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House of Commons
Tuesday 11 October 2011
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business Before questions
London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Oral Answers to Questions
Deputy Prime Minister
The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—
Lobbyists (Statutory Register)
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I have corresponded with a number of ministerial colleagues with a view to running a consultation process and introducing legislation in the second Session as part of the Government’s commitment to transparency, which has already resulted in our publishing details of ministerial meetings, Government procurement and a number of other items of public interest.
Duncan Hames: I am sure many of us would welcome that legislation. As the House is periodically reminded, all sorts of people can seek to market their ability to lobby, and even secure access to, decision makers. A voluntary register will attract only agencies seeking to uphold higher standards of practice. Will the Minister assure us that his proposed register will be comprehensive and include all those seeking to ply this trade?
Mr Harper: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, and I can confirm that when we publish our consultation it will be clear that we intend these proposals to be comprehensive. We will consult on them widely, which will give all those with an interest in transparency the opportunity to comment on them. I hope that reassures my hon. Friend.
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that the type of situation the Defence Secretary has found himself in with Mr Werritty would be exposed very clearly if there were a full, transparent register of lobbyists, and does he also agree that that should be compulsory and introduced as a matter of urgency?
Mr Harper: The right hon. Gentleman said he was going to try not to prejudge that report, but it sounded very much like he did. The Secretary of State for Defence was in the Chamber for an hour yesterday afternoon and gave a very good account of himself. [Interruption.] Yes, he did; I was present for Defence questions and his statement, and he gave a very good account of himself. As the Prime Minister has said, he is doing an excellent job as Defence Secretary. The Prime Minister has set up a review by the Cabinet Secretary which will deal with any remaining questions, and the right hon. Gentleman rightly said that he does not want to prejudge that.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): The European Court of Human Rights has granted an extension to the deadline for implementing prisoner voting rights that was set in the Greens and MT judgment against the UK. That is because the Court is considering an Italian prisoner voting rights case—Scoppola v .Italy. It is therefore right to consider the final Scoppola judgment and the wider legal context before setting out our next steps on prisoner voting. The Government will express their views on the principles raised in that case, and we will be arguing that it is for Parliament to decide the way forward on this issue.
Bob Stewart: The House has spoken overwhelmingly on one side of the argument on this issue: anyone serving a custodial sentence should not have a vote. I very much hope the Deputy Prime Minister will recognise this appropriately in any further dealings he has on the matter.
The Deputy Prime Minister: As I said to my hon. Friend, the first point of principle we are seeking to establish is precisely that it is this Parliament that should be able to determine matters such as this, and we will be arguing that in the Scoppolacase that is before the Court now.
West Lothian Question
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The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I refer my hon. Friends to the written ministerial statement I issued on 8 September. We plan to make further details, including the terms of reference and the time scale for the commission, available to the House in the very near future.
Andrea Leadsom: Does my hon. Friend accept that many people in England feel that at this time of economic difficulty fairness is more important than ever, and does he further accept that many hold the view that English-only issues should be more in the hands of English MPs and less in the hands of MPs representing devolved parts of the UK?
Mr Harper: I very much agree. Many people who live in England express concern about this potential unfairness, which is why we are going to set up the commission to look carefully at how the procedures in this House can ensure that that situation is fairer as we pass legislation. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome that detailed announcement when it is made in due course.
David Rutley: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the commission has enough time to report its findings and that Parliament has enough time to consider them before a referendum on Scottish independence, which the Scottish Government indicate will take place in 2014 or 2015?
Mr Harper: I am confident that when my hon. Friend sees the terms of reference he will see that there will be time for the commission to examine this matter, make its proposals and enable there to be a full discussion with all the political parties in this House, and then for this House to take a decision on how it wants to move forward.
Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Does the Minister agree that the English are every bit as good as the French and the Germans, and can surely govern themselves without any help from the Scots? Surely the answer to the West Lothian question is very simple.
Mr Harper: There is a very simple answer, and I know what the hon. Gentleman thinks it is. I do not agree with him, most Members of this House do not agree with him and we will do everything we can to make sure that this United Kingdom stays together.
