children's charities such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and people such as Sara Payne oppose its merger with the new national crime agency. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has also expressed concern, and CEOP'S chief executive has resigned. Why are they all wrong and the Minister right?

James Brokenshire: We are still considering this issue, but the Home Secretary has said that her preferred option would be for CEOP to be part of the national crime agency, because of the strong links and the need for enforcement capability. However, we recognise the other functions that CEOP performs, which is why we are considering the matter carefully. It is also why I set out clearly the relevant factors and characteristics that we recognise in CEOP, and why we will ensure that it is protected.

Police (Regulatory Burden)

12. Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): What steps she plans to take to reduce the burden of regulation on police forces. [35101]

18. Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): What steps she plans to take to reduce the burden of regulation on police forces. [35108]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): We have removed central targets by scrapping the policing pledge and the public confidence target, and we will be abolishing the assessment of policing and community safety. We are also working with Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary to develop new, light-touch monitoring arrangements for police forces that will allow us to focus on performance, at the same time as reducing the inspection burden.

Nicky Morgan: I thank the Secretary of State for her answer. Police community support officers and police officers are a valuable resource in the communities that they serve in Loughborough and surrounding villages. Does my right hon. Friend agree that where savings need to be made, Leicestershire police force and others should be looking at the back office for those savings, not the front line?

Mrs May: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in the back office, and that is where they should look first. We are helping them by scrapping the stop form and reducing what needs to be recorded on the stop-and-search form. We will save 800,000 hours of police time a year.

Sajid Javid: My local police force, West Mercia, finds itself involved in increasing amounts of social work. Although that is to be commended-such compassion is good-it draws resources away from fighting crime. Will my right hon. Friend commit to reviewing regulations and working with her Cabinet colleagues to look at the
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issue carefully and ensure that social work is carried out by dedicated social services, so that the police can focus on fighting crime?

Mrs May: I have made it absolutely clear to the police that their aim is to cut crime, but of course they work with other agencies, in a variety of ways, on the issues that they deal with. The important thing is that when such work takes place, it leads to effective action, whatever that action should be, and not, sadly, what used to happen, as we saw from HMIC's report on the response to antisocial behaviour. All too often, meetings and partnership meetings took place just for the sake of it, rather than something being done on the ground to benefit people.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Home Secretary appears to be continuing with the trend of what she has been saying, which is that the cuts in the police budget can be met by back-office cuts and reductions in regulation. In the west midlands there have been huge reductions in back-office staff and a freeze on police recruitment. Does she believe that the chief constable is just a fool, or is she in denial?

Mrs May: I was interested that the right hon. Gentleman's initial comment was that he was grateful for some consistency from a Minister. Perhaps that was more a comment about the Labour Government, of whom he was a senior member, and the policies that they introduced. What I would say to him is indeed what I have been saying since I came into this role. It is possible for police forces to make significant savings in their budgets by making savings in the back office. HMIC reported that simply ensuring that all police forces met average efficiency levels could save 12% in their budgets, which does not take into account issues such as procurement, IT procurement and the potential for a two-year pay freeze, were that to be agreed by the police negotiating board.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): One way to reduce the burdens on front-line police is to have a team of support staff in place to do many of the tasks necessary to bring about successful convictions. Does the Home Secretary not understand the anger and dismay of people across Greater Manchester, who are set to lose not only almost 1,400 front-line police officers, but 1,500 support staff? Will she think again?

Mrs May: One way to release the police to do the job that the public want them to be doing, on the front line, is to get rid of the bureaucracy that was introduced by the last, Labour Government, which ties too many police officers up behind a desk, so that they are not out there on the streets.

South Wales Police (CSR)

13. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): What recent estimate she has made of the effects of the outcomes of the comprehensive spending review on police numbers in south Wales. [35102]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): It is for the police authority and chief constable to determine the number of officers in south Wales
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within the available resource. The Government are determined to help forces protect the front line by reducing costs and bureaucracy.

Kevin Brennan: It is quite clear that there are going to be huge reductions in the number of police officers in south Wales and elsewhere. Will the Minister tell the House exactly when the Conservative party decided that it was no longer interested in being known as the party of law and order?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says. We have to deal with a budget deficit bequeathed to us by the previous Government. The police service spends some £13 billion a year, and it can contribute to the savings that have to be made. Those on the Labour Benches have conceded that police forces can save more than £1 billion a year without affecting the front line.

Family Intervention Projects

14. Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): What funding her Department will make available during the spending review period for the implementation of family intervention projects. [35103]

The Minister for Equalities (Lynne Featherstone): From April 2011, funding decisions on specific early intervention priorities, including family intervention projects, will be devolved to local areas. The Department for Education's new early intervention grant, worth £2.2 billion in 2011-12, will give local authorities the flexibility that they need to plan how best to use central Government funding for local services according to local priorities.

Mrs Hodgson: Earlier today, the former shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), said that, without Andy Coulson, the Government would lack any idea about what the priorities of the general public were. I can inform the Minister that one of the major priorities for most of the general public is antisocial behaviour, and that family intervention projects are a proven way of nipping that problem in the bud. Can she guarantee that, even without the man-of-the-people guidance of Mr Coulson, important but low-profile projects such as family intervention projects will continue to be a funding priority?

Lynne Featherstone: I am not sure that the hon. Lady was listening to my earlier response, in which I said that the Department for Education had already allocated £2.2 billion for 2011-12. There will be almost £2.3 billion in 2012-13. I do not think that that suggests that we do not think this is important.

Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Does the Minister agree that, in the past, there has been far too much duplication in the public services, and that a more holistic approach would not only benefit families but save money?

Lynne Featherstone: My hon. Friend is entirely right. A great deal of money is spent on chaotic families, who, up to now, have had a series of agencies trying to help them. The move to a single key worker will save an enormous amount. The original estimate was between
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£250,000 and £300,000, but with a specially allocated key worker and early intervention, the cost could be as low as £14,000.

UK Border Agency (CSR)

15. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the likely change in the number of UK Border Agency staff as a result of the outcome of the comprehensive spending review. [35105]

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): The UK Border Agency has estimated that the number of UK Border Agency staff will reduce by about 5,200 during the spending review period.

Kelvin Hopkins: We deal with hundreds of immigration cases in my constituency every year. While the situation undoubtedly improved under the previous Government, there are still substantial delays in the UK Border Agency's dealing with cases. May I suggest to the Minister that we need an increase in staff, not a reduction?

Damian Green: I am interested to hear that those on the Labour Back Benches are still calling for public spending increases. It will be interesting to see what those on the hon. Gentleman's Front Bench say about that. He is wrong in several respects. The UK Border Agency is getting better, and it will get better still. It will do that in two ways. First, we will replace the costly and outmoded paperwork that it depended on in the past with the appropriate use of new technology. Secondly, the very use of that technology will mean that we can better target our resources of people and money on those who are most likely to cause harm to the UK. So we will be able to provide a better service, even with fewer staff.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What estimates has the Minister made of the number of staff that would be required if the UK Border Agency got its decisions right the first time?

Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. The higher the quality of the initial decision making, the fewer resources of money and people will be needed later. Part of the reason for having the new technology-new ways of applying for visas, for example -is that we will be able to use senior and more experienced staff to take the initial decisions, so that more of them can be got right first time.

