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House of Commons

Tuesday 15 October 2013

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords]

Third Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 22 October (Standing Order No. 20).

Hertfordshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Bill [Lords]

Second Reading opposed and deferred until Tuesday 22 October (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Third Party Campaign Expenditure

1. Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab): What his policy is on third party campaign expenditure. [900468]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): Before turning to the question, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) for her excellent work in the past year on political and constitutional reform. I welcome the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who will bring unique zeal to decentralisation in particular, which he has championed within Government. I also welcome the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) to his new position on the Opposition Front Bench.

It is of course good that people are motivated to campaign for what they believe in, whether inside or outside a traditional political party. However, it is also important that the integrity of democratic political campaigning is maintained. Campaigning by third parties at general elections should therefore be made more transparent and accountable.

Paul Blomfield: I am sure that the Deputy Prime Minister has, like many hon. Members, been contacted by hundreds of people from the voluntary, charity and community sectors who are vehemently opposed to the gagging provisions in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration

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Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has assiduously cultivated those groups in the past, and frankly, they feel betrayed. Will he explain to them why he has led the Liberal Democrats in support of this assault on grass-roots politics? Better still, will he recognise, even at this late stage, that he has got this badly wrong and join us in opposing the Bill?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My view is that if we did nothing about the increasing trend of big money in British politics, which seeks to influence the outcome of political contests through groups that are not political parties, those very same groups would campaign after the next general election, saying that we should do something about that trend. At the general election, non-party political funds doubled to £3 million. We have seen what happens when that gets out of control. Just look across the Atlantic at the United States: super-PACs—political action committees; the increasing polarisation of politics; and people outside the democratic political process, non-political parties, trying to influence the outcome of elections. We will maintain the rules, as they have existed since 2000, on whether groups are regulated as third party campaign groups. All we are saying is that non-party political parties that want to act like a political party should be asked to fill in the same paperwork as a political party.

Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is nothing in the Bill that stops campaigns on particular policies? Furthermore, we will not end up with third party groups spending more than political candidates are able to spend on their own election.

The Deputy Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is exactly right. Under the current rules, a well-funded third party campaign group seeking to influence the democratic outcome in a constituency or constituencies could spend more money than a political party. That, surely, cannot be right. The Labour party, which is run by a third party campaign group, the trade unions, does not think it is a problem if political parties are influenced by third party campaign groups that might have political designs. Nothing in the Bill would stop Make Poverty History spending millions on its campaign. Nothing would stop the Green Alliance grading us all on our green promises—nothing would change that.

John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Returning to planet earth, the Deputy Prime Minister regularly bleats on about the value of consultation. Why did that not apply to the lobbying Bill? There was no form of consultation whatever on this wretched Bill.

The Deputy Prime Minister: There was extensive consultation and scrutiny on the lobbying provisions in the Bill. The parts on third party campaigning were discussed extensively by the three parties in the cross-party funding talks. It was agreed by all parties, and backed by Sir Christopher Kelly in his recommendations on party funding reform, that any change to party funding arrangements should also include some limits on third party campaign groups when they want to influence the political outcome in a constituency or constituencies.

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Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that there is huge public demand for complete transparency in the influence of trade unions, especially during election periods and especially given the allegations concerning the actions of Unite in the affairs of the Labour party earlier this year?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I have this old-fashioned view that in all our constituencies candidates from our democratic political parties should be slugging it out on a level playing field and that we should not have people pulling the strings in the background in an untransparent way. That is all the Bill is trying to do. Anyone who believes in the integrity and transparency of democratic, open contest in our constituencies should support the Bill.

Electoral Register

2. Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): What steps his Office is taking to improve the completeness and accuracy of the Electoral Register. [900469]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): The Government will shortly publish the results of our confirmation dry run exercise, which matched almost 47 million electors against Department for Work and Pensions data. The results were much better than we anticipated and, using a combination of national and local data, could lead to an overall average match rate of 85%. In addition, we are making registration simpler by enabling online registration, and in June we announced £4.2 million-worth of measures to maximise voter registration ahead of the transition to individual electoral registration.

Lindsay Roy: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his answer, but will he explain what he is doing to promote voter registration among our armed services personnel, whose percentage registration has been highlighted as a cause for concern?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that the Cabinet Office has been working with the Ministry of Defence to ensure that efforts are undertaken. Considerable efforts have been made in the past, but where we can do more, we should do more, in order to encourage anyone who is eligible to vote to do so and to enter into the new individual voter registration system, as I explained earlier.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): As well as the problem of not enough voters being registered, there is a problem of voters registered under the wrong category. Given the growing number of EU nationals in this country who can vote in local and European elections but not in Westminster parliamentary elections, may we have clearer guidance from his Office to that effect?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I am not sure precisely what my hon. Friend is referring to, but the rules are very clear: EU nationals may vote in local and European elections but not national elections, and electoral registration officers are fully aware of that and, in my experience, are scrupulous in ensuring that the system reflects it. If he has any particular reservations, however, he can of course bring them to my attention.

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Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that in Northern Ireland there is a new drive for individual registration, and would he find it helpful to monitor the success of that exercise and to learn from the experience?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Absolutely; in designing the system of individual voter registration that we are introducing, we looked very carefully at the strengths and weaknesses of the experience in Northern Ireland. The most important innovation on which we have embarked is the one I explained earlier, which is matching the very large databases that we already have with information on the electoral register and, in effect, automatically enrolling millions of people on the individual voter registration system.

9. [900479] Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What will be the Electoral Commission’s budget for raising awareness of the introduction of individual electoral registration?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I will have to write to the hon. Gentleman on the specific figure, but of course we work very closely with the Electoral Commission to ensure that we pull in the same direction to raise awareness of the changes to the new system, and we have allocated just over £4 million to various groups locally working with us and the Electoral Commission to raise awareness among those groups where under-registration has historically been a problem.

Stephen Twigg (Liverpool, West Derby) (Lab/Co-op): First, I join the Deputy Prime Minister in congratulating the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), on his appointment.

The Deputy Prime Minister spoke about the data-matching dry run this summer, which I understand produced an outcome nationally of 78% accuracy. Within that, however, was a range of 47% to 87%. Is there not a risk that even more electors will fall off the electoral register because of the speed at which the Government are introducing the new system? Will he consider delaying the introduction of individual voter registration in order to maximise the completeness and accuracy of the register?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, the data-matching tests are a dry run and have exceeded expectations. We think that the use of those central databases, particularly the DWP database, combined with what we do with other databases, should raise the overall figure of automatic enrolment when that finally happens. As he also knows, we have done a considerable amount to ensure that there is a two-year roll-over period, so that people who do not automatically register before the next general election will still have an opportunity to do so, while door-to-door information will be provided to people so that they will know how the new system works. We have put as many belt-and-braces provisions in place as possible, therefore, to ensure that the maximum number of people are on the new IER system.

Returning Officers Fees

3. Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): What his policy is on the level of fees paid to returning officers. [900471]

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The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Greg Clark): Returning officers are entitled under the Representation of the People Act 1983 to receive payments for administering election polls, as those responsibilities fall outside their local authority duties.

Andrew Selous: These are some of the highest paid public servants in the land, sometimes on salaries of about £200,000. How can we continue to justify paying these people extra sums of £30,000 or so just to do another task, for which their salary should be more than enough to compensate them?

Greg Clark: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I look forward to meeting him next week to discuss these matters further. Before the previous Government left office they increased the fees to returning officers, allowing fees to be paid uncapped for multiple constituencies. We in this Government froze those fees from that time. I look forward to our discussions and to hearing my hon. Friend’s views, which I know he has thoroughly researched.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): May I also welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new post and ask him to give consideration to the situation where returning officers have often made numerous mistakes during elections? We had this happen several years ago in Warrington when the wrong people were declared elected for some parish poll, yet there is no provision to reduce or take away the returning officer’s fee when that happens. Should that not happen? Will the Minister consider that?

Greg Clark: I am happy to take on board the hon. Lady’s suggestion. Of course, returning officers do not need to accept the fee. There are some honourable examples where returning officers have not taken the full fee to which they are entitled. That option is available to them.

Political Party Funding

5. Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What progress the Government has made in reviewing the law on the funding of political parties; and if he will make a statement. [900474]

6. Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of the need for reforms to party funding. [900475]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): I have always been clear that any reform is best achieved by consensus. Despite seven meetings, I am disappointed that, as on previous occasions, there has been no agreement between the three parties on beginning party funding reform.

Simon Hughes: The Deputy Prime Minister and colleagues have managed to get agreement across government to deal with third party big funding and agreement with the official Opposition to deal with the Leveson issues on regulating the press—it was difficult, but we got there. Will my right hon. Friend make a renewed effort to try to get a deal with the Labour and Conservative parties in time for the election to take some very big money out of party politics so that voters, not big funders, decide the outcome?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: I would love to think that there might be a realistic prospect of that, but, frankly, I do not think that there is. We tested it to destruction in seven meetings that brought the three parties together over a prolonged period on the back of very strong recommendations from Sir Christopher Kelly and his Committee. Not to put it too delicately, the same old vested interests relating to donation caps on the one hand and the financial relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions on the other were, once again, not reconcilable. Until we get those two things aligned, a cross-party agreement on party funding is unlikely—but it will have to happen eventually; otherwise we will be afflicted by scandal after scandal and controversy after controversy.

Andrew George: What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure that company shareholders, co-op members and union members have a reasonable say on political donations made in their name?

The Deputy Prime Minister: If I understand it correctly, moves are afoot, although they are rather opaque to an outsider so far as the trade union funding link with the Labour party is concerned. More generally, transparency has to be a good thing when money is sloshing around the system and it could influence democratic electoral contests. To return to my earlier theme, this is what the transparency provisions on third party campaigning are all about—not to stop charities from doing their work or from campaigning, but simply to make them transparent in how the money is used, particularly where they choose to use money for explicitly political ends to engineer or influence a particular outcome in a constituency.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The problem with the Deputy Prime Minister’s position is that he was willing to rush out a Bill to capture what amounts to a small problem, which may well damage democracy, but he was not prepared to put the weight of his position behind actually achieving a solution on party funding.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Talk about pots and kettles! It is no secret that, in a sense, the Liberal Democrats are not rich enough to have quite the vested interests that are involved in all this. It has always been resistance from the two established, larger parties that has prevented a deal, and that is exactly what happened on this occasion. I do not think that we should beat about the bush.

As for the hon. Lady’s first point, I urge her not to be complacent about the trend towards the funnelling of increasingly large amounts of money into the political process by non-political parties. Look at what has happened in the United States. Do we really want to go in the direction of super-PACS or very well-funded groups trying to influence the political process? I do not think that that would be healthy for our democracy.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I, too, welcome the right hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) to his new position.

As the Deputy Prime Minister will know, Sir Christopher Kelly’s most recent report recommended a reduction in the cap on political parties’ general election expenditure

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from £19 million to £16 million, and before the last general election the Prime Minister said that it should be £15 million. Sir Christopher’s report also referred to the lobbying Bill, which will reduce what campaigning groups can spend by more than 70% although they spend a fraction of what is spent by political parties. What does the Deputy Prime Minister think the cap should be for political parties’ general election expenditure, and what does he think should be the maximum donation that an individual can make?

The Deputy Prime Minister: First, I do not think that it is possible to view one of those figures in isolation. It is not possible to consider the £19 million or the £15 million figure without trying to incorporate it in a cross-party consensus on political party funding, which has eluded us so far. As for individual donations to individual candidates, our Bill increases the limit from £500 to £700.

Secondly, charities and campaign organisations that are not seeking to influence the outcome of an electoral contest in a constituency can spend as much money as they like. They can spend millions and millions of pounds, unregulated, if they are not seeking to enter into the democratic process. If they do seek to enter into the democratic process, why are they not asked to fill in the same paperwork as political parties?

Topical Questions

1. [900483] Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on a full range of Government policies and initiatives. Within Government, I take special responsibility for the Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.

Martin Vickers: When my right hon. Friend visited north-east Lincolnshire recently, he must have observed the tremendous investment that has been made in the offshore renewables sector which is helping to boost the local economy. However, much of north-east Lincolnshire in still in recession. Can my right hon. Friend assure my constituents that the Government will do all that they can to support the area during the present difficult times?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Having visited the area on numerous occasions, I am acutely aware of the importance of the new green offshore wind industry to the long-term economic prospects of my hon. Friend’s constituents and the region. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is doing a huge amount in trying to secure, for instance, the long-awaited and much discussed investment from Siemens in the Hull area, which will transform the local economy, and I can certainly assure my hon. Friend that those endeavours will continue.

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Will the Deputy Prime Minister acknowledge that his Government’s justification for the bedroom tax—that it

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will mean tenants moving to smaller homes—cannot work unless there are smaller homes for them to move to? What is his estimate of the percentage of tenants for whom there is no smaller home to go to?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I totally accept the premise, which is that a change from one system to another involves hard cases that need to be—[Interruption.] That is why we are providing hard cash for hard cases. We have trebled the discretionary housing payments that are available to local councils.I am not in any way seeking to ignore the fact that some individual cases really do need the flexibility and the money from local authorities to enable their circumstances to be dealt with.

Let me say this to the right hon. and learned Lady. If there is a principled objection to this change, I do not understand why, in all the years during which Labour was in government, exactly the same provisions existed for millions of people in the private rented sector.

Ms Harman: This is the central issue in the Government’s justification for a policy that the Deputy Prime Minister has brought forward and voted for. He obviously does not want to admit that for 96% of tenants, there is no smaller home to go to. No wonder councils are saying that the discretionary housing fund is completely inadequate to help all the families who cannot move and are falling into arrears. Does he recognise that this is a cruel and unfair policy that he should not have voted for? He should repeal it now.

The Deputy Prime Minister: Of course I accept that for some households the change from one system to another creates real dilemmas that need to be addressed through the money that we are making available to local authorities. The right hon. and learned Lady cites a figure. To be honest, lots of wildly different figures have been cited about the policy’s impact. That is why we are commissioning independent research to understand its impact. I suspect that it varies enormously between one part of the country and another, and one local authority and another. That is why we are trebling the resources that we making available to local authorities.

T2. [900484] Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister has specific responsibility for implementing the programme for government and likes to take special ownership of the chapter on tax, a key aim of which is to help lower and middle-income earners. I have a Lib Dem briefing that states:



“a very large salary: these are not middle income earners.”

It also says:

“We are looking at how”


“could make a further contribution.”

Why does he want to clobber the middle classes?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not, and as we made clear at the time the £50,000 figure does not represent any policy of my party. However, I will not be shy about parading the fact that it is because of Liberal Democrats in government that we are giving a huge tax cut to over

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20 million basic rate taxpayers, a policy that I was warned by the hon. Gentleman’s party leader at the time of the last general election was not deliverable. It has been delivered because of Liberal Democrats in government.

T3. [900485] Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): According to the Papworth Trust, nine out of 10 disabled people are having to cut back on food or heating because of the bedroom tax. The discretionary housing payments are derisory: they give £2.09 to disabled people, compared with the £14 that they are losing through the bedroom tax. How do the Government and the Deputy Prime Minister justify that? Is that the mark of a civilised society? Since it is not in the coalition agreement, will he call for it to be scrapped?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I read in the Sunday papers that the Labour party was going to get even tougher on welfare than the coalition, yet it has opposed £83 billion-worth of welfare savings. We have to bring the housing benefits bill down somehow. I assume that our rationale for the change is exactly the reason why, in government for 13 years, Labour maintained the same rules for households receiving housing benefit in the private rented sector.

Mr Speaker: I call Harriet Baldwin. Not here.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Could the Deputy Prime Minister let us have the Government’s view on having televised party leader debates before the next general election? Will he ensure that the fourth party is allowed to take part in the debate so that he would be able to speak? [Interruption.]

The Deputy Prime Minister: It is the sting in the tail that I always love. The hon. Gentleman must rehearse his questions endlessly—but they are good; it was a good one today. As he knows, that is not a subject, thankfully perhaps, of Government policy. It is a subject for discussion between the broadcasters, who will have their own views, and the political parties. He should speak to his own party leader about his party’s view on these things. I think that the innovation of televised leader debates was a good one. Millions of people found it a good opportunity to see how the party leaders measured up against each other and I think that we should repeat them.

T5. [900487] Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): I listened carefully to the Deputy Prime Minister’s answers about the bedroom tax. He kept referring to “some households”. However, does he agree with his own party that the bedroom tax discriminates against the most vulnerable in our society? Will he join his party in calling for the tax to be scrapped?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My party has not called for the policy to be scrapped. It has debated—

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): Why not?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: For exactly the same reason that the hon. Lady and her party maintained precisely the same policy in the private rented sector for 13 years. That spectacular act of inconsistency may seem normal to a party that is used to crashing the economy and then claiming that nothing was wrong, but I hope that she will agree that the benefits bill generally and the housing benefits bill in particular need to be brought under some semblance of control. We need to take difficult decisions. We need to provide hard cash, as we are, for hard cases. That is why we have trebled the discretionary housing payment.

T6. [900488] Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (LD): Given the success of the city deals and the emergence of city regions, what plans does the Deputy Prime Minister have for further decentralisation to include more rural areas?

The Deputy Prime Minister: That is one of the reasons why I so warmly welcome the appointment of the Minister of State, because he has demonstrated extraordinary personal commitment to this wider agenda of devolution and decentralisation. As my hon. Friend will know, we are examining the case for 20 more city deals, and we will then be seeking to roll out a much more extensive programme of decentralisation on the back of the Heseltine recommendations, which I hope will leave all of our country far more decentralised now than we found it back in 2010.

T10. [900492] Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): In the borough of Wigan over 100 tenants have moved into the private rented sector since April, where rents are between £700 and £1,200 higher than council rents. Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm therefore that, rather than falling, the housing benefit bill is likely to rise as a result of the bedroom tax?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I hope the hon. Lady will accept that there is an underlying problem. We have lots of people on the social rented sector waiting list. There are 1.8 million households on the waiting list and about 1.5 million bedrooms in the social rented sector are not being used. We need somehow to make sure that those people who do not have homes are better matched with available homes. At the same time we have many families living in very overcrowded conditions. Those are the problems: those are the imbalances of the system that we are trying to straighten out. I accept that that leads to some hard cases. They need to be treated fairly and compassionately.

T7. [900489] Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): What is my right hon. Friend doing to ensure the UK maximises the opportunity for green growth and green jobs across the UK?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My view is that an island such as ours has a huge commercial opportunity, particularly with the capacity for offshore wind that we have as a country. It might sound odd to say that there is a commercial opportunity in the face of such a grave threat as climate change, but there is a commercial opportunity if we can show that we have the technologies,

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the science, the companies and the strategies to adapt to these new environmental realities. I think that that would be a great opportunity to create jobs for many thousands of people throughout the country.

T11. [900493] Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): My right hon. Friend the leader of the Labour party has stated strong support for lowering the voting age and giving a voice to our 16 and 17-year-olds. Their futures are decided by many of the decisions that are taken in this House. The Deputy Prime Minister said he supports this position, but three years after taking up his post no action has been taken. When can Britain’s young people expect him to live up to his commitments?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Government Members have always been very open about the fact that there is disagreement between the two coalition parties. I strongly believe that the voting age should be brought down to 16. I do not see why 17-years-olds are not able to vote when they have so many other roles and responsibilities in British society. It is not something we have included in the coalition agreement, but my views on the matter have not changed.

T8. [900490] Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): “Drekly” is a Cornish expression that means doing something maybe some time in the future, possibly never. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that in terms of devolving greater powers to the people of Cornwall, drekly is not an answer he will ever give from the Dispatch Box?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Since I only just heard that term I doubt very much I would use it at the Dispatch Box, and it is absolutely not our intention to delay further progress on devolving powers and decentralising control over how money is raised and spent across all parts of the United Kingdom, including Cornwall. We are doing that in the steps I described earlier: a first wave of city deals, a second wave of city deals, and then implementing the recommendations of the Heseltine review.

T12. [900494] Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): A number of countries have abolished the second Chambers of their Parliaments, and Ireland has just decided to follow suit. About half of all Labour Back Benchers in a recent previous Parliament voted for a unicameral Parliament. Will the Deputy Prime Minister now accept that that is one reasonable option for reform of the House of Lords?