Mr Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Because we have asymmetrical devolution in the United Kingdom, the application of law, as agreed by this Parliament, is different in different parts of the United Kingdom. Given that complexity, does the Minister believe it is possible to have different MPs voting on different pieces of legislation without creating total legislative confusion?
First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position? We had a number of conversations on these constitutional matters during the progress of the two previous pieces of legislation, and I look forward
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to more such conversations. As he rightly says, this is a complicated matter—I sometimes have to stress that to colleagues in this House who think it is simple—which is exactly why we have said that the commission will consist of experts who understand how this place works and can balance those complexities while making sure that we end up with a solution that is fairer to England as well as to the other parts of the United Kingdom.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): There has been a lot of misleading coverage recently about the effects of individual electoral registration, so may I take a minute to explain this? This Government will do everything they can to maintain the completeness of the electoral register. That includes phasing in the move to individual registration over two years, so that people on the register who do not apply under the new system do not lose their vote at the next general election. Every eligible elector will be asked in 2014 to register under the new system. That will include: personal invites to people on the register; inquiries to households where no one is registered or people have moved; reminder letters; and face-to-face doorstep canvassing. We are also testing data matching, to identify people missing from the register, and looking at how we can increase the choices that people have about how to register. I am looking forward to the conclusions of the pre-legislative scrutiny and of the consultation, which closes this Friday, but I do, however, have sympathy with the concerns expressed by the Electoral Commission and others about the opt-out proposal, and I am minded to change these provisions when we bring forward the final legislation.
Graham Evans: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply. It is important that we make sure that people who do not exist or who are not eligible to vote do not get on to the electoral register. Equally, it is important that those who are eligible to vote are registered. Will he please assure the House that this will happen?
The Deputy Prime Minister: That is precisely the purpose of individual electoral registration: it seeks to bear down on fraud in the system. Of course, the previous Government were committed to doing this in any event in a few years’ time but, as on so many matters now, they seem to shun any responsibility for their failure to act while they were in government. We are finally here to do the job that they failed to do.
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election, but we are bringing it forward in this Parliament. Of course, we are trying to get the balance right. We need to proceed with this thoroughly, which is why we are doing it carefully but in a way that means it is fully delivered by the end of this Parliament.
The Deputy Prime Minister: There will be no change at all to the civic duty—[ Interruption. ] I am quite honoured; that is the response that Opposition Members normally give to their former party leaders. If they listen to the answer, they might quieten down a bit. The civic duty remains exactly as it is. The proposal we have made is that the opt-out should be introduced. The Electoral Commission and others have raised concerns about the possible effect of such an opt-out and, as I confirmed in my earlier answer, I consider that concern sympathetically. That is the whole point of a consultation and we will wait to see the final outcome of the consultation, which ends at the end of this week, but I am minded to change the final legislation to reflect those concerns.
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister will be aware that people on both sides of the House share concerns about the electoral register, and that is why before the last general election there was cross-party support for an agreed timetable to move towards individual voter registration. He refers to the Electoral Commission, which is concerned not simply about the opt-out but about the speeded-up timetable and the removal of the fines for failing to register that, in its words, will lead from a register of 92% to one of about 65% in many parts of the country, meaning that millions of voters will fall off the register. That will lead not only to the skewing of future boundary changes but to skewed jury panels. Will he do what we did and work with all parties and the Select Committee to try to reach a proper resolution for the biggest change in the way that people are registered since the introduction of the universal franchise?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I think the right hon. Gentleman is simply plain wrong about certain facts. For instance, the offence in law to sanction those who do not pass on information as part of the registration process as households will remain. There will be no change to that at all. The civic duty will remain, too. The only thing we are considering, as I said earlier, is what the possible effects of an opt-out would be. We proposed the opt-out for a very good reason of principle. Under the existing system, registration takes place per household. If, however, we make that a duty on individuals, the question becomes whether it is right or wrong to give an individual the right to opt out. We have proposed that the opt-out should exist for individuals but others have raised concerns about it. I have listened sympathetically to those concerns and I have already said that I am minded to change the provisions in the final legislation. That seems to me to be an example of a Government who are prepared to listen and to hold a sincere consultation process, which will come to an end at the end of this week.