Police (Bolton)

16. Mr David Crausby (Bolton North East) (Lab): What estimate she has made of the number of police officers in Bolton (a) on the latest date for which figures are available and (b) at the end of 2014-15. [35106]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Bolton Metropolitan borough division had 527 police officers on 31 March 2010. It is not possible to forecast the position in 2014-15. It is a matter for the chief constable and the police authority to determine the number of police officers and other staff that are deployed to Bolton.

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Mr Crausby: Well, the Minister might be in denial about the numbers in 2014, but the rest of us know that under this Government there will be fewer police officers in Bolton in that year than there are now. After all those years in opposition making a case for having more bobbies on the beat, how can this Government retain any credibility without admitting that fewer police officers will mean more crime?

Nick Herbert: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will pay more attention to what the chief constable of the Greater Midlands [Hon. Members: "Greater Manchester"] police is saying. I am sorry, I mean the chief constable of the Greater Manchester police. He told The Bolton News that cuts would not affect the front line and went on to say that there was "no reason" why crime should go up. He pointed out to the Home Affairs Committee that some of the force's headquarters operations had got too big and that some police officer numbers had been kept artificially high. He said that they had lots of police officers doing administrative posts just to hit that number.

English Defence League

17. Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): What recent assessment she has made of the extent of the activities of the English Defence League. [35107]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): The Government work with a range of partners to assess the activities of the English Defence League and its impact on communities, in order to inform Government policy on tackling extremism, promoting integration and managing public order challenges.

Gavin Shuker: On Saturday 5 February, the English Defence League will rally in Luton, leading to the biggest police operations in Bedfordshire's history. Although there are undoubted concerns about short-term public order offences, does the Home Secretary share my concern and that of many of my constituents about the long-term effects on community cohesion resulting from this extremist group?

Mrs May: I do indeed share concerns about the EDL, its actions and its impact on communities when it marches. As I understand it, Bedfordshire police are looking very carefully at the policing arrangements for the march in Luton. We should all be aware of the damage that the EDL's divisive message can do to communities.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): Can the Home Secretary do anything to address the issue of the internet, which is having the effect of radicalising young people on both sides of the political spectrum?

Mrs May: My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important issue, to which we need to pay close attention. It is much harder these days-precisely because of the internet-to ensure that young people do not find themselves exposed to these radicalising messages, and we have sadly seen some individuals radicalised by access to it. This is a matter that the Government take very seriously; we are talking with partners about it.

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Topical Questions

T1. [35114] Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): At the end of last year, Parliament passed the Identity Documents Act 2010, which the Home Office introduced to scrap the previous Government's regime of intrusive, ineffective and expensive ID cards. In 2011, we will take further steps towards restoring the rights of individuals, eliminating wasteful bureaucracy and making the police service more accountable to local people.

Bob Blackman: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the moves she is taking to sort out the chaotic immigration system that she inherited. Issues of concern include students who come to this country on a temporary basis, but fail to leave; and people who come as visitors, who overstay their welcome and then attempt to transfer to permanent status. What moves is she making to break that link?

Mrs May: We are making a number of moves. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration said in response to an earlier question, we are looking at the student visa route and ensuring that we can stop abuses pertaining to it. We are also looking at stopping people here on a temporary basis from moving on to a permanent settlement basis. Last year, 62,000 people who came here to fill temporary skills gaps then moved into permanent settlement. That is not right.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): I shall ask the Home Secretary about the counter-terrorism review. On Thursday, the Minister for Immigration had to be dragged to the House to tell us Government policy on pre-trial detention. He told us that emergency legislation would be kept on hand in the Library of the House. The old powers lapse at midnight, yet as of half an hour ago, there was still no draft emergency legislation in the Library. On Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister told the media that control orders were being abolished and at lunch time today, the BBC-not this House-was briefed that the new measures would include tagging and overnight residence requirements and would look a lot like control orders. This is a chaotic, shambolic and cavalier process. Where is the draft legislation? Will the Home Secretary now tell us what is happening with the legislation and with control orders, and will she take the opportunity to apologise for this shambolic process on such an important issue?

Mrs May: First, may I welcome the right hon. Lady to her new post as shadow Home Secretary? I am sure that she will enjoy the post. She is the third shadow Home Secretary I have faced in my nine months as Home Secretary. For her sake, I hope that she stays longer in the role than her predecessors have.

The right hon. Lady makes a point about process and refers to the 28-day pre-charge detention issue. May I say to her that the previous shadow Home Secretary clearly supported the Government on taking pre-charge detention down from 28 days to 14 days? Earlier today,
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the shadow Home Secretary was unfortunately unable to answer the question whether she supported 14 days' pre-charge detention. If she is interested in chaos, she should look at sorting out her own policy.

T3. [35116] Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Will my hon. Friend the Minister meet me and Detective Inspector Snell to learn how Devon and Cornwall constabulary have been able to tackle the growing incidence of child sexual exploitation, so that the Government can develop a holistic plan of action to tackle a most serious situation involving thousands of children in every part of the country?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I thank my hon. Friend for raising the point and for highlighting the work of Devon and Cornwall police on Operation Lakeland, which led to the conviction of six men jailed for sexually abusing girls in Cornwall. I would be happy to meet her and the detective inspector to learn from their experiences. She will be aware of the thematic review that the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is undertaking in relation to this area of policy. I am also discussing with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), some of the significant matters highlighted by the recent report by Barnardo's.

T2. [35115] Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): Contrary to the assertion of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Peter Fahy, has said that £134 million of cuts will have a significant effect on front-line policing. He has gone on to say that police stations across Greater Manchester will now have to close. Does the Minister think that police stations are front-line? Will he tell us which police stations in Greater Manchester will close and when?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): The closure of police stations is an operational matter for police, but the right hon. Lady should know perfectly well that under the previous Labour Government some 400 police stations closed. What responsibility does she accept for that?

T4. [35117] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In my constituency, there is a healthy appetite for more policemen actually on the beat. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the fact that the chief constable of Gloucestershire has reorganised his force and has increased the number of policemen on the beat, from 563 to 661?

Nick Herbert: I welcome the action taken in Gloucestershire. The chair of its police authority has said that

That shows that it can be done. Other forces are either protecting neighbourhood policing or even increasing it. I note that the chair of Gloucestershire police authority is also the chairman of the Association of Police Authorities.

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T6. [35119] Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): Year after year, my constituents tell me that their greatest concern is fear of crime. That is why they have fought hard to get 10 safer neighbourhood teams. Because of the cuts, the local police force is now consulting not on merging back offices or services, but on cutting those 10 safer neighbourhood teams down to two or three. Does the Minister believe that those cuts will help my constituents fear crime less, or make them less likely to be victims of crime?

Nick Herbert: I have had several discussions with the Mayor, the deputy Mayor for policing and the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, all of whom are absolutely committed to protecting neighbourhood policing. We are all convinced that it is possible to drive considerable savings in policing, including the Met, in the back and middle office, so that the visible and available policing that the public value can be protected.

