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House of Commons

Monday 16 March 2015

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Cross-boundary Local Authority Co-ordination

1. Sir Nicholas Soames (Mid Sussex) (Con): What guidance he provides for local authorities on co-ordination across local authority boundaries. [908047]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): We have abolished Labour’s top-down regional strategies, which built nothing but resentment, and replaced them with the Localism Act 2011, which asks councils to work together and co-operate on cross-boundary matters.

Sir Nicholas Soames: May I ask my right hon. Friend to have a word with West Sussex and Surrey county councils about the importance of constant liaison on roadworks? Is he aware that in East Grinstead, which has suffered terrible inconvenience for several years as a result of roadworks, it is becoming impossible to ensure that there is a free passage for cars at all times?

Mr Pickles: My right hon. Friend has made a very reasonable point. I will of course liaise with both council leaders, and will send them a copy of Hansard. The duty not just to consult but to co-operate is immensely important, and most local authorities co-operate very harmoniously. They have a responsibility to work together: after all, the people for whom they are working together are the general population who elect them.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): As the Secretary of State knows, individual local authorities contribute to the Prevent strategy, but places of worship and community groups extend beyond local authority boundaries. How will he ensure that there is proper co-ordination between councils?

Mr Pickles: That is a very good question. The duty to co-operate was originally designed to apply to planning and to housing numbers, but it clearly has a much wider application in the context of both economic development and social policy. Any sensible authority—and metropolitan authorities in particular, given their proximity to each

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other—must recognise that religious establishments and community groups do not necessarily correspond with municipal boundaries.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Ellar Ghyll tip is just inside the Leeds city council boundary, but is next to Menston, in my constituency, and is heavily used by its residents. The council is happy to continue the existing reciprocal arrangement with Bradford council, but Bradford has refused to do so. That means that my constituents will have to pass a tip that is next door to them to visit one that is a number of miles away, and it will undoubtedly lead to more fly-tipping. Will the Secretary of State intervene and knock some heads together in order to reverse the ridiculous decision of the Labour council in Bradford?

Mr Pickles: I was in Leeds and Bradford on Thursday, and, had I known about it, I would have looked in on that tip.

It is immensely important to recognise the purpose of this arrangement, which is to ensure that members of the public receive a decent service. When I was leader of Bradford council, I enjoyed a very harmonious relationship with Leeds, and I hope that that relationship can be quickly restored.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): In recent months I have been contacted by more than 20 parents, all of them with children who have been housed in the borough of Slough by other local authorities because of the workings of benefit caps and the like. Parents are having real problems getting their children to school, using family networks and so on. What will the Secretary of State do to help them, and help local authorities to communicate better with each other about families who are dumped from other boroughs?

Mr Pickles: I am sure that the right hon. Lady is familiar with the authorities in question. I urge her to contact them, and try to persuade them to co-operate. It is obviously not satisfactory for children to have to travel large distances to school. The whole point of localism is that local people should be able to make decisions, and, surely to goodness, it must be possible for two local authorities to reach a sensible decision without the Government having to intervene.

Brownfield Land

2. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What support his Department provides for local authorities to encourage development of brownfield land. [908048]

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): We have introduced a range of measures to support brownfield land development, including the provision of £200 million to help to create housing zones outside London and the release of enough public sector land for 103,000 homes, which is above the target that we set ourselves. The national planning policy framework encourages the reuse of brownfield sites.

Andrew Stephenson: The leader of Pendle borough council, Councillor Joe Cooney, recently announced that the council will introduce a new £1.5 million fund

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for brownfield regeneration, making brownfield sites attractive and viable to developers. Will the Minister join me in welcoming Councillor Cooney’s leadership on this issue and assure the House of this Government’s support for local authorities that take the initiative to prioritise brownfield, such as Pendle borough council?

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and has spoken to me extensively about the excellent work being done by Councillor Cooney and that council. I am pleased to welcome their positive initiative, which will help to make the planning process faster and more certain for developers in Pendle. I am pleased that we have been able to make £5 million available to local authorities who pilot local development orders that grant planning permission for housing on suitable brownfield sites.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Minister’s response. If what he says is true, why was St Leonard’s hospital in my constituency given to PropCo—NHS Property Services Ltd—in the NHS and why has the fire station, which was closed, been sold for a rumoured £28 million, and neither for local housing? Does he not agree that the best thing for public health in the local area would be good-quality affordable housing for local families, and would he not like to see that happen?

Brandon Lewis: Our target is to have 90% of brownfield land developed by 2020. We have made great progress, particularly on affordable housing, supplying almost 220,000 in this Parliament, and we are now building at the fastest rate in 23 years, but ultimately the planning decisions are for local councils and the local authority.

Local Government Funding

3. Mike Kane (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect of local government funding changes on services since May 2010. [908049]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins): Since 2010 councils have set balanced budgets and council tax has fallen by 11% in real terms. Public satisfaction with local services has been maintained and we have increased transparency so that residents can hold councils to account.

Mike Kane: The Public Accounts Committee report in January looking into the sustainability of local government finance clearly stated that the 10 most deprived areas in England and Wales have had cuts 10 times greater than those of the 10 wealthiest areas. Does that prove that we are not all in this together?

Kris Hopkins: Both the National Audit Office and the PAC report noted that all councils had managed to balance their budgets, and we should note that the 10% most deprived councils in the country receive 40% more than the most wealthy councils.

Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Of course local authorities rely a great deal on central Government funding, but they also rely on budgets granted by other organisations.

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Will my hon. Friend have a word with Crawley borough council, which is in danger of losing £50,000 of England and Wales Cricket Board funding for new nets in Langley Green as a result of minor planning authority bureaucracy?

Kris Hopkins: I hope my hon. Friend raising that issue in the House today will buck up the council to respond in a more appropriate way.

22. [908070] Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Despite being ranked in the top 10 in terms of deprivation, Hull city council has funding cuts of £279 per head, but Beverley in the East Riding, which is ranked 202 in terms of deprivation, has a cut of just £89 per head.

Kris Hopkins: The reality is that every part of local government has had to respond to the disastrous economy left by the last Government, but this Government have ensured that, despite the fact that we have had to reduce the amount of money to local government, we have given councils the opportunity to grow their economy, with retention of business rates and a reward for building houses. I encourage the hon. Gentleman’s local council to do the same.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): Despite cuts from Government to Shropshire council, council leader Keith Burrow has managed to freeze council tax for six years in a row. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the leader of Shropshire council on, despite the cuts and the freezing of council tax, maintaining and improving council services in Shropshire?

Kris Hopkins: I will certainly compliment my hon. Friend’s local leader on making that choice. Despite the challenges local authorities faced over recent years, some 64% of them have frozen their council tax in this financial period.

17. [908065] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Does the Minister agree with the conclusions of the Audit Commission, the National Audit Office and the International Monetary Fund, all of which say that the most deprived areas have been hit by the greatest cuts? Coventry is probably going to lose about 1,000 jobs and make cuts of about £75 million in the next two or three years, which will affect its basic services.

Kris Hopkins: This is now the largest growing economy in the G20. It is only through following a long-term economic plan in which we grow our economy, receive taxes for that activity, employ more people and have more apprentices that we can invest in public services.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): Last week at the Local Government Chronicle awards, Cheshire West and Chester council was the runner-up for the council of the year award. Does this not show that if councils improve their efficiency and their services, they can deliver better services in a tough economic situation?

Kris Hopkins: I compliment my hon. Friend’s council for taking the difficult decisions while at the same time delivering quality services. We should note that, despite

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the challenges that we have faced, public satisfaction with council services has remained constant during the term of this Government.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): In December 2010, the Secretary of State told the House:

“I have sought to achieve a fair and sustainable settlement for local government”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 679.]

How does the Minister now respond to all the evidence from the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and the Communities and Local Government Select Committee that those cuts have been neither fair nor sustainable? And will he come clean about the bleak future that councils would face if the Tories were to press on with their plan to return Britain to the 1930s?

Kris Hopkins: Rather than just reading reports, I have been listening to lots of councils. During the local settlement agreement, I spoke to more than 100 councils, and not one of them said that they could not set a budget. Yes, these are difficult times, but they are difficult because of the failure of the last Government to manage the economy. We have now created the largest growing economy in the G20, with more people employed and more apprentices out there. More people are getting a job. That is the route that we need to follow, and we will deliver more spending in the public sector by having a strong economy.

Home Ownership

4. Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): How many people owned their own home in England in (a) May 2010 and (b) the latest date for which figures are available. [908050]

9. Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab): How many people owned their own home in England in (a) May 2010 and (b) the latest date for which figures are available. [908055]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): The number of households in home ownership has remained relatively steady since May 2010. There were 14.45 million in the year 2010-11 and 14.32 million in 2013-14, according to the latest available data from the English housing survey.

Pat Glass: Despite that response, the number has not remained steady. It has actually fallen by almost 4% in four years, and we now have 11 million people, including 1.5 million children, living in private rented accommodation. What are this Government going to do to support those families, and to support generation rent more generally?

Stephen Williams: The figures I gave did show a fall, so we are not disagreeing on that. The fact is that home ownership peaked in 2005 and fell dramatically in the five years of the last Labour Government. The private rental sector is an attractive part of the housing mix for a large number of people, and in the past 12 months this Government have put in place a huge number of reforms to regulate the sector. They include the regulation of letting agencies to ensure that they all belong to an ombudsman scheme, that they are completely transparent

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about their fees and that they publish a how-to-rent guide and a model tenancy agreement. That is a vast improvement on what we had before.

Yasmin Qureshi: I hear what the Minister says, but what would he say to those young people in their 20s and 30s, one in four of whom are still living in their parents’ home? How is he going to provide for them, given that the Prime Minister said that he wanted young people to be rewarded with a home of their own?

Stephen Williams: The Government recognise that most people want to own a home of their own. That is one of the reasons that we have put in place the Help to Buy scheme, which has now helped 88,000 people around the country. In the hon. Lady’s own constituency, 81 families have used the scheme to buy their own home.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Will the Minister confirm that the number of first- time buyers is at a six-year high and that almost 192,000 households have been helped to buy or reserve a property through Government-backed schemes?