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Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the absence of 1.5 million people from the electoral register: those who are aged 16 and 17? When can we look forward to a time when those people, who can raise a family and get married, who can pay taxes and who can serve in our armed forces, can vote, too?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend knows, I personally have a great deal of sympathy with that view, but it is not reflected in the coalition agreement or shared across government. Clearly, it is a debate that we will continue to have on both sides of the House.
Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker. On the issue of compulsion, the Electoral Commission has already said that to move to individual electoral registration without compulsion will see the registers fall from more than 90%—this is what the Electoral Commission says, and the Deputy Prime Minister is nodding his head—to 65% coverage. Ethnic minorities, young people and the urban poor will be disfranchised. Apart from gerrymandering the constituency boundaries, fixing the election timetable and now letting millions of people fall off the register, what else is he doing to let the Tories stay in power for a generation?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Instead of lurching towards ludicrous conspiracy theories, the hon. Gentleman should look at the facts. The Electoral Commission did not say what he—[ Interruption. ] No, the Electoral Commission raised a specific concern about the opt-out. Its specific proposal was that the opt-out should be retained but should be made more difficult. We will now consider either the Electoral Commission’s variant or getting rid of the opt-out altogether. That is what I am saying, in a spirit of openness, that we are reflecting on, and that will be reflected in the final version of the legislation.
Size of the Executive
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): The Government have been clear that they recognise the principle that there is link between the size of the legislature and the Executive, so we have said that we will consider how to address the issue in the future.
Graham Stringer: Last year the Deputy Prime Minister said that he wanted to reduce the size of the Government to 73. Actually, the payroll vote has gone up to 140 in this House, which is 43% of the way to a majority. Has he not increased the size of the payroll vote so that he can get through this House many of his broken promises?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The issue of principle is whether there is a link between the size of the Executive and the size of the legislature, and I think that there is. Clearly there is. The size of the legislature will be reduced from 2015, so clearly there is a question for the next Parliament, and indeed the next Government, about what the size of the Executive—
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The Deputy Prime Minister: The size of the legislature has not been reduced right now, so it is not something that we need to do right now. We have accepted the principle. It is now 2011; we have four years until 2015. We will reflect on this and we will act.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister agree to extend the link to the shadow Administration, and does he share the concern of Government Members about the growing number of those serving in the shadow Administration?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I have lost count of who is doing what in the shadow Administration, as my hon. Friend calls it, except for the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), who has an increasingly long list of responsibilities to her name. The serious point is the relationship between the legislature and the Executive of the day, and the point that I seek to make is that there is an absolute link in principle between the size of one and the other, and that is something that we will act on in the years ahead.
The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): As Deputy Prime Minister, I support the Prime Minister on a full range of Government policy and initiatives, and within Government I take special responsibility for this Government’s programme of political and constitutional reform.
Sheila Gilmore: Given the Deputy Prime Minister’s role in using constitutional reform to restore trust in politics, is he satisfied that the Secretary of State for Defence made a full and frank declaration of interests in relation to his links to Adam Werritty and his security company?
The Deputy Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence came before the House for an hour yesterday. He was open in acknowledging and apologising for what he concedes was a blurring of the professional, the political and the personal. Clearly, that raises serious issues, as he acknowledges, and those are now being examined by the most senior civil servant in government. Until we know what that report says, I suggest that it is unwise to prejudge exactly what happened.