T5. [35118] Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): I congratulate the UK Border Agency on its work. At the weekend, it caught five illegal immigrants on the French border who had been making their way to my constituency in a lorry. I welcome the increased border policing on the other side of the channel, but what further steps will the Department take to ensure that stronger measures are introduced to deter those who try to smuggle people into the United Kingdom?

The Minister for Immigration (Damian Green): I am delighted to hear that the effective controls that we are reinforcing at the border are having a beneficial effect in my hon. Friend's constituency. She asked about further measures. I am happy to tell her that only a couple of months ago, at the Anglo-French summit, I signed a new treaty with my French counterpart which commits both countries to increasing the strength of our existing controls in Calais and extending them to other parts of the French coast. That means that we will be equally tough on any activity that is displaced from Calais to other parts of France. We are ensuring that our borders are much better controlled than they were in the past.

T8. [35121] Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): Is the Government's position that the number of police officers and community support officers in this country has no impact on crime levels?

Mrs May: Both the Policing Minister and I have responded to that point on a number of occasions. We have made absolutely clear that there is no simple link between the number of officers and the level of crime. There are instances throughout the world in which police forces have increased their numbers and crime has risen, and other instances in which police numbers have fallen and crime has fallen.

T7. [35120] Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): Last year, nearly half all violent crime in Devon was alcohol-related. That represents 4,568 instances of completely avoidable violence. I welcome the introduction of a ban on below-cost sales of alcohol as a first step, but does the Minister share my fear that, because it involves only VAT plus duty, it will not go far enough in tackling this serious problem? What other measures will be introduced to tackle alcohol-related crime?

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James Brokenshire: My hon. Friend is right to highlight the link between alcohol and levels of crime. In fact, 50% of violent incidents are associated with alcohol. Our proposal to ban below-cost sales on the basis of duty plus VAT constitutes an initial package. We will introduce further measures to deal with licensing and other issues involving problem pubs and other alcohol outlets, and also with problem practices. That is precisely what the duty plus VAT element is about.

We will continue to monitor this complex area of policy. In particular, we will consider the rate of duty in the context of super-strength lagers, which have been associated with problematic behaviour.

T10. [35123] Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Why are the Government-unlike the Governments of other European countries which are increasing the support for the victims of trafficking-proposing to reduce the period during which a victim of trafficking will not face deportation from 45 days to 30 days?

Damian Green: The hon. Lady knows that the United Kingdom is committed to working with others, including our European partners, to tackle human trafficking. She was present for the debate in which I said that later in the year we would announce a new strategy on trafficking as a whole. That strategy will enable us not only to build on the work of the last Government in relation to caring for the victims of trafficking-which I commend-but to become much more efficient at prevention, in particular by acting overseas, so that fewer and fewer people are trafficked in the first place. That is the most effective action that we can take to reduce the incidence of this dreadful crime.

T9. [35122] Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): How concerned is the Minister about the increase in family violence towards young women who adopt values that are contrary to the beliefs of their families?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Lynne Featherstone): Obviously the Government are very concerned. Any form of violence is unacceptable, and tackling violence against women and girls is a key priority for us. Work to tackle all forms of honour-based violence is included in the strategic narrative that we launched on 25 November, and further information about our approach to the issue will be provided in the supporting action plan that we will publish in the spring.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Further to the Minister's answer on safer neighbourhood team policing, will he give a commitment that by this time next year there will continue to be a dedicated ward sergeant for every safer neighbourhood ward team, as now?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Lady should know that we cannot give commitments like that. The previous Government would not give commitments on police officer numbers. These are operational matters for the police. I point out to her that we have protected the neighbourhood policing fund, including by ring-fencing it for the next two years, because we value neighbourhood policing.

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Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): Alcohol disorder zones did not work and they also penalised well-run community pubs that did nothing to contribute to alcohol-fuelled disorder. I am pleased that the Government are listening on this, but can the Minister reassure the House that the new late-night levy will make allowances for late-night community pubs, be that for one-off or once-a-year events, such as new year, or for staying open a little later at the weekends, as my excellent local, the Manor House in Otley, does? Will he assure us that they will not be penalised by a blanket charge?

James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman has rightly highlighted those responsible premises that act appropriately and reflect their communities. Our proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on the late-night levy are intended to be an additional tool for local communities to decide what is appropriate for their area. We are learning from the cataclysmic failure of the previous Government's alcohol disorder zones. They were simply incapable of being implemented, and it was therefore not surprising that nobody took them up.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Is the Home Secretary aware that in last Thursday's exchanges on counter-terrorism there was criticism from those on her side, as well as those on our side, about the leaks to the media? Is it not important that the House of Commons should learn first of these things? That certainly has not happened in this case. Why on earth can we not have a statement today, instead of waiting until Wednesday or some other time?

Mrs May: We made absolutely clear to the House the procedure that we were going to follow on announcing the results of the counter-terrorism legislation review. On 13 January, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explained that a statement would be made this week, and last Thursday, in my absence abroad, the Minister for Immigration said that a statement will be made on Wednesday. Not only will that statement set
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out clearly the results of the review, but it will be accompanied by the publication of the review and the report of the independent reviewer, Lord Macdonald.

Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): At my Friday surgery, I had the real privilege of meeting a constituent who volunteers at the local rape crisis centre. I say that not least because she, herself, has been a victim of the horrific crime of rape and has, none the less, given up her time to train and support others. Would my right hon. Friend like to thank volunteers who really do conduct themselves in this impressive way and give back to our communities on this difficult subject?

Lynne Featherstone: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. I think that Members on both sides of the House would acknowledge that volunteers do an incredible amount of work. That is particularly noticeable in the violence against women sector, where so many organisations work closely in small groups, particularly with minority communities. I thank her constituent for the work that she does.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): Nottinghamshire is set to lose more than 300 police officers over the coming four years. What guarantee can the Minister give my constituents that crime in our city will continue to fall?

Mrs May: We have answered a similar question on a number of occasions, both today and previously. First, there is no simple link between the number of officers and the level of crime. Secondly, the decisions that the hon. Lady's local force is taking about the deployment of particular police officers and about the number of officers and staff it has are operational matters for the police to address, within the resources available to them. We know that it is possible for significant savings to be made from the back and middle office without affecting front-line policing.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. I could happily listen to my colleagues' questions and answers all afternoon, but I am afraid that we must move on.

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Points of Order

3.34 pm

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Chamber was told on Thursday that the draft emergency legislation would be placed in the Library of the House. The matter was raised in an urgent question and on a point of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), yet it is not there. The BBC has been told that the counter-terrorism review is now complete. What can you do to assist the House and to get the Home Secretary to give a statement to the House this afternoon, not on Wednesday, on the counter-terrorism review and the location of the emergency draft legislation before the old powers run out at midnight tonight?

Mr Speaker: The Home Secretary is about to provide enlightenment.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. We will place draft emergency legislation in the Library of the House-[Hon. Members: "When?"] We did not say that it would be placed in the Library before the current legislation lapsed. Emergency legislation is available for the use of this House in the intervening period, if necessary, and that is section 25 of the Terrorism Act 2006. The correct legal process for reducing the period from 28 days to 14 days is to allow the existing legislation to lapse because that was the sunset clause put in the legislation by the last Labour Government.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab) rose-

Mr Speaker: Is it a separate point of order?