The Deputy Prime Minister: Notwithstanding my frustration that we did not manage to introduce even a smidgeon of democracy into the other place, I am not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater and say that therefore we should scrap the place altogether. I remain of the view that there are virtues in having a tension—a balance—between two Chambers. That is the virtue of bicameral systems all over the democratic world. I just have this old-fashioned view that it is best done when both Chambers are elected by the people they purport to represent.

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T9. [900491] Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): In his keynote speech to the National House-Building Council on 22 November last year, the Deputy Prime Minister highlighted the 5,500 unit housing development to the east of Kettering as a major project that needed infrastructure support, but since then its £30 million bid to the regional growth fund for a related junction improvement has been turned down. Will he agree to meet a delegation from Kettering to discuss how, across government, heads could be knocked together to ensure that local people get the infrastructure they need to cope with all these extra houses?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I can certainly ensure that officials who run the bidding process in the regional growth fund are able to meet those who put together the application in Kettering. As my hon. Friend knows, this is, thankfully, not something that politicians decide; it is decided on an objective basis and a panel, chaired by Lord Heseltine, filters and assesses the bids before they come before Ministers. More generally, I know that colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government would be more than happy to meet him and his colleagues from Kettering to look at making sure that the infrastructure is indeed available to the local community.

T14. [900496] Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Is the desperate scarcity of one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties for rent in Ogmore, coupled with the growth in the number of abandoned three-bedroom houses and added to the rise in debt arrears of every housing authority, which prevents them from making the necessary refurbishments, an intended consequence of his policies on benefits and the bedroom tax?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The whole system is not working as it should—[Interruption.] The whole system we inherited from the hon. Gentleman’s Government was one where we had 1.8 million people on the housing waiting list, hundreds of thousands of families living in overcrowded accommodation and other people receiving housing benefit for more bedrooms than they actually needed. That is the system we are trying to sort out. There are many features to this, which is why we decided that, in exactly the same way as his Government supported the rules in the private rented sector, we would apply the same rules in the social rented sector.

T13. [900495] Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent Speaker’s parliamentary placement scheme run by the Social Mobility Foundation and supported by many across this House. I will shortly be welcoming a new member of staff through that programme. Will he join me in welcoming its success in getting more people from a diverse range of backgrounds into politics and advancing the cause of social mobility?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I strongly endorse what my hon. Friend said. The scheme is excellent and it is part of a creeping culture change, whereby everyone is realising, in the private sector, the public sector, Parliament and Whitehall, that work experience places and internships should, wherever possible, be based on what people know rather than who they know. That is reflected in this truly excellent scheme.

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Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): What discussions has the Deputy Prime Minister had with the Justice Secretary about his recent announcement that he is going to repeal the Human Rights Act as early as next year?

The Deputy Prime Minister: There will be no repeal of the Human Rights Act during the course of this Parliament under this coalition Government.

T15. [900497] Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister recently warned the United Nations that it was in danger of becoming a

“relic of a different time”

and that the Security Council should be reformed. Does he believe that the reform should also include limiting the veto?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The primary focus of reform of the UN Security Council, which is an anachronism—it is based on an international pecking order that has changed out of all recognition since it was formed—needs to be on the composition of its permanent members, rather than on their respective voting rights. That remains the focus of this Government; we seek to champion the case of other nations—Germany, a member from Africa and one from other hemispheres—to be represented at the top table of the United Nations.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Is the Deputy Prime Minister in any way uneasy about the manner in which large cash donors to some political parties still find their way into the House of Lords—a situation that would disgrace any banana republic?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not think that it is wrong by definition to say that someone who is committed to or has supported a political party should somehow be barred for life from showing their support by serving that party in the House of Lords. In general terms, not only should we reform the House of Lords and make it not a plaything for party leaders but something for the British people, but we should take big money out of British politics more generally.

Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): What role does the Deputy Prime Minister envisage that successful city deals, such as that proposed for Norwich, will play in the development of local growth funds from 2015, particularly in relation to the skills agenda?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I know that the Minister of State is deep in discussions on the Norwich city deal this very week. I hope that will lead to a successful conclusion soon enough. The first wave of city deals—I have seen this for myself in Sheffield—shows that the devolution in powers over skills from Whitehall to the town hall and the local enterprise partnerships is providing a fantastic boost to the provision of skills, particularly for young people who are seeking to get into work.

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Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The introduction of the dreaded bedroom tax has hammered thousands of people, mainly disabled, up and down the UK. Recent research shows that the Government wildly exaggerated the potential savings—why is that?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the study from the university of York that was published recently. The details of that study show that it is based on partial information. We simply do not know yet whether the impact or the purported savings are as big or small as the university of York study has implied, but we need to ensure that they are considered independently and objectively so that we can all agree on the basic facts, whatever our disagreements about the policy.

Julian Smith (Skipton and Ripon) (Con): Given the Deputy Prime Minister’s welcome recent criticisms of The Guardian newspaper and its potential breaches of the Official Secrets Act and the Terrorism Acts, will he encourage the Cabinet Office to take a tougher line than hitherto as matters proceed over the month ahead?

The Deputy Prime Minister: My view is that as a matter of course any publication of technical details that are, frankly, not of a great deal of interest to the non-technical reader of our newspapers but might be of huge interest to people who want to do this country harm are not a good thing. Having said that, however, I think that there is an entirely legitimate debate about whether the laws we have in place were properly framed for the power of the technologies available to our agencies and to those who wish to harm us and about whether our oversight arrangements for the work of the agencies are as strong, transparent and credible as they need to be.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): Every right hon. and hon. Member has been elected on a constituency basis; nobody has been elected on a national basis. Would it not revitalise democracy if we changed the balance of allowed funding in general elections from a national level to a constituency level and got away from these pseudo-presidential elections?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee on party funding reform, particularly with their strict limits on donation caps, would have an analogous effect as they would significantly decrease the ability of large individual donations to be siphoned directly to national parties. As I said before, however, the cross-party consensus necessary to underpin any party funding reform has eluded us once again.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): In the spirit of what my right hon. Friend said earlier about devolution, when will we finally hear the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Silk commission, which are of critical importance to the people of Wales?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I understand the impatience for progress on the adoption of the Silk recommendations. As my hon. Friend knows, we have done some work latterly on the implications of devolution of aspects of the system of stamp duty. I am a huge supporter of the

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thinking behind the Silk commission, I am acutely aware that it is supported by all parties in Wales and I hope that we will be able to make progress on it without further delay.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Has the Deputy Prime Minister seen the recent research that shows that the High Speed 2 rail line, rather than bringing strength and resurrecting the cities of the midlands and the north, will mean that more power will be sucked back to London and the south-east?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I find such research utterly specious. I wish the Labour party would decide whether it is for or against HS2. It is betraying the north of England and the great cities of the north by being so equivocal about HS2. In my view that is the most important infrastructure projects for this country’s future and it will play a crucial role in healing the long, long divide that has existed between the north and the south of our country.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: I am sorry to disappoint colleagues, who can try to be accommodated elsewhere on other question sessions. We must now move on.


The Attorney-General was asked—

Rape and Domestic Violence Prosecutions

1. Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on increasing the number of prosecutions for rape and domestic violence. [900458]

5. Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of domestic violence. [900462]

8. Peter Aldous (Waveney) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of domestic violence. [900465]

The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): The Attorney-General and I regularly discuss the effective prosecution of cases of violence against women and girls, including both domestic violence and rape, with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Discussions also take place between the DPP, the police and the Home Office. In 2012-13 the proportion of such cases resulting in conviction increased to 74.3% for domestic violence and 63.2% for rape.

Andy Sawford: Under this Government more and more cases of both rape and domestic violence are being dropped by the police without being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution, leaving

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offenders unpunished and free and leaving victims vulnerable. What are the Government going to do about this?

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is right. The Government are aiming to increase the number not only of prosecutions, but of successful ones which result in conviction. On 26 September this year the Director of Public Prosecutions held a meeting with all the other stakeholders—the police, the Home Office, the College of Policing and the Attorney-General’s Office—to look at why the referrals from police to the CPS had fallen. Six actions were agreed at that time.

Rehman Chishti: Does the Solicitor-General share my concerns that for 2012-13 around 30% of defendants for domestic violence were aged under 24, and more than 2,000 were between 14 and 17 years old? What are the Government doing to tackle domestic violence among young people?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend has a strong record of campaigning on this issue and he is absolutely right: it is of concern that young people are perpetrating domestic violence. The Government’s action plan for violence against women and girls includes a programme to increase understanding and awareness of these issues, and the DPP’s national scrutiny panel last year focused on teenage relationship abuse. The CPS is putting together specific training for prosecutors on issues to take into account when they are prosecuting cases and also to support the victims.

Peter Aldous: Taking into account the gravity of the offence, there is a concern that too many cautions are being issued in domestic violence cases. If this is established to be happening, will the Solicitor-General work with the Home Secretary to address it?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend raises an important point. As he will know, the Secretary of State for Justice has announced a wider review of out-of- court disposals, but at the recent meeting which I mentioned, convened by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was agreed that there needs to be a closer analysis of domestic violence figures and how out-of-court disposals are being dealt with. That is ongoing.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): The Solicitor-General has given us a rather tantalising answer, telling us that in September there was a meeting on ensuring that more cases were taken by the police and given to the Crown Prosecution Service for charging. We are all concerned that the CPS is not getting enough cases in front of it on which to make decisions. The Solicitor-General tells us that six actions have been agreed. Would he like to tell us what they are?

The Solicitor-General: I did not want to trespass on Mr Speaker’s good will, but I am delighted to set out the six actions. First, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary will carry out a themed inspection of domestic violence, liaising closely with the Home Office and the CPS. Secondly, the evidence that I have just mentioned about how out-of-court disposals are dealt with will be examined in more detail to see what is happening in this area. Thirdly, the performance of the

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CPS is being closely examined to see whether there are differences between areas in the way in which cases are referred. The fourth action entails looking at the independent domestic violence adviser network and making sure that it is performing consistently across the country. Fifthly, six areas are being reviewed and cases which were not referred to the police are being examined closely to see why. Sixthly, the Crown Prosecution Service is going to give further advice to the police about how to pursue cases without the witnesses giving evidence.

Mr Speaker: I call Mr Robert Halfon, assuming that he can still remember the original question.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Just about, Mr Speaker.

In 2012 there was the tragic death in my constituency of Eystna Blunnie, a victim of domestic violence. The CPS admitted that there had been a failure to prosecute the murderer for a previous assault. What steps are my hon. and learned Friend and the Government taking to ensure that the CPS properly follows through prosecutions of perpetrators of domestic violence?

The Solicitor-General: Of course, the key is to have regular meetings and to issue the sort of guidelines that the Director of Public Prosecutions has done. If my hon. Friend wishes to write to me about the case he mentioned, I will certainly ensure that any review that is still available is undertaken.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): As the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) pointed out, this is a serious matter, and the consequences are serious. In Thames Valley last year there were 9,804 recorded incidents of crime involving domestic violence, but a further 22,627 incidents were reported to the police, and we know that such cases sometimes end in a tragic death. I fear that the hon. and learned Gentleman’s six actions are a bit laid back. What is he going to do?

The Solicitor-General: First, the six actions relate to one important aspect: ensuring that referrals come through from the police to the CPS. But let us be clear that over recent years huge progress has been made, in both the proportion of cases that are prosecuted and the conviction rates achieved. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need a cross-governmental strategy, which we have in the action plan of the interministerial group on violence against women and girls, so there is no complacency in that regard, but she must recognise that there are achievements as well as areas that need improvement.

Vulnerable Witnesses

3. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to ensure that adequate provision is made to support vulnerable witnesses in sexual abuse or domestic violence cases. [900460]

7. Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to ensure that adequate provision is made to support vulnerable witnesses in sexual abuse or domestic violence cases. [900464]

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The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): The Crown Prosecution Service takes allegations of sexual abuse and domestic violence very seriously and ensures that prosecutors are well equipped to handle those cases. There is also the national network of witness care units, whose role is to support victims. The House will want to know that the Director of Public Prosecutions will publish final guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse shortly.

Stephen Metcalfe: I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer. Will he also look at what more can be done to support those who have been the victims of psychological or emotional abuse, because although there is no physical effect, the mental trauma can be quite debilitating?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend’s contribution is timely, as we have recently had mental health day. He is right that it is important to support such victims and witnesses, which is what the witness care units do. In addition, there is a range of guidance for prosecutors on issues such as the provision of therapy to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses. With regard to victims who have suffered mental trauma, there is guidance on how to help victims and witnesses with mental health issues, and the CPS also contributed to the Mind toolkit.

Neil Parish: Will my hon. and learned Friend outline what the special measures will be, how they will be granted for vulnerable witnesses and how they will help the court process to ensure that the trial is fair for all, particularly those witnesses in these very difficult cases?

The Solicitor-General: The special measures available for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses include: giving evidence from behind a screen, by live television link or in private by clearing the court room of the public; removal of wigs and gowns by judges and lawyers; use of video-recorded evidence-in-chief; examination of the witness through an intermediary; and provision of communication aids. Many of us are strong supporters of one special measure, pre-recorded cross-examination, for which I think there is a measure of support across the House. It has not yet been implemented, but it is coming soon.

Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab) rose—

Mr Speaker: The hon. Lady is almost overcome with excitement. I call Ann Coffey.

Ann Coffey: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

Children have particular difficulty in communicating, and registered intermediaries are crucial in enabling them to give the best possible evidence in court, but they are being appointed in a tiny minority of cases. What more can the Solicitor-General do to make sure that the Crown Prosecution Service appoints better registered intermediaries for children at an early stage?

The Solicitor-General: As the hon. Lady will remember, that is one of the six issues that is being considered. I agree that it is important to ensure that the right support is given in every case. Of course, support would not be needed in every case, but where it is, it should be available.

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Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Solicitor-General will know that the specialist domestic courts that were established under the previous Labour Government helped to speed up prosecutions and reduce attrition. Why, then, have his Government gone about closing them down?

The Solicitor-General: Although referrals are down, the proportion of the caseload that is domestic violence or rape cases has held up strongly, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman’s allegation stands up. However, it is certainly true that we need to ensure that these cases are dealt with expeditiously.

Margot James (Stourbridge) (Con): I thank the Attorney-General for the report he commissioned, following our meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service inspectorate, on the disclosure of medical and counselling records of victims of sexual abuse and rape. Will he or the Solicitor-General meet me to discuss the implementation of these recommendations and the need for further action in related areas?

The Solicitor-General: As my hon. Friend knows, the Attorney-General and I were very grateful for her intervention in this regard. The report from Her Majesty’s inspectorate bears that out, and either one or both of us would be happy to meet her to discuss taking this forward.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): May I draw the Solicitor-General’s attention to the experience of one of my constituents who has been identified as a potential witness in a case of serious sexual abuse going back over many, many years? This has caused him great distress, and, frankly, he is not receiving the support that he desperately needs. Will the Solicitor-General and the Attorney-General look again at what more can be done to support vulnerable witnesses over the many months they have to wait while their case comes to trial?

The Solicitor-General: If the right hon. Gentleman writes to me I will make sure that the case is given whatever extra support is needed. As regards the point he makes, he is absolutely right. As somebody who has prosecuted these cases, I know that having a properly supported witness who feels confident in giving evidence is key.

David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I am currently dealing with a case where a vulnerable witness has been forced to leave her own home as a result of the abuse she has suffered, and the offender is now walking around and living in that house. Does the Solicitor-General agree that that is an absolutely disgraceful situation? If I send him the full details, will he look into it and find ways in which I can help this constituent?

The Solicitor-General: I would be more than happy to discuss the case with my hon. Friend. Obviously it is difficult for me to comment, not having seen the papers, but I make that offer.

Exit Payouts (CPS)

4. Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): If he will discuss with the Director of Public Prosecutions ways of limiting public expenditure on exit payouts at the Crown Prosecution Service. [900461]

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The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): I regularly meet the Director of Public Prosecutions, and this subject has been discussed. The CPS has reduced its staff numbers by 1,902, or 21%, during the current spending review period, while improving overall performance in its delivery of a public prosecution service. These reductions will save the public purse a forecast £77.8 million per annum by 2015-16. Expenditure on staff exits will substantially reduce in the next financial year as the CPS will have completed its major programme of achieving significant staff reductions.

Mr Slaughter: Given that, by his own admission, the Attorney-General is losing a quarter of all prosecutors, perhaps it is not surprising that he spent £50 million getting rid of them, but why has £10 million of that gone on packages of more than £100,000, including ones of up to £300,000, when the rump of the service is starved of resources?

The Attorney-General: The payments in each case were those to which the individuals were contractually entitled. I am aware of the recent press coverage of two payments, but it relied on a series of assumptions that have been shown not to be accurate. Moreover, in the case of one of those two cases, the payments were in fact made in 2009 and were part of the redundancy payments approved by the previous Government, which we changed.

Criminal Sentences

6. Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): On how many occasions during the last 12 months his Department has referred a criminal sentence to the Court of Appeal for review on the grounds that it was unduly lenient. [900463]

The Attorney-General (Mr Dominic Grieve): As my hon. Friend will be aware, the power to refer sentences is an exceptional remedy reserved for those cases in which the sentence is so far below the range of sentences it was reasonable to impose that public confidence in the criminal justice system risks being damaged. For 2012, the most recent period for which statistics on unduly lenient sentence cases have been published, we received 435 requests for sentences to be reviewed, of which 82 were referred as unduly lenient and heard by the Court of Appeal. For the period ending 30 September 2013, we have received 352 requests for sentences to be reviewed, of which 57 have been referred to the Court of Appeal and have been, or are due to be, heard by the Court.

Gareth Johnson: In that case, could the Attorney-General please assure the House that he will give due consideration to widening the scope to appeal against unduly lenient sentences? I am sure he will agree that weak sentences by our courts let down the victim, the judiciary and the whole of society.

The Attorney-General: My hon. Friend will be aware that the scheme is currently restricted to a list of serious offences. It is right to say that we have added to that list in recent years. In August 2012, the offence of trafficking people for exploitation was added, as were racially or religiously aggravated assaults in October 2003 and various offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in 2006. It is always possible for cases to be added to the list, but it is important to bear in mind that references take up court time and there must be a limit to the

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number of cases that the Court of Appeal can hear. One must also bear in mind that there has to be a degree of finality and these things have to be balanced out. If my hon. Friend knows of any cases or types of offences that he thinks might be added, I am always happy to consider such matters. It is, obviously, ultimately a matter for my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor, but we discuss these matters and will act if we think it necessary.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am usually a great fan of the Attorney-General, but the way in which he has handled the case of Elena Fanaru is very disappointing. She now lies in a grave in Romania. The man who knocked her down and killed her, having fled the scene of the accident, got only one year and four months in prison. When are we going to make sure that such people really do face justice?

The Attorney-General: I am not going to comment on an individual case. I am quite satisfied that, in so far as I have been able to have any role in this matter, I have acted properly. In so far as it is a matter of where the law needs to be changed, that is for this House to decide.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): May I urge the Attorney-General to work with the Lord Chancellor to extend the period in which an appeal can be made against an unduly lenient sentence from the current 28 days? Could he also give a word of encouragement to campaigners such as the excellent Families Fighting for Justice who claim it would make a big difference to victims of the most serious offences?

The Attorney-General: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Certainly, the question of the time limit will be looked at by my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor. I am certainly open to suggestions, although it is right to say that if we have a new time limit there will always be the risk that it will also be exceeded in some cases. It is important that cases should be reviewed quickly. In some cases the defendant/offender may not have been given a custodial sentence, and to have a long period of delay before a custodial sentence is then imposed is clearly undesirable.

Human Trafficking

9. Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): What steps the Director of Public Prosecutions

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is taking to raise awareness amongst prosecutors of how to deal with cases of human trafficking; and what assessment he has made of whether current legislation is being used to prosecute such cases effectively. [900467]

The Solicitor-General (Oliver Heald): Guidance is issued by the Crown Prosecution Service and it is regularly updated. There is a training programme for the CPS and the Director of Public Prosecutions will host a round-table event later this year to consider how best to strengthen prosecutions.

Caroline Nokes: I thank the Solicitor-General for that response. This Friday 18 October is anti-slavery day, which aims to highlight human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the key problems is that those crimes are very well concealed and seldom brought to the attention of the authorities and the police, and that wider public awareness, as well as the awareness of GPs and teachers, is required.

The Solicitor-General: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to publishing a draft modern-day slavery Bill later this year. There have been amendments to the law to enable more prosecutions to occur. The round-table event later this year will be important in raising awareness, as she suggests.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Northern Ireland Assembly has recently brought in legislation on human trafficking that is perhaps unique in the United Kingdom. Has the Solicitor-General had any discussions with the Northern Ireland Assembly and, if so, what was the outcome?

The Solicitor-General: I have not had such a discussion, but if the hon. Gentleman would like to talk to me about the issue, I would be happy to do so.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Solicitor-General press the Home Secretary to consider this matter in drafting the modern-day slavery Bill?

The Solicitor-General: The details of the Bill will be published in draft, so my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to contribute at that point. I pay tribute to the work that he does with the all-party group on human trafficking.

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Regulation of the Private Rented Sector

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

12.35 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide for the regulation of letting agents; to protect tenants’ deposits; to require the enforcement of environmental and energy-efficiency standards in private-sector rented accommodation; to amend the law on secure tenancies; to provide for fair rent to be applicable to all rented accommodation; to require landlords not to discriminate against people in receipt of state benefits; to require local authorities to establish a private rented sector office; and for connected purposes.

I first introduced this Bill earlier this year on 26 February. Since then, the debate about the regulation of the private rented sector has gathered pace. It is now much more commonplace for all of us to be invited to endless seminars on the private rented sector and stories abound about the way in which people are treated in the sector. This matter ought to be part of the mainstream political debate on housing in this country.

There are essentially three elements to housing in this country: owner-occupation, housing provided by local authorities or housing associations, and the private rented sector. I will take them in turn. Owner-occupation has been the cornerstone of the housing policies of successive Governments for a long time. However, the rate of owner-occupation is steadily and steeply in decline, to the extent that it is well below the high point of 70%. There is every sign that it will continue to drop over the decades, as mortgages become more expensive and more difficult to secure for people on average incomes or below, despite the Government’s home-ownership objectives.

The second area is council housing and housing association properties. Council housing provides good quality, secure accommodation, but it is in desperately short supply, particularly in London and the south-east. I am the first to admit that the solution to our housing problems lies in the much more rapid development of much more council housing all over the country. That would provide a good quality way out of housing desperation for many people. I hope that that policy is increasingly accepted and developed.

Although I recognise that housing associations were founded to bring in good quality housing on a similar basis to council housing, I am becoming increasingly concerned about their behaviour and conduct. Increasingly, they act like housing companies, not social landlords, and see themselves as being in the property market, rather than in the provision of housing for people who are in desperate need. That area is in need of tight regulation.

The third area is the private rented sector, which has traditionally been very small in this country. It has now started to rise rapidly. Nationally, it makes up 17% of the housing stock. That is predicted to rise to 22% by 2025. It is an extremely different story in some parts of the country. In the borough of Islington, which I am happy to represent with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), who is here to indicate her approval of the Bill, the make-up

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is very different. Owner-occupation now makes up less than 30% of housing stock across the borough and is declining fast. Social housing—housing association and council housing—is about 40% of the stock and rising, as the local authority, to its great credit, manages to undertake some building programmes to ensure that people have a decent roof over their head. However, the private rented sector makes up well over 30% of the housing in the borough.

Some who rent in the private sector in London are very wealthy, can afford to pay any price that is offered and do not particularly care about it. There are also those on middle incomes—young, professional people who move into London and pay an extraordinarily high proportion of what ought to be a decent wage on private rents. Then there are people on very low incomes who cannot get anywhere near the housing ladder but cannot get anywhere near getting a council property either. They are stuck in expensive private rented accommodation, often paying half their take-home pay just to keep an inadequate, expensive roof over their head.

There are also people who are placed in private rented accommodation by the local authority, and they are the ones who suffer the most. They are often in inadequate, badly maintained accommodation with landlords who know that the tenants are in no position to complain about anything.

The one thing that unites all those groups is insecurity about their housing. I guess that most Members are owner-occupiers and do not feel any great insecurity about their housing situation. It is not so for a large number of people in this country. We therefore need effective regulation of all private rented accommodation, so that there are decent environmental standards and not excessive energy bills. We need strict regulation of what letting agents do, because currently anyone can set up as a letting agent straight away. At the very least, we need Criminal Records Bureau checks, and we need anti-discrimination legislation to be enforced on letting agencies—not just when there is discrimination against people on housing benefit, but when there is discrimination against people of minority ethnic communities, which is absolutely disgraceful and is illegal under general anti-discrimination law.

We also need the guaranteed return of deposits and much longer tenancies. Traditionally, assured shorthold tenancies last for six months in this country. Sometimes they are repeated and sometimes they are not, but they are almost never repeated if the tenant complains about conditions or requires the landlord to make some repairs during the first six months. The tenant finds that their tenancy is simply terminated. We therefore also need tenancies of at least five years, to reduce the level of insecurity.

When the Government tell me that the cost of private rented accommodation is one of the main drivers of this country’s large housing allowance bill, I absolutely agree with them. However, the way to deal with it is not by restricting the level of housing benefit paid to tenants but by controlling the level of rent that is paid. Other countries seem to manage that well, and I feel deeply angry when I meet people in my advice bureau every week who tell me that they are, in effect, being socially cleansed out of an area they have lived in for a long time

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because the housing benefit is inadequate for the level of rent that is charged. They are being forced to scatter all over London and all over the country.

Some colleagues tell me that regulation of the private rented sector and rent levels is not a problem in their constituency, and I understand that. There is a vast discrepancy in rent levels across the country, from £300 to £400 a week in London to £100 a week, or in some cases even slightly less, in other parts of the country. However, if the House does not pass strict regulation of the private rented sector now, starting in London and the south-east, the problem will spread across the country as the sector gets bigger and bigger.

My Bill would bring about better security, such as there is in Germany, where tenancies last almost a lifetime. It would bring about better conditions for tenants and much more stable communities. In some wards in my constituency, population turnover is 30% a year, almost all occasioned by the insecurity of the private rented sector. What does that do to the stability of a community? Where does it get its community activists, school governors and movers and shakers from if there is no security and no investment in that community?

Finally, the Bill would bring about rent regulation. Some people are not keen on that—some landlords do not like it, but some recognise that the stability provided by a fair rent formula of the sort we used to have in this country would be a useful step forward. My Bill seeks to establish local authority-run, fair-rent regulation authorities, the first of which would cover the whole of Greater London. We would start with the principle that rent should bear some resemblance to the cost of a property—often it bears none whatsoever—and ensure that we gain the security of tenure required to bring about a much better and fairer society.

I hope the House will support this Bill today to end the insecurity and injustice, and recognise that some local authorities such as Newham and Oxford have made enormous steps forward to try and bring about some degree of regulation and stability in the private rented sector. The Bill is not a threat to good landlords who seek to do the right thing and look after their tenants; it is a threat to the cowboys, bad landlords, discriminators and those who refuse to repair their properties or return deposits at the end of a tenure. I hope the House will support the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.


That Jeremy Corbyn, Mark Durkan, Sir Bob Russell, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, Caroline Lucas, John Healey, John McDonnell, Katy Clark, Grahame M. Morris, Ms Diane Abbott, Mr David Lammy and Mr David Ward present the Bill.

Jeremy Corbyn accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 28 February 2014, and to be printed (Bill 114).

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Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill

[2nd Allocated Day]

Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 9

Offence of forced marriage: Scotland

‘(1) A person commits an offence under the law of Scotland if he or she—

(a) uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and

(b) believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.

(2) A person commits an offence under the law of Scotland if he or she—

(a) practises any form of deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the United Kingdom, and

(b) intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United Kingdom that is an offence under subsection (1) or would be an offence under that subsection if the victim were in Scotland.

(3) “Marriage” means any religious or civil ceremony of marriage (whether or not legally binding).

(4) It is irrelevant whether the conduct mentioned in paragraph (a) of subsection (1) is directed at the victim of the offence under that subsection or another person.

(5) A person commits an offence under subsection (1) or (2) only if, at the time of the coercion or deception—

(a) the person or the victim or both of them are in Scotland,

(b) neither the person nor the victim is in Scotland but at least one of them is habitually resident in Scotland, or

(c) neither the person nor the victim is in the United Kingdom but at least one of them is a UK national.

(6) “UK national” means an individual who is—

(a) a British citizen, a British overseas territories citizen, a British National (Overseas) or a British Overseas citizen;

(b) a person who under the British Nationality Act 1981 is a British subject; or

(c) a British protected person within the meaning of that Act.

(7) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or both;

(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years or to a fine or both.’.—(Norman Baker.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.—(Norman Baker.)

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendments 49, 50, 62, 64, 72, and 75 to 77.

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12.47 pm

The Minister of State, Home Department (Norman Baker): I will be brief because, as Members will recall, clause 104 introduces a new offence of forced marriage. The new offence is an important part of our efforts to stamp out that appalling practice, and will send a clear message that it will not be tolerated. I am pleased the Scottish Government has also decided that forced marriage should be a criminal offence, and new clause 9 introduces a similar provision for Scotland. Breach of a forced marriage protection order is already a criminal offence in Scotland, so there is no need for a similar amendment to mirror clause 103, which makes that the case in England and Wales. The other amendments in the group are consequential on new clause 9.

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): I was not in the Chamber yesterday, so may I welcome the Minister to his new post and let him know that any conspiracy theories he comes up with about me will probably be true?

The Opposition accept the need to deal decisively with forced marriage in Scotland, as in England, and we are pleased that the Government are extending to Scotland provisions that make forcing someone into a marriage a criminal offence. We therefore support the new clause and its consequential amendments. It was clear from evidence taken in Committee that there are differing views on the issue, and some who are active in the sector oppose the use of criminal law in that area because they believe it would deter victims from reporting what is happening to them. That is an understandable view, but not one I share. Victims of forced marriage are British. They are of many ages, although many are young people. British boys and girls, of whatever colour, deserve the same protection as every other British boy and girl.

It is important to make the point that forced marriages are not about religious beliefs—they are not condoned by any of the major faiths, whether Christianity, Islam or Hinduism. Forced marriages are about abuse, often of children. What we condemn as abuse in any other sector of society cannot be condoned because of the colour of a person’s skin, their ethnic background or their parents’ culture. I am therefore glad that new clause 9 will make coercing someone into a marriage a criminal offence in all parts of the UK. I hope we will give young people, their communities and others the confidence to challenge forced marriage and to stand up and say no, knowing that they are supported by the law throughout the country, and, I would hope, by others in the community.

It is fair to say that, in some respects, Scotland has moved ahead of the rest of the UK on the matter because, as the Minister has said, breach of a forced marriage protection order is a criminal offence in Scotland, as it will be in the rest of the UK when the Bill becomes law. It is therefore clearly right that new clause 9 extends the criminal offence of coercing someone into a marriage into Scottish law. However, the UK Government and the Scottish Government need to do much more. No forced marriage protection orders have been issued in Scotland since its current legislation came into force, and yet no one would seriously argue that there were no forced marriages last year. In fact, the UK forced marriage unit gave support in 1,483 cases related to possible forced marriage. That is a high number, but the National

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Centre for Social research report published in 2009 estimated that there were between 5,000 and 8,000 reported cases throughout the UK each year. Of course, many cases go unreported.

The Opposition therefore support the Government’s legislation for Scotland and the rest of the UK, but I should tell the Minister that the legislation by itself is not enough. We need to put in place a system that allows people to report when they are at risk of forced marriage, that encourages them to report, and that offers them the support they need. Currently, that is sadly lacking. For example, much more work needs to be done in schools, so that teachers are alert to the signs that a pupil might be being forced into marriage. Young people need to be educated so that, if they or one of their friends are at risk, they know where to seek help.

I therefore ask the Minister to say what the Government are doing to raise awareness of forced marriage. Where is the money to fund such a campaign? In 2012, the forced marriage unit said that many agencies, whether those dealing with children or with vulnerable adults, still did not recognise forced marriage as a safeguarding issue. That is totally unacceptable. There is evidence that police throughout the UK recognise the need to deal with forced marriage proactively, but other agencies—not just schools, but colleges and health organisations—still have a long way to go. I hope Ministers discuss the measures needed with the Scottish Government, so that we can develop a common approach throughout these islands.

We must have training not only for teachers to allow them to recognise the signs that their students are at risk, but for others. Teachers are important because, sometimes, they are the only person outside the family with whom a victim has contact at first. I remember the tragic case of Shafilea Ahmed in my area—she lived in the constituency of the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat). She was so desperate that she drank bleach when she was taken to Pakistan. Later, she was missing for a week before anyone from the school raised the fact that she was not there, despite the warning signs she had given. Teachers did not intervene, and health workers did not follow up or ask the right questions. In the end, she was tragically murdered. I tell the Minister that, although the legislation is welcome, the Opposition want to know what he will do to ensure there is not another Shafilea.

Social services provision is struggling because of the draconian cuts the Minister’s Government are making to council services. Women’s refuges have lost a third of their budget, and refuges and specialist advice services are closing. There is evidence that services that cater for women from black and ethnic minority communities are particularly hard hit. One test of the willingness of both the Scottish Government and the coalition Government to enforce the provisions will be whether they provide the services that people need.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Is the hon. Lady’s submission to the House that more focus should be on certain cultural or ethnic groups rather than having a generic focus? I ask because the examples she gives—other hon. Members will give similar ones—come from certain cultural areas. Should the financial focus be on those areas to help them?

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Helen Jones: The hon. Gentleman needs to differentiate services that protect women from violence and specialist provision for those dealing with forced marriages. They are two parts of the same thing, but the current evidence is that specialised services for black and ethnic minority women—services that they feel more comfortable accessing because the people there understand the cultural background—are being closed at a greater rate than other refuges. That is a worry.

My point to the Minister is that the legislation is all very well, but unfortunately, unless he ensures that there are services to allow women and girls to make use of the legislation and access the services they need, the Opposition will be forced to conclude that the Government will the ends but are unwilling to fund the means. We need a much more joined-up approach from the Home Office, the Department for Education, the Department of Health and the Department for Communities and Local Government if the legislation is to protect people in future. We do not oppose but welcome the Government’s new clauses, but that is the test we will apply to the Government.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 9 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Fees for criminal record certificates etc

‘In Part 5 of the Police Act 1997 (criminal record certificates etc), in section 125 (regulations), after subsection (1) there is inserted—

“(1A) In prescribing the amount of a fee that—

(a) is payable in relation to applications under a particular provision of this Part, but

(b) is not payable in relation to applications made by volunteers,

the Secretary of State may take into account not only the costs associated with applications in relation to which the fee is payable but also the costs associated with applications under that provision made by volunteers.”’.—(Damian Green.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Damian Green): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 28—Court and tribunal fees.

Amendment 184, page 115, line 19, leave out clause 143.

Amendment 95, in clause 143, page 115, line 26, leave out

‘the person was innocent of the offence’

and insert—

‘no reasonable court properly directed as to the law, could convict on the evidence now to be considered.’.

Government amendments 137, 138, 66, 139, 74 and 83.

Damian Green: I will first deal with the Government’s proposals, although I am aware that hon. Members will wish to speak to other amendments. I will deal with those at the end of the debate on the group.

The Government proposals in the group are on the setting of fees for two distinct public services. New clause 10 concerns fees charged by the Disclosure and Barring Service. It is Government policy—I imagine

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and hope that this is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House—to encourage volunteering in our communities. To that end, it has long been the case that criminal record checks, where needed, such as in respect of work with children, are provided free of charge to volunteers. The new clause puts on a clear statutory basis the ability of the Home Secretary to take into account the cost of providing criminal record certificates and other services covered by part V of the Police Act 1997 when determining the fees charged for those services.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): The Minister is making important points about ensuring that people are able to pay. As I understand it, it is not currently possible to get a basic disclosure within England and Wales—it has to go through Scotland. Will he look at ensuring that, where appropriate, basic applications are available and free?

1 pm

Damian Green: I am conscious that at various times there have been difficulties with the practicalities of the system, and I take on board my hon. Friend’s point.

The other services covered by part V of the Police Act 1997 when determining fees charged for services also apply to the new update service that was launched earlier this year. This will enable employers to verify whether existing criminal record certificates for those signed up to the service remain up to date, allowing us to ensure that the overall costs of the service now provided by the disclosure and barring service are fully recovered through fee income, and not subsidised by the taxpayer.

Earlier this year, when the update service was introduced, we made interim arrangements under the Finance (No. 2) Act 1987 to provide the legal gateway for this measure to apply. However, the overall arrangement was complex and not entirely transparent. For that reason, we believe the new clause will benefit volunteers and the people and communities they support.

New clause 28 contains substantive provisions to replace clause 147, which, as we made clear, was a placeholder clause. The new clause provides the Lord Chancellor with a general power to set fees at a level that exceeds the cost of the related services. The services are those provided by the courts in England and Wales, including the Court of Protection, the tribunals for which the Lord Chancellor is responsible and the Office of the Public Guardian. The primary focus of our proposals for using this power will be the courts of England and Wales. The courts play a vital role in our society, providing access to justice so that the public can assert their legal rights. Ensuring that they are properly resourced is essential to maintaining access to justice. This must be delivered when public spending is required to fall—deficit reduction is one of the Government’s key priorities—and the courts and those who use them must make a contribution.

As new clause 28 makes clear, the purpose of enhanced fees is to finance an efficient and effective court system. This change to the way that fees are set will help to ensure that courts are properly resourced to deliver modern, efficient services so that access to justice is protected. The proposed legislation provides a general power; specific fees would be increased through secondary legislation. When a specific fee or fees are set at an enhanced

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level for the first time, the order will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure—there will be full debate in both Houses. Any subsequent changes to those fees will be subject to the negative procedure.

We will shortly be consulting on proposals to achieve full cost recovery, less remissions, in the civil and family courts. However, even on this basis the running of the court system in England and Wales costs more than £1 billion a year, so we need to go further in reducing the burden on taxpayers. We believe it is fair and proportionate that those who use the courts and can afford to do so should make a greater contribution to their overall funding. That is why we are bringing forward this provision to allow fees to be set above cost in some circumstances.

Let me assure the House that we will not be using the power to set excessively high fees. In setting fees, the Lord Chancellor must have regard to the principle that access to the courts must not be denied. The new clause requires him to have regard to the overall financial position of the courts and tribunals, and the international competitiveness of the legal services market. We are not bringing forward specific plans for charging enhanced fees at this stage. We want to take some time to ensure that we get the measures right. As I said, we will consult widely on the proposals and look carefully at how any proposed court fees might compare with the overall cost of litigation, the value of the issues at stake and the fees charged by our international competitors. Following the consultation there will, as I have indicated, be full parliamentary scrutiny of any enhanced fees that we decide to introduce.

Amendments 184 and 95 relate to the tests for eligibility for compensation following a miscarriage of justice. I propose that the House hears from the hon. Members who tabled them before I respond.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I, with my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), tabled amendment 95. Does the Minister not recognise that he is proposing a dangerous step forward that would actually reduce the chances of overturning a miscarriage of justice case? Would the Guildford Four or the Birmingham Six have been declared innocent under his proposals?

Damian Green: As I said, I think it would be sensible, for the purposes of the debate and the convenience of the House, if the hon. Gentleman makes his case and I then respond to it at the end of the debate. I think that is better than pre-responding to the speech I suspect he will make. [Interruption.] I am happy to make the same speech twice, but you, Mr Speaker, might feel that that was out of order. If the hon. Gentleman wants a taste of what I am going to say, I do not agree with him, but I will wait to hear his fuller analysis to see if he can convince me in the course of the debate.

Mr Speaker: Order. I note the spirit in which the Minister of State made his remarks, but the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) has said nothing disorderly. He might not have said as much as he has to say or as the Minister would like to hear, and we wait

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with bated breath to see whether the hon. Gentleman will spring from his seat to seek to catch my eye, but his behaviour has been orderly and respectful, as always.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I rise to speak on two matters; first, briefly, on enhanced fees. We are not opposed to the principle of what is being proposed, but it is clear from what the Minister has said that this is about more than full cost recovery, the kind for which we argued yesterday in respect of firearms. This is a revenue-raising measure. We will therefore scrutinise carefully any orders brought forward under the proposed legislation to ensure that any charges are reasonable, and that the interests of the administration of justice are best served.

Amendment 95 relates to miscarriages of justice. I am proud to serve the city of Birmingham. In 1974, the city saw the most appalling terrorist outrage when, as a consequence of bombings by the Provisional IRA, 21 innocent citizens died. Six innocent people were then convicted of that terrorist outrage. I should make it clear that I have been a lifelong opponent of violence by the Provisional IRA. My mother and father were both Irish. I was also on the executive of the National Council for Civil Liberties for many years, and served as its chairman. In that period, we campaigned against terrorist violence and for justice at a time when it was sometimes difficult to stick one’s head up and say that what had happened to the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four was unacceptable. Sixteen years after the Birmingham Six were sent to prison, they were released and found to have been wrongly convicted.

On behalf of the Opposition, I warmly welcome the fact that my hon. Friends the Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan) and for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) are bringing this important issue to the Floor of the House. We are rightly proud of our judicial system, but we know that it is not perfect. The Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four are but two examples of miscarriages of justice that highlight in extremis the consequences of getting it wrong; taking away years of a person’s life and damaging their reputation, their friends, family and colleagues. It is therefore entirely right that when such a miscarriage of justice occurs, the innocent people who have suffered are entitled to compensation.

At the heart of our legal system lies the principle of innocent until proved guilty, and rightly so. However, Government changes to redefine the compensation test, limiting it to

“if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”

seem to fly in the face of this age-old principle. Under the Government’s new narrowed compensation tests, none of the Birmingham Six or Guildford Four would have been entitled to payments. Billy Power, one of the six men wrongly convicted in the 1970s for the Birmingham pub bombings, has warned that the changes would mean that

“the standard presumption of innocence would be abolished”.

And he is not alone. A report from the Westminster joint human rights commission said:

“In our view, requiring proof of innocence beyond reasonable doubt as a condition of obtaining compensation for wrongful conviction is incompatible with the presumption of innocence, which is protected by both the common law and Article 6(2) ECHR. We recommend that clause 143 be deleted from the Bill because it is on its face incompatible with the Convention.”

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Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): As the hon. Gentleman will hear if I have a chance to say a word, I am very supportive of what he is arguing for and of the amendment that his hon. Friends have tabled. With respect, though, I would like to correct something that he said. The opinion that he just quoted was that of the Joint Committee on Human Rights—not the Westminster convention, or whatever he called it—which is making exactly the argument that he is putting to the House.

Jack Dromey: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention; he is of course right.

We support a rigorous and fair justice system, but it must ensure that where a serious miscarriage of justice has happened, innocent people receive fair compensation for all that they have suffered, which, in the more extreme cases, can involve years of their lives. If a miscarriage of justice has taken place, it is the justice system’s mistake, and it should be its job to put it right, not to make it harder for innocent people to do so. If—God forbid!—we ever saw a repeat of what happened with the Birmingham bombings and the subsequent convictions, it would be absolutely unthinkable that those people would not be entitled to compensation.

I very much hope that the Minister will respond constructively to the amendment and our representations. We intend to support the amendment in the other place, where we believe that further detailed scrutiny should take place, because the Government have got it wrong and we must put that wrong right.

Dr Huppert: It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow the opening comments.

I thoroughly support new clause 10, because it is right that we recognise volunteers. Too often, people have had to pay far too much to go through the processes necessary to volunteer, as I know from my own voluntary work, although that was more of a problem when people needed separate certificates for everything they did. I am glad that we have made some progress at least.

There is an issue, however, about the availability of the right level of disclosure for criminal record certificates. I thought I knew this area reasonably well, but I did not realise until recently that it was not possible to get a basic certificate—there are three levels: basic, standard and enhanced—listing unspent convictions in England and Wales; the only body that does it is Disclosure Scotland. While getting the pricing correct, therefore, we must also ensure availability. It seems perverse that only under Scots law can somebody get what most employers ought to have access to. Most employers do not realise that they should have the basic, rather than standard or enhanced certificate. I hope that Ministers will consider that point and ensure that while providing the right costings, we also get that right, and that the Government implement the relevant provisions in the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.

On new clause 28, the Minister made a strong case for having some fees. I think we would all agree that if a Russian oligarch makes great use of our courts, they should make some contribution. None of us would suggest that their having to pay £1,000 or so would inhibit their ability to get justice. Perhaps the cost of using the courts should be a fraction of the fees going to the lawyers; that might be a safe way of ensuring that

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we make our fair share. That is not the route chosen, however, although it is quite tempting, given how large the legal fees are in many of these cases. It is not just Russian oligarchs, of course; it is anybody with a very big transaction. It seems right that they should contribute to the costs of our fantastic court system.

We need to ensure, however, that people not in a position to pay are not hit. It should still be possible for people without money to access the courts, and in that, the fees system could help, because by taking more money from those who have lots of it, we could subsidise those who do not. I note that there is broad support for the idea that any money made should be reinvested in improving our court system and ensuring that it works well. Broadly, therefore, I am pleased to see the new clause.

1.15 pm

Clause 143 has been discussed passionately by the shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). I share their huge concern about effectively requiring somebody to demonstrate their innocence, which in very many cases would be extremely hard to prove to the level required. It is not hard to think of cases where it would have been problematic; the shadow Minister described some of them, and I will not detain the House with a long list, but people have written to me with examples.

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Go on!

Dr Huppert: It is nice to be encouraged by the Whips to speak at greater length, but I am sure we have enough to debate and I do not want to take time from the important debates coming up.

On the concerns about clause 143, the hon. Member for Islington North has, of course, tabled his amendment, but the Joint Committee on Human Rights has also tabled an amendment that would get rid of the clause completely. I am not a lawyer, but my assessment is that the JCHR approach is probably a cleaner one, but both amendments aim to achieve exactly the same thing. I agree with the shadow Minister that we should flag this up as a big issue, but leave it to the other place to find the right answer. By then, I hope that the Government will have reflected on it and accepted the principle that it is incredibly hard for anybody absolutely to prove their innocence. That is a really tough threshold. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that and that we can strike a better balance in the other place.

Jeremy Corbyn: I will be brief; because of the odd timetable we have for the Bill, there is not much time to debate any of it. My remarks are concerned solely with amendment 95, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), and for which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) explained, there is strong support.

Clause 143 will fundamentally overturn the huge changes made after the release of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. For many years, along with Chris Mullin and many others, I was one of those who, from this position in the House, raised questions about the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, and I could paper the walls of my house with the letters of

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abuse we received for taking up their cases. None of us who took up those miscarriages of justice was ever in favour of the bombing and killing of civilians in any circumstances; we were, however, in favour of justice.

The first person arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974 was Paul Hill, one of the Guildford Four, who had been a constituent of my constituency before I was elected, but was in prison when I was elected. Meeting him and the others in prison, I was struck by the sheer hopelessness of being locked up for an offence they did not commit, when every newspaper and commentator in the country said they were guilty and when their family members were abused in the street and vilified because they had a son, nephew or cousin in prison for an offence they did not commit. It made that campaign very difficult, but some very brave people stood up, and eventually those happy days when they were finally released brought about a fundamental change in the whole narrative of justice in this country.

Dr Huppert: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his work on this issue over many years; it is a great tribute to him that he took it seriously. Does he agree that a fundamental principle underlies this point, which is that no matter what somebody has been accused of, however heinous it might be, they are still entitled to due process and due legal protections? That is an essential principle from which we should not vary, whether a person be accused of terrorist activities, sex crimes or anything else. Due process is important, because errors are made.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. However heinous the crime, however vile the accusation against an individual, unless they are treated as innocent until proven guilty, we undermine everything we believe in as a democratic society.

The big change that came after the release of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four—and Judith Ward for that matter—was the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which immediately started looking at 600 miscarriage of justice cases that had not received the sort of publicity that we had managed to engender in the three cases I just mentioned.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I wish to refer to one of those cases. The Cardiff Three, who were accused of a non-terrorism crime, suffered the same injustice and vilification, but eventually got some sort of justice.

Jeremy Corbyn: Absolutely. I recall that campaign very well. Although I was not centrally involved in it, I certainly supported it.

The question really goes back to the Minister. I intervened on him during his opening remarks to give him a chance—a double chance; not double jeopardy, but a double chance—to provide us with good reasons why he is introducing a provision that we, along with Liberty and many others, believe will fundamentally undermine much of what has been achieved through the Criminal Cases Review Commission and by the ability to overturn miscarriages of justice.

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Justice can go wrong. The media can get it wrong. There can be a campaign of vilification that gets it wrong. We should not be too holier than thou in this country as we already have a considerable number of people held indefinitely under immigration law, and we have anti-terror laws that I believe are highly questionable in many ways when it comes to justice. I hope that the Minister will explain in his reply exactly how a serious campaign on a miscarriage of justice case would be dealt with in the future and how many more people could indeed be locked up for a long period for offences that they did not commit and could not have committed.

If amendment 95 is not accepted—I support the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington that the whole of clause 143 be deleted—I hope that the House of Lords will look at the provisions in forensic detail. Many of those who did such incredible work, including Baroness Helena Kennedy, in representing these causes and cases over many years, sit in the other place and I hope they will ensure that this legislation is fundamentally changed so that we recognise that mistakes can happen, that terrible injustices can take place and that unless we provide the opportunity and ability to remedy them, they will happen again and again and again. That is very dangerous in any democratic society.

Simon Hughes: I apologise to you, Mr Speaker, to the Minister and to colleagues because I had to slip out briefly at the beginning of this debate, albeit for what I hope are appropriate reasons. I had to meet a press deadline to pay tribute to one of our party members—not a parliamentarian, but a man called Stan Hardy who had been a great campaigner on these sorts of issues. He died last Thursday at the ripe old age of 93. Not just Liberal Democrats or liberals but Labour and Conservative colleagues in London and beyond recognised Stan as a doughty campaigner for civil liberties as well as for the rights of the under-privileged.

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) on these sorts of issues, and I join my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) in paying tribute to his doughty campaigning throughout all the time he and I have been together in the place—now more than 30 years in both our cases. The hon. Gentleman’s amendment, supported by his hon. Friends, is designed to deal with a wrong in this Bill that I hope we can remedy.

There is a difference between amendment 95, tabled by the hon. Member for Islington North, and amendment 184, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberavon (Dr Francis) and me. We argue for our amendment in our own right, but also on behalf of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Amendment 95 would amend clause 143, taking out from line 26 the words

“the person was innocent of the offence”

and inserting the words

“no reasonable court properly directed as to the law, could convict on the evidence now to be considered.”

The Joint Committee’s collective view was that we would do better to remove clause 143 as a whole—exactly the issue for which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) argued. I have been here long enough to remember and to have supported numerous campaigns to deal with miscarriages of justice, many of them very unpopular for the reasons we have all identified. Having looked at the issue again, I honestly believe that

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the removal of the clause would be the better way to deal with the problem. There are technical problems with amendment 95, so I strongly commend to the Minister the amendment to remove clause 143.

Finally, I shall not press the Joint Committee’s amendment to a vote, but we feel strongly about this issue as a Committee. I am sure the Minister knows that we will listen respectfully to what he says, but I hope he can be helpful and confirm that the principle of the Government’s proposal—that the provision should apply

“if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent”—

will be changed because that is not the test that should be applied to deal with miscarriages of justice.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I, too, rise to speak to amendment 95, to which my name is attached, along with that of the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn).

As the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes)and others have said, the history of serious cases of miscarriages of justice should bear very heavily indeed on all Members. I include in that the cases that were fought, promoted and championed against very difficult headwinds here in Parliament by Members of all parties. I recall Conservative Members like the late John Biggs-Davison and others championing those cases alongside Labour and Liberal MPs—but little thanks did they get for it from sections of the media and others.

My own predecessors and party colleagues in Parliament fought on those issues at that time. I remember working in John Hume’s office writing all sorts of letters to the Home Office. Of course, we were told that new facts and new evidence did not qualify as new facts and new evidence. Perhaps that issue still applies to clause 143. Even if amendment 95 were accepted, the question of what counts as a

“new or newly discovered fact”

still arises, although I hope that the wording of the amendment, which would provide that

“no reasonable court properly directed as to the law, could convict on the evidence now to be considered”,

would help. There were historical arguments about whether new evidence was indeed a new fact or a material consideration, and I would not want to legislate to produce more circular arguments or obfuscations like that for the future.

Clause 143 is pernicious. It seeks completely to reload the basic, long-standing presumption of innocence until proven guilty. It basically provides qualification of the notion of a miscarriage of justice, suggesting that when someone has suffered what most people would call a miscarriage of justice and when their conviction has, on subsequent judicial appraisal of relevant evidence, been overturned, they should still not be able to proclaim their innocence. There is an insinuation that if they were previously convicted, they are innocent and entitled to compensation as innocent only where they can prove that they are innocent “beyond reasonable doubt”.

For the people affected, many of their convictions will have taken place many years previously and they will be in no position to marshal all the evidence that could necessarily prove their innocence beyond what someone would call a reasonable doubt. Nobody has to

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meet that criterion at their proper and due initial trial, so why should anybody have to do that to receive compensation after a conviction has been overturned? Compensation is not the only issue here because it is not the monetary value that motivates the fundamental objections to this proposal.

Before I became a Member in 2005, I worked on the cases of the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven when they still needed and wanted a full and proper proclamation of their innocence, not least because many sections of the media and others were retelling the slur that these people had somehow secured just a technical acquittal. Their conviction was quashed, but the insinuation remained that they were not really innocent. That problem arose from issues surrounding compensation and other factors.

I recall being asked by Gerry Conlon, a friend of mine and one of the Guildford Four, if I could get a direct and clear statement of apology and a proclamation of the innocence not just of himself but of his late father, Giuseppe Conlon. I was also asked the same by Sarah Conlon, Gerry’s mother and Giuseppe’s widow. It was plain that Gerry Conlon wanted that clear proclamation of their innocence for his mother, that his mother wanted it for Gerry, and, of course, that they both wanted it for Giuseppe.

1.30 pm

It is hugely important for people to be able to engage in the proper legal process in order to have their innocence properly affirmed. They should not have to engage in all sorts of ulterior processes to secure, for instance, declarations in the House of Commons or in the precincts of Parliament, which is what happened at the time to which I have referred. We must recognise that miscarriages of justice have had a fundamental impact not just on the people whose lives have been marred and blighted by years of jail and the ignominy that they and their families have suffered, but on the wider community—and not just in the context of British-Irish relations and all those historic difficulties.

It is mean-minded of the Government to use the Bill to try to qualify the definition of whether people have been victims of miscarriages of justice, and to impose an undue burden on them to prove their innocence “beyond reasonable doubt”. Those words were chosen very deliberately. How can any of us prove our innocence of anything beyond reasonable doubt? Many of us might be accused of saying things, insinuating things, meaning things, or doing things relating to our expenses or all sorts of other things, but it would be enormously difficult for us then to prove beyond reasonable doubt that we had not done those things, particularly if we had been subject to a lot of media reportage, profiling and distorted coverage. It is beyond me to imagine why the Government chose to use such wording.

In amendment 95, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington North and I seek to modify the damage done by clause 143, proposing that the words

“the person was innocent of the offence”

after the words

“if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that”

should be replaced by the words

“no reasonable court properly directed as to the law, could convict on the evidence now to be considered”.

I think that that is an important and measured qualification.

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I also agree with what was said by the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark on behalf of the Joint Committee. In many respects, clause 143 as a whole is the problem. I certainly am not minded to become involved in a contest relating to whether the House should divide on whether to keep the whole clause or on whether to amend it in the way suggested by amendment 95. On the basis of what I have heard from Liberal Democrat Members, as well as the important statements that we have heard from the Opposition Front Bench, I will say that—although my party has no Members in the House of Lords, and will have none until it has become a reformed and democratic Chamber—if there are other worthy heads there that are able to concentrate on this clause in its fullest and important sense, I shall give them every encouragement to do so.

We cannot treat this issue lightly. The Government may say, “It is all about the compensation culture: it is simply about cutting costs.” They may say that they do not want compensation to be automatically provided in cases with which people might not be comfortable because they might find the recipient unattractive, and because it might relate to a crime about which there was a great deal of deep and understandable public feeling. However, none of those considerations should allow us to indulge a clause that would fundamentally tilt the presumption of innocence—that would tilt the balance away from someone’s guilt having to be proved beyond reasonable doubt. People who have been convicted and deemed guilty may be able to challenge that decision subsequently, but, even if they are released, they may in a sense be unable to escape from the original conviction.

Inherent in the Government’s proposal is the notion that the fact that someone is not guilty does not necessarily mean that that person is innocent, which is a very dangerous wedge to start inserting in public assumptions and perceptions. However, it is what we as legislators are being asked to do, and the hon. Member for Islington North and I tabled amendment 95 so that we could register our view properly today. We hope that it will be registered further, in terms such as those that we have already heard from the Opposition Front Bench and, indeed, from some on the Government Benches.

I hope that the Minister is sensitive to some of the issues that have been raised—not just in relation to cases that have already happened, but in relation to those that may happen in the future—and to the deep concern that is felt about the possibility that the “tilting” is part of some other ulterior agenda. This is certainly not something that we can allow to pass lightly, and I shall listen very carefully to what the Minister says.

Hywel Williams: I will support amendment 184, or, failing that, amendment 95.

Clause 143 in its present form marks a significant and hugely detrimental shift in the law which would make it far more difficult for individuals to gain compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Non-governmental organisations concerned with human rights, including the Committee on the Administration of Justice, as well as highly respected organisations such as Justice and Liberty, have expressed major anxieties about the clause. As the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) explained very eloquently, an individual who applies for compensation for a miscarriage of justice must currently demonstrate that a court could not have established

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beyond reasonable doubt that he or she was guilty of the offence. Clause 143, however, shifts the burden of proof to the individual, and compels that individual to prove that he or she is innocent of the offence. A miscarriage of justice would henceforth be proved to have taken place only if newly discovered facts showed beyond reasonable doubt that that person was innocent.

As Justice has pointed out, since 2006 section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 has provided the only avenue for individuals to obtain financial redress after miscarriages of justice have occurred. It is chilling to think that, had the proposed change in the law been in place at the time, none of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven or the Cardiff Three—I have some interest in that case, and indeed referred to it earlier—would have satisfied the innocence test.

Those infamous cases, of course, paved the way for the establishment of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The individuals involved won compensation because it was proved that the evidence that had been brought against them was flawed, and that a jury could not have found them guilty had the case been retried. As was made clear by the hon. Member for Foyle, the justice system of England and Wales is unlike the Scottish system in that a case cannot be found to be “not proven”, although there have been arguments about that position.

In the notorious cases that I have just listed, the rule of thumb for the awarding of compensation was always that the individuals would receive the amount that they would have earned had they been working during the time when they were wrongfully imprisoned. The purpose of that was to ensure that they would not be impoverished when they were released. It would be wicked indeed to deny individuals that compensation when the justice system has gone wrong.

Under the current law, it is already exceptionally difficult to persuade the criminal Court of Appeal to review new evidence. For cases to qualify, the Criminal Cases Review Commission is required to apply section 13(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, which provides that individuals must satisfy a “real possibility test”. Arguably, both the Criminal Cases Review Court and the Court of Appeal adopt an excessively strict interpretation of this test. They restrict reviews to new evidence that was not available at the time of the trial or appeal, which means in practice that evidence that was available at the time of the trial or appeal cannot be considered, even in cases in which it was suppressed by the police. Given how difficult it is to get cases referred to the Court of Appeal under both the “real possibility test” and the need for fresh evidence, it is harsh indeed that the Government are attempting further to restrict people’s ability to gain compensation. Innocence is far too high a test and would be virtually impossible to prove after many years, which is when such cases are usually heard.

If this matter is not pressed to a successful Division this afternoon, I sincerely hope that Members in the other place will apply the most stringent attention to the clause. My noble Friend Lord Wigley will certainly do so.

Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab): I am grateful to be called, Mr Speaker. Thank you for letting me speak in the debate. I appreciate that my role as a shadow law Minister means that it is an indulgence to allow me to speak. I appreciate it.