The national health service is among our most valued and loved institutions. Indeed, it is often described as the closest thing we have to a national religion. I am not sure that that was always intended to be complimentary, but I think it should be. People in this country believe in the NHS wholeheartedly, share in its values and the social solidarity it brings, and admire the doctors, nurses and staff who work in it.
It is because I share that belief that I am here. Over eight years, I have supported, challenged and defended the NHS. As a party, and now as a Government, we have pledged unwavering support for the NHS, both in principle, because we believe in the values of the NHS, and in a practical way because we are reforming the NHS to secure its future alongside the additional £12.5 billion of taxpayer funding over the next four years that we have pledged for the NHS in England.
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In Wales, a Labour Government are cutting the budget for the NHS. The coalition Government’s commitment to the NHS will not waver. The Government and I, as Health Secretary, will always be accountable for promoting and securing the provision of a comprehensive health service that is free and based on need, not ability to pay.
What matters to patients is not only how the NHS works, but, more importantly, the improvements that the modernisations will energise—a stronger patient voice, clinical leadership, shared NHS and local government leadership in improving public health, and innovation and enterprise in clinical services. Everyone will benefit from the fruit that the Bill and the reforms bring. There will be improved survival rates, a personalised service tailored to the choices and needs of patients, better access to the right care at the right time, and meaningful information to support decisions. The Bill provides the constitution and structure that the NHS needs to work for the long term.
Patients know that it is their doctors and nurses—the people in whom they place their trust—who make the best decisions about their individual care. The Bill is about helping those people to become leaders. It is not about turning medical professionals into managers or administrators, but about turning the NHS from a top-down administrative pyramid with managers and administrators at its zenith into a clinically led service that is responsive to patients, with management support on tap, not on top. It is about putting real power into the hands of patients, ensuring that there truly is “no decision about me without me”. My only motivation is to safeguard and strengthen the NHS, and that is why I am convinced that the principles of this modernisation are necessary.
Of course, the Bill has been through a long passage. There have been questions and new ideas, and many concerns and issues have been raised. We have done throughout, and will continue to do, what all Governments should do—listen, reflect, then respond and improve. The scrutiny process to this point has been detailed and forensic. There were the original 6,000 responses to the White Paper consultation, many public and stakeholder meetings and 28 sittings in Committee, after which the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) acknowledged that “every inch” of the Bill had been scrutinised, but we were still none the less determined to listen, reflect and improve.
I wish to thank the NHS Future Forum, under Steve Field’s leadership, for its excellent and continuing work. I also thank more than 8,000 members of the public, health professionals and representatives of more than 250 stakeholder organisations who supported the Future Forum and the listening exercise and attended some 250 events across the country. That forum and those people represented the views of the professionals who will implement and deliver the changes, and we accepted all their core recommendations. We brought the Bill back to Committee—the first such Bill since 2003—and we have continued to listen and respond positively. The Bill is better and stronger as a result.
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At the heart of the changes is support for clinical leadership, which has always been key in putting health professionals, and not only managers, at the heart of decision making in the NHS. That was why we strengthened the Bill to ensure that all relevant health professionals would be involved in the design and commissioning of services at every level and in the leadership of clinical commissioning groups. They will also be brought together through clinical networks on specific conditions and services, as they often are now, such as in the case of cancer networks. They will be brought together in broad geographic areas, through new clinical senates, to look across services and advise.
The Bill was strong in transparency and openness from the outset, and that now flows through every aspect of modernisation. Indeed, the Future Forum is taking forward another of our central principles of reform, which is to develop high-quality and integrated services. Properly integrated services are essential for the quality of individual care and for the most efficient operation of the NHS. That was why we proposed health and wellbeing boards, to bring together all the people who are crucial to improving health across an area and having a real impact on the causes of ill health. We can bear down on the inequalities in health that widened under the previous Government.
The Bill now makes our commitment to integration explicit. Clinical commissioning groups will have a duty to promote integrated health and social care based around the needs of their users, and we will encourage greater integration with social care by ensuring that CCG boundaries do not cross those of local authorities without a clear rationale.
The Bill has deserved the attention and passion that it has attracted, and which I am sure it will continue to attract. I thank all Members who have taken part in the scrutiny of it on Second Reading, in Committee, on recommittal and during the past two days. I especially thank my ministerial colleagues, who have steered the debates and led the preparation of and speaking on the Bill. I thank all colleagues throughout the House who have contributed, especially many of my colleagues who I know have given an enormous amount of time, energy and hard work to supporting the Bill. I also thank the Whips.
I thank the Officers of the House and, especially on this occasion, my departmental officials who have responded tirelessly not only to our requests for information and advice but to those of many hon. Members and thousands of people across the country and in stakeholder organisations.
The intensity of debate and the brightness of the spotlight shone upon the Bill have made it a better Bill than when it was first laid before the House. I believe that it will set the NHS in England on a path of excellence, with empowered patients, clinical leadership and a relentless focus on quality. Let us look at what we have already achieved as a Government: more investment in the NHS, higher quality despite increased demand, waiting times remaining low, MRSA at the lowest level ever, mixed-sex accommodation breaches plummeting, and thousands more people getting access to cancer drugs. The Bill will pave the way for even more progress towards the world-class NHS that patients want, which will be able to deliver results that are truly among the best in the world. I commend it to the House.
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John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): This Government and this Bill are giving health reform a bad name. The Bill is unwanted and unnecessary. It is reckless to force through the biggest reorganisation in NHS history at the same time as finances are tight and pressures on the health service are growing. The big quality and efficiency challenges that the NHS must meet, and the changes that the NHS must make for the future, will be made harder and not easier because of the Bill.
I thank my shadow ministerial team, who have done such a sterling job. I also thank my Back-Bench colleagues who served on not just one, but two Public Bill Committees, and all my Back-Bench colleagues who have given such strong support to the Opposition in the House.
I should also pay tribute, if I may, to the stamina of the ministerial team, but I say this to them: we will not let up now, because in 13 years of Labour reform and investment, people saw huge improvements in the NHS, the lowest ever waiting times, and the highest ever patient satisfaction; but in this the first year of this Tory-Lib Dem Government, people have instead seen the NHS starting to go backwards. They have seen the Prime Minister breaking the very personal promise that he gave at the election to protect the NHS. As we heard at Prime Minister’s questions today, he and his team are in denial about the damage that his Government are doing to the NHS and the scale of criticism and opposition to it.
The Prime Minister’s pause to listen was supposed to have won back public support and confidence among NHS staff. He failed. It is true that changes have been made to the Bill, but they make the NHS plans more complex, more costly and more confused. Millions of pounds will be wasted on new bureaucracy when it could and should be spent on patient care.
As the House is asked to approve the Bill on Third Reading tonight, the essential elements of the Tory long-term plans to see the NHS broken up as a national public service, and set up as a full-scale market, are still in place. First, on the market, a new regulator will enforce competition law on the NHS for the first time, and it will have the power to fine hospitals 10% of their turnover for working together. The Office of Fair Trading will oversee mergers if a hospital’s turnover tops £70 million. There will be no cap on the number of private patients that are treated in our NHS hospitals as NHS patients wait longer. That means more legal challenges from competition lawyers, more privatisation and the closure of NHS services and hospitals. It means that much of the planning, collaboration and integration that is at the heart of the best of our NHS today will be very much harder, and perhaps illegal, in future.
Secondly, the Bill betrays a founding principle of the NHS. For 65 years, people have known that the Secretary of State and the Government whom they elect are responsible for the definition and provision of a comprehensive health service. The Bill passes that power to at least 250 local commissioning groups and stops the Secretary of State directing them as to the services that they must provide for patients. It makes the Government unaccountable for what health services are provided and unable to guarantee patients a universal service. It is a fundamental and founding principle that
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our NHS is a national service, equally there for all, whoever we are, wherever we live. This Bill takes the “national” out of the national health service.
In January on Second Reading, I said of the Government’s NHS plans that the more people learn about them, the less they like them. That was true then and it is true now, despite the many changes to the legislation. These are the wrong reforms at the wrong time, driven by the wrong ideology. Labour will continue to lead the challenge against these plans in the other place, and we will oppose this Bill tonight on Third Reading.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Order. As Members will see, we have only a very short time before I put the Question, so could they please be very pithy and short in their contributions in order to get as many Members in as possible?
Dr Wollaston: The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) spoke of health inequalities in her constituency. Perhaps she should look at the King’s Fund’s annual review of NHS performance between 1997 and 2010, which
“identified the lack of progress in reducing health inequalities as the most significant health policy failure of the last decade.”
I welcome the duty of the Secretary of State, the NHS commissioning board and clinical commissioning groups to have regard to reducing health inequalities. Let us see something done about that scandal. I also welcome the work of the NHS Future Forum in setting out the central dilemma surrounding the role of the Secretary of State. The NHS should be freed from day-to-day political interference, but it must also be clear that the Secretary of State retains ultimate responsibility.
There has been real scaremongering about, in particular, the difference between the duty to provide and the duty to secure provision, but I believe that the wording simply reflects the reality. The key issue is the line between the ability to step in if things go wrong, and the very real need for politicians to step back and let clinicians and patients take control.
I shall cut my speech short because I have been asked to be brief, but let me end by saying that, for three clear reasons, I would not be supporting the Bill if I thought that it would lead to the privatisation of the NHS. [Hon. Members: “Have you read it?”] I assure Members that I have read it in great detail.
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neither clinicians nor the public will allow privatisation to happen. They do not want it to happen, and neither do Members of this House.
PCTs and foundation trusts did not meet in public, but they will do so in future, and it is the public and patients who will ensure that the NHS is safe in the hands of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.
Rosie Cooper: I fear that for all the listening, the work of the Future Forum, the concerns voiced by health professionals and our constituents who rely on the health service, and the two days of debate in this place, we have ended up on Third Reading with something that is not substantively different from the original idea. Although it is three times longer than the National Health Service 1946 Act, which created the NHS, the Bill before us leaves us with more questions than answers. I suspect that that will remain the case for some time, as the Government have indicated that more amendments will be tabled.
It is astonishing that we have progressed from a Bill that was never meant to be, because the Conservative party had promised no top-down changes to the NHS, to the Conservatives’ having a supposedly well-thought-out plan—which required a pause because of the sheer scale of the public’s and medical professions’ opposition—and then to the Bill that we have today, which needs more amendments. Sadly, the changes are not substantive enough. The Minister told us yesterday that 715 of the 1,000 amendments were intended merely to change the words “commissioning consortia” to “clinical commissioning groups”. I believe that the public, clinicians and those of us who could see right through the Bill were looking for something more substantive when the Government stopped to pause and promised to listen to people’s concerns.
The Health and Social Care Bill that we now have is still as confused and muddled as on the day it was first brought before the House. I expect that Ministers hoped to confuse and bore people into submission. Disgracefully, the Government began to change the NHS structures without the consent of the people even before they produced the Bill, and they continue to do so even though it has not passed through this House or proceeded to the other place—where it is to be hoped that it will receive the thorough and tough consideration that we should have had the time to give it here.
What we have is a Bill that is high on autonomy and low on accountability. It is supposed to be built on the principles of efficiency, reducing bureaucracy and cutting out waste, yet I do not believe it achieves any of them. In fact, in practice it does the opposite. The Bill will leave us with an organisational malaise, as the number of bodies and organisations significantly increases, with the relationship between them all being complex and incoherent and severely lacking in detail and accountability. The Bill leaves us with a financial challenge that has never been achieved in any health economy anywhere in the world at the same time as removing great swathes of the people with the experience and skills to deliver this outcome. The Secretary of State said that he admired NHS employees. If that is so, why have his policies led to so many of them losing their jobs?
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The Bill will leave the NHS open to European competition regulation, all of which will be overseen by an economic regulator enforcing competition who appears to think the system can be based on an outdated and failing regulatory model like that of the utilities sector, and whose accountability to Parliament and the Secretary of State is unclear. Ultimately, I believe the Bill has been driven forward as an ideological exercise, rather than through a desire to improve the quality of health care available to the people of this country. The Government could have achieved the changes they said they wanted without all this structural mayhem, such as by reducing the number of primary care trusts, changing the make-up of the boards and putting clinicians firmly in the driving seat, but perhaps that was not macho enough.
This evening, the Government are in serious danger of consigning to the bin 13 years of progress, in which patients were being treated within four hours in accident and emergency and were guaranteed an operation with 18 weeks. Tonight, I genuinely fear that the Bill before us will be the equivalent not of throwing a grenade into the NHS, but of pushing the button on the nuclear option: a completely disproportionate response to the challenges facing the NHS.
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.”
Earlier in the debate there were suggestions of scaremongering, so let me be clear: I am not scared; I am terrified—terrified that this Conservative Government will kill off the NHS, a system of health care that is envied throughout the world and that is being threatened for the sake of ideology. I am not scaremongering when I say that if this Government destroy the NHS, they will never be forgiven.
Nicky Morgan: In yesterday’s debate the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) said of the NHS that he believed that in most parts of the country and most of the time it does a good job for people, but I want to see it doing an excellent job for people in all parts of the country all the time, and that is what this Bill will achieve. Having served on the Bill Committee, it is a great sadness to me that that message, and the fact that patients will be at the heart of the NHS, has been lost in the months of scaremongering—a word used by the last speaker—and wrangling by those who have campaigned against it and have obscured all such messages. That has been totally unfair to the patients who rely on the NHS.
I briefly want to make two points. First, Members who served on the Committee will know of my passion for getting the right treatment for mental health patients, and at a meeting of the all-party group on mental health yesterday the Bill was described by GPs as a great opportunity: an opportunity for the integration of primary and secondary care—something they have not had before, and that will now be achieved.
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Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) said, the Bill puts clinicians at the heart of commissioning. When the Bill was recommitted, my researcher said to me, “This Bill is a gift that keeps on giving.” Now it is time for this present to be handed over to the other place, but it needs to reach the statute book and we need to implement it on the ground. I have heard nothing from the Opposition in the past eight months to convince me that this Bill should not receive its Third Reading and get on to the statute book, and I urge all hon. Members to support it.
Mr Barron: I have been a Member of this House for 28 years and I have been active in different parts of health policy for many years, and I have never seen any Bill—not just any health Bill—come to this House so ill-prepared to be put on to the statute book. I served during the two stages of the Public Bill Committee. Largely, I asked questions where I wanted explanations, but I got very few answers. As was said earlier today, part 3 remains in this Bill and its 97 clauses bring in economic regulation. Only nine of those clauses have been amended since the Future Forum met and said that we were in deep trouble with this.
“promote choice, collaboration and integration.”
Monitor’s powers have changed somewhat, but the major change that occurred during the second part of the Committee stage was that the Government took away Monitor’s power to promote competition and gave it a new power to prevent anti-competitive behaviour. Perhaps, at some stage, somebody will be able to tell me what that means. Perhaps somebody will also be able to tell me the answer to something I asked in the first sitting of the Public Bill Committee: what do the Competition Commission and the Office of Fair Trading have to do with the mergers of two NHS trusts? The relevant Minister said at the time that that was a good question, but I have not heard it answered since.
I must say, with all due respect, that no Labour Member argued that the NHS is perfect, nor would I do so. But this Bill is a dog’s dinner. The national health service and the nation do not deserve it, and I will vote against it tonight.
Mr Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood) (Con): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), I would vote against the Bill if I thought that it was going to promote the privatisation of the NHS. One thing that this Bill has in common with every health Bill I have debated in 21 years is that its opponents claim that it is about privatisation, but it is about nothing of the kind.
As the Secretary of State made clear, this is a different Bill, in some important respects, from the Bill that was first presented. First, the Bill introduces a statutory duty to promote the integration of health and social care—Labour Ministers talked about that but never
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delivered it. Secondly, the Bill introduces new safeguards against cherry-picking by private sector providers—Labour Members say they were against cherry-picking but they never introduced such safeguards. Thirdly, the Bill introduces new safeguards in respect of the continuity of essential services provided by private providers, who were introduced by Labour into the delivery of health and social care—such safeguards were never provided by Labour. Fourthly, the Bill makes real a commitment to the introduction of the clinical leadership of commissioning—Labour talked about that in office but never in reality delivered it. So this is a Bill that has been changed and improved as it has gone through the parliamentary process.
Let us not belittle the extent to which the Bill actually builds upon the same policies that were pursued by Labour in government: a policy of the extension of commissioning to act on behalf of the patient and the taxpayer; a policy to promote the development of foundation trusts as the best way of delivering care. This Bill takes 20 years of consistent development of policy and converts the words of Labour Ministers into reality. That is why I support its Third Reading tonight.
Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): Extremely briefly, I want to put on record my view that the Government’s handling of this Bill has been a monumental abuse of the principles of accountability in this House. It was sprung on an unsuspecting nation after an election in which there was no mention whatsoever of these proposals, after an air-brushed Cameron advert said, “I will cut the deficit, not the NHS.” Despite those misleading signals, there has been no commission of inquiry to examine its philosophy or ideology, no proposal to pilot it—
The House divided:
Ayes 316, Noes 251.
Alexander, rh Danny
Amess, Mr David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr James
Bacon, Mr Richard
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr Henry
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr Brian
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Bone, Mr Peter
Brady, Mr Graham
Brake, rh Tom
Brazier, Mr Julian
Brine, Mr Steve
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, rh Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Cable, rh Vince
Cameron, rh Mr David
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clappison, Mr James
Clark, rh Greg
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Clegg, rh Mr Nick
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Davey, Mr Edward
de Bois, Nick
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain
Dunne, Mr Philip
Ellwood, Mr Tobias
Evennett, Mr David
Field, Mr Mark
Foster, rh Mr Don
Fox, rh Dr Liam
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Garnier, Mr Edward
Gauke, Mr David
Gibb, Mr Nick
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Gove, rh Michael
Grant, Mrs Helen
Grayling, rh Chris
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Hague, rh Mr William
Hammond, rh Mr Philip
Harper, Mr Mark
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan
Hayes, Mr John
Heath, Mr David
Herbert, rh Nick
Hoban, Mr Mark
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Howarth, Mr Gerald
Hughes, rh Simon
Huhne, rh Chris
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Hurd, Mr Nick
Jackson, Mr Stewart
Jenkin, Mr Bernard
Jones, Mr David
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Laws, rh Mr David
Lee, Dr Phillip
Leech, Mr John
Leigh, Mr Edward
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian
Lidington, rh Mr David
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Main, Mrs Anne
Maude, rh Mr Francis
May, rh Mrs Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moore, rh Michael
Morris, Anne Marie
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Nuttall, Mr David
O'Brien, Mr Stephen
Offord, Mr Matthew
Osborne, rh Mr George
Paice, rh Mr James
Paterson, rh Mr Owen
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Redwood, rh Mr John
Reid, Mr Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Robertson, Mr Laurence
Ruffley, Mr David
Scott, Mr Lee
Shapps, rh Grant
Shepherd, Mr Richard
Simpson, Mr Keith
Smith, Miss Chloe
Soames, rh Nicholas
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline
Spencer, Mr Mark
Stanley, rh Sir John
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stuart, Mr Graham
Swayne, rh Mr Desmond
Swire, rh Mr Hugo
Syms, Mr Robert
Tapsell, rh Sir Peter
Timpson, Mr Edward
Turner, Mr Andrew
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Vaizey, Mr Edward
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Ward, Mr David
Whittingdale, Mr John
Willetts, rh Mr David
Williams, Mr Mark
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Yeo, Mr Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr Shailesh Vara and
Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, rh Mr Douglas
Allen, Mr Graham
Anderson, Mr David
Bailey, Mr Adrian
Bain, Mr William
Balls, rh Ed
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Dame Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr Joe
Betts, Mr Clive
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr David
Brown, rh Mr Gordon
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
Brown, Mr Russell
Buck, Ms Karen
Burnham, rh Andy
Byrne, rh Mr Liam
Campbell, Mr Alan
Campbell, Mr Ronnie
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Clwyd, rh Ann
Cooper, rh Yvette
Crausby, Mr David
Cunningham, Mr Jim
Darling, rh Mr Alistair
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Dobson, rh Frank
Dodds, rh Mr Nigel
Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.
Donohoe, Mr Brian H.
Doran, Mr Frank
Eagle, Ms Angela
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Field, rh Mr Frank
Flint, rh Caroline
Francis, Dr Hywel
Glindon, Mrs Mary
Goggins, rh Paul
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr Tom
Havard, Mr Dai
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Huppert, Dr Julian
James, Mrs Siân C.
Johnson, rh Alan
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Khan, rh Sadiq
Lammy, rh Mr David
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn
Love, Mr Andrew
Marsden, Mr Gordon
McCann, Mr Michael
McDonnell, Dr Alasdair
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
McKenzie, Mr Iain
Meacher, rh Mr Michael
Meale, Sir Alan
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, rh Edward
Moon, Mrs Madeleine
Morris, Grahame M.
Mudie, Mr George
Murphy, rh Mr Jim
Murphy, rh Paul
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Reed, Mr Jamie
Riordan, Mrs Linda
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Roy, Mr Frank
Ruddock, rh Joan
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Sharma, Mr Virendra
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Smith, rh Mr Andrew
Spellar, rh Mr John
Straw, rh Mr Jack
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry
Thomas, Mr Gareth
Timms, rh Stephen
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Watson, Mr Tom
Watts, Mr Dave
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Winnick, Mr David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wright, Mr Iain
Tellers for the Noes:
Phil Wilson and
Question accordingly agreed to.
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7 Sep 2011 : Column 502
Access to a Lawyer
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 11497/11 and Addenda 1 and 2 relating to the Draft Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and on the right to communicate upon arrest; and supports the Government’s recommendation not to opt into the Directive in accordance with Protocol (No. 21) on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice to the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
I commend the European Scrutiny Committee for calling this debate. As set out in the coalition agreement, the Government approach criminal justice legislation case by case, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system. The Government recommend that the UK should not opt into this proposed measure at the start of negotiations, not because we do not think that minimum standards of defence rights, including access to a lawyer, and the right to communicate on arrest, including with consular authorities, are important—of course, we do—and not because we disagree in principle with the setting of common, minimum standards across the EU in respect of certain aspects of criminal proceedings. On the contrary, we see the benefit of appropriate minimum standards. For that reason, the UK opted into the first two measures on the procedural rights road map on interpretation and translation and the right to information in criminal proceedings. We are not making this recommendation because we fear that our law does not meet the minimum standards required by the European convention on human rights—it does.
The reason we do not propose to opt into this measure at the outset of negotiations is that we think that the directive as published by the Commission would have an adverse effect on our ability to investigate and prosecute offences effectively. It is important that action is taken to ensure that the standards of procedural rights across the EU are adequate. That is necessary for two reasons: first, to ensure that, as people travel through the EU, they can be confident that in the event that they are unfortunate enough to become subject to the criminal justice system of another member state, they will be dealt with fairly and in accordance with robust minimum standards; and, secondly, the EU has chosen to develop a series of mutual recognition measures designed to promote security by helping to combat crime and ensuring that suspected offenders cannot use European borders as a way to escape justice.
Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The Minister has twice used the words, “at the outset of proceedings”. Being something of an old hand at this sort of thing, I wonder whether that means that he proposes to opt in later. Perhaps he will bear in mind the problem that some other member states have judicial systems that are, quite frankly, below par.
Indeed they do have systems that are below par, which is why we are keen for the measure to proceed across the EU. We will decide at a later date whether Britain opts in, subject to the negotiations that
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will take place. If my hon. Friend listens to what I have to say a bit further, he will hear how we propose to look at that process.
This is a good, practical idea that has delivered some notable results, provided that it does not put suspects at risk of less-than-adequate criminal proceedings. Such instruments of mutual recognition were never intended to operate on their own. It was intended that they should be supported by a series of criminal procedural rights, enforceable at EU level, that would build on the rights already guaranteed by the ECHR and provide additional reassurance that the rights were being given practical effect in all member states. These standards will not only protect British nationals when they are arrested elsewhere in the EU but will provide greater trust and confidence among the courts of all EU states that judgments handed down, which they may be expected to recognise, have been made on the basis of sound procedural standards.
Standards of procedural rights are high in the UK. The right of access to a lawyer, both before and during police interview, has been provided in England and Wales and Northern Ireland since the mid 1980s. A similar right was provided for in Scotland last year. However, despite the fact that we see value in the Commission tabling such a measure, we have considerable concerns about the detail of the directive and the impact its drafting would have on the UK’s criminal justice systems.
The procedural rights directives are intended to draw on the jurisprudence of the ECHR and to flesh out what those rights mean in practice. Certain provisions of the Commission’s proposal, however, go far beyond the minimum standards that stem from the convention. While there is no problem in principle with going beyond the standards of the convention if there are good practical and policy reasons to do so, we do not see such reasons in this case. On the contrary, we think that there would be some quite adverse and costly impacts on the ability effectively to investigate and prosecute offenders were the Commission proposal to be adopted.
Examples of that include the fact that the directive as drafted by the Commission may require access to a lawyer to be provided in some stages in the investigatory process where currently a lawyer is not provided, such as at a police search of a property or where a person’s fingerprints are taken when they are booked into a custody suite. We do not consider it necessary or proportionate to provide a lawyer in those situations.
In addition, the directive requires that a person should always be able to meet his lawyer face to face, whereas we provide, in some minor cases, for telephone access, which detained persons often prefer as it can mean that they are held for a shorter period as it is not necessary to wait for a lawyer.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): The Minister has covered the point that I want to make. We permit defendants to telephone for immediate advice from a lawyer. It is quick, cheap, easy and very accessible for defendants.
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The directive also requires absolute confidentiality of meetings and communications between a lawyer and a suspected or accused person. While confidentiality of such discussions is of course a fundamental principle, there are some limited circumstances in which confidentiality should not be guaranteed. The most obvious example is where the authorities have reason to believe that the meeting or correspondence is being abused to further criminal activity. In such circumstances, which are exceptional but none the less extremely serious, the communications ought not to be privileged and the authorities might need to monitor them.
We also believe that member states should be allowed to derogate from other rights set out in the directive, in certain exceptional circumstances. For example, it might not be appropriate to allow a person in custody to contact a particular individual if the police might have reason to believe that he will ask that person to conceal or destroy evidence. The ECHR case law has been clear that restrictions can be imposed on access to a lawyer for an accused person if there are compelling reasons to do so.
We do not think that the drafting allows enough discretion for judges to decide case by case whether evidence should be admissible if it has been obtained in breach of any of the rights set out in the directive.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): In some of the documentation and information that Members received before the debate, there seemed to be a question about whether citizens of the United Kingdom would be disadvantaged with regard to the high level of legal representation that they have compared with that in the other 26 EU countries, which seem to have agreed on a method and the way forward. As a Member of the House, I would have to ensure that my constituents had that high level of legal representation, such that it was equal to that in the rest of the EU and that we were in no way disadvantaged.
Mr Djanogly: The straightforward answer is that if the other states were to go ahead with the directive and we did not opt in, British subjects travelling abroad would, I suppose, have the advantage of the minimum standards whereas other EU citizens would not have the benefits in this country. However, that is not the basis on which we are negotiating, because it would not be a good position from which to negotiate. That is the technical position.
The changes that the directive in its current drafting would require us to make to our domestic law would not only be unnecessary, but would be highly resource- intensive. Our initial analysis suggests that the directive as drafted by the Commission could cost upwards of approximately £32 million to £34 million per year. I stress that the UK is not alone in having these concerns about the directive. The early negotiations made it clear that our concerns are shared by a good many other member states. The incumbent Polish presidency is taking a sensible and pragmatic approach to negotiations, and we can expect that the final product may be very different from the text we are looking at now and that many of the concerns that we have highlighted will be dealt with.
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text that takes greater account of the practical realities of investigation and prosecution and allows for greater flexibility in meeting the requirements of ECHR jurisprudence. Given the extent of our concerns with the current text, we cannot at this stage be entirely confident that all of them will be taken into account, and it is for that reason that we are seeking not to opt in at the outset. However—I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) in direct reply to his question—if our concerns are taken into account in the process of negotiation, we will be able to consider opting in at a later stage, as our protocol allows. Given the importance that we attach to this dossier, that is something to which we will give serious thought.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): My hon. Friend is setting out the situation with great care and extremely competently. If we were to take the decision to opt into the directive, would we then be subject to the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction in respect of what he described as very wide ranging matters to which we had opted in?
Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): As the Minister says, the directive forms part of a defence rights road map agreed by the European Council in 2009 that aims for greater harmonisation of fundamental tenets of the criminal law. We have opted in and supported the previous two limbs of that. The current proposals concern principally the right to access to a lawyer on arrest, the right to have someone notified on arrest, and the right to communicate with a third party on arrest. As such—I do not think the Minister resiled from this—it articulates what most British people would consider not only uncontroversial but essential civil liberties. Since 2009 the EC has sought to harmonise these rights across Europe. I think the Government welcome that.
Notwithstanding the points the Minister made, which I shall come to in a moment, it is difficult to see why the Government oppose the proposal as far as this country alone is concerned, at least for the present. If introduced, it would give us confidence that members of the British public would be subject to due process when overseas. According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website, more than 19 million British nationals travel to France every year, 13 million to Spain, 4 million to Italy and 2 million to Greece. Hundreds of them will, sadly, end up being arrested for a criminal offence. In Spain more than 2,000 Britons a year are arrested for criminal offences.
As the Minister said, Europe is not a homogenous legal environment and not all justice systems operate in the same way or to the same standards. I am grateful for the briefing that Fair Trials International provided for the debate. The organisation helps to ensure a fair
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trial for anyone facing charges in a country not their own. In its research it highlights some notable examples. I shall not spend a great deal of time on that, as it would take up the time of other Members who wish to speak.
Some of the cases are familiar, such as that of Garry Mann, a 51-year-old fireman and football fan who was arrested in Portugal, allowed to leave the country, subsequently arrested on an arrest warrant and imprisoned for two years. It was a case of mistaken identity and on arrest he did not have the benefit of a knowledge of Portuguese law, which would have allowed him a stay.
Another case is that of Edmond Arapi, who was convicted in absentia of committing a murder in Italy at a time when he was working in the UK. It got to the point where he was about to be extradited and imprisoned for a term of 16 years. Had legal advice been available to him at the time of his arrest, it would have become apparent much earlier that this was a clear case of mistaken identity.
Mr Cash: I am reasonably familiar with the Arapi case because it took place in Staffordshire, not far from my constituency. Of course, the real mischief was the arrest warrant itself. There was no reason whatsoever why that man was dealt with in that way. I think that it is absolutely futile to attempt to argue the case on access to lawyers on the basis of the complete failure of the arrest warrant system.
Mr Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman makes part of my point for me. There are concerns about the operation of the European arrest warrant, but that is one of the reasons we wish to see the provision of good-quality legal advice and access to lawyers throughout the European Union. He might have his own solution on our relations with Europe, probably a rather more fundamental one than mine or the Minister’s, but we are where we are and it is therefore important that these safeguards exist.
I was going to mention a third case, that of John Packwood. There are unfortunately a large number of such cases, but those are the three famous ones that have featured heavily in the UK press, particularly the Daily Mail, which has championed many of the cases in which the most perverse decisions have been made in foreign jurisdictions. For the people involved and their families, the experience was a nightmare. They were in a foreign country trying to communicate with officials who spoke an unfamiliar language and subject to procedures that were often summary and perverse, and yet they had no knowledge or advice with which to challenge them. It should be a matter of concern to the Government to protect our citizens overseas and ensure that they are given the same consideration as we would grant citizens of other countries visiting Britain, and that they are given the opportunity to do so and, at least for the present, decline.
We should not be slow to see the high standards of justice that British people expect of our criminal justice system applied to other countries. The directive would assist that process. After all, it was the previous Conservative Government who enacted the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which provided a suspect in police custody with a statutory right to legal advice. Section 58 of the Act states that a person arrested and held in police custody is entitled to consult a solicitor privately at any time. The detention code provides that the consultation may be in person, in writing or by telephone and that
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free and independent legal advice is available. Therefore, the decision not to opt in to a directive that has the same intention as those provisions seems strange, and I will move on to what the Minister says are the differences.
First, the directive’s requirements are broadly in line with current UK legislation. Where there are divergences—the Minister mentioned one or two—they are negotiable. This is a process of ongoing negotiation, and in some cases they are subject to the requirements of national law. The example of searches, which the Minister gave, is one of those.
Secondly, the negotiations are continuing. As the Minister said, many other countries are concerned that there is inadequate room for derogation and are questioning aspects of the directive. It is therefore unlikely that it will remain in its current form. It seems pointless to send negotiating teams, as the Minister proposes, when we are the only country that intends to opt out at this stage, which fatally undermines the authority and leverage that this country will have. We appear to be throwing away an advantage to British citizens for reasons that are at best unconvincing and at worst spurious. Why have the Government taken this position? The Minister might have seen the briefing from JUSTICE, which takes the Government’s points of objection and states that they are either points that can be negotiated, or points that the Government have got wrong. It looks as though the Government are looking for reasons to opt out at this stage.
Tomorrow, the Minister and I will meet again for the next Committee sitting of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, and I look forward to that in Committee Room 12 at 9 o’clock. One of the first clauses that we will consider is clause 12, which gives the new director of legal aid casework and, by extension, the Lord Chancellor the power to decide who does and who does not get access to a lawyer in a police station—and to do so on the basis of an interests of justice test.
There has already been an outcry throughout the criminal justice system at that attack on a basic right, which was introduced to avoid the risk of a miscarriage of justice. PACE itself was in part a response to the appalling miscarriages of justice of the 1970s, but, in answer to the criticism that the Minister is taking on a power that will allow the state to regulate who does and who does not get advice in a police station, he says that he has absolutely no intention of taking away legal help from police stations, so why is he then arrogating to himself the power to do so?
Taken together with the premature decision tonight to opt out of the directive while negotiations continue and before any decision needs to be taken, clause 12 of that Bill suggests that the lessons that led to PACE are being forgotten by this Government.
May I ask the Minister three questions, which, if he replies at the end of the debate, he may wish to answer? First, why are the Government not going to do what they did with the earlier stages of the road map and continue negotiations before making a decision on opting out? Secondly, why are they opting out now when there is further time to negotiate? And, thirdly, can the Minister confirm that the Government are committed to the current system of access to counsel in a police station and do not intend to erode that right, and if so explain why they are pursuing clause 12?
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The objections that the Government have raised are nugatory and susceptible to change, if there is any merit in them, whereas the advantages to British citizens abroad are clear and substantial. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that we can get all the benefits of the directive if it is enacted in 26 other countries, but that we do not need to bother with it ourselves. That sounds like a clear Eurosceptic “have your cake and eat it” voice from the Minister, and I am not sure that that is what he is saying, but it is a—[ Interruption. ] I am not sure that Government Members think that that is what he is saying, either, but it is a knee-jerk reaction to opt out at this stage.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has on a couple of occasions in the past couple of minutes referred to opting out of the directive, but we are not opting out, we are simply not opting in, and in fact there is a big difference, because if we opt in we will never be able to opt out.
Mr Slaughter: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. The Minister is at least open and clear about attempting to take the benefits. He wishes to do so, and in that I agree with him. Appalling miscarriages of justice occur regularly, and we want British citizens to be protected from that, but we cannot do so without engaging. We can negotiate what are for us as a country relatively minor changes, if changes at all are needed, but if we accept the experts who briefed Justice we find that the Government have misinterpreted those minor changes, to which the Minister alluded, in any event.