Mr Sutcliffe: No.

Mr Speaker: In that case, we should leave it where it is for today- [ Interruption. ] Order. The shadow Home Secretary has raised a point of order and comment has been made on the matter. Those accounts are before the House and I do not think that there is anything further I can do at this stage.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Home Secretary said the opposite of what was said last week.

Mr Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Gentleman that these are at least in part matters of debate and argument. The point has been made very clearly by the shadow
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Home Secretary, expressing concern not merely on her behalf but on that of many others. The Home Secretary has replied to that point.

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We hear serious allegations that two former Prime Ministers were concerned about phone hacking. Have you had notice of a statement from the Home Office to see what steps it is taking to establish whether the current Prime Minister and his Chancellor were also victims of News International's phone hacking?

Mr Speaker: I have received no such notification and the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record. I know that he and the House will appreciate that I have a responsibility to protect the important business that will follow these points of order.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: I hope that it is a different and unrelated point of order.

Andrew Miller: I said that it was- [ Interruption. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman can raise a separate and unrelated point of order.

Andrew Miller: During two successive business questions, I have raised an issue with the Leader of the House relating to the failure of the Department for Transport to answer questions that have been properly laid in this Chamber. Last Wednesday, for the first time in my 19 years here, I used the device of an answer for today. It still has not been answered. Will you please use your good offices to ensure that the Department for Transport does its duty towards this House?

Mr Speaker: The pledge that appeared to have been made to the hon. Gentleman does not appear to have been fulfilled, as far as I can tell. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman has used a device to try to extract a reply and it has not been forthcoming. The dissatisfaction that he has expressed will have been heard. As of now, my best advice is that he should get over to the Table Office and pursue the issue further. If he needs to revert to this House again, I do not think, on the strength of his 19 years' experience, that he will hesitate to do just that. That is perfectly proper.

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European Union Bill (Programme)(No. 2)

3.38 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington): I beg to move,


    Time for conclusions of proceedings

    Clauses 15 to 17, Schedule 2,

    new Clauses relating to Part 2,

    new Schedules relating to Part 2, Clauses 19 to 22, remaining new Clauses, remaining new Schedules, remaining proceedings in Committee.

    The moment of interruption on the fifth day.

    Any proceedings on


    Two hours before the moment of interruption on the sixth day.

    Proceedings on Third Reading.

    Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on Third Reading or at the moment of interruption on the

    sixth day, whichever is earlier.

As the House will be aware, the Government have proposed a small number of amendments to the European Union Bill and they will be debated, subject to your grouping of those amendments, Mr Speaker, in greater depth and at the relevant time.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Minister must be in absolute despair. In his very good ConservativeHome article, he said that this House would scrutinise this important legislation-the most radical since we went into the European Economic Community-but clearly we will not be able to do that today, because a number of amendments and clauses will not be reached. Is he not disappointed that the guillotine has not been lifted tonight?

Mr Lidington: As far as I am aware, it has not been a question of a guillotine. We have the normal 10 o'clock rule in place. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone)is aware, the Government were keen to ensure that the House had sufficient time to consider this important legislation. We therefore proposed five days for the Committee stage in the programme motion that was tabled on Second Reading. That had been agreed in advance through the usual channels. My recollection of that day's debate is that there was no attempt to divide the House on the programme motion at that time.

With all respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough, I am conscious that he cares passionately about the Bill and about the relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union. He has strongly held, honourable and principled views on that matter, and I am sure that if he catches the Speaker's eye in the
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course of today's proceedings, he will speak trenchantly on the subject, as he has done on other occasions recently. But when it comes to a debate, there is also a duty on all Members of Parliament to consider the time available for the various amendments that have been grouped together, and to measure their own contributions to that debate accordingly.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that if there were any attempt during the proceedings on the programme motion or at any point during the day that might give rise to suspicions that Members were talking matters out in order to prevent important business being arrived at, his words might sound rather hollow?

Mr Lidington: I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), who has been here for a long time, knows that a balance needs to be struck between the time that is needed to examine important political and constitutional issues fairly and in the depth that both the House and the general public would expect, and the time that is available for debate, bearing in mind the many other priorities that the House has to consider. I would say gently to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone that I believe that he spoke at some length-more than 60 minutes-during the first day's proceedings in Committee. I hope that so far he has not had reason to complain that his contributions are being crowded out.

Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are no fewer than 29 amendments, some of which are Government amendments, before we reach the fourth or fifth group, which contain the provision relating to whether there should be a referendum in the case of the accession of a new member state? That provision is extremely important, and without proper scrutiny being given to that, it could hardly be said that the Bill had had proper scrutiny in the terms that my right hon. Friend described? Would he regard it as unsatisfactory if we did not scrutinise that question, which is important for many, many people?

Mr Lidington: It would be improper for me to comment on the selection or grouping of amendments, which is properly a matter for the Chair and not the Government. My hon. Friend is right to say that the question of the possible need for a referendum on accession treaties is a matter of importance. I hope we get the opportunity to debate that in the course of today's proceedings. One of the consequences of the programme motion, which I support, is that the House will get the opportunity of a sixth day of consideration. There will therefore be opportunities for my hon. Friend and other Members in all parts of the House to table further amendments and new clauses when we reach Report.

It would have been open to the Government, having decided to table amendments and hoping-I believe not unreasonably-that those amendments might be accepted by the House, to have said to the House, "Well, we now have to make provision for a Report stage, so what we suggest is that we curtail the Committee stage from five days to four, and that we have Report and Third Reading on the fifth day." If it would be of some assurance to my hon. Friend, I want to make it clear that we had no thought of doing that.

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We decided at the start that it was important to continue with the full five days in Committee that we had promised all parties in the House, so in order to provide for a debate on Report we have allocated an additional, sixth day for debate on Report and Third Reading. If, by some chance, the House decides not to accept any of the amendments tabled by the Government or other Members and to leave the Bill unamended in Committee, that sixth day would be available for a full parliamentary day's debate on Third Reading.

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): There seem to be three issues on which the Minister must guide the House: first, whether the Government thought that there would be no amendments and, therefore, no need for debate on Report, which seems a rather odd thing to have assumed in the first place; secondly, whether he believes that the extra day is sufficient for debating on Report any amendments that might have been made by then and any that might not have been made; and thirdly, whether he intends to avoid debate on matters on which there is substantial interest in the House. I do not intend that to be a criticism, but I would be grateful if he would comment on those three issues.

Mr Lidington: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention and will deal with each of his three points in turn. On the question of amendments, the terms of the original programme motion provided that on the fifth day we would deal with the Committee stage and with remaining stages, so the assumption was that if there was a need for a Report stage, there would be provision for it. The Government have looked closely and carefully at each of the amendments that have been tabled, from whichever side of the House they came. As I hope to have the opportunity to explain when we debate the substance of the Bill and the various amendments selected for debate, we have been influenced in our policy and in the amendments that we have tabled by the amendments that have been tabled by Back Benchers.

On the question of whether the additional day will allow adequate time for debate, I ask my hon. Friend to look at the provision of time overall for consideration of the Bill. I think that a full day for Second Reading, five complete days in Committee and a full day for the remaining stages is a pretty fair allocation of time. I am confident that it will be possible for all the important issues that colleagues on both sides of the House wish to see debated to be debated within that time, but how long Members take to debate each group of amendments or how long they spend on particular clause stand part debates is, of course, a matter for them and for the House. The Government have no intention of trying to constrain debate artificially. I very much hope that we have time to consider all the important issues that have been raised in the amendments.

3.48 pm

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): This is a fascinating and intriguing Bill. There have been times in the past few weeks when, because I have had trouble sleeping, I have simply reached for a copy of the Bill to read and have been off in a wink. There are a number of important points to make. The Government have tabled several
24 Jan 2011 : Column 28
significant amendments that need to be debated and considered fully in due course by the House. They are in part concessions to comments that have been made by Government Back Benchers. One of the amendments due for consideration today relates to the treaty change for which the Germans are pressing strongly. Amendments have also been tabled due to the complexity of the Bill. From the start, one of our criticisms has been the Bill's undue complexity, and that point has been borne out, because the Government have tabled amendments to try to clarify things. There has been tremendous debate among lawyers in the Foreign Office and elsewhere about whether the Bill is compatible with existing legislation, and that simply underlines the fact that the Bill is an extremely complex piece of legislation.

We have had one day in Committee of the whole House, and during the course of the debate we heard that there are grave reservations about the inadequacy of the explanatory notes. I hope that the Government will rewrite them, given that we have an extra day, and come forward with a full and comprehensive explanation for the changes that they are bringing about.

In light of that, and because of our belief that we need the maximum amount of time to debate the Bill, we have no objection to the motion.

3.50 pm

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I appreciate that I am eating into our time in Committee of the whole House, but that is due to an unfortunate manoeuvre that the Government now use instead of adding on time for the programme motion. If the Government had been serious about scrutiny, they would have moved a motion to lift the moment of interruption, and there would have been no point in filibustering, because everybody would have known that the debate could continue until any hour. To the people outside, it must seem extraordinary that Members of the House of Lords, who on the whole are much older than Members of this House, can speak and debate through the night, but that this House effectively has a guillotine on its proceedings. This is exactly what the previous Government did when they were in power; it is exactly what we said we would not do when we were in power; and it is an utter disgrace.

3.51 pm

Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con): The days of the guillotine started before the 1970s, when the then Labour Government began using it for all kinds of things that most people did not want. They were in effect a minority Government, passing legislation that was not doing any good to anybody, and there were great objections to the guillotine. Some of the greatest speeches were made by Michael Foot defending it and by Conservatives attacking it. Since then, we have carried on with it for some 35 years.

I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), and today is not necessarily the day to suspend the rule and go on through the night. On this issue as on others, one or two of us, if we speak for 60 minutes, have only just cleared our throats and are perfectly capable of going on for two or three hours. That would not resolve whatever issue the Government are trying to resolve.

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What matters most to me is that if the Government are deliberately, and rightly, adding extra debates for the Committee's consideration, there should be injury time. That will not happen all the time, but on this Bill I welcome the fact that the Government have made the change voluntarily and at an early stage of the Committee's proceedings. We are coming up to day two of Committee of the whole House. I praise them for making an early change and recognise it openly.

What worries me is the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), who asked, "Is there a possibility that, because of how the programme operates, certain major debates will not take place?" That is what I hope we were addressing in opposition and will not do in government. We should say, for example, "What would a Backbench Business Committee do if it was considering the issues that should be debated?"

I am not concerned about the Speaker's groupings; I am concerned that there should be debates on any issues that most people in the House say should be debated. So, I put it to those on both Front Benches, that Back Benchers on both sides of the House expect there to be debates about the issues that we believe matter most. There obviously needs to be room for the particular enthusiasm of one Member, if they can get a relevant amendment accepted and debated, but, on those amendments that are clearly accepted as important to the whole House, let us not reach the point at which, by some chance or design, they are not debated.

3.54 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I add my concern to that of other hon. Members over the time allocated for the Committee of the whole House. I suspect that had the Bill been referred to a Committee that was not of the whole House, more time would have been available to discuss the amendments. Given that this is a constitutional Bill of great importance, it is right that it be considered in Committee of the whole House, but we should have at least as much time as would have been given to a Committee not held on the Floor of the House. Given that more people are likely to want to speak in a Committee of the whole House, surely that time should be expanded even further. I therefore echo what other hon. Members have said.

I am one of the Members-perhaps rare beasts now-who regret the introduction of the guillotine and the way in which it has been used in recent years. Time and again we miss out on speaking, are curtailed in what we want to say and cannot speak at the length that we think appropriate, because of the time limits. I have argued on many occasions that we ought to have two-day debates for Second Reading, because it deals with the principle of the Bill. Time and again, large numbers of people want to speak and are not able to. I therefore echo what other hon. Members have said.

3.55 pm

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I enter this debate with some trepidation, because there is the most complicated series of amendments and proposals that I have seen in my short career as a parliamentarian. I will make a couple of points. First, when we are debating critical legislation that sets out for the first time since 1973 how we define our relationship with Europe, I find it astonishing
24 Jan 2011 : Column 30
that fewer than 10% of sitting Members are in the House and that the Opposition Benches, in particular, are rather empty. Given that we are debating a shortage of time and a lack of ability for people to be heard, it is extraordinary how few people have bothered to show up.

Secondly, I urge hon. Members from all parts of the House to focus on the fundamentals of the debate, rather than on the time-wasting proposals that the Opposition parties have tried to table. I am still confused about whether the Opposition parties support or oppose the principle of the Bill. I think that perhaps they support the principle, but cannot bring themselves to stand up and say so. I hope that we will have a debate on the fundamentals of the Bill over the next few hours. I therefore hope that we will pass the motion and proceed to the debate.

3.57 pm

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I rise briefly to plead that we do not divide the House on this matter, because time is pressing. However, I am prepared to forecast that we will not get beyond the first group of amendments today. The Bill, if about nothing else, is about what might trigger a referendum, and the first group is concerned with that matter. It is extremely likely that we will not discuss much else today, given that that is the heart of the Bill. That suggests that the timetable motion is ill-conceived. Although it is generous of the Government to add an extra day, that does not resolve the problem we will have today, which is that it is most unlikely that we will discuss anything about clauses 2, 3, 4 or 5, the new clauses relating to clauses 1 to 5, or anything else. That is not what was envisaged when we discussed the strengthening of Parliament in the previous Parliament. A great disadvantage of these very curtailed debates on contentious pieces of legislation is that there is an incentive for people to use up the time for the convenience of the Government, rather than to provide a platform for those who actually want to discuss the Bill.

Mr Cash: Does my hon. Friend recall the speech made by Mr Speaker only last week, in which he drew attention to the necessity not only to maintain the sovereignty of Parliament, but to ensure that the Government are held properly to account? That was from Mr Speaker himself-a most unusual, but very important speech. What we may witness today would be in defiance of the principles that he enunciated.

Mr Jenkin: I agree with my hon. Friend. We have yet to find a way of respecting the Government's right to obtain their legislation in reasonable time, subject to the consent of the House, and of reasonably limiting the time spent on debate, while ensuring that all parts of the Bill are debated properly. We do not want to start following the example of the other place, where a tiny minority of Members are brutally filibustering, but we do need to improve the procedures that we have today. It is a sad comment on the state of the House of Commons under this new Government, who purported to believe in something called "new politics", that we are carrying on the old politics implemented by the Labour Government.

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3.59 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I rise rather sheepishly, because I almost feel partly responsible for the Government adding an extra day. Some of their amendments have taken over from ones that I had previously tabled, so I find them quite important.

I am particularly pleased that the Government have tabled amendments 57 and 58, which are about the European public prosecutor, because they had inadvertently left a gap in the Bill relating to opt-in arrangements under the EU treaties. They are now closing that gap. They have also tabled the important amendment 60, relating to the common foreign and security policy, so I am pleased that we have the extra time for debate.

I understand what hon. Members have said about what will happen later today, but from a personal point of view I have been chasing amendments such as those that I have mentioned for quite some time, to close the gaps in the Bill, and I am very pleased that the Government have paid some attention to what I and other hon. Members have said.

4.1 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): The accession of new member states can be fairly insignificant numerically, but there could be an extremely large new member state, with a population probably larger than Germany's. For the House to pass a Bill such as this without having reached the point of discussing the matter would be an abdication of duty. Will the Minister undertake that, should we not reach that point today, he will find time for the House to return to the matter for however long it takes?

4.1 pm

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I will not often rise in sympathy with the hon. Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Stone (Mr Cash) during the passage of the Bill, but I share some of the fears that they have expressed. One is that, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) and others have said, some very significant issues might not be reached today, especially in light of how the grouping of the amendments has panned out.

I am obviously not criticising Mr Speaker at all, but he has wisely included a very large number of amendments in the first group, covering three different clauses and various arguments. I suspect that that is likely to lead to a long and convoluted debate. That will almost inevitably take up a large part of our time, so we might not reach issues such as enlargement, which, as the hon. Lady said, could be very significant.

My other fear is that debates such as today's, by their nature, can sometimes be hijacked by what one could unkindly call filibustering. Reference has been made to the shenanigans up the corridor in the other place in recent weeks, which I am afraid are not an enlightening example of how to conduct parliamentary business. If the other place has traditionally conducted itself in a more gentlemanly way, with such things not being allowed to disrupt debate, it has certainly failed that test in recent weeks. I therefore reluctantly accept that there is an argument for having guillotines and knives, to prevent a debate of such importance from being hijacked in that way.

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However, I ask the Minister to reassure all of us that, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston said, if significant issues cannot be debated today and are cut off by the guillotine, we will have some opportunity to address them later in the process, at the very least by allowing significant time on Report. I hope that the Minister will welcome debate on enlargement in particular at that time.

4.3 pm

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): I, too, rise to welcome the fact that the Government have agreed to add a sixth day. The Bill is receiving better consideration than many such Bills, and so it should, because it is an important constitutional Bill.

Notwithstanding that, I have sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who would like further time to discuss the Bill because of its immense constitutional significance. I personally regret that we will not reach discussion of the ambit of the Parliament Act, because it is right that the House has time to consider what happens in our Parliament, including in another place, and the sort of behaviour that we have witnessed of late, particularly by former members of the Labour Whips Office, who are behaving most disgracefully.

Mr Jenkin: Perhaps my hon. Friend is going on to say this, but I would have thought that he would be disappointed that we will not have time to discuss amendments 48, 49, 50 and 51 on holding an in/out referendum, which he champions. Personally, I do not champion it, but does he not regret that we are most unlikely to be able to discuss those amendments?

Charlie Elphicke: I agree with my hon. Friend. What will we discuss? A wrecking amendment, tabled by the Labour party, which cheated the nation of a referendum in the past.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. If it was a wrecking amendment, it would not have been selected. I remind the hon. Gentleman that amendments are selected with due consideration.

Charlie Elphicke: I defer to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and apologise for using language that was perhaps too simple. Of course, the amendment could not be a wrecking amendment; it is an amendment that would bring destruction on the Government's intent and purpose in the Bill. I hope that I remain in order with that description.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who makes an important point about the time that is needed to discuss the purpose of referendums and whether we should have a national debate-perhaps a referendum?-on whether to hold an in/out referendum. It seems that we will not have time to discuss that today. I hope that, at some point-perhaps not in the Bill, but sometime-the House will be able to discuss that properly.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): Will my hon. Friend share with the House whether his Whip asked him to take part in the debate?

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Charlie Elphicke: I should be delighted to share that information with the House. For the record, my Whip did not ask me to take part in the debate; he simply asked me whether I intended to rebel-I think he had some interest in that matter. As my hon. Friend probably realises, when we discuss in/out referendums, one is slightly off-piste in the context of the general approach of both major parties. Nevertheless, the House should have time to discuss the matter at greater length. [Interruption.] I will ignore the sedentary chuntering that tempts me to digress from being in order. I recognise that the clock is ticking and I do not want to eat further into the time for debate.

Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Several Members on the Government Benches have referred to proceedings in another place. Page 435 of "Erskine May" clearly states:

For the guidance, particularly of newer Members on the other side of the House, could you give a ruling on that point?

Mr Deputy Speaker: There should be no criticism of the other House. We can all learn from that.

4.8 pm

Mr Lidington: With the leave of the House, let me reply briefly to some of the main points. I do not want to take up much time.

I found it difficult to take seriously the strictures of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr David) about the Bill's alleged complexity. If there is complexity in the
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Bill, it flows from that in the Lisbon treaty, which he and his party, when in government, negotiated, supported and rammed through the House.

Members from both sides of the House made important points about the amount of time available. I am grateful for the acknowledgement of the Government's offer of a sixth full day. I point out that, with no statements or urgent questions today, roughly six and a half hours are available for debating the motion and proceedings on the amendments. There is a balance to be struck between time available and Members' self-discipline in the length of their speeches.

On Report, hon. Members on both sides of the House will obviously have the opportunity to table amendments and new clauses to raise subjects that they believe need further debate or that they think have been overlooked and ought to be debated. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who has been in the House since 1997-almost as long as I have-knows well how the rules of order operate and how to draft an amendment to maximise its chances of selection and of being high up in Mr Speaker's groupings on Report. I am sure that Back Benchers on both sides of the House will be happy to take her advice on the canny ways of achieving those objectives.

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Lady, mentioned the question of accession treaties. It is obviously for the Chair and not for me to determine whether the content of any speech is in order. I simply point out that the first group of amendments includes proposals to remove the exemption conditions altogether from the Bill, but the exemption conditions include an exemption for accession treaties. I invite the House to draw its own conclusions, but I hope that it supports the motion.

Question put and agreed to.

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European Union Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

[Relevant document: The Fifteenth Report from the European Scrutiny Committee, The EU Bill: Restrictions on Treaties an d Decisions relating to the EU, HC 682.]

Further considered in Committee

[Mr Lindsay Hoyle in the Chair]

Clause 1

Interpretation of Part 1

4.12 pm

Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): I beg to move amendment 85, page 2, line 6, at end add-

'(7A) References to "the Committee" are to the European Union Referendum Committee as established by section [European Union Referendum Committee] below.'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 86, in clause 2, page 2, line 10, leave out

and insert

Amendment 1, page 2, line 13, leave out 'or the exemption condition'.