The Deputy Prime Minister:
I certainly think that, as a matter of principle, we should give enough resources to electoral officers to check, in theory, every single postal vote, because it is an area where there has been
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some concern about fraud in the past, and we are absolutely determined to make sure that those resources are available.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has always lectured us on high standards in public office, but while the Defence Secretary, by his own admission, has fallen short of those standards, the Government have failed to refer him to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Sir Philip Mawer. Does that not show that they are prepared to sacrifice high standards in public office to protect the Secretary of State?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am sure that the right hon. and learned Lady would agree with me that it is also important to respect high standards of due process and fair play. The Cabinet Secretary is looking into this, as, by the way, requested by her and her party until they changed their tune just a day or two ago. He is now doing that work. He is doing that report, and until it has been delivered to the Prime Minister there is no point trying to provide a running commentary on a series of facts that are not yet revealed in that report.
“It is not the role of the Cabinet Secretary or other officials to enforce the Code.”
The Prime Minister has admitted that the Defence Secretary has made serious mistakes and there is clearly a need for investigation, not least into whether Mr Werritty profited by his association with the Secretary of State. Why are they blocking the proper investigation? This goes to the heart of trust in Government.
The Deputy Prime Minister: The first point is this: has the Secretary of State apologised and admitted that something was amiss. Yes, he has. Secondly, has the Prime Minister made it clear that this is something he takes very seriously? Yes, he has. Thirdly, is it being properly investigated? Yes, it is. [ Interruption. ] The right hon. and learned Lady now says no, but until quite recently this was precisely what she was urging the Government to do. Rather than constantly chopping and changing who does the investigation and produces the report, let us allow the Cabinet Secretary to do the work he has been asked to do so that the full facts can be made available to the Prime Minister and decisions can then be made.
T4.  Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): According to the Local Government Association, only 31% of local councillors are women, and in my local authority Hastings borough council—sadly Labour-run—that number is 22%. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that we as politicians must do all we can locally to ensure that as many women as possible put themselves forward as councillors so that local politicians do not also remain pale and male?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes, I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. One of the ways we can do that, of course, is by seeking to set an example in this place. I freely admit that that is not something my party has been particularly successful in. It is one of the things I will be seeking to change as quickly as possible.
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T3.  Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Given the open warfare we saw at the Conservative party conference between Front-Bench spokespeople about the Human Rights Act, will the Deputy Prime Minister use his position to explain the benefits of the legislation and put right misinformation?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady knows, the Human Rights Act simply translates into domestic law a convention to which—I think everyone agrees—we will always remain signatories, so in a sense it prevents British citizens seeking justice in European courts when it can be delivered in British courts. As she knows, the coalition Government, as set out in the coalition agreement, are committed to setting up a commission, which we have established, to look at the case for creating a British Bill of Rights that will build on and incorporate all existing rights and responsibilities.
T5.  Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): How will the Government ensure that the views of local residents are heard loud and clear when local authorities seek planning permission for authorised Gypsy and Traveller sites, as is currently happening in Crewe in my constituency?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As I hope my hon. Friend is aware, the Localism Bill gives a raft of new rights to local communities and local people to make their views known on a whole range of issues, from local planning decisions to increases in council tax. In my view the Bill represents one of the biggest transfers of power not only from Westminster to the town hall, but onward from the town hall to all the local communities we represent.
T7.  Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): The Deputy Prime Minister has conceded that the Defence Secretary’s conduct fell below the standards expected, so why is he still resisting putting the case to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, which would allow due process so that the matter could be properly examined?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As I explained earlier, we have asked the Cabinet Secretary, in a way that is wholly familiar and traditional and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, was done countless times by previous Governments, and as has been demanded by his party, to look into this, complete an investigation and produce a report, which is exactly what he is now doing.
T6.  Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that prolonged uncertainty over the referendum on Scottish independence risks undermining investor confidence in the Scottish economy?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. As long as the First Minister plays cat and mouse—I probably should not mention cats—with the Scottish people, it is extremely confusing for people, very unsettling for the business community and I do not think that it does the Scottish economy any good. He believes in independence. I think he should have the courage of his convictions by coming forward and putting that proposition before the Scottish people: does he want to yank Scotland out of the United
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Kingdom, yes or no? Instead, he now seems to be presenting a series of increasingly confusing multiple-choice questions to the Scottish people. He should have the courage of his convictions and ask the Scottish people as quickly as possible whether they believe in full independence, yes or no?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As the hon. Lady knows, the electoral register currently has about 92% coverage, and we are doing everything we can, through data matching, the transitional arrangements I have described and some of the debates we have had here on whether or not to have opt-outs, to ensure that that level does not decrease significantly. It is a high level of registration compared with similar exercises in other parts of the democratic world and I hope that we keep those high standards.