In the end, it comes down to this: do we wish seriously to see the proposals implemented, in which case we should be in the game and negotiating clearly, or do we wish to take the Government’s somewhat disingenuous position tonight? For that reason, and notwithstanding the Minister saying that he may change his mind in due course, we will oppose the Government this evening.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): It is a pleasure and a relief to be called in the debate, partly because I gave relatively little notice of my intention to speak, and partly because I knew I would be coming immediately after the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter). As other Members who serve on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Public Bill Committee know, sometimes he gets carried away with his eloquence and might well have risked eating into the entire time allocated for this debate.
Obviously, I welcome the debate. As the Minister said, the new Commission proposal seeks to guarantee fair trial rights, providing access to a lawyer from the first stage of police questioning and throughout criminal proceedings by allowing adequate confidential meetings between the lawyer and the suspect; by allowing the lawyer to play an active role during interrogations and to check detention conditions by making sure that the suspect is able to communicate with at least one family member or employer; by allowing suspects abroad to contact their country’s embassy or consulate and receive visits; and by offering people subject to a European arrest warrant the possibility of legal advice in both the country where the arrest is carried out and the one where it is issued. The draft directive acknowledges that the right to a lawyer is not absolute and allows some derogation.
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As the Minister said, the UK affords most of the protections offered in the new proposal in existing domestic law. However, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith pointed out, in many other EU countries there is clearly not such provision; he quoted from Fair Trials International, which listed the countries in which, unfortunately, many of the rights that we have here do not apply. That is clearly why it is arguing for the UK to opt in to the directive.
The Minister rightly set out the Government’s concerns about the provisions, some of which are not consistent with our national law or practice. Some of the proposals have financial implications for the UK, when, as we know from our debates on legal aid, there are real pressures on budgets. However, it is important to point out that other member states share many of our concerns about the practical implications of the proposal and the ability of their criminal justice authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes.
In his letter, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice briefly set out the other issues about which the UK Government have concerns in respect of the impact on our legal system. I hope that the Government will pursue those matters because there can be no doubt that, as the Minister who is here today has acknowledged, the directive would benefit UK citizens abroad, many of whom have to put up with legal systems that are not comparable with ours. Equally, if the UK opted in, some aspects of the changes required might well be beneficial to other EU citizens who had to go through our own court system. I hope that there is an active engagement on these issues.
My final point is about whether the UK Government’s approach is one of going in to win the battles around the differences and perhaps secure the possibility of opting in later, or whether we are going in to battle for a draw—to try to make some changes, but without the expectation that they would be sufficient to allow the UK to opt in. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer that point.
Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): I will not be long, Mr Deputy Speaker; I just want to put on the record my opposition to the motion. The Minister made great play of the fact that it does not contravene the European convention on human rights, and suggested that cost was a key consideration in not opting into the directive.
As I understand it from the legal opinion that I have heard, it is clear that the motion does conflict with article 6 of the convention and areas of PACE, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) has said. There have been a number of miscarriages of justice, such as the Garry Mann case; I understand that, because the directive was not in place, Mr Mann had only five minutes with his solicitor before he was convicted.
I turn briefly to the impact of cost. If cost came before the consideration of human rights we would be on a very slippery slope; that would not be a sign of a civilised society—the one that I recognise that we belong to. I have spoken tonight because I wanted to register my objection to the motion.
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Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): The European Scrutiny Committee recommended this subject for a debate on the Floor of the House, in line with the written ministerial statement that all matters of this kind would be so debated when they
“have a substantial impact on the United Kingdom’s criminal or civil law”.—[Official Report, 20 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 52WS.]
This is a very good starting point. However, I am somewhat disquieted by the extent to which the Minister has indicated—I hope that I am wrong, and that he will correct me if I am—that it is only a matter of time before, irrespective of the matters of principle that arise, we might end up opting in. I remind him that the whole process of the opting-in arrangements is based on a presumption against our opting in unless there are profoundly good reasons for doing so.
For the reasons that have already been touched on by the Minister and by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), I believe that neither the difficulties that arise in relation to the application of arrest warrants nor the question of failures of justice in certain countries in the European Union may ever be sorted out. One need only look at a number of countries that came in by way of accession over the past few years. That went somewhat against the advice of the European Scrutiny Committee, and we had indicated beforehand that they had judicial systems that were so substantially below standard and riddled with corruption, with political judges and perverse procedures, that it was completely unacceptable that they should be allowed in. Access to a lawyer is obviously an important necessity, but whether one gets justice as a result of having such access when the courts themselves are corrupt is quite another story. That needs to be borne very much in mind.
We all believe that when citizens of the United Kingdom go abroad they should have access to a proper judicial system when they get there. Sometimes they are arrested, as in the case of some of the arrest warrants. We have heard reference to the Arapi case and one or two others. I have the greatest respect for Fair Trials International; its representatives have given evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee, and they have been very impressive. They have grave reservations about the arrest warrant and have said so. Where there is a serious problem in respect of the judicial system of a given member state, the fact that one has access to a lawyer may be only a minor mitigating factor.
Some time ago, before a lot of these laws were being put through, there was the case of the Greek plane spotters. Mr Arapi came from Staffordshire, and I noted what went on. My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) was instrumental in what happened. It was the subject of her first intervention in Prime Minister’s questions, and the Prime Minister immediately seized on it. I had a little word with her beforehand and suggested that it might be a good idea if she raised it with him, because I was convinced that he would immediately take the appropriate action, and he did. However, it took the intervention of the Prime Minister to sort this out, not access to a lawyer or to the judicial system where this poor man was convicted and sentenced to 16 years for an offence that he could not possibly have committed. The entire procedure that led to his conviction was utterly, completely and incontestably absurd, futile and dangerous.
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My concern is less about access to a lawyer and more about whether people get justice even when they have a lawyer. That might seem rather strange, but it is exactly the problem. I do think that being able to contact consular authorities is incredibly important. I would certainly go along with that.
We have heard a number of points from the Minister, and I will briefly mention them, so as to put this on the record as Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee. The potential consequence of article 10.2 and 13.2—of fettering the ability of a trial judge to decide on a case-by-case basis whether evidence should be admissible if it is obtained in breach of the directive’s provisions—is one problem. The other, as the Minister has indicated, is the financial implications of article 4, about providing a face-to-face meeting with one’s lawyer. As the Minister said, it is suggested that the cost of providing that could be as much as £32 million to £34 million a year. Another problem is the precluding of the use of accredited representatives. Those are people who are trained to advise a suspect at a police station. Even though they are not qualified lawyers, they at least provide a degree of assistance.
There is also the issue of the European convention on human rights, about which it is well known that I am not wholly enthusiastic, to say the least. It would be far better if, having drafted the European convention on human rights, we had been aware that we are quite capable of passing legislation in our own country to protect people’s human rights. The idea that I am not in favour of human rights, which the Home Secretary put to me the other day, is positively absurd. Of course I am in favour of human rights; I just want them to be real ones.
I am afraid that quite often artificial constructions are placed on the European convention on human rights, which have been criticised by some distinguished judges. The Lord Chief Justice himself said that the first duty of judges is not to apply Strasbourg decisions in the UK courts, but to protect the common law. A tremendous industry has been created since the 1990s, and the extent of human rights law has now reached astronomical proportions. It provides lawyers with a useful source of income without giving a proportionate degree of protection to those who seek human rights. Human rights could be provided for in Westminster if we passed our own legislation.
Another question is what effect an EU proposal would have if it failed to improve fair trial standards in our own criminal law. Even if it attempted to improve trial standards in other countries, what effect would it have on our criminal law? If the EU proposal had no effect it would become a lot easier to support it, with all the reservations that I have already expressed.
This afternoon, the Lord Chancellor gave evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee on the accession of the EU to the European convention. I assure hon. Members that he made it clear that that is a very, very long-term proposal, with huge degrees of negotiation yet to happen. Apart from that, there must be unanimity all the way down the line. He even ventured to suggest that it might not happen in his lifetime, or at any rate in his political lifetime.
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with the charter of fundamental rights under the Lisbon treaty, which of course we voted against but which the Government are now implementing, produces the curious result of a multiplicity of complex procedures all overlapping with one another. It is important that we bear that in mind, because it would have a bearing on cases such as those that we are discussing.
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con): Is not the fundamental problem with EU opt-ins that if we opt in there is no way back, so if our negotiation is not successful we are stuck with whatever is decided, but if we choose to opt out we are not part of the negotiations? That means that if we opt in at a later stage we get the worst of both worlds. That is a fundamental flaw of the European Union and the opt-in system.
Mr Cash: I very much agree with my hon. Friend, who is also on the Committee and witnesses these things at first hand. The Committee recommended this debate, and I am glad that it is taking place. It is not a token exercise, and I trust that the Minister understands that there are serious reservations about how the judicial system operates in other countries. Although we certainly believe that access to a lawyer and to consular authorities is a good idea, we do not have to have the Lisbon treaty, the European Union or an opt-in procedure under those arrangements to provide for access to the courts or to secure protection for those who need it.
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): I add my thanks to the European Scrutiny Committee and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) for ensuring that we are having another of our regular Wednesday evening debates on European matters. I am also pleased to say that for once I can support the Government’s present position on this issue, although I have to say that I am a little concerned that I might not be so readily able to support what might come in future.
When any of our constituents travel abroad, they do so in the full knowledge that they are entering a foreign country with foreign systems. It seems to me that the fact that there are inadequacies in some of the legal systems of other European Union member states is not a good reason to accept another dollop of European legislation.
I have heard no one suggest that our own procedures and legal systems in this country are not up to scratch. In fact, as far as I can see, it is a case of the rest of the Europe catching up with the systems and procedures that we already have in place. Of course, if we were ever to opt into the directive, we would have to change some of our existing procedures that have served us well. In my short time in the House, I have never had anybody complain to me about the procedures that we have in place in respect of access to a lawyer, the right to consult a lawyer when detained or any of our pre-charge procedures.
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there are to be changes, on the basis of the arguments, which should be fully explored and discussed beforehand, rather than changes coming about as the by-product of a European directive. That is the problem if there are to be changes in the UK system.
Mr Nuttall: The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely valid point. I would have made the same point later, but I shall make it now. I have heard no complaints about our current procedures, but if there were a general acceptance that an aspect of them could be improved, it would be for the House to pass legislation to do so. We would then have the right to tinker with and change them as we wished. Indeed, we have done so. Only very recently, a Delegated Legislation Committee on which I sat altered the rules under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, because this House thought it appropriate to do so.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an important point in response to the one made by the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds). Has my hon. Friend turned his mind to the bigger picture? These opt-ins do not come before the House by accident or by way of judicious fine-tuning of our system. This measure is part of a political project that was put in place by the EU to create a European area of freedom, security and justice, whereby rules and laws on criminal procedures and other criminal matters will be made at the EU level rather than in this House, and whereby our law will be subject to that law.
Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend makes another extremely valid point. Whenever I have discussions on European matters with constituents and other members of the public—not surprisingly, I have such discussions fairly frequently—time and again they refer to the fact that they are dissatisfied with our membership of the EU because they believed that the EU was to do with business and trade. They believe that the EU should have no part in justice or home affairs. When we entered the EU all those decades ago, it was never envisaged that the EU would play a part in justice and home affairs. That is one reason why I will continue to push for a referendum. Such things may have been in the minds of those who were pushing for the European project, but they were never in the minds of our electorate. They were never told about that and it was not part of their consideration when they went to vote back in the 1970s.
Mr Cash: May I remind my hon. Friend that the Conservative party, for the first time since 1972, was completely united in opposing the implementation of the Lisbon treaty? Only as a result of entering into the coalition agreement did we end up having to accede to many of the provisions that result from the introduction of a treaty that we were previously united in opposing.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. That is one reason why opposition to our membership of the EU is growing in this country. As I often say to people, in many ways every directive that passes is another nail in the argument of those who will one day argue in a referendum—I believe we will eventually have one—that we should stay in the EU. People are increasingly
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fed up with the ever-growing competences of the EU. It is all very well to argue that the European Union Act 2011 will put an end to all these things, but we can see—day by day, week by week, month by month—that slivers of competence are going to Europe, and this would be another of those slivers. If the directive were adopted, it would be a classic example of this country’s handing over a further tiny piece of its competence. It might be only a sliver, but this is still a matter of sovereignty. At present, we can decide what our rules are.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): Is this not also a classic example of the European ratchet? First the European arrest warrant allows British subjects going about their lawful business in their own country to be arrested by foreign Governments; then it is decided that there must be basic standards to protect them from such action, because that is only fair and proper; and that then leads to the conclusion that there must be more harmonisation of the criminal law across Europe. In fact, what Her Majesty’s Government should be doing is not just not opting into this, but getting out of all the other measures to which they have agreed.
Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend has made an excellent point, which I am sure would find widespread support outside the House. Far too much legislation from Europe is already foisted on our constituents, and we certainly do not need this as well. It is, in my view, an example of a solution looking for a problem. There is certainly no great clamour for it. When our constituents go abroad, they may well choose to go to Europe—there are, after all, another 26 countries in the European Union—but they may equally choose to visit any of the other 170-odd countries in the world, where none of this would apply. What do they do then?
We ought to consider speaking—quietly and diplomatically, of course—to plenty of other countries which have judicial systems that are far less helpful to the accused than any that might be found in the European Union. This is, I submit, a criminals’ charter. If it were to become law, the criminals and their lawyers would not only have to comply with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but would have recourse to this directive as well as the European Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. It would be yet another hurdle for our police to surmount in dealing with crime and disorder on our streets, and, in my opinion, a problem that we could well do without.
The other group of people who would profit from the directive are the lawyers, particularly legal aid lawyers. As has already been mentioned this evening, it has been suggested that advice be given face to face. I know from my own experience many years ago that when a suspect is arrested, advice is given quite adequately on the telephone, and I see no reason to change that arrangement. Again, there has been no clamour for it to be changed. I see no reason why this country should have to change its practices and procedures purely on the basis of this directive. It may well benefit other countries—indeed, it may well benefit some of our constituents when they travel abroad—but I feel strongly that there is no need for it to be adopted now or at any time in the future. I hope that even when the negotiations have been completed, this will be the last that we hear of it, and that we shall never see it back on the Floor of the House again.
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Mr Djanogly: This has been a constructive debate, and it has provided a timely opportunity to place the Government’s position on the record. Let me reconfirm, not least for my hon. Friends the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), that we believe it is important that action is taken to ensure that the standards of criminal procedural rights across the EU are adequate—I stress the word “adequate”. That will help to ensure that British nationals in other member states receive the rights that underpin a fair trial. It will also help to provide the level of mutual trust necessary to support European legal instruments that require competent authorities to accept and act upon decisions or judgments given in other member states.
The Government see clear benefit in setting minimum standards across the EU in respect of certain aspects of criminal procedure. As many Members have noted, standards of criminal procedure in relation to access to a lawyer and the right to communicate upon arrest are high in the UK. We see benefit in an effective and workable directive which would raise standards in this area.
The Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), asked a number of questions. He asked why the UK had opted in to the previous two directives on the procedural rights road map, but not this one. The Government believe it is important that action is taken to ensure that the standards of criminal procedural rights across the EU are adequate. The previous Government opted in to the directive on interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings, and this Government opted in to the victims directive. The hon. Gentleman asked why we opted in to that directive, but not this one as well. The Government have decided to opt in to the victims directive establishing minimum standards for the rights, support and protections of victims of crime because it meets the criteria set out in the coalition agreement with regard to EU justice and home affairs measures and is more in line with existing UK practice. I can confirm to the hon. Gentleman that we currently intend to retain free legal advice in police stations, as I have said publicly in the past, and he will hear more on that in Committee tomorrow.
The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone mentioned individual examples of process, on which the Government cannot comment. However, I noted the disappointment of the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) about the fact that we do not intend to opt in at the outset.
I also understand the disappointment of Members who have set out the difficulties faced by constituents who have faced trial in certain other EU member states. However, the directive as published by the Commission goes very much beyond what we see as the minimum standards of the European convention on human rights and would have an adverse and exceptionally costly impact on our ability to investigate and prosecute offences effectively. We do not think it would be sensible to opt in to the directive at this stage because it is not possible to be completely confident that all these difficulties could be mitigated through negotiation.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) for his supportive remarks, and I can confirm that we intend to negotiate and win on our positions. In order to do so, we intend to work
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very closely with our European partners—that work is already under way—to develop a text that takes greater account of the practical realities of criminal investigations and prosecutions. We are not alone in our concerns, and we are optimistic that the directive that is finally adopted might look rather different from that published by the Commission.
Our aim during negotiations will be to amend the text constructively, so that the UK might be in a position to contemplate participating in the final directive, and we have three months from the proposal in which to opt in. We can be part of the negotiations if we do not opt in, but we would not have a vote, so we intend to participate in, and influence, negotiations to make the directive better. We would opt in post-adoption only if our criteria were met, and following appropriate consultation in Parliament. I can confirm to my hon. Friend the Member for Stone that there is no inevitability to opting in, and I understand many of the concerns he raised. At the same time, I have to tell him that there is no presumption against opting in unless there are profound reasons for doing so, such as he suggested.
Mr Clappison: If the decision is taken to opt in—which I would regret, for reasons I have explained—I hope it will be made clear that our Government are opting in to a major piece of criminal justice legislation and choosing to hand over to the EU and the European Court of Justice jurisdiction over a wide swathe of our criminal procedure.
Any decision to opt in at a future date will be taken on the basis that the Government approach legislation in the area of criminal justice on a case-by-case basis, with a view to maximising our country’s security, protecting Britain’s civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system. Any decision to opt in at a future date would also be subject to scrutiny in Parliament.
Business without Debate
That the draft National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011, which were laid before this House on 20 June, be approved.—(Norman Lamb.)
European Union Documents
That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 10794/11, relating to a new response to a changing neighbourhood, and Addenda 1-16, detailing the results and recommendations of the Commission’s review of the European Neighbourhood Policy
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and a report on implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy during 2010; and supports the Government’s approach as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the FCO dated 3 June 2011.
Delegated legislation (committees)
That the Motions in the name of Sir George Young relating to the Electoral Commission and the Local Government Boundary Commission for England shall be treated as if they related to instruments subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice has been given that the instruments be approved.—(Norman Lamb.)
Leacroft Surgery (Crawley)
The Petition of residents of Crawley,
Declares that the Petitioners are concerned by the current proposals to close a general practitioner’s surgery in the Crawley Borough Ward of West Green.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible action to ensure that Leacroft surgery is able to maintain health service provision in the area.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
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Future of the BBC
Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): It was a childhood ambition of mine, at the age of 11, to become a Member of Parliament, and I was fortunate enough to be elected in 1983. I remember, as if it were yesterday, first arriving here and being told that this is the mother of Parliaments, that we are sovereign, that this is where laws are made and that Parliament existed to support parliamentarians with their duties. An enormous number of changes have taken place since I was first elected, and I have various question marks over the way in which this place is run these days. However, I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise an important issue that we take for granted—the British Broadcasting Corporation.
I am not using this Adjournment debate to attack the BBC—indeed, I have many friends and some relatives who work for it. However, as this place has been greatly diminished and we were under siege before the previous general election, I made a beeline for the BBC’s chairman and chief executive when we were invited to attend a reception held by the BBC after the election. I told them that I was very concerned about the way the BBC is run and about the salaries that both of those gentlemen are paid, and I will discuss that in due course.
The BBC is a blue-chip company of which we can be very proud. Its first transmission was from the roof of Selfridges in 1922. The first royal address was broadcast in 1924, and in 1932 we had the first Christmas address from His Majesty, the then King. I do not think that anyone in the Chamber remembers 1940, when Churchill made his rousing speeches, but the BBC also deserves credit for those. In 1945, there were the wonderful Dimbleby’s revelatory reports about the terrible happenings in Belsen concentration camp. We have the Olympics next year, and in 1948 the BBC broadcast the Olympic games. Then, 1960 saw the construction of Television Centre, the first purpose-built TV centre in the world. We then go on to 1982 and Brian Hanrahan’s unforgettable news reporting of the Falklands war. In 1990—it is ironic that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) is in the Chamber, because he and I held different views—we saw our proceedings televised. I was dead against that and I voted against it, but, anyway, our proceedings are now televised. The BBC had an exceptional global reputation for being an excellent source of unbiased and impartial news. Indeed, it was groundbreaking and it was known for having remarkably high journalistic integrity in its reports.
“Institutionally biased to the Left”
“basic journalistic mistakes—wrong dates, times and numbers…and basic political or geographical facts”
were wrong. The BBC tends to run positive stories in favour of the UN and the European Union. When it comes to reports relating to Israel, it only ever half tells the story, favouring stories that show Israel in a poor
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light and failing to report the rest of the facts—I think in a highly disproportionate manner. For instance, there is an humanitarian disaster waiting to happen in Camp Ashraf, so why do we hear nothing about it? There is a terrible situation in Syria, but we do not hear from relatives of President Assad who do not think he is a terribly good leader.
More poignantly, the BBC is fervently anti-cuts and ensures that that message pervades every aspect of BBC programming. Since the general election, the BBC has embarked on a consistent policy of criticising Government actions, which is rather amusing given that the director-general declared that bias at the BBC—he said it, so he must recognise that there was bias—was a thing of the past.
Over the past few days, we have seen that the former Labour Prime Minister was very friendly with Mr Gaddafi in 2004. A book has now been published that shows that there were tensions at the highest echelons of the previous Labour Government. Given the BBC’s high expertise in investigative journalism, it is puzzling that none of those things was brought to the fore at the time. We need only to think of “The One Show”, which recently ran a segment in which a presenter asked the Prime Minister, “Are you too much of a toff?” Another asked him, “How do you sleep at night?”
The BBC uses the term “independence”—I am still citing Peter Sissons—to mask the fact that it positions itself to serve its own best interests. For example, preference was given to Tony Blair’s party conference speech in 1995. Alastair Campbell berated the BBC editor to give the story precedence above all others based on the speech’s proximity to the next general election. That was what happened.
The BBC consistently gives left-wing politicians and figures a platform to spout policy and denounce the Government. Examples include the differing treatment of guests from different ends of the political spectrum on shows such as the “Today” programme. How politicians allow themselves to be treated so badly on the “Newsnight” programme, and on “Question Time” and so on, I do not know.
One thing that is particularly unforgivable is the constant practice of presenting the opinion of BBC correspondents as fact, as summed up by Peter Sissons, the former long-time BBC news presenter, in an article earlier this year. He said that “the increasing tendency” at the BBC is
“to interview its own reporters on air…Instead of concentrating on interviewing the leading players in a story or spreading the net wide for a range of views…It is a format intended to help clarify the facts, but which often invites the expression of opinion. When that happens, instead of hearing both sides of a story, the audience at home gets what is, in effect, the BBC’s view presented as fact.”
I know that I am biased, but we are blessed with an absolutely splendid Home Secretary and a first-class Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I do not criticise them regarding the challenge that lies ahead. In the past, after each election, the new Home Secretary has invited colleagues to come and talk about licensing and whether we should do away with it, but that has not happened this time. One of the main reasons why the BBC is so financially stretched is the cost of digital-only stations such as BBC 3. This youth-orientated channel costs £119 million a year. Shows on it include “Snog, Marry, Avoid?”, “Total Wipeout”,
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“Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum”, “Don’t Tell the Bride”, “Underage and Pregnant” and “Jamelia: Shame About Single Mums”. However, I am delighted that Mr Gareth Gates, whom we were honoured to have in the Palace of Westminster today to address the all-party group on speech and language difficulties—he had a speech problem himself—will be appearing on BBC 3 in November on a programme about people with speech difficulties. BBC 4, the more high-brow channel, costs £74 million.
I want to focus on the salaries of executives, because I now realise, as a Member of Parliament, that it is not the workers who are at fault in so many sectors of life but the management. The salaries that the management of the BBC are paid are absolutely ludicrous. The director-general is paid £838,000—this is madness! Other directors’ pay, as of March 2011, are: £488,000; £517,000; £467,000; and £452,000—not to mention what the financial controller gets. At 31 March 2011, 13 executive directors had cost us, the British people, £4,792,000, but we Members of Parliament are castigated for what we earn, and the electorate can get rid of us through the ballot box.
Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): Let me give my hon. Friend an opportunity to take a breath of air after pouring out all those huge figures. Does he agree that it would be totally grotesque if BBC local radio, which is in touch with local communities, had to suffer cuts while those huge salaries were being paid out? In my part of Yorkshire, BBC local radio not only reports local sport such as Huddersfield Giants rugby league and Huddersfield Town football club, but is a valuable service when there is heavy snow, because it lets people know whether the schools are open, which shops are open and which roads are open or closed. People who cannot get out and about love their BBC local radio, and it would be totally grotesque if those salaries were still being paid while BBC local radio was being cut.
Mr Amess: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. One cannot watch TV while driving a car, but one can listen to the radio. I love radio—Essex Radio is fantastic. I absolutely agree. Frankly, these BBC radio stations have been starved of cash, as can be seen by looking at some of their software.
The director-general proposed that the executives could increase their annual pay by tens of thousands of pounds through a policy known as “earn back”. I must say that I have the highest regard for Lord Patten, the current chairman of the BBC. I once had the honour of being his Private Parliamentary Secretary for a week, not because I was useless but because my former colleague, Robert Key, had been appointed as a Minister and I stood in for a week. Lord Patten is going to be a wonderful chairman of the BBC. Under the director-general’s proposals, however, the seven members of the BBC’s executive board, as well as the corporation’s 540 senior managers, would have been able to earn an extra 10% on top of their salaries by beating performance targets. The proposal was accepted by the BBC’s executive remuneration committee, but I am delighted to say that the new chairman stepped in and dealt with the issue. It just shows how out of touch they are.
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female presenters—I do not know whether they have had too much Botox or something—are presenting the news on a very serious subject, they smile. But their salaries, which we are paying for, are worth looking at. The highest paid stars’ earnings from the BBC cost 1.55% of the £3.49 billion that the licence fee brings in. That is huge.
The seven high-profile presenters involved in this year’s coverage of the Glastonbury music festival for the BBC were not only paid lots of money for going, but given complimentary tickets. Why did the BBC send 400 journalists to the Glastonbury festival? All this goes unquestioned. We are concentrating now on phone hacking and so on. If Parliament was as it used to be, we could properly scrutinise these things.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman has mentioned performance targets. Does he agree that if there have to be performance targets, they should be based on the satisfaction of the TV licence holders, and that plenty of them are dissatisfied?
To save money, headquarters are moving to Salford. Well, I am sorry: London is the capital city. Other TV channels have found that London is the best place for programmes to be based. Indeed, ITV moved “This Morning” to London because it could not get guests to travel to the studio in Liverpool. There are fears that the corporation’s move to the north could turn out to be an £877 million white elephant. It is understood that the BBC has had to offer incentives for people to move to Salford.
On sport, I am sure that many hon. Members used to love watching cricket on the BBC, and wall-to-wall coverage of Wimbledon and so on. “Test Match Special” was so special. Well, all that has gone and now constituents are contacting me about Formula 1. We even had all the anti stuff against Andy Murray. Okay, he is Scottish; let’s get over it. He is a fantastic tennis player.
I end with a thought about the licence fee. I am delighted that the Government have frozen it at £145.50 until April 2017. That amounts to 40p a day, which for lots of people actually mounts up to quite a lot. The completion of the digital switchover in 2012 would be a good time to think once again about how the BBC is funded. The British Broadcasting Corporation is a jewel in our crown, if it is well run and managed. It is pointless to have Adjournment debates unless hon. Members’ arguments are listened to. I hope that my words have been listened to and that there will be changes in the ridiculous high salaries that are being paid.
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Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab): I am grateful for a little space from the Minister’s table to comment, because I will not follow the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) in his ludicrous accusations of bias in the BBC, about which he is as wrong as he was all those years ago about televising Parliament. However, he mentioned, in his back-handed way, quality in the BBC. We are about the get the document “Delivering Quality First” from the BBC, in which it will tell us how it will deliver a 20% reduction in spending and a 25% reduction in overheads. That is far more than can be gained by any reduction in fees paid to Jonathan Ross or “Paxperson”, or even in the director-general’s ludicrous salary.
This is a serious issue, because cuts cannot be made on that scale without damaging the BBC’s quality of production. This is a national jewel—a national asset—and we propose to inflict devastating cuts in production and staff, in the BBC’s scope and artistic integrity and, above all, in quality. Quality costs in television, and it must be financed.
Here we are damaging this precious asset as a result, it seems to me, of a dirty deal that was arrived at between the Conservative party and the Murdoch interests. In return for the Murdoch newspapers’ support, the Conservatives agreed in opposition to prune the BBC, as James Murdoch had asked for in his MacTaggart lecture, and to give them the ability to take over Sky. Part of that deal has now fallen through, but it is important—I wish the hon. Gentleman had mentioned this—to stop the decimation of services in the BBC. It must be stopped.
Far from using the licence fee as a stranglehold on the BBC to enforce reductions, we should pass at some stage a supplementary licence fee increase to save it from these cuts, which will be compounded by taking on the burden of the World Service. It is not now a matter of grumbling about bias at the BBC and making snide remarks about the salaries paid at the BBC. It is not now a matter of handwringing; it is a matter of fighting to save the BBC.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend and near neighbour the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on securing this important debate. I believe that I can set out the answer to the problems that he has talked about this evening. I have campaigned since becoming a parliamentarian for the democratisation of the BBC licence fee. I have presented a ten-minute rule Bill and tabled many motions and questions on the subject. I agree with him that the BBC is a jewel in the crown. I think of the quote from Shimon Peres, who said that the BBC makes
“dictatorship impossible, but democracy intolerable”.
I, like my hon. Friend, love Essex Radio and “Look East”. We know that they provide essential services for people in my community, but the problem is that we are compelled to pay for the BBC and have no say over its cost or programming. The BBC is monopolistic, with about a third of TV viewing and half of radio, but it does not need to make a commercial return, so other providers are crowded out. We have no recourse and no means of redress. I do not object to the licence fee; I would be happy to pay double.
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Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): My hon. Friend says that the BBC is a jewel in the crown, but what percentage of the British public does he think would purchase a licence if doing so were not compulsory?
Robert Halfon: If my hon. Friend waits, I will answer his question in a second. I would pay double for the licence, but the problem is that we have taxation without representation. We do not tolerate that in politics, and there is no reason why we should tolerate it in our public media.
Under my private Member’s Bill, which is due for consideration on 25 November, the BBC would have to set out an annual plan and licence fee payers would vote. It is quite astonishing that licence fee payers had no say over the appointment of Chris Patten, whatever his merits might be. To those who say that voting would mean a decline in quality, I say that that attitude is mixture of ignorance and snobbery—ignorance because there is a market for quality, as Classic FM and other quality media show, and snobbery because that is like saying that the public should not be free to choose for themselves.
Mine is not a radical proposal. Company shareholders have the right to hire and fire their boards. Residents have the right to elect their MPs and councillors. Given that we are supposed to be the BBC’s owners and are compelled to pay for it, we should democratise the licence fee immediately and give licence fee payers the vote.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I have been listening to the views expressed by hon. Members and I agree with quite a lot of what has been said, but the House should consider the fact that the fears and complaints expressed about monopolies in the media when News International attempted to take over Sky were taken on board by the Government, yet we hear no real complaint about the BBC’s monopoly, which reaches far more widely.
There is a lot of talk of cuts, but let us look at the quality of television programmes: as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) said, we have all those reality programmes, such as “Snog, Marry, Avoid”, which are ridiculed by the public and in the media. Is that what we want to spend our money on? I do not think it is. The ratings are dropping off and have been doing so steadily since 2000, when the reality TV boom occurred. We are ploughing all that money into the BBC without getting back programmes of the right quality. Efficiency is what we are trying to achieve, not stifling the BBC with cuts. We are trying to get the right deal for the public.
It has to be borne in mind that the Government have spent a lot of time and energy on ensuring that local communities have greater influence over their local services, yet that has not been applied to the BBC. Are we aware that the BBC does not feel that it should be included in this and be subject to the public’s views? We have only to listen to local radio to hear that it is stifled in its approach to what it broadcasts.
As more of our local papers move to online versions, does the House share my fear that non-commercial BBC websites might put them out of business, cutting choice for local residents? The BBC is an institution
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that we should protect, but the charge of cuts that is being thrown at the Government is the wrong one to make. The issue is quality within the BBC. That is the point I wanted to put before the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): We have had a good debate, long after the House concluded the rest of its business, and the fact that so many hon. Members wanted to participate shows that it could have gone on for much longer. I hope that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) will tell his Front Benchers that they should initiate an Opposition day debate on the future of the BBC, because there is nothing that hon. Members enjoy more than having a good old debate about the good old BBC.
May I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on introducing the debate and say how much I enjoyed his speech? I hope that I am not breaking a confidence if I say that before the debate he told me that he had a lot to get off his chest, and he certainly did. He started with praise for the BBC, and it is right and proper that we acknowledge that the BBC is one of the finest broadcasters not just in this country, but in the world. It sets a quality bar, which is why we have such high-quality television and radio in this country. At this point, it is traditional for a Member taking part in such a debate to praise his local radio station, so let me say that I think that BBC Radio Oxford is the finest local radio station in the country. That will now appear as a jingle this week on BBC Radio Oxford.
Many topics were covered in the debate, and I have four minutes in which to deal with them. First, I hear what my hon. Friend had to say about impartiality and the BBC. We all have views and might occasionally throw something at the television when we see an item that we think is unfair. The BBC, in the consultation document from the new chairman of the BBC Trust, has said that it is aware of those concerns and will now have annual impartiality reviews. It sounds rather Orwellian, but the BBC is going to have impartiality seminars for staff, where they will be re-educated away from their partial tendencies towards impartial tendencies.
I heard my hon. Friend speak of his concerns about BBC 3 and BBC 4. They are not watched by many, but they are loved by a few. Again, it is an indication of taste that in the litany of programmes of which he disapproved, one shone out—“Total Wipeout”—of which I have become a great fan, because I can watch it with my young children.
I share my hon. Friend’s concerns about the level of salaries at the BBC. I am not sure I agree with the assertion that the people who earn these salaries could earn significantly more in the outside world. If such people could triple their salaries there, one wonders why they are not going into the outside world. We have made progress in transparency, at least. I hear his concern about what talent is paid, particularly the talent who use their platform on the BBC to make significant outside earnings by speaking at corporate events, which are not declared by the BBC.
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The new chairman of the BBC Trust, Chris Patten, is a welcome appointment. I am pleased that we have a licence fee freeze. That will be good for the licence fee payer. Although the hon. Member for Great Grimsby, Cassandra-like, predicts doom for the BBC under the licence fee freeze, my glass is half-full in that respect. What the BBC has, which other media companies do not have, is certainty of income for the next six years.
There will be a charter review. The new charter must be concluded by the end of 2016. It may be that we take into account the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) who, since he entered the House, has made a fantastic impact. I wonder, though, whether his proposals might be somewhat expensive.
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contribution—I am told that he used to be in a band, but it is not in
, so I would like to know which band it was—and my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney), who highlighted the importance of local radio?
I conclude by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the debate. If anyone wants to know about my own political obsessions, let me point out that my devotion to Parliament and to the BBC means that once I watched the Parliament channel where, in archive footage, I saw the hon. Member for Great Grimsby in his younger days debating the merits of televising Parliament.