Stephen Williams: My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the full range of schemes have helped a rather large number of people to get their foot on to the housing ladder. Let us not forget the situation we inherited. There was a credit bubble, through a growth in mortgages until 2007, and lots of warnings were given, including by my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Vince Cable), who is now the Business Secretary, that the bubble would burst—it did. That was a catastrophe not only for the economy, but for a lot of people trying to get their foot on to the housing ladder. Our schemes have been a real help to people in buying their own home.

Emma Reynolds (Wolverhampton North East) (Lab): In 2010, the Government’s then housing Minister said in his first speech on the subject that the

“age of aspiration is back”.

But under this Government we have seen home ownership falling to a 30-year low; the lowest level of house building in peacetime since the 1920s; and a record number of young people living at home with their parents. Given that this Government have broken every promise on housing over the past five years, why should anyone believe their promises for the next five years?

Stephen Williams: I like the hon. Lady very much, but she has a tendency, as do quite a few people from her intake, to wipe the slate clean from the previous five years, or the previous 13 years when she was not a Member. The fact is that house starts and completions hit rock bottom in 2008-09, when there were just 88,000 starts. Since then, starts and completions have picked up: in the last year there were 134,000 starts; and the latest information we have, for 2014, shows there are now 253,000 new planning completions for housing. So there is a strong pipeline going forward.

Mr Speaker: We are most grateful to the Minister, I am sure.

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Planning Processes

5. Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to ensure that the views of local residents are adequately represented within planning processes. [908051]

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): This Government have radically reformed the planning system into a genuinely locally led process. Most significantly, through neighbourhood planning we have given local people a real role in shaping the areas in which they live and work; for the first time community groups can produce plans that have real statutory weight in the planning system.

Mr Evans: I am grateful to the Minister for that response. Ribble Valley borough council is a small yet beautiful local authority—Tory-controlled, needless to say. Although the core strategy has been passed, giving the local authority greater powers, it still fears that where a planning application is rejected and goes to appeal, the costs associated with that are disproportionate, especially to the smaller, rural authorities. Will the Department look at ways of ensuring that local authorities are not going to be clobbered in this way in future, ensuring that they are able to make the right decisions on behalf of local people?

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Developers should be able to look at a local plan and have confidence that they can develop where land is allocated in that plan, but, as he rightly says, outside that they should find it the most difficult thing in the world to do if they have not got agreement with the local authority. It is absolutely right that his local authority has its local plan in place, and I encourage villages in the area and elsewhere to look at neighbourhood planning, to give even further protection to the areas over which people want to have control.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister knows that of course we want local communities to be able to protect their environment when they are concerned about it, but the balance must be right—we need homes for people in this country today. There is a national crisis. We have young people in debt; thanks to the Liberal Democrats, some graduates are £42,000 in debt. Who is going to lend them the money? And where are the houses coming from?

Brandon Lewis: I gently say to the hon. Gentleman that the previous Government’s top-down approach meant that everybody spent so much time arguing about numbers that very few of them got enough houses built, and that led to the position in which we inherited the lowest level of house building this country has seen since about 1923—that is a disgrace. Trusting local people to make the right decisions for their areas is paying dividends. In the last year, 2014, we saw an almost record level of 253,000 homes getting planning permission, proving that this Government are right: trusting local people to make local decisions is the way forward.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): Local residents in Broughton Gifford finally had their views represented earlier this month when the High Court struck down a

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planning consent on which Wiltshire council had inadequately consulted. Does the Minister accept that that is meaningless unless the council is prepared to take enforcement action? At the very least, proportionate action would be to ensure that the development was not operational as long as it remained unlawful.

Brandon Lewis: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is vital that enforcement is dealt with properly to give people confidence that the planning system will deliver the right results. I will ensure that the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) who deals with renewable energy, looks at that case and makes contact with the hon. Gentleman directly.

Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): In 2013, the Minister said to this House about the future of high streets that

“it is also quite right for local authorities to use the powers they have to make sure that their high street or town centre is vital and vibrant for the benefit of their communities.”—[Official Report, 25 November 2013; Vol. 571, c. 7.]

Will he explain, therefore, why he has taken all those powers away?

Brandon Lewis: Well, we have not. I encourage local areas not just to take forward business improvement districts, but to take advantage of neighbourhood planning and business-led neighbourhood planning. I have seen that happen in a few parts of the country, including in Milton Keynes, where there has been some excellent work to take forward opportunities to develop the high street in a way that did not happen under the previous Government, as those opportunities just fell away or were ignored.

Business Rates

6. Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): What steps his Department has taken to support local firms and shops with payment of business rates since May 2010. [908052]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Penny Mordaunt): We have taken significant steps, including doubling small business rate relief, benefiting 600,000 businesses with 400,000 paying nothing; increasing retail relief to £1,500 for the forthcoming financial year; and giving councils powers to grant discounts, with central Government funding half the costs. Today, we also launched the business rates review—paving the way to modernising the system.

Karen Lumley: Business rates collected in Redditch are up by tens of thousands of pounds. Although we would all like to see business rates lowered, is that fact not further proof that, across Britain, our towns’ economies are benefiting under this Government’s long-term economic plan?

Penny Mordaunt: My hon. Friend is right that our town centres and high streets are enjoying a resurgence. Last year’s report by Southampton university showed that our high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas since 2013. I congratulate both Redditch traders

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on their achievements and my hon. Friend on her support of them. I sincerely hope that those traders will consider entering the great British high street competition this year, which we launched last week.

Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Will the Minister give a guarantee to the House that the criteria for the recently announced review of business rates will include the fact that there will not be a single penny’s reduction in funding to local councils as a result of that review?

Penny Mordaunt: I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that we are not in the business of giving rate relief to penalise other sectors, whether it is the business sector or the public sector. The relief that I have just outlined has been funded by central Government. We have not been penalising business. The hon. Gentleman can make submissions to the review, but I have to tell him that the review has been welcomed by business.

Mr Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): Businesses of all sizes will welcome today’s reports that there will be, as the Minister has just said, a review of the way in which business rates are calculated. Given that, may I urge her and her colleagues to rebalance the costs between small high street shops and large online retailers? I hope she agrees that it is time to re-tip that balance.

Penny Mordaunt: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Despite being seen as the death knell of the high street, online retailers have helped to bring about a resurgence on the high street. Some 35% of all online sales are now picked up through click and collect. We have just published the Future High Streets Forum’s digital report, which outlines not only ways that big business and companies such as Google, IBM and others can assist the high street, but why it is in their interests to do so.

19. [908067] Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): I am sure that the Chair of the Conservative party can remember when, as Minister with responsibility for local government, he promised a high street revolution. Does the Minister think that, given that the number of empty units on our high street is rising—on some high streets, up to 25% of units are empty—we are talking about a revolution or just a flat failure?

Penny Mordaunt: The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. As well as the Southampton university report, which showed that high streets have been outperforming out-of-town areas on groceries, clothing and footwear since 2013, there is last year’s Deloitte study, which showed that re-occupancy rates are much higher on the high street than they are out of town.

Building of Homes for Social Rent

7. Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): What assessment he has made of trends in the rate of building of homes for social rent since May 2010. [908053]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Stephen Williams): Under our affordable rent model almost 143,000 affordable

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homes for rent have been delivered since April 2010. In contrast, between 1997 and 2010 the number of social rented homes fell by 420,000.

Heidi Alexander: I notice that the Minister did not answer my question. At my advice surgery on Friday afternoon, I met Mr and Mrs Conning, who have waited years to move to a decent council or housing association property. Given that roughly 29,000 fewer social rented homes were built last year than in 2010, are the prospects of the Conning family securing a suitable home getting better or worse?

Stephen Williams: The rate of building council houses is at a 23-year high under this Government. One of the flexibilities that we have given for local councils at the top of their borrowing limits on their housing revenue accounts allows them to apply to the Treasury for up to £150 million extra assistance, and Lewisham council has £43.7 million headroom in its HRA that it could be using to build houses. I suggest that the hon. Lady has a word with her colleagues back home.

Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I draw attention to my interests in the register. As the Minister clearly has difficulty with the figures, may I remind him that the highly authoritative UK housing review, published last week, shows very clearly the figures for the number of new social rented homes started in this country in each of the years from 2009-10 to 2013-14? In 2009-10, the last year of the previous Government, 39,000 social rented homes were started. In 2013-14, 3,961 were started. Those are the figures, so will the Minister now own up and apologise for that appalling record?

Stephen Williams: No, I will not apologise at all. I am proud of the record of this coalition Government, who have a reinvigorated affordable homes programme which between 2011 and the end of this month will have delivered 170,000 extra affordable homes. This will be the first Administration since right to buy started in 1980 to leave office with more affordable rented homes in stock than when they started, which the right hon. Gentleman’s Government failed to do in three Administrations.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab): Ministers promised a 1:1 replacement for homes sold under right to buy, but in fact the replacement rate is in many cases 1:4 or worse. Why have the Government broken that promise?

Stephen Williams: Local authorities have about three years in which to spend the money and as I understand it some £730 million of proceeds have been raised under the reinvigorated right-to-buy scheme. That must all be invested in building new homes for affordable rent in the borough. The previous Government did not do that. In fact, their record was pretty appalling: for every 170 houses sold under right to buy between 1997 and 2013, only one new social home was built.

Firefighters Pensions

8. Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): What progress his Department has made on resolving the dispute over firefighters pensions. [908054]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Penny Mordaunt): The firefighters pension scheme 2015 will come into force on 1 April. The national employers have agreed to work with the Fire Brigades Union to ensure the fitness principles detailed in the national framework are incorporated into local policies. The dispute should now come to an end.

Rosie Cooper: The Minister gave a promise that firefighters would be redeployed if they were deemed unfit at the age of 55 or over. Will she tell us once and for all how many redeployment opportunities exist for firefighters in that position in England?

Penny Mordaunt: Fire authorities are devolved organisations and we do not hold that information at departmental level. The hon. Lady is incorrect, as someone would be offered a redeployment if one existed or an unreduced pension if one did not exist. The working group on firefighter fitness considers those redeployment opportunities as part of its remit and I think that the shape of the fire and rescue service in the future and the many new things that firefighters will be doing will mean that there will be roles that are more suitable for those who are not fit enough to perform all the roles that a firefighter might.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The excellent Minister has again reassured the House that if a firefighter, through no fault of his or her own, fails the fitness test after the age of 55, they will be redeployed, given help to reach the required fitness level or given a full pension. I am afraid that chief fire officers up and down the country are saying that is untrue. We are the Government and we make the decisions, not chief fire officers. How can we get them to confirm that fact, which is true?

Penny Mordaunt: My hon. Friend is correct; since the statutory instrument was laid, a firefighter can no longer be dismissed simply for losing fitness. They must also have quality fitness support and six months of remedial training if they lose fitness but do not qualify for ill-health retirement. In addition, if fire authorities comply with the national framework, no firefighter will find themselves with no job and no pension. If a fire authority does not comply, the Secretary of State will intervene. Employers are now working on guidance to show how they will implement the new principles in the framework, and that will include the process with the firefighter and the principles on which an unreduced pension would be offered. That does give a guarantee, and it is a considerable improvement on what went before.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Woeful!

The Minister promised to negotiate with firefighters on pensions, but then she just laid the regulations regardless. She promised national fitness standards, but that has not happened either. She guaranteed either redeployment or a full pension to those who cannot retain their fitness, but fire and rescue authorities across the country are clear that that is a promise they legally cannot deliver. Broken promises, lack of action and lack of leadership: what a miserable record. Is she ashamed? If not, why not?

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Penny Mordaunt: I shall run through the statutory instrument, but first I will just point out that if the hon. Lady thinks my record is shoddy, she might like to take a closer look at her own: she introduced working until 60 in 2006 without any protections at all. Since the statutory instrument came into effect, firefighters can no longer be dismissed for losing fitness, as the hon. Lady knows. They are now protected by the new principles in the national framework. [Interruption.] They are. The national employer guidance will add further weight to that. If she is still unsatisfied, I offer her this challenge: to write to me and outline a circumstance in which a firefighter would face losing their job for losing fitness and would not be protected if the fire authorities were following the national framework principles.

Neighbourhood Planning and Community Rights

10. Stuart Andrew (Pudsey) (Con): What support his Department has provided to local communities on neighbourhood planning and community rights since May 2010. [908056]

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): Our support programmes have provided nearly £50 million to help communities undertake neighbourhood planning and access community rights and associated initiatives, including £22.5 million for neighbourhood planning announced only a few weeks ago. That has funded a helpline, online resources, specialist support and grants. From 2015-16 we are investing a further £32 million to help communities take up the rights.

Stuart Andrew: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Leeds city council is currently producing a site allocation plan, but neighbourhood planning organisations in my constituency are becoming increasingly frustrated by the council’s lack of consultation with them on the issue. What measures have the Government put in place to ensure that councils work with and share the evidence with such groups, which, after all, are made up of people who will be directly affected by the plans?

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend works hard to champion his local communities. I have enjoyed meeting some of the people working on the neighbourhood plans. They can have absolute confidence that a neighbourhood plan has weight in law. There is a duty on local authorities to work with a neighbourhood plan in an area. Indeed, the Government give them funding to do just that. If there are concerns about that, I will happily meet him and any of his constituents to see what we can do to ensure that the local authority does its duty.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Does the Minister understand the considerable upset and frustration from my constituents in Reddish, and indeed in Denton, at the decision by Liberal Democrat-controlled Stockport council to grant outline planning permission for luxury houses to be built within Reddish Vale country park, which is part of the Greater Manchester green belt? Is not that just another example of the Government talking the talk on community engagement but, when it comes to it, the public being locked out of the decisions?

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Brandon Lewis: Obviously, the green belt is protected and the Government have made it clear that it should be built on in exceptional circumstances only. Ultimately, local planning is a decision for the local authority, which is locally democratically accountable.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Secretary of State kindly came to Colchester and saw how the planning process failed the residents in the Mile End area of Colchester. Can the Minister give some assurance that the same thing is not going to happen to the east of town, particularly as the land in question in partly in Tendring district and partly in the borough of Colchester?

Brandon Lewis: As the hon. Gentleman appreciates, I cannot comment on a particular planning application, but in a general sense there is a duty for local authorities to co-operate, and they should be working together on these matters. Having a local plan—and even more so a neighbourhood plan—is the most powerful way for a local community to have absolute control over planning decisions in its locality.

Council Tax

11. Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): What steps his Department has taken to minimise increases in council tax bills since May 2010. [908057]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): Under the Labour Government, council tax more than doubled. Under this Government, our council tax freeze is saving hard-working families up to £1,075 on a band D bill. In Labour-run Wales, there is no council tax freeze, and bills are going through the roof.

Mark Pawsey: My constituency is served by two district councils. Conservative Rugby borough council has frozen council tax for the sixth year in a row, saving my constituents there more than £125 at a time when the council is investing in new facilities. By contrast, my constituents in Bulkington are being hit with an average increase of £30 a year from Labour-controlled Nuneaton and Bedworth borough council. Which authority does the Secretary of State believe is doing the right thing for its residents?

Mr Pickles: It is clear to me that those residents are very lucky and fortunate in their choice of Member of Parliament, who I am sure is serving them extremely well. If all the authorities were to accept the freeze grant, they would receive £3 million in freeze grant among them to help keep down the cost for taxpayers in my hon. Friend’s constituency. That seems a much better way. Why not take money from the Government rather than from their population?

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the additional cost that householders have to meet because of the cuts that have been implemented in council budgets resulting in people now having to purchase the services that they desperately need?

Mr Pickles: I do not think there is any evidence of additional purchasing. This Government have been pushing councils hard to cut back on, for example, the bin tax,

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the tip tax and parking charges. The hon. Lady should look to the Government for reducing the cost to her constituents.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Residents in my constituency benefited from a very welcome temporary rebate in their council tax after the floods of last year, but their houses have probably been permanently devalued and they also face very high insurance premiums. Should that not be reflected in council tax banding? Will the Secretary of State instruct the Valuation Office Agency to that effect?

Mr Pickles: It seems a good idea for my right hon. Friend’s constituents to seek a revaluation. The Valuation Office Agency is willing to consider changed circumstances and I urge him to look into that.

Social Care and Health Care

14. Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health on steps the Government are taking to improve co-ordination between social care and health care. [908060]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Kris Hopkins): I meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health regularly. The better care fund—now increased to £5.3 billion by local authority partner contributions—will transform the way in which health and social care services are provided.

Mr Holloway: I have been out several times with social services in Gravesend and I have been very impressed by the way in which those individuals often go way beyond the call of duty, yet in the House and in the newspapers we hear about them only when things go wrong. Often, that is when there is a dispute between social care providers and health care providers about who is taking the lead. How will the better care fund help this situation?

Kris Hopkins: I applaud the fact that my hon. Friend has been out there doing that. He is right to recognise the enormous contribution that social services and councils make to the well-being of elderly people. He is right to point out that in Kent £100 million has been pooled. This is about making sure that local authorities, GP practices and acute hospitals work together. Historically there have been silos; now it is about making sure that the individual person is right at the centre of these services and that those services work far more effectively and efficiently.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): The Minister will know that plans to co-ordinate health and social care across Greater Manchester have moved very quickly. In fact, the memorandum of understanding describes the plans as “groundbreaking” and “unprecedented”. He will also be aware that the national health service is built on the collaboration and co-operation of patients, charities, community groups and the public. Given how important this deal is to the people of Greater Manchester, why

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did he decide not to involve a single one of those groups in this decision; and what ongoing role, if any, does he see for local communities?

Kris Hopkins: I am sorry that the hon. Lady has missed the point. This is about devolving moneys to a council—in fact, a number of councils—that has the confidence to deliver services better and does not just look to Government to make decisions but stands up for people in its own community and wants to shape and deliver those services more effectively. Greater Manchester, through the devolution route it has followed, will deliver far more effective services. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady can shout as much she wants. The people of Manchester have taken control of delivering these services, and she is outside that network because she chooses to be there.

21. [908069] Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Given that local government is recognised as being the most efficient part of the public sector and that adult social care is one of the principal cost pressures on local authorities, are the Government not right to integrate in the way that is proposed in Greater Manchester rather than nationalise adult social care as proposed by the shadow Secretary of State?

Kris Hopkins: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. People and GPs on the ground in communities, and people who are running acute hospitals and councils, know better than Government, regardless of which colour. Over the period of this Government, the number of people who are extremely or very satisfied with support of adult social care has increased from 62.8% to 64.8%. That is a direct consequence of local people on the ground taking control and delivering better services.

Parking Charges

15. Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effect of local authority parking charges on town centre regeneration. [908061]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): The previous Labour Government told town halls to hike up parking charges and issue more parking fines. Such aggressive parking policies undermined local shops and high streets. That is why this Government have introduced a package of measures to support local shops that will come into law shortly.

Stephen McPartland: Thousands of local people have signed my campaign to introduce three hours’ free parking to regenerate Stevenage town centre. Does the Secretary of State agree that in order to provide that regeneration it is time for Stevenage’s Labour borough council to stop ripping off local people by charging £3.5 million a year in parking charges?

Mr Pickles: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Planning guidance issued by the now noble Lord Prescott told councils to hike parking charges and to issue more fines to discourage motorists. A former Minister for local government in the previous Government called for councils to charge more for services, including parking.

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Town centres suffer a disadvantage because of free car parking in out-of-town car parking centres. If we are to encourage people to shop locally, they have to be able to get there, and the measures we are introducing are designed precisely to do that.

Topical Questions

T1. [908072] Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): This morning my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary announced, as promised in the autumn statement, a review of business rates aimed at keeping the system fair, efficient and effective. The review will report by Budget 2016. Preparations for the 2017 revaluation will continue as usual. The review will be fiscally neutral. The current business rates system ensures that business rates do not increase in real terms. Local authorities now benefit by nearly £11 billion under the business rates retention scheme, which is estimated to deliver a £10 billion boost to national gross domestic product by 2020.

Heidi Alexander: In the light of today’s admission by the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps)—or perhaps I should say Michael Green—that he continued with a second job after his election as an MP, is the Secretary of State satisfied that it did not continue while the right hon. Gentleman served as a Minister in his Department, and can he confirm that the ministerial code was followed properly in respect of declaring any registrable interests? [Interruption.]

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski), wittering from a sedentary position, can leave me to handle these matters, which I shall do with no difficulty at all. The hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) has put her point on the record, but I simply make the point that it is not a responsibility of this Secretary of State to answer. The ministerial code, rightly or wrongly, is the responsibility of the Prime Minister, but the point is on the record and Members can find other ways to raise these matters if they wish. They should not trouble Secretary Pickles with them at this time.

T4. [908077] Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): Today an agreement will be completed for the stock transfer of its housing by Gloucester city council to Gloucester City Homes. The new charity will enable £390 million-worth of improvements and the first new social housing on our city council housing estate for a generation. I am grateful to the housing Minister and his predecessors for their help, as well as to the Treasury for writing off £50 million of housing debt. Will the housing Minister join me in congratulating my city council, Gloucester City Homes and its tenants, led by Andrew Harley, on their vision, hard work and attention in seeing through this vital change to bring about a new and bright era for social housing in Gloucester?

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Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman’s erudition is equalled only by his length. This being the fag end of the Parliament, may I just remind Members that there is supposed to be a distinction between substantive and topical questions? The latter are supposed to be much shorter. I hope that point is duly noted by Members on both sides of the House.

The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Brandon Lewis): In the true spirit of your comments, Mr Speaker, I entirely support and congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham), who has campaigned hard on this issue with a lot of people who have done a lot of work locally.

Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): Before the last election, the then Leader of the Opposition said:

“Any Cabinet minister...who comes to me and says ‘here are my plans and they involve front line reductions’ will be sent back to their department to go away and think again.”

Yet we now know that the social care front line has been cut, including the simple act of giving a hot meal to elderly people living at home alone, with 220,000 fewer elderly people receiving meals on wheels compared with 2010, when that promise was made. I have a very simple question for the Secretary of State: why is that?

Mr Pickles: The amount spent by councils in cash terms is roughly the same as it was in 2010-11 so far as adult social care is concerned. The net revenue on adult social care was £14.6 billion—about 30% of councils’ budgets. Individual councils have made various decisions and it is up to those councils to defend them. We have tried to ensure, with the better care fund, better co-ordination between medical care and social care, including domiciliary care.

Hilary Benn: If I may say so, that was an overly firm denial of the Secretary of State’s responsibility for what has gone on. Let me ask him about another promise to the elderly that was made in 2010—by him. In December that year, the right hon. Gentleman assured the House that the local government settlement was

“providing councils with sufficient resources to protect people’s access to care”.—[Official Report, 13 December 2010; Vol. 520, c. 680.]

Yet the National Audit Office says that spending on adult social care is being cut, most of all in the areas of greatest need, which have also seen the biggest reductions in Government funding. Is it not the truth that the Secretary of State has also broken his promise to the elderly people of England and that it has happened because in the past five years he has taken decisions about funding that have been unfair to councils and because, as many councils of all parties think, he has failed to stand up for local government?

Mr Pickles: Given that the right hon. Gentleman’s party is promising £52 billion-worth of cuts to local authorities, I do not see that he has a leg to stand on. I have to say to him that this coalition has worked hard to protect the elderly and to improve the better care programme. My desk is covered with requests from Labour councils demanding that we cease the exemption

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for elderly people on council tax relief and the like. Frankly, for the right hon. Gentleman to pose as a friend of the elderly is absolutely ludicrous.

Mr Speaker: Tessa Munt. Not here.

T8. [908081] Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): Will Ministers give very serious consideration to a call-in request I have made relating to a planning application for 190 properties in Goostrey? It would generate detrimental interference to the radio telescopes and world-leading scientific work at Jodrell Bank, and is therefore a concern of national significance.

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot comment on a particular planning application, but any such request will be given full consideration. I know that she has campaigned very hard with local residents to protect what they perceive as an important piece of local infrastructure. I will obviously look at all the details that come in.

T2. [908074] Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): Having concluded the examination stage of the Whitemoss landfill extension as a nationally significant infrastructure application, will the Secretary of State assure Skelmersdale residents, despite eight broken promises that the site would be closed, that their voices will be given equal consideration to that of the company as he considers the decision on the application, and will he say when he will announce his decision?

Brandon Lewis: As a planning case, that matter is quasi-judicial. Again, I cannot comment on a particular planning application. However, over the next couple of days, I will write to the hon. Lady with some idea of the timeline.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that councils, such as my local borough council of King’s Lynn and West Norfolk, with emerging local plans and a five-year supply of housing, will not be overruled on appeal or undermined by speculative planning applications?

Mr Pickles: Provided a neighbourhood plan has been submitted, then it has considerable weight, as has been confirmed by a recent court case.

T3. [908076] Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): May I refer the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), to her answers to my hon. Friends the Members for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and, on the Opposition Front Bench, for West Ham (Lyn Brown)? What actions is the fire Minister taking specifically to amend the statutory instrument along the lines suggested by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which has scrutinised the text, to ensure that the promises she gave at the Dispatch Box to safeguard firefighters pensions can be delivered, particularly if fire authorities tell us that they cannot or will not deliver them?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Penny Mordaunt): The SI is effective: it has been in place since 12 July. I have had no evidence at all that fire authorities intend

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not to comply with the national framework, but if they choose not to comply with it, the Secretary of State has powers to act under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004.

I would say to Opposition Members that it is incredibly important for firefighters to understand the facts. We are approaching April, and they will be making decisions that affect their financial future. If any hon. Member knows an instance of an authority which they think will not comply, or if they have concerns about how the SI will work, they can come to talk to me. I will be quite happy to explain it, but I have explained it several times on the Floor of the House. It gives firefighters the protections they ought to have, and it is a vast improvement on what went before.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Will the Department give a ruling on the circumstances in which a sale of a village hall should be prevented? The right of adverse possession should not be to the detriment of the local community that has used the village hall, and access across the land to the village hall should be permitted regardless of who owns the land.

Brandon Lewis: National policy makes it clear that planning should promote the retention of community facilities, including meeting places such as village halls, but I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and look at the details of a case on which I know she has campaigned hard with her local residents.

T6. [908079] Mr Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government, if they remain in power after the election, intend to carry on with the same level of year-on-year cuts in the next Parliament as they have applied in this Parliament, and if so, will he or the Minister of State seriously consider whether in that situation it will be possible for all councils to remain financially viable and continue to deliver their statutory services?

Mr Pickles: I share the hon. Gentleman’s optimism about the chances of there being a Conservative Government and look forward to answering him from this Dispatch Box for many years. I know, like and respect him as the Chairman of the Communities and Local Government Committee, but he was making exactly the same points five years ago and it has proved to be perfectly all right. I cannot anticipate the levels of future budgets, but one thing is certain: whether there is a Conservative, coalition or Labour Government, because of the state of the finances, improving though they are, the level of support to local government will continue to go down.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Kettering borough council, of which I am a member, and Daventry district council share a common rural boundary, immediately on either side of which Gypsies and Travellers continue to make a series of controversial applications for inappropriate development. In those circumstances, would the planning Minister expect the Planning Inspectorate to consider the cumulative impact on the rural parishes that are bisected by that artificial boundary, rather than judge the applications against the individual plans of each authority?

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Brandon Lewis: Every planning application has to be considered on the merits of the case. However, I hope to make an announcement shortly on a consultation on improvements to the planning policy and guidance for Traveller sites to further strengthen the protection for the green belt and other sensitive areas, and to amend the definition of “Travellers” for planning purposes so that it refers only to those who travel.

T7. [908080] Mr Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): This will be the last Communities and Local Government question that I shall ask. May I therefore surprise the Government by congratulating them on introducing measures to require the installation of smoke alarms in all privately rented housing, but—there is a sting in the tail—may I also ask them to explain why it took them so long to reach that decision, given that their own impact assessment shows that the measure will save more than 20 lives a year? Is it because there are forces within the Government that are hostile to regulation, even when it saves lives?

Mr Pickles: It is with some sadness that I come to the Dispatch Box. I had the honour of following the right hon. Gentleman when he made his maiden speech on his second appearance in the House, which was a daunting task. I am very pleased to be answering his question today.

These things take a little time. The private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) helped, but it took a little time to persuade colleagues. I wanted to give these alarms away for free. It makes an enormous amount of sense for firefighters to fit them. It seems to me sensible, rather than imposing a duty, to impose a charge. I wish the right hon. Gentleman and his family every success for the future.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): In the light of the previous question, will the Secretary of State clarify that the measure will extend to carbon monoxide detectors, which were the subject of my private Member’s Bill that he mentioned? The subject of the Bill was chosen by the electors of the High Peak, so they will be grateful for this Government action, which I hope he will confirm for us.

Mr Pickles: It is with enormous pleasure that I confirm that that is entirely the case. I pay tribute to the difficult work that my hon. Friend did in taking that Bill through Parliament.

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): Back in February, Ministers criticised Birmingham for failing to collect 4.6% of the council tax that was due. I know that I will not get them to say anything nice about Birmingham, but I ask them to acknowledge that it did better than the Inland Revenue, which failed to collect 5.8% of the national insurance, basic tax and capital gains tax that was due.

Mr Pickles: I am very happy to put it on the record that I love Birmingham. It is a wonderful city. Sometimes I get a lot of pressure from its Members of Parliament, who criticise the fine council, but I try to resist that whenever possible. I look forward to visiting Birmingham again and looking at the magnificent art gallery.

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Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Last Thursday evening, I attended the launch of Discover North East Lincolnshire, a private sector initiative that has been created in partnership with the local council. Will the Secretary of State compliment those involved and give an assurance that a future Conservative Government will build on the successes of the coalition Government in supporting such initiatives?

Mr Pickles: I congratulate my hon. Friend and his constituents on that fine initiative. That is exactly the kind of thing we should be doing, and I look forward to it going from strength to strength.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State explain why the East Riding of Yorkshire, with just over 1,500 troubled families, is getting a £200,000 grant from the Government, yet Hull city council, with nearly 3,500 troubled families, is getting exactly the same amount of money? How is that fair?

Mr Pickles: The hon. Lady should not confuse the amount of money that goes to troubled families with the amount that goes to local authorities in general.

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The troubled families delivery programme is based on payment by results, and she should urge Hull city council to take some of the advantages that its neighbours have taken—it is payment by results.

George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): In August 2011 Denmead neighbourhood forum in my constituency received £20,000 from the Front Runners scheme to complete its neighbourhood plan, and it was passed on the Thursday before last with a resounding majority. Will the Minister congratulate Denmead neighbourhood forum on that fantastic achievement by local people for local people?

Brandon Lewis: I am happy to do that. My hon. Friend makes a good point. Some 6 million-plus people in this country are now covered by 1,400 neighbourhood planning areas, and I want that to go further. The example in his constituency, where I know he has worked hard with the local community, shows how important it is to give local people a local say over local power and planning. That is absolutely the way things should be.

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Point of Order

3.36 pm

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a sensitive point of order, but it affects all Members of Parliament. Traditionally, in my experience of the House, when a member of the royal family visits a constituency, the Member of Parliament is apprised of that fact. That became a convention, but it seems that with the proliferation of deputy lieutenants of counties—there are many of them these days—that protocol no longer holds. Will you hold conversations with whoever is in charge of these things to remind them that Members of Parliament expect to be told when a member of the royal family is visiting their patch?

Mr Speaker: I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. There is nothing new about that, but I put it on the record. I have heard the hon. Member for, and the voice of, Huddersfield. We will leave it there for today.

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Intelligence and Security Committee

3.37 pm

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Tom Brake): I beg to move,

That Dr Julian Lewis be removed from the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament under Schedule 1 to the Justice and Security Act 2013 and Mr Keith Simpson be appointed to that Committee under section 1 of that Act.

Under the terms of section 1 of the Justice and Security Act 2013, members of the Intelligence and Security Committee are nominated by the Prime Minister and appointed by the respective House. The current vacancy for a Conservative member arises from the resignation of the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis). The Prime Minister has nominated the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson), following the required consultations with the Leader of the Opposition. The House is now being asked to make the appointment in accordance with the Act.

3.38 pm

Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): I do not intend to detain the House for long. The Opposition support the motion on adding the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) to the Committee. We pay tribute to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), who has been a hard-working member of the Committee and has worked constructively with colleagues across the House on intelligence and security matters.

3.39 pm

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I will detain the House for just a brief moment. I indicated some months ago to the Chief Whip that it was my intention not to apply to stay on the Committee if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected to another term in this House. I did so because, although the intelligence agencies are, for the most part, well-resourced, well led and do everything that we expect them to do, the situation is not so rosy for defence policy. In a choice between focusing on where I might be able to make a difference—on defence policy—and continuing with the pleasurable task of overseeing the intelligence and security services, I have opted for the former.

I should like to take this opportunity to say that it has been a fascinating five years, working with the excellent staff and under the outstanding chairmanship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). The Committee has worked harmoniously on many issues. I should like to leave my term with the Committee by putting on the record just one thought. The intelligence agencies, the Security Service and GCHQ are damned if they do and damned if they do not. I saw this in relation to two inquiries. I shall make one point about each and then sit down to allow a great deal of unused time allocated for this short debate to be applied to other matters.

In relation to the Woolwich atrocity inquiry, people asked how the intelligence services knew that the people who went on to commit the atrocity had been radicalised, yet were unable to stop them. The answer is that—[Interruption.]

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Mr Speaker: Order. Excuse me. The right hon. Gentleman is addressing the House. It is bad manners to witter away, Mr Simon Burns, when one of your own hon. Friends is addressing the House. Try—I know it is difficult for you—to learn some courtesy.

Dr Lewis: The question was often asked why it was that the intelligence services knew certain people had been radicalised and held extremist views yet were able to go on to commit attacks. The answer is that until people break the law they cannot be locked up. We really would be living in a police state if everybody with extreme views was followed 24 hours a day, which is the only way in which low-level and uncomplicated attacks can be prevented. There has to be evidence of attack planning. If not, some such things will inevitably slip through the net.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): My only point on this matter is to say that, having tried to follow people, it takes 24 people to follow just one person. Just think of all the people in this country who we suspect of harbouring evil thoughts against us and imagine how big our security services would need to be.

Dr Lewis: That is exactly the case. It would take only a few hundred people with extreme views to exhaust the resources of any reasonably sized security service in a modern democratic state, and that must never be the case. Instead, we should look at how many complex attacks have been carried out successfully and how many have been thwarted. As far as I am aware, no complex attacks have been successfully carried out on British soil since the 7/7 atrocities.

Moving on to the inquiry on privacy and security, this leads one to the question of where to draw the boundary between the wish to preserve the people’s privacy so their innocent communications are not examined and the need to develop leads that can be investigated further. I was a little surprised—I hope you will indulge me for a moment or two, Mr Speaker—to see a short item in The Times on Saturday about a protest by some of the privacy groups that had given evidence to the ISC on this question. It reads as follows:

“Civil liberties groups demanded last night that a parliamentary committee correct its report on the surveillance state, saying they had been deliberately misrepresented. The intelligence and security committee criticised the pressure groups over their opposition to GCHQ’s collection of bulk data on communications”—

Mr Speaker: Order. I must just warn the right hon. Gentleman not to be too persuasive in his oration, because if he is, the House might vote against the motion, forcing him to remain a member of the Committee that he has declared his desire to leave. I say that by way of a cautionary note and gentle encouragement.

Dr Lewis: I assure you, Mr Speaker, that I am on my ultimate—not even penultimate—point.

The report continued:

“and suggested that they believed that terrorist attacks were a price worth paying for individual privacy. The report reprinted edited transcripts of evidence sessions with Big Brother Watch,

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Liberty, Justice and Rights Watch UK. Renate Samson, the chief executive of Big Brother Watch, asked the committee for an ‘immediate correction’ to its published report and said that the representation of the evidence session was ‘improper and false’. She said that the ISC’s portrayal of the evidence was ‘an attempt to undermine, discredit and damage our organisation’s reputation’. Isabella Sankey, director of policy for Liberty, said: ‘Instead of attempting to put words into the mouths of privacy campaigners, the ISC should have put its efforts into scrutinising the agencies.’”

People interested in the matter can judge for themselves. If they go to the ISC’s website, at http://isc.independent. gov.uk/public-evidence/15october2014, they will find the full transcript, and I suggest that they examine questions 19 and 20, put by the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears); questions 28 and 29, put by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind); and questions 32 and 33, put by the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). In there, they will find the following exchange. The Chairman asked:

“If evidence emerged through bulk interception that even you acknowledged had led to terrorists being arrested or prevented from carrying out their objectives, are you saying that, as a matter of principle, you believe so strongly that bulk interception is unacceptable in a free society that you would say that that was a price we should be willing to pay, rather than allowing intelligence agencies to use bulk interception methods?”

Isabella Sankey, of Liberty, replied: “Yes.” Dr Metcalfe, of Justice, replied:

“Yes. Just as you would solve a lot more crimes if you had CCTV in everyone’s houses, and if you opened everyone’s mail and e-mail and read it on a daily basis. Yes, you would solve a lot more crimes and a lot more terrorists would be in jail; that would be a good thing, but it would be bad for our society as a whole.”

The Chair then asked:

“And that is the view of your colleagues as well?”

The director of Big Brother Watch replied with one word: “Yes.”

It has been a pleasure serving on this Committee. When it was put to me that it would assist my right hon. Friend the Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) to get his feet under the table, even for the last few days of this Parliament, I was only too happy to accommodate him. He will be a splendid successor, and perhaps he will not try the patience of the House as long as I have today.

3.48 pm

Tom Brake: I welcome the Opposition spokesman’s support for the motion and join him in congratulating the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for his sterling contribution on the ISC. I know that his expertise and commitment to these matters will be missed.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr Speaker: In thanking the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) for his comments, let me congratulate the right hon. Member for Broadland (Mr Simpson) on his appointment to the Committee. We look forward to his contribution based on the experience and wisdom in these matters that he possesses.

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Counter-Terrorism (Statutory Instruments)

3.49 pm

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I beg to move,

That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.

Mr Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to consider the following two motions:

That the draft Retention of Communications Data (Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.

That the draft Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, which were laid before this House on 2 March, be approved.

James Brokenshire: Before I open the debate on the three statutory instruments, I should like to make a few remarks about the current threat related to Syria and the Government’s response to it. It has been reported that three young men were arrested at the weekend after attempting to travel from Turkey to Syria. This reflects the good working relationship that we have with the Turkish authorities. Hon. Members will understand that I cannot comment on the specifics because there is an ongoing investigation, but I will say that those seeking to travel to engage in terrorist activity in Syria or Iraq should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security, including prosecuting those who break the law.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 brought forward important new powers to disrupt the travel of those seeking to engage in terrorism-related activity. That included introducing a strengthened authority to carry scheme; I will return to that when I speak to the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015 in a few moments. Current events are a reminder of how important and relevant these counter-terrorism measures are.

It might help our consideration of these statutory instruments if I briefly outlined what the Government seek to achieve by them, and why we have brought them forward at this time. I would like to start by turning to the two communications data codes of practice. Communications data—the “who, where, when and how?” of a communication, but not its content—is crucial for fighting crime, protecting children and combating terrorism. The House will recall that last summer we enacted emergency legislation, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, to preserve our data retention powers, and these codes are directly consequential on that legislation.

Communications data policy can broadly be split into two areas: acquisition and retention. Acquisition is carried out by relevant public authorities such as law enforcement agencies, while retention is carried out by communications services providers. The House will immediately see that these areas are linked; if data are not retained, they cannot be accessed.

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The two codes of practice we are debating today—a revised acquisition code and a new data retention code—set out the processes and safeguards governing the retention and acquisition of communications data. They are intended to provide clarity and incorporate best practice on the use of the relevant powers, ensuring the highest standards of professionalism and compliance in this important aspect of law enforcement. We are bringing these codes forward now to ensure that the important safeguards within them, some of which follow concerns raised by the European Court of Justice judgment last year, come into force before Parliament rises.

Let me turn to one of the most important new safeguards in the acquisition code: that of access to journalistic material. As right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Interception of Communications Commissioner recently conducted an inquiry into police acquisition of journalists’ communications data. The measures in the revised code are intended to give effect to his recommendations, which were accepted straight away by the Government.

The acquisition code that we are debating stipulates that, in seeking to acquire communications data to identify or determine the source of journalistic information, law enforcement must use production orders under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 or its equivalents in Scotland and Northern Ireland. We are doing this because production orders require judicial approval. This will help to protect the freedoms that journalists enjoy in the UK.

Whenever law enforcement is seeking the communications data of a journalist to determine sources—this includes when police are seeking to confirm or corroborate other evidence of the identity of a journalist’s sources—the decision on the application will be made by a judge under PACE. However, that is only a stopgap until we can make the change through primary legislation in the next Parliament. We have therefore also published a draft clause that sets out how we would seek to enshrine the commissioner’s first recommendation in primary legislation.

Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD) rose—

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab) rose—

James Brokenshire: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert).

Dr Huppert: I thank the Minister for giving way after choosing between the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee and me.

I welcome the progress that has been made, because I think that it will help to protect journalists. The amendment that I tabled a couple of weeks ago referred to the protection of other communications, such as medical and legal information. Will the Minister say a little about why he is not seeking to protect such information in the same way? Would he at least be open to such a suggestion if he were involved in a future Government making the decision?

James Brokenshire: Our action reflected the recommendations of the commissioner himself. They were our lead and our guide. My hon. Friend will note, however, that the code of practice contains additional protections covering the consideration and assessment

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that must be undertaken by those who seek to make a request for communications data in respect of certain protected groups. An enhanced status has been conferred, in a number of ways.

Keith Vaz rose—

James Brokenshire: I will, of course, give way to the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I meant no discourtesy by not giving way to him first.

Keith Vaz: I am delighted that the Minister chose the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) over me, because there is not a cigarette paper between us when it comes to these issues.

I warmly welcome the Minister’s decision, which was recommended by the Home Affairs Committee, but may I press him to go a little further? We also recommended a fundamental review of the operation of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, because we felt that it was time for that to happen.

James Brokenshire: The right hon. Gentleman will know that David Anderson, the independent reviewer of counter-terrorism legislation, is examining the RIPA issue very keenly. We await his report, which we expect to be completed before May and which I sincerely believe will help to inform further consideration of the Act during the next Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman will also know that the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 has an end date of 31 December 2016, which means that Parliament will have to return to the issue—informed, I am sure, not only by the independent reviewer’s report, but by that of the Select Committee.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I appreciate that we have the commissioner’s report, that the independent reviewer’s report is imminent and that there is a time limit of December 2016. However, given the grave concern that exists about, in particular, the powers and constraints affecting journalists, will the Minister assure us that he will keep the matter under general review, and that, if a problem arose, even with these orders, by the end of the year—or, indeed, within a matter of months—he would be willing to come back to the House and look at it afresh?

James Brokenshire: I assure my right hon. Friend, whom I congratulate on becoming a member of the Privy Council, that the matter will be kept under close scrutiny and review. We have published draft clauses, which could be enacted quickly in the next Parliament, to regularise the position. We recognise that this is an interim measure, and we want it to be enshrined in primary legislation that the House would have a full opportunity to debate. I should add that the code of practice provides for requests to be flagged up to the commissioner, and thus allows additional scrutiny to take place. I hope that that reassures my right hon. Friend.

The commissioner also recommended further changes to the guidance in the acquisition code, and we have sought to implement that recommendation. The code is now clear about the need to consider more than rights to privacy—in particular, the right to freedom of expression

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must be taken into account when that is appropriate—and it also contains new guidance on the considerations of necessity, proportionality and collateral intrusion, including unintended consequences.

The revised acquisition code enhances the operational independence of the authorising officer from the specific investigation for which communications data are required. It includes new, enhanced protections for those who may have professional duties of confidentiality or privilege. However, it is important to remember that we are debating communications data, not the content of communications.

The retention code sets out how the Government implement the requirements in the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Data Retention Regulations 2014. It covers the following issues: the review, variation and revocation of data retention notices; communications service providers’ ability to recover their costs; data security; oversight by the Information Commissioner and safeguards on the disclosure; and the use of retained data by communications service providers.

The House will be aware that both codes underwent public consultation. The Government received about 300 submissions from organisations and individuals suggesting amendments and providing comments on the codes. I am grateful to all who took part. We have published a summary of the submissions received and how the Government have responded to them. The Department considered all the responses to the consultation and many of the suggestions have been adopted in the final drafts.

I would like to address briefly the final instrument in this motion: the Authority to Carry (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015. They establish a penalty regime for breach of any requirement of the authority to carry scheme 2015, which this House approved on 10 March. A carrier may be liable to a penalty for breach of the following: a requirement to seek authority to carry a person; a requirement to provide specified information by a specified time; a requirement to provide information in a specified manner and form; a requirement to be able to receive communications in a specified manner and form; or a requirement not to carry a person when authority to carry has been refused—this is an important part of the code.

The scheme specifies that it is the requirements set out in detailed written notices issued to carriers under the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 that must be met under the scheme, rather than those requirements being specified in detail in the scheme itself.

Keith Vaz: Does the Minister have figures showing how many airlines continued to carry passengers when the authorities—the Minister, the police or some other authority—required them not to carry those passengers?

James Brokenshire: The pre-existing authority to carry scheme has been used to prevent people from being able to travel to this country. It is important to note that the revised scheme deals with outbound as well as inbound, so this is an enhancement of the existing arrangements. Unfortunately, for operational reasons I cannot comment in detail on the use of the

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scheme, but I can say that requests have been made and carriers have abided by those requests to prevent people from travelling to this country. Therefore we have shown utility from the existing scheme on inbound legs, which is the point of the existing arrangement, but we are now seeking to extend it further in terms of various additional requirements, as well as also dealing with the outbound leg.

Keith Vaz: We know of the Minister’s eloquence when asked questions by Members in this House and in the Select Committee, but he did not really give me an answer. I am not after answers on operational decisions; I want to know how many times an airline has carried when we have asked it not to carry—I do not think that that would give away any state secrets about who those people were. It is a simple matter of, “Does he know the answer? If not, will he write to us?”

James Brokenshire: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the circumstances he describes have, certainly to my knowledge, never occurred. We would not wish to see that happen. That underlines the purpose and utility of having the authority to carry scheme in place, but we think it important to have a penalty in place none the less. We clearly have a scheme that sets out those requirements, but it needs to have enforcement and the ability to rely on that to ensure that there is good compliance with the scheme.

As I have described, a carrier may be liable to a penalty for breach of a requirement. The scheme specifies that it is the requirements set out in detailed written notices issued to carriers under the Immigration Act 1971 or the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 that must be met under the scheme, rather than those requirements being specified in detail in the scheme itself.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has reported these regulations to the House and drawn specific attention to them. It considers that the scheme imposes some requirements

“under which the relevant matters are all to be particularised subsequently in a way that is left unspecified in the Scheme itself”.

That is correct. The scheme identifies that the detailed specifications are in the requirements imposed on carriers under the 1971 Act or the 2006 Act. Carriers subject to specific requirements to provide information under the 1971 Act or the 2006 Act fully understand the information they are required to provide, the time or times at which it should be provided and the form and manner in which the information should be provided and received. In doing so, they comply with the scheme.

These measures are not about penalising carriers. The Government work with carriers to ensure the safety of their passengers and crew, the security of their aircraft, ships and trains and the security of the United Kingdom. However, there is a need for a civil penalty regime when carriers fail, without reasonable excuse, to comply with requirements of the authority to carry scheme. When a carrier fails to comply, we should have the ability to impose an appropriate penalty up to a maximum of £50,000. That is particularly the case if the failure results in a carrier’s bringing someone to the

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UK, or carrying someone from the UK, whom they had been or would have been expressly refused authority to carry. It is worth noting that these aspects of the regulations were not criticised by the Joint Committee.

The two communications data codes of practice outline best practice and ensure that the right safeguards are in place concerning access to, and retention of, communications data. It is important that we bring them into force by the end of this Parliament. The authority to carry scheme civil penalties regime will ensure that carriers comply with requirements imposed on them to prevent and disrupt travel by individuals who pose a threat to the public or, in the circumstances of children travelling to Syria, who are putting themselves at risk. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to approve these important statutory instruments.

4.7 pm

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I should like to start by thanking the Minister for setting out clearly what is behind the three measures before us today. I particularly want to thank him for his remarks about the action being taken against those travelling to Iraq and Syria to become involved in terrorist activities. I am sure that the whole House will support the work that he and his Government are doing in that regard.

I shall deal first with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015. This reissued guidance has five laudable aims, which the Opposition support. They are: to enhance the operational independence of the authorising officer from involvement in the specific investigation for which communications data are required; to strengthen the protections for information that has professional sensitivity—particularly journalistic material; to reflect the additional requirements on local authorities to request communications data through a magistrate; to improve the record-keeping requirements for public authorities; and to improve best practice in regard to international co-operation and emergency calls.

We support those aims in the guidance, but I should like to ask the Minister a few questions about how we have reached this point in the code of practice. First, the draft guidance was put out to consultation late last year. Why has the response to that consultation not been published for Parliament to consider alongside this statutory instrument? The Minister said that it had been published, but I have had real difficulty finding it. The Vote Office could not find it for me when I requested it, and it is not next to the other documents on the Home Office website, so could the Minister tell me where I can find it? As he said during the passage of the Serious Crime Bill, there were more than 300 responses to the consultation, and it would have been useful to be able to see them.

Secondly, will the Minister explain the key difference between this guidance and that published just before Christmas? Thirdly, will he explain the timings of these changes? Why was a consultation launched while reports from the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, due out in a few weeks’ time, and further recommendations from the interception of communications commissioner were expected? I appreciate that the changes reflect some earlier recommendations from the commissioner, and there have been subsequent changes to reflect new

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recommendations, but why is the code of practice being treated almost like a work in progress? Why not have the recommendations first, then a full consultation and then a final code of conduct, with special interim measures, which I know we would probably all support, to protect journalistic sources? Perhaps the Minister will be able to explain how this process has worked.

Will the Minister also explain how the code of conduct has been written to ensure that it accurately reflects recent legislative changes? First, I was thinking about the recent orders extending the grounds on which the Financial Conduct Authority can access data. Is all that covered in this code? Secondly, the Serious Crime Act 2015 implements some of the recommendations from the interception of communications commissioner. Although it is welcome that the guidance goes some way to reflecting those changes, with a page added to give specific protection to journalistic sources, the Act introduced only partial and interim measures, so I want to know from the Minister whether the guidance will need to be reissued again when the final legislative measures are introduced.

On the second order before us, I want to ask about the definition of “communication” and “message”, an area where the code of practice does not address many of the issues raised during the passage of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, both in this House and in the other place, about how “communication” is defined. Paragraph 2.13 of the code of practice is very specific in relation to fixed-line telephony calls. That is fine as far as it goes, and it is probably all that was needed 20 or 30 years ago, but this code of practice is for 2015 and beyond. I am sure the Minister will accept that the way we communicate now is very different from when we just had fixed telephone lines.

Fixed-line telephone calls now are a small element of communications. When we look at internet-based communications, from e-mail to app-based messaging and social media, we see that the code of conduct is too vague in what it is trying to do. Paragraph 2.11 refers readers of the code of practice back to section 2(1) of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and to the schedule to that Act. I am not sure why a code of practice supposedly designed, to quote from the code, to be

“readily available to employees of a CSP”

to use should refer them back to an obscure part of an Act that was criticised by some right hon. and hon. Members for not being as clear as it could be.

Paragraph 2.16 is the only one I could find in the code of practice that seeks to explain what DRIPA means for internet-based communications. The paragraph is headed “Internet email” and states:

“Internet email under DRIPA is considered to be any text, voice, sound or image message sent over a public electronic communications network which can be stored in the network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient and includes messages sent using a short message service.”

Is that simply a definition of internet-based e-mail providers such as Hotmail or Gmail, or is it meant to include social media? If it is meant to include social media, why does it not say that, so it is clear in the code of practice?

In Committee, I asked a series of questions about social media, which the Minister did not answer, and I do not think they were answered in the other place either. Let me ask the Minister again: does the code of

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practice include messages sent on social media platforms such as Facebook? If it does, why is there no section in the guidance devoted to social media? As I have said, the title “Internet e-mail” is not clear in this respect. If social media are covered, does a message extend to tagging another person in a broader post? Specifically, if a person is tagged in a Facebook or Instagram post, does that count as a message for the purposes of this code? What about a person included in a tweet? Does that count as well?

Perhaps the Minister will also respond to questions on the generic forms of interaction on social media sites. I am talking about where there is no user-generated content, but there is an interaction—for example, I “love” a photo on Instagram, “like” a post on Facebook, “favourite” a tweet, or “swipe” on Tinder. Do those come within this code of practice?

When I raised those issues in Committee, the Minister said that the code covered all communications, by which he meant anything that conveyed a message—as if a message was a self-evident thing that did not need a clear definition. That rather clumsy presumption has been applied to this code of conduct. Will the Minister explain, with reference to the social media sites, how paragraph 2.16 is meant to be interpreted? I hope he can shed some light on this matter.

I also want to ask about the relationship that this code envisages between the Home Office and the communications service providers. For example, the code of practice gives the Secretary of State total discretion over the review of retention notices, but it says that factors leading to a review could include significant technological change. Can the Minister explain how an ongoing dialogue with the CSPs operates, and how it is being maintained to ensure that the Secretary of State will be aware of major technological changes?

Moving on, will the Minister explain why no impact assessment has been prepared for this legislation? Last week, we found that the impact assessment prepared for the Prevent elements of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, vague and imprecise as they were, had not been signed off by the Home Office’s chief economist because the Home Office did not have the evidence base to support the legislation. Essentially, what that confirmed was that, after four years, the Home Office did not have that evidence about what works in terms of Prevent and so could not use that to inform and back up any legislative decisions. Is that the reason we do not have an impact assessment for the statutory instruments before us today? These codes of practice cover the process for decisions regarding compensation payments provided to CSPs, so they could have far-reaching cost and spending implications. They also have the potential to change significantly the compliance burdens on businesses.

I am very surprised that we do not have an impact assessment drafted for these orders. Perhaps the Minister can give us some background information; if he is not able to do so today, perhaps he could find it and place it in the Library. I have four questions. First, how many retention notices are currently in force, and how many are company-specific? Secondly, the code of practice talks about two years as the standard period for a review of a data retention notice. In practice, how many notices are reviewed before the two-year period? Thirdly, how many retention notices have been ended before the

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two-year period? Fourthly, what is the total spend on compensation agreed with the communications service providers in each of the past five years?

The Government’s explanatory memorandum to the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015 states:

“Full guidance will be provided to industry on the operation of the Scheme. The Home Office and other agencies will continue to engage with industry on the detail of the Scheme to assist implementation.”

Will the Minister make it clear when he expects this guidance to be made available? The transport industry also made an observation in a number of responses to the consultation—I think that there were 28 in total. The memorandum states:

“The majority of carriers felt, however, that a proposed maximum fine of £50,000 was excessive and disproportionate, especially when compared to the possible fines imposed by other countries.”

Will the Minister explain why, despite the view taken by the transport industry, the Government decided to maintain the upper limit of £50,000 for a fine?

Finally, I also note that the 21-day rule was breached for introducing those regulations. I hope that the Minister will comment on why. I am sure that he will make a commitment that every attempt will be made in future to ensure that orders are introduced within the appropriate time.

4.21 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I shall be brief. It seems clear that the House will approve the orders moved by the Minister today. He began by putting the situation and the reasons behind the orders in context. He knows, as Security Minister, that the country faces a severe threat.

Last week, the Select Committee on Home Affairs, in one of our last sessions of this Parliament, heard the evidence of the relatives of Shamima, Amira and Khadiza, three young ladies aged 16, 15 and 15 who left Tower Hamlets and went to Syria. Only this morning, I met the families of two of the young men who have just returned from Istanbul. The families are wonderful people, hard working and dedicated to this country, and were as shocked as any of us would have been that their children had left the country and, in the case of the girls from Tower Hamlets, reached Syria and, in the case of the three young men, been brought back yesterday. I commend the police for their work, and the Turkish authorities in the latter case.

The Turkish ambassador gave us very good evidence last week, with a timeline. The situation was much better second time around, with phone calls being made instead of e-mails being sent. We need to commend people when things go right and this is a good news story in the fight against terrorism. We do not have many of them, but everyone worked together and we commend them for what they are doing.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): I am sure that we would all endorse what my right hon. Friend says and what the Minister said about the Turkish police and ensuring that the young people involved were returned to this country immediately. I cannot go

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further than that, as the Minister has stated. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to probe further, even though the numbers are very small, and ask why it is that young people like those he mentioned, whose relatives we saw in the Home Affairs Committee last week, should wish to join a group motivated by mass murder, savage beatings, beheadings and sex slavery? More needs to be done to find the reasons why such youngsters, born and educated in this country, should wish to travel in the way they intended.

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Committee has taken evidence from all the stakeholders involved, but it is the people who have gone abroad who really matter as we need to find out why they went in the first place. We need to get into their minds in some way, as he has said and as his questions in the Committee’s evidence sessions have tried to do, to find out why they make that decision, what turns them and what the tipping point is. They are brought up in this country, and by parents who obviously love and support them, but then suddenly they decide to go abroad. If I have one regret from all my years of chairing the Committee, it is that we have never been able to take evidence directly from those who have gone abroad. Some have come back, of course, but they are reluctant to talk to us, either formally or informally. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I think that why people decide to go is something that successor Committees and the next Parliament will have to consider.

On the orders before the House, I fully support the instrument that brings into force the code of practice to enhance safeguards and ensure clear guidance on best practice with regard to the acquisition and retention of communications data. When the Committee took evidence from journalists on the matter—this is in the public domain, of course—we said that we believed there ought to be exceptions. The Government accept that the authorities need to be very careful when they stray into areas relating to freedom of the press. I think that the code does provide for that, so the Government are right to bring it before the House now rather than at some later date.

However, the Committee, in looking at the regulations before the House, strongly suggested that RIPA’s days had come and gone. Although it was acceptable at the time to pass that legislation, we felt that, frankly, it was being misused. Anecdotally, we have head about some local authorities using the powers in RIPA to spy on families deciding where to send their children to school. We felt that such misuse was probably going on in other areas, but we did not know because there was no proper and effective monitoring.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Alun Cairns.

Stephen McPartland: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way—

Mr Speaker: Order. I beg the hon. Gentleman’s pardon. I blame myself; I was immersed in conversation. It was a case of mistaken identity. The hon. Gentleman is wearing a delightful white shirt, not a checked one. He

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is not Mr Cairns; he is indeed Mr Stephen McPartland. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, and indeed to the other hon. Gentleman.

Stephen McPartland: Thank you, Mr Speaker.

I think the Minister has done an excellent job in bringing on side some of us who were not as supportive of these proposals as others, but I am still concerned about the number of organisations that will be able to use DRIPA to access information. Does the right hon. Gentleman know how many such organisations there are?

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to be wary of that. I do not know how many other organisations can do that, and I think that there is a lack of monitoring. When Parliament passes legislation for a specific purpose and it is then used for other purposes—journalists say that this could be used to spy on them, for example, thereby giving up vital information about sources—parliamentarians need to pause and reconsider, and I think that is what we have to do. As he will know, given his great experience in home affairs matters, having in a previous life been so intimate with the workings of the Liverpool passport office, the state’s use of these powers does tend to creep. We need to ensure that we are vigilant in that regard.

The Minister says that he is waiting for David Anderson to report. One way of ensuring that David Anderson does a quicker job is to give him more resources. One of the things the Select Committee has noted is that the independent assessor does not have the kinds of resources that we would have expected. If the Government—whoever is in power after 7 May—help him along his path, we may be able to get a result much more quickly. We would therefore get the review of RIPA, which I think the whole House wants. The Prime Minister certainly wants it, from what I have heard him say about it. I hope we will be able to move that forward.

Finally, on the last set of regulations before the House, the Authority to Carry Scheme (Civil Penalties) Regulations 2015, I have no problem in principle with what the Minister proposes, but he told the House, in effect, that the situation in which these would take effect has never arisen—that a carrier, having been asked not to carry, has defied Government, either inbound or outbound, and said, “We are going to carry this person.” It was the previous Government who introduced the carriers’ liability regulations. I probably voted for the measure at the time—I cannot remember as it was so long ago. It was effective because the carrier tends not to put someone on a plane if that person has been told on departure from another country that they do not have the requisite visa to enter the United Kingdom, as it is the carrier that will pay the fine.

There is nothing wrong with the principle, but we should legislate when we know that there is a problem. We finally got out of the Minister the fact that there has never been a situation where that has happened, so here we are, passing legislation to stop something that has never happened. His argument is that it is important to have that power in the back pocket because we never know when we might need it. It is important for the Minister to be able to wave it in front of carriers and say, “If you don’t do this, you will be fined.”

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My objection to civil penalties is that the amount collected by the Government is lamentably small. To save us having to table parliamentary questions, as we are right at the end of this Parliament and we might not get the answers before we rise, I hope that the Minister will give us some figures when he winds up showing the percentage of civil penalty fines that have not been paid by those who are subject to them. I think unpaid fines owed to the Home Office will run into millions of pounds. The last time I looked, it was a pretty high figure.

All I ask the Minister to do is to reassure the House that he is a good collector of those penalties—not the hon. Gentleman personally, but his Department. I am sure that if he knocked on my door and asked for the penalty to be paid, I would pay it immediately. He is such a nice and charming man that I would cough up immediately, but we cannot spare the Minister for Security and Immigration for that kind of work. Others have to do it, or sometimes it is done by letter. All that happens is that the letter is put to one side. Perhaps he will have the figure for the amount of uncollected civil penalties currently owed to the Home Office. If it does not run into millions, I will buy him dinner in the Members Dining Room before the House rises on 30 March. On that cheerful note, I will finish my contribution.

4.33 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I will not delay the House more than a minute. Over the past 12 months I have bored the House enough, like a needle on a cracked record, on the subject of the protection of journalists.

That started with a debate on the concerns expressed by the National Union of Journalists about the volume of production orders that were being used against its members, as well as the range of organisations using and abusing RIPA, and the police moving away from PACE to avoid accountability through the courts, and then using RIPA. In addition, concerns were expressed by the NUJ about the development of DRIPA.

I am grateful to the Minister for allowing the interchange of views between the NUJ and his officials. That has helped us to move forward clearly on the codes of practice, but those do not go far enough, nor do these regulations, to meet the NUJ’s position on the protection of journalistic sources. However, the draft clauses have been published. We are about to go into purdah. Whoever is in government after the election will have to address the issue fairly quickly, as the Minister knows. Can the lines of communication between the civil servants and the NUJ remain open during this period? Also, can further meetings take place with the NUJ’s legal advisers and the NUJ representatives to ensure that the eventual legislation, or the advice on the eventual legislation, that goes before the incoming Ministers will meet with the approval of all stakeholders, as well as journalists?

4.34 pm

James Brokenshire: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will try to respond to as many as possible of the various points that have been raised during this helpful debate.

Let me at the outset welcome the support that right hon. and hon. Members have given to these statutory instruments, even if, in a number of cases, they feel that

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further work may be required. Further debate and discussion is taking place about the communications data aspects and the report by David Anderson. I can tell the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, that David Anderson remains on course to report on time before 1 May. I underline the fact that the new privacy and civil liberties oversight board will give further support to David Anderson in his important work, which the right hon. Gentleman and many others in the House recognise in terms of the contribution that he makes.

The right hon. Gentleman highlighted the case of the three schoolgirls who travelled from London to Syria and the evidence that his Committee took last week. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specifics of that recent case, not least because the investigation is still ongoing. He rightly underlines the huge distress that is caused to families by these cases. We hope that this matter can be resolved and that the girls are able to return home to their families as soon as possible. I know that the whole House would wish to underline that.

There are continuing issues on which we need to challenge ourselves as regards why people seek to travel in this way. As the evidence that has been provided to various Committees indicates, it is a complicated picture featuring the impact of social media, peers, and other influences. That is why, as a Government, we have taken a very broad view in recognising the responsibilities that we all hold in seeking to prevent people from travelling and becoming involved in terrorist-related activity. We will be able to return to this again next week, I hope, when we look at further instruments and guidance that may need to be considered further before the House rises.

Keith Vaz: I look forward to looking at the Minister’s further instruments when they become available for scrutiny.

On the point about communities and families, having looked carefully at this subject, the lesson that the Committee has learned over the past 10 days is that they should not be afraid to come forward and speak to the authorities, because the authorities will deal with them sympathetically and they will not be stigmatised. We are all in this together to fight those who seek to seduce and groom young men and women and take them out of our country.

James Brokenshire: The right hon. Gentleman makes a very important point that I entirely endorse. Indeed, that is why the Home Office has been keen to support initiatives such as that advanced by Families Against Stress and Trauma, which has campaigned to highlight the need to come forward and report to the authorities or to others who may be able to take action to safeguard and prevent such actions.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) raised again the position of journalists in relation to communications data. He and I have rightly debated that on a number of occasions in this House. He, and others, may not feel that this is the final settled picture. As I have said, we recognise that this matter needs to be further regularised in primary legislation,

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and we hope that the House will be able to return to it swiftly after the general election. In his report, the commissioner said that there had been no abuse, in relation to his investigations and his inquiry, into the manner in which communications data requests are made of journalists. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that we should ensure that there is continuing dialogue on this matter.

The draft clauses, and our desire to receive feedback on them, provide a further opportunity for those channels to be kept open. Although the House will head into purdah and Dissolution shortly, I hope communication will be maintained with officials to ensure that, when this House returns, the next Government can move forward quickly in the light not only of David Anderson’s report, but of the feedback we receive on the draft clauses. I hope that reassures the hon. Gentleman.

I will go through as many as possible of the points raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson), whose broad support I welcome. As the explanatory notes make clear, a full regulatory impact assessment was made of the effect of the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

On the difference between the consultative code and the final version, the key changes include the introduction of the requirements for law enforcement to use the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 to acquire communications data in order to determine journalistic sources. Other changes include greater clarity on the additional consideration for those in sensitive professions and increased guidance on the necessity and proportionality that must be met by all applications for communications data. I assure the hon. Lady that we reflected carefully on the submissions. The codes reflect all recent primary legislation, but, as she will appreciate, if significant changes are made to primary legislation in the future, new codes may be required.

We do not provide details of which companies are the subject of data retention notices nor the detail of those notices, as it could be of considerable benefit to terrorists and other criminals if they knew which companies were under the data retention obligations, and they could adjust their behaviour accordingly. That is why we have maintained a consistent stance.

The responses to the public consultation have been published on the Home Office website and we have written to the Chairs of the relevant parliamentary Committees. I am sorry if the hon. Lady was not able to locate them and I am happy to write to her to point her directly to them, because I specifically made sure that they were published in advance of today’s debate. I am disappointed that she has not been able to locate them, which is what I wanted her to be able to do.

Diana Johnson: I am grateful that the Minister will write to me, but I made strenuous efforts to get hold of the responses, including getting the Vote Office to look for them and having a good search of the Home Office website myself. Perhaps it is time for the website to undergo a review to make sure it is as accessible as possible.

James Brokenshire: All I can say is that the consultation responses were published. I note the hon. Lady’s challenge and I will certainly point her in the right direction.

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On 4 February the interception of communications commissioner reported on the issue of journalists’ material. We are introducing the codes as quickly as possible to give as full effect as we can to the commissioner’s recommendations. Frankly, we do not believe it would be appropriate to wait. The hon. Lady asked why we are doing it now and in this way. It is being done in this way to ensure that the codes and safeguards are put in place as quickly as possible. I judged that it was right to do the initial consultation and get feedback even though we knew that the commissioner was due to report, because if we had waited for the commissioner’s response and then done a full consultation on the full code, we would not be in the position we are in today. I think that was the right approach.

The hon. Lady also asked technical questions about social media. The provisions apply to relevant communications data generated or processed in the UK by communications service providers. The codes of practice give some examples of the data to be retained and the way in which the CSPs build their systems. The communications data generated differ among CSPs and the services they provide. It is important that the Government can work with providers to ensure that appropriate data are retained. The code provides that the Home Office may give further guidance to those implementing the requirements. In other words, there can be further drill-down to give further specificity. The Home Office works closely with providers to ensure that it is aware of future technological changes that may lead to a review of a data retention notice. I will reflect further on the points made by the hon. Lady and place any additional information in the Library.

Finally, the £50,000 maximum penalty for failing to comply with the requirement under the authority to carry scheme reflects the seriousness attached to a carrier bringing someone into the UK or taking someone out of the UK when refused the authority to do so. I certainly hear the point made by the right hon. Member for Leicester East when he asked why we should have a penalty if compliance is already enforced. Now that we are extending the scheme to both inbound and outbound carrying, having looked at different aspects of it under the code and reflected on the issues raised, it is appropriate to have a penalty or sanction to encourage and promote

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the positive behaviour that right hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North and I want. We have brought in the penalty in that spirit.

Keith Vaz: The Minister is always generous in giving way, which helps the scrutiny of such measures. I am sorry if I missed this, but did he give the House a figure for how much is owed to the Home Office in civil penalties in total? I am eager to take him for supper before we close on 30 March.

James Brokenshire: I would tell the right hon. Gentleman that in respect of that particular provision—[Interruption.] I will come to his point. In respect of that provision, we clearly do not want there to be any unpaid penalties; we want compliance and therefore for penalties not to be levied in the first place. We are putting the penalty in place in that spirit of good compliance.

I normally try my best to meet the right hon. Gentleman’s requests for information as soon as possible, but I am afraid that I will have to disappoint him on this occasion. I note his request for the details of the various civil penalties levied under the civil penalties scheme, and I will certainly take it away and see what further information I can give him to assuage his clear desire for it.

With those comments, and given the broad welcome that the House has given to the measures, I hope that the House will be minded to support them.

Question put and agreed to.


That the draft Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Acquisition and Disclosure of Communications Data: Code of Practice) Order 2015, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.