Amendment 92, page 2, line 16, leave out from 'until' to end of line 22 and insert

'(2A) The referendum procedure is completed if-

(a) a decision has been taken by either or both Houses of Parliament not to hold a referendum, whether by agreeing with a recommendation from the Committee that a referendum is not required or by disagreeing to a recommendation from the Committee that a referendum is required; or

(b) a referendum has been held throughout the United Kingdom, or where the treaty affects Gibraltar, throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and a majority of those voting in the referendum are in favour of ratification of the treaty.'.

Amendment 2, page 2, line 23, leave out subsection (3).

Amendment 87, in clause 3, page 2, line 29, leave out

and insert

Amendment 67, page 2, line 32, leave out paragraph (c).

Amendment 3, page 2, line 32, leave out

Amendment 68, page 2, line 34, leave out subsections (2), (3) and (4).

Amendment 93, page 2, line 36, leave out from 'until' to end of line 42 and insert

'(2A) The referendum procedure is completed if-

(a) a decision has been taken by either or both Houses of Parliament not to hold a referendum, whether by
24 Jan 2011 : Column 36
agreeing with a recommendation from the Committee that a referendum is not required or by disagreeing to a recommendation from the Committee that a referendum is required; or

(b) a referendum has been held throughout the United Kingdom, or where the treaty affects Gibraltar, throughout the United Kingdom and Gibraltar, and a majority of those voting in the referendum are in favour of approval of the decision.'.

Amendment 4, page 2, line 43, leave out subsection (3).

Amendment 5, page 3, line 1, leave out subsection (4).

Amendment 64, page 3, line 3, leave out from '4' to 'and' in line 4.

Amendment 65, page 3, line 4, leave out '(1)(i) or (j)' and insert

Amendment 66, page 3, line 4, after '(1)', insert '(g), (h)'.

Amendment 88, in clause 4, page 3, line 8, before '(1)' insert-

'(A1) A treaty or Article 48(6) decision which falls within this section shall be subject to the procedure of determination by the Committee and both Houses of Parliament as to whether a referendum is required'.

Amendment 89, in clause 5, page 4, line 10, leave out

and insert

Amendment 90, page 4, line 14, leave out

and insert

Amendment 7, page 4, line 17, leave out subsections (3) to (5) and insert-

'(3) The required statement is a statement that there will be a referendum on that treaty.'.

Amendment 91, page 4, line 19, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

Amendment 11, page 4, line 24, at end add-

'(6) If the Minister's opinion is that the effect of that provision in relation to the United Kingdom is not significant the Minister must seek Parliamentary approval for his opinion.

(7) Parliamentary approval is given if-

(a) in each House of Parliament a Minister of the Crown moves a motion that the House approves of the Minister's opinion; and

(b) each House agrees to the motion without amendment.

(8) If the Minister fails to obtain Parliamentary approval for his opinion the significance condition is not met.'.

New clause 9- European Union Referendum Committee

'(1) There shall be a Committee, to be known as the European Union Referendum Committee, to examine-

(a) any amendment of the Treaty on the European Union or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, whether by simplified or ordinary revision procedure;

(b) any decision already provided for in those treaties, as set out in Schedule 1 to this Act;

(c) any treaty or Article 48(6) decision as defined in section 4 of this Act; and

(d) any decision as set out in section 6(2) or 6(4) of this Act.

24 Jan 2011 : Column 37

(2) The Committee shall report to Parliament in respect of each such treaty amendment or decision as to-

(a) whether it involves a significant transfer of power or competence, and if so

(b) whether it requires a referendum to be held.

(3) When the Committee has reported its view as to whether or not a referendum is required, a Motion shall be moved in each House of Parliament to give effect to that recommendation.

(4) If both Houses agree to recommend a referendum, a referendum shall be held accordingly.

(5) The Committee shall consist of no more than 19 Members, drawn from both Houses of Parliament, none of whom shall be Ministers of the Crown.

(6) The members of the Committee shall be nominated by the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker of the House of Lords respectively, in accordance with the Standing Orders or Resolutions of their respective Houses, and subject to the approval of their respective Houses.

(7) Members of each House shall be members of the Committee until discharged by their House or if they cease to be a Member of that House or if they become a Minister of the Crown.

(8) The Committee shall elect a Chair from among those of its members who sit in the House of Commons.

(9) The Committee may determine its own procedure, which shall be broadly in line with that followed by Joint Committees of the two Houses.'.

Mr David: The week before last, the House enjoyed an excellent debate on the sovereignty clause of the Bill. Perhaps surprisingly, there was a high degree of consensus on the need to ensure that Parliament remains central to our democracy. Indeed, it must be said that even the Government appeared to acknowledge that there was at least a genuine debate on whether Parliament owed its sovereignty to common law or whether sovereignty was a fundamental right. Consequently, we look forward to seeing how the Government rewrite the Bill's explanatory notes to acknowledge that debate.

That makes it all the more surprising that part 1 of the Bill so profoundly departs from the consensus established in the House that Parliament is central to this country's democratic process. The Government do that by proposing that most extensions of EU competence or power, even relatively small ones, should be subject to a referendum if the change has a material impact on the UK's relationship with the EU.

The Government set out in the Bill in mind-numbing detail umpteen scenarios when a referendum might be triggered. The Opposition believe that there is a case for referendums to be held on important constitutional issues. For example, in government, we introduced referendums on devolution in Scotland and Wales, and indeed, there will be a further referendum in Wales on 3 March.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): With reference to the hon. Gentleman's remarks on holding referendums on fundamental matters that affect the UK, does he regret not giving us a vote on the Lisbon treaty?

Mr David: Not at all, because it is pretty obvious to anybody who has given the matter any detailed study that there is a fundamental difference between a proposed constitution on the European Union and the treaty of Lisbon.

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Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am sorry, but having written the constitution and having read the Lisbon treaty, I think that it is sheer sophistry to go on like this. May I just-

The Chairman: Order. We are not dealing with the Lisbon treaty. Can we please stick to the amendments before us?

Mr David: With all due respect to my hon. Friend, it was not she who wrote the treaty or the constitution; she made a contribution, as did many people.

We support a referendum on the alternative vote system, and we believe that a referendum should be held if ever there is a European constitution or if any Government favoured Britain's joining the single currency. I remind the Committee that Baroness Thatcher declined to hold a referendum on the Single European Act, and that the Foreign Secretary voted against a referendum on the Maastricht treaty when he was in opposition.

Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): The issue is that the Labour party promised a referendum and then reneged on it when in office.

Mr David: I will stick to the point. It is really important that Members recognise that there is a fundamental difference between the constitution and the treaty of Lisbon. I am more than happy to explain those differences, with your permission, Mr Hoyle, but I know that you want us to pursue the issue under discussion.

Ms Stuart: On Europe, is not the real lesson that when in government, we do not give referendums, but when in opposition, we ask for them?

Mr David: I do not think that is the case at all. There are certain principles at issue that it is important we consider. One of the things that has marred the debate about Europe is the fact that too much expediency has been demonstrated. We need to talk about principles, and I would argue that an important one is at stake here. We have to make it clear that we are talking about political consistency, of which there is little among Government Members. Only in January last year, an hon. Gentleman said:

I am tempted to have a competition to see whether anyone knows who might have said that, but I will just tell the Committee instead: yes, it was a Liberal Democrat, and yes it was the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey)-so much for consistency; so much for principles.

One of our main concerns about the Bill is the proposal that referendums could be held on highly technical issues that are not of constitutional significance. I am not suggesting that a future Labour Government would want to change the European treaty, but are the
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Government seriously suggesting that we should have a referendum on changing the voting system in the Council of Ministers on the environment from the special legislative procedure to the ordinary legislative procedure ?

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, which is that there is a lot of complexity and a precise attempt to define the conditions under which referendums would be held, but surely it is better to ask the British people to make up their minds than to wriggle out of one fundamental promise on the whole constitutional question of whether we should be signed up to the Lisbon treaty. My constituents would far rather have the opportunity to vote on these things than have 13 years of broken promises.

Mr David: With all due respect to the hon. Lady, it was her party that reneged on the commitment to have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Government Members could have had a referendum had the Government kept their promise, but it was they who decided not to have one despite their commitment to do so.

Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): The hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but my recollection of the history is that the treaty was ratified and then it became impossible to have a referendum on it. Would new clause 9 not enable a Government to make a promise at election time to hold a referendum and then wriggle out of it under the cover of some committee, as the previous Labour Government did?

Mr David: This party does not make promises which it breaks. [ Laughter. ] I would point out to Government Members that, as I recall, there was a clear commitment on the Lisbon treaty. The hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) cannot get out of that by saying, "Well, it was already endorsed. It was ratified. We couldn't do anything about it," because they could have done. If the Conservatives had wanted a referendum on a treaty change, they could have had one. It is political will that this Government lacked.

Although I am not suggesting that a future Labour Government would want to change the Lisbon treaty, are this Government serious about introducing some of the changes that they claim they want to introduce? Are they seriously suggesting that we should have a referendum on the voting system for introducing a European patent, for example? Are they seriously suggesting that we would have a referendum on how judges are appointed to the European Court? [Hon. Members: "Yes."] It seems that some Members are quite happy to have referendums, even on the proverbial paper clips. But seriously, the place to make a decision on the merits of any potential changes that are not of constitutional significance is in Parliament.

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Is it not in fact remarkably important to have a detailed Bill that sets out all the conditions? The habit of Europe has been to accrete power by stealth; therefore, when added together, things that seem to be minor turn out to be creating a European Government, about which the British people should have the choice.

24 Jan 2011 : Column 40

Mr David: There are two problems with that intervention. The first concerns the issue of detail. We have already seen the Government getting themselves into a right knot, bringing forward new amendments to plug some of the gaps that they have left. My guess is that, even at the end of the day, if this Bill goes through, there will still be gaps. The other issue concerns constitutional creep, and I will come to that point later, because there are exceptions in the Bill, which I will touch on.

The role of Parliament should be absolutely central to the issue of Europe-and, indeed, to all our deliberations. It is Parliament that should formally and properly consider such issues; it is Parliament that should devote the time to focused debates and deliberations on the pros and cons of any change; and it is Parliament that is accountable to the people. Hopefully, before too long there will be a House of Lords that is wholly or partly elected, and then both Houses will be answerable to the people for their actions. That is surely the essence of representative democracy. Indeed, in recent times the most authoritative inquiry into the role of referendums has come from the Lords Select Committee on Constitution, whose report was published last year. After hearing from many witnesses, the Committee concluded:

It continued:

That report is important and should be acknowledged. However, it is not just the opinion that that House expressed that is significant; the evidence that was submitted is also important. In an important appendix to the report, it was pointed out that the distinguished commentators David Butler and Austin Ranney had noted that

throughout the world

If the Bill reaches the statute book in its present form, not only will it be at odds with common sense; it will also be out of step with most of the world's democratic states. And before any Members think that the Lords Constitution Committee was packed with Labour Peers, I would simply point out that they were in a minority on the Committee.

In the second excellent report produced by the European Scrutiny Committee, chaired by the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), one of the key witnesses, Professor Simon Hix, lucidly made the case for the limited, rather than widespread, use of referendums. I would not agree with everything that Professor Hix argued, but he was absolutely right when he said that

24 Jan 2011 : Column 41

Professor Hix was correct in his argument about major constitutional issues. He was also correct to question the wisdom and legitimacy of referendums on much smaller, technical issues.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I understand the logic of my hon. Friend's argument, but, given the profound changes since 1975 in the prospectus set out by members of all three parties in the House, is there not now a thirst among the public for a referendum, either on whether we should be in or out of the European Union or on some of the other issues of major constitutional significance-from the Single European Act to the Lisbon treaty-on which they have not been consulted?

Mr David: I have to say that I have not had one constituent come into any of my surgeries since the last election-or, indeed, during the last Parliament-to raise this issue with me. People are concerned about their jobs, their livelihoods, and, under this Government, their falling standards of living. Those are the issues that we should be focusing on. Nevertheless, we are addressing the issue before us today, the European Union Bill.

George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): On the subject of what we were sent here to do, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the people of Mid Norfolk sent me here to speak up against their powers being given away without their consent. He quoted the evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee. In written evidence, Professor Philip Allott, professor emeritus of international public law at Cambridge, said:

The Bill might not be perfect, and it might not be the ideal mechanism, but does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Government are trying to ensure that the creeping integration that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) referred to earlier is prevented in future?

Mr David: I have read all the evidence submitted to the Committee, and the significant point about that particular quote was the use of the word "gesture". The Bill is a gesture, and I will say more about that later. It is a gesture to placate hostility to the European Union among Government Back Benchers, but it is not a serious, considered piece of legislation.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has referred to Professor Hix's evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee. Will he note that the professor also said that previous EU amending treaties-Maastricht under a Conservative Government and Amsterdam and Nice under a Labour Government, as well as the Lisbon treaty-should all have been subjected to referendums? If the conditions of the Maastricht referendum campaign, which I founded and which had about 750,000 signatures, had been implemented by the Government at the time-let alone those for Amsterdam and Nice-is it not right to say that we would not be sitting here today discussing this nonsense?

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Mr David: I am aware of all Professor Hix's comments, and I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all his remarks. The point remains, however, that he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of having a multiplicity of referendums, for the reasons that he outlined to the Committee.

Charlie Elphicke: The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Professor Hix also went on to say:

That is surely significant. The Bill is all about ensuring that, having been cheated of referendums on those treaties in the past, we can now have referendums on other matters, enabling the House to give greater consideration to them before passing away powers to Europe. The committee proposed in the hon. Gentleman's new clause 9 would not achieve that.

Mr David: With all due respect, I must point out that the hon. Gentleman has made exactly the same point that the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) has just made. I therefore give him the same answer: I was careful to say earlier that I did not agree with all of Professor Hix's comments, but the central thesis that he presented to the European Scrutiny Committee was that there should be referendums on major constitutional issues, not on the minutiae of legislation as is proposed in the Bill, and this Bill is what we are now debating.

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