T8.  Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The economic news from Europe is very troubling. Will the Deputy Prime Minister set out what he and his Government are doing to ensure that swift and decisive action is taken in relation to the eurozone crisis?
The Deputy Prime Minister: The Prime Minister, the Chancellor, I and others are of course in constant contact with Governments elsewhere—in the eurozone and, indeed, in other parts of the European Union. We have been quite clear that it is not our role to seek somehow to dictate what should happen, other than to say that the solution needs to be developed urgently; to be comprehensive and decisive; to deal with the Greek situation decisively; to create the means by which contagion can be stopped spreading from Greece to elsewhere in the eurozone; and to create binding rules so that fiscal disciplines in the eurozone are respected and banks are recapitalised. Further, and something on which Britain could really lead, we should work as 27, not as a fractured European Union, in order to increase competitiveness and to further liberalisation within the single market, because that is the way we will increase the European Union’s welfare in the future.
Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The country watched in amazement yesterday afternoon and evening as, one by one, apologists for the Secretary of State for Defence explained that the ministerial code was not written in stone. Indeed, it is not; it is written in black and white, so why are the coalition Government trying to rewrite at least the spirit of the ministerial code, if not the letter?
The Deputy Prime Minister: We are not. We are very clear that the ministerial code—[ Interruption. ] I am very clear, of course, that everybody in this Government should abide by the very highest available standards and by the ministerial code, both the spirit and the letter, and that is exactly what the Cabinet Secretary has been asked to look into and to adjudicate on in his report.
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T9.  Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In view of the continued pressures on small businesses in terms of securing bank lending, will the Deputy Prime Minister join me in urging that any reform of banking structure produces bankers in the sector who fully understand the needs, requirements and priorities of small businesses?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I strongly agree. The relationship between our banks and small and medium-sized businesses is possibly the most important issue for the country’s long-term prosperity, and one of the many virtues of the Vickers report, which, we have been very clear, in principle we are going to implement, is precisely that it will create a firewall in the banking system, so that there is a real vocation in the banking industry to support traditional customers, such as small and medium-sized businesses, in a way that has slightly withered on the vine in recent years.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes. I think that, in keeping with all judicial systems in all countries that have a high degree of devolution, as we do, it is right that at the apex of the judicial system there should be a highest court, a supreme court, which is able to oversee the jurisdiction of all nations of the United Kingdom.
T10.  Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): Will my right hon. Friend assure me that, given the really difficult economic situation that the Government inherited and the really difficult economic situation that we are grappling with at home and abroad, those in the public sector and, particularly, the private sector who have had high or obscene salaries and bonuses will be dealt with so that, in the days ahead, those with the broadest shoulders bear the burden of getting us out of this mess and those with the lowest incomes are best protected?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend that all executives and shareholders in the private sector have to bear in mind the fact that they have a wider social responsibility. They are not somehow exempt from social norms, and, at a time when millions and millions of people on low and ordinary incomes are really feeling the strain, it is right that they should exercise some restraint in how they remunerate themselves. It is also why it is so important that we do exactly what this Government are doing, which is to give tax breaks first to those on low and medium incomes, and not to rush to do so for those on the highest incomes.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Will the Deputy Prime Minister indicate what discussions have been held with the authorities in Northern Ireland, where there actually now is individual voter registration? If such discussions have been held, what lessons have been learned?
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registration has been introduced in Northern Ireland. We are seeking to reflect those lessons in the final legislation, which we will bring forward fairly shortly.
T11.  Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s commitment to individual voter registration. What assurances can he give the House that the change will not have a negative impact on the enrolment of students in halls of residence? Traditionally, university landlords have auto-enrolled all residents.
The Deputy Prime Minister: One of the virtues of individual voