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I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the youth disorder team that she has mentioned on the innovative way in which it is tackling youth crime in her constituency. I am sure that she noted the youth crime action plan on Tuesday, which seeks to build on such good practice. For example, we have proposed the greater use of, as she has identified, assertive youth work, which involves teams going out on the streets. Such teams sometimes involve people who were previously involved in gangs or serious violence, and they help young people whom they meet on the streets to move away from crime and violent crime. My hon. Friend is right that parents play an important role in preventing children and young people from turning to crime. The idea that parents
should be told when children are picked up is important, and it is already happening in several places. We propose to take that approach forward through the youth crime action plan.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I want to congratulate the Home Secretary on her wise words about how useless the stop and account form is, but the statement does not make the position clear. Does she believe that the form is useless? If so, why is it not being scrapped today, rather than at some time in the future?
Chris Bryant: It is clear that several national newspapers pay police officers for information about impending arrests and ongoing investigations. That is clearly bribery and corruption, and it occurs regularly throughout the United Kingdom. I have asked several Home Secretaries about that practicethey always say that they will put a stop to it by clarifying the law on suborning a police officer, but so far none of them has done so. Is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who will?
Jacqui Smith: I am not sure whether I can quite give my hon. Friend that commitment today. We will, of course, have a policing and crime reduction Bill in the next Session, and perhaps he would like to raise that issue at that time, although I must say that it is not a priority in our policing plans today.
Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): The Home Secretary has rightly emphasised the virtue of local accountability. What plans does she have to develop the accountability of the police force in Wales to the National Assembly, which now provides a substantial and increasing proportion of the budget?
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): I welcome the Green Paper and join the Home Secretary in praising the police. In particular, I want to praise West Midlands police and its supporting agencies in my local authority of Sandwell, where there has been a remarkable 34 per cent. drop in crime, which is reflected in the drop in the crime-related case load at my surgeries. During the deliberations, consultations and considerations in the Green Paper process, will she address the issue of business crime, which is the one area that still seems to cause major problems?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Local police and their partners deserve congratulation in the west midlands. He raises the important issue of business crime, which we take seriously. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker), met the British Chambers of Commerce yesterday to discuss it.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): I thank the right hon. Lady for responding on the issue of targets, which will help forces in rural areas, such as my area in Bedfordshire, respond to rural crime in the way they want rather than focus on urban issues. She also mentioned a series of other measures, which sounded like a compilation from the briefings and policy points that I have received from Opposition Front Benchers over the past two years.
I want to raise a practical problem on mapping about which I have written to the Home Secretary. When Bedfordshire police provided the details about incidents around Travellers sites to the planning committee of Bedford borough council in connection with a planning matter, the council felt that it could not publish the information, because that would contravene legislation on race relations and discrimination. Is the Home Secretary confident that her plans for mapping will be consistent with other legislation, because that issue needs to be sorted quickly, otherwise appropriate information will not be in the public domain?
Jacqui Smith: We will ensure that we respond to the hon. Gentlemans specific point. I am confident that we can find a way to deliver the primary objective, which is allowing local people to see the detail of the crime that impacts on their communities. That is my No. 1 priority, and I have no doubt that we can find a way through any legal hurdles that might be put in our way.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I welcome the Green Paper and congratulate the Home Secretary on listening to Labour Members and the police by cutting bureaucracy and freeing up the police to do their work on the streets. On strengthening the democratic link with the public, it is important that members of the police authority are accountable. Will she assure me that there will be more powers to hold chief constables and senior police officers to account, so they do not make controversial remarks that divert attention from the polices real job of catching criminals?
Jacqui Smith: There is an important responsibility on the new, stronger police authorities, which, incidentally, will be inspected from next year, to ensure that they hold to account, and play a role in the performance review of, chief officers in the way my hon. Friend outlines.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): I invite the Home Secretary to join me on a visit to Kettering police station, where she will have the opportunity not only to thank the police for their endeavours but to see on the police station notice board the pictures, names and addresses of the 35 persistent and prolific offenders who cause the bulk of crime in and around Kettering. I am sure that the situation is the same all over the country: the police know who the criminals are; the police catch the criminals; the criminals are sentenced; but the criminals do not spend enough time off the streets in prison. Is there anything in the Green Paper that will help the police to tackle persistent and prolific offenders?
If those persistent offenders have committed some of the most serious, violent crimes, they will on average spend longer in prison now than
they would have done previously. Some of them will, of course, be subject to the kind of indefinite sentences opposed by Opposition Members. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman has made the important point about the need to focus on persistent offenders, which is why the persistent offender programme continues to proceed with the investment and commitment that the Government have put into it.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friends proposals. Will she say whether she has given any thought to the role of police community support officers, who are an important addition to the policing community? Some of my constituents would like to see them given stronger powers, in particular the power of arrest.
Jacqui Smith: The Green Paper praises and considers the important role played by PCSOs. It publishes the results of a review of PCSOs, which was carried out by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It recommends further standardisation on uniforms, makes it clear that the minimum age should be 18 and invites further comments on the extent to which there should be further standardisation of powers.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Bridgend basic command unit, which covers my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), has had remarkable results in many respects. Neighbourhood policing teams are running effectively, packed meetings are held regularly, burglary is down by 17 per cent., theft of cars is down by 12 per cent. and theft from cars is down by 20 per cent. However, I am concerned that, in contrast with previous years when we had a 12 per cent. fall in crimes of violence against the person, we have now had a 12 per cent. rise in such crimes, equating to 188 additional offences across the constituency. The superintendent in my constituency tells me that in 2008 only 0.2 per cent. of offences involve harm by a knife. How do I reassure people about knife crime when the number of crimes of violence against the person is rising? How can we begin to tackle that issue?
Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend is right. We need to provide more information about what is happening and about the nature of violent crime, which covers a wide gamut of crime, including that which happens within the family as well as between strangers50 per cent. of which involves no actual injury to somebody else, notwithstanding the fact that it is a very serious form of crime. I am strongly of the view that the provision of more local information helps to reassure people and ensures that they then, through reporting to the police and being willing to act as witnesses, feel confident of being part of the solution to solving that crime.
Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Hazel Blears, Edward Miliband and Bridget Prentice, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with the Electoral Commission; and to make provision about political donations and expenditure and about elections: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 21 July, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 141].
That the draft Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008, which was laid before this House on 15th July, be approved.
The House is familiar with the issues that have led to the Government bringing forward this statutory instrument. The question of the House authorities being obliged by law under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to reveal our addresses and other security information has been raised in a number of debates that we have had in this House over the last couple of months; in comments made during the business statement; most importantly, in early-day motion 1620, tabled by the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) and signed by no fewer than 256 hon. Members; and, most recently, in the debate that we had on 3 July, in which I told the House of my intention to bring forward this order.
We have all agreed that, to do our job properly, we have to be able to speak freely in this House, without fear or favour. We must be able to say what we believe to be true about controversial issues without feeling that to do so would put us or our families at risk. If the House authorities were to be obliged by law to publish our addresses and our travel plans, we would know that a controversial speech in this House might lead to harassment at home.
This is not just about current threats but about the future. Threats could be made in respect of an individual Member at some time in the future, whether from a fixated individual or following the Members involvement with a particular controversial issue, or threats could be made to all Members in circumstances posing new dangers that are as yet unforeseen, such as a terrorist threat focusing on Parliament. Once a Members address is in the public domain, it cannot retrospectively be made private again without their moving home. This is also a question of the security of the public. The publication of our addresses would put at greater risk those who happened to live in the same block of flats as a number of hon. Members.
I have had the opportunity of discussions with the Chair of the Joint Committee on Security, my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), and with the parliamentary security co-ordinator. I thank them both for their important work and their advice to me as Leader of the House on this issue. The security co-ordinators advice is that it would be a risk to put in the public domain our addresses or anything that would lead to identification of our addresses or our travel plans. That is his expert advice, but it is also clearly common sense and, I would say, the belief of all hon. Members.
The statutory instrument restricts the scope of section 7(3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. It amends the schedule 1 entry relating to both Houses, and to the National Assembly for Wales, to exclude four categories of information disclosure under the Act. First, it excludes from disclosure under the Act the residential addresses of any Member, by which I mean any address registered to an hon. Member, not just addresses in respect of which there has been an additional costs allowance
claim. Secondly, it excludes from disclosure under the Act information about the regular or forthcoming travel arrangements of any Member in order to prevent the profiling of travel undertaken by any hon. Member.
except as to the total amount of expenditure incurred on travel during any month.
Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman suggests, the information will be given monthly. It will not be excluded from the scope of the Act, and it will be given in the categories that he describes. The House will still be obliged to publish individual MPs travel expenses on a monthly basis, but it will not be broken down any further than that, as further detail might risk the identification of travel patterns week by week, thereby prejudicing security.
Thirdly, the order excludes from disclosure under the Act information that would enable the identification of any person who has delivered goods or provided services to a Member at any residence belonging to the Member; again, that is because it could lead to the identification of the address. Fourthly, it excludes from disclosure under the Act information relating to expenditure by a Member on security arrangements. We do not want a list that sets out who spends on security such as burglar alarms and thus, by a process of elimination, which Members do not have any security.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): Presumably this applies only where a Member of Parliament has not in one way or another made his or her address public. During elections, we tend to put our addresses on the ballot papers. I assume that when that happens, even though we are not Members of Parliament at the time, the information is regarded as being in the public domain and these provisions would not apply to it.
Ms Harman: The statutory instrument restricts the scope of the Act, which places an obligation on the House authorities to disclose information. It does not apply to anything that an hon. Member might want to do in the future or might have done in the past. It simply provides the rules that the House authorities will have to comply with in respect of what they do. They will not have to say to themselves, Has this particular Member put his or her address in the public domain? Yes, they have, so Ill put his or her address up on the website. They will know that it is a category of information that comes within the scope of the restrictions and that they therefore do not disclose it.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con):
I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) has put his finger on a key issue, which I hope to address if I am fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, I should like to press one point in any case. Just because once every four or five years we have to disclose one of our addresses on certain documents to do with elections does not mean that we should disclose them all, en masse, in an easily accessible way. When I enter one of
my addressesthe one that I have sometimes disclosed at election timesand my name on to the Google search engine, not a single match comes up, but if we did not do what we are doing now everyones addresses would be freely available at home and abroad.
Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I congratulate him on the work that he has done that led to us introducing this statutory instrument. Although the public are strongly in favour of openness and freedom of information, and want to know about public money that is spent on our residences and travel, they also understand that there are security issues and that we should approach such matters with a measure of common sense.
Should this House and the other place see fit to pass the order, it will not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of information held by the House of Commons and the House of Lords will remain subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and will be published. It is right that there should be openness about spending public money, so the House still plans to publish information on the expenses of every Member in the autumn. I commend this statutory instrument to the House.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): My party supports the statutory instrument, which affects not only Members in this House, but those in another place, as well as those in the Welsh Assembly. I join the Leader of the House in complimenting my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) for all the effort that he has put into ensuring that we have reached this stage to make this change to the Freedom of Information Act.
It is important to recognise that this is a matter not of secrecy for secrecys sake, but simply of striking a balance between greater openness and the need to ensure safety and security for both Members and their families. It is also to ensure, as the Leader of the House said, that Members can speak freely inside and outside the House, and that they can carry on with their duties without fear of harm to themselves or their families. It is worth noting that although we accept that we are public figures, that burden is not imposed on our familiesthey remain private citizens.
We welcome not only the statutory instruments proposals as regards home addresses, but, as the Leader of the House said, all the measures that apply to keeping confidential future travel and information held by those who deliver services and goods to Members. The measure is clearly a logical progression and will lessen the risk to those concerned. Of course, it will not guarantee security for those concerned, but we all agree that it goes some way to ensuring greater security for parliamentarians, Assembly Members and their families. I have nothing further to add, except to reiterate my partys support for the order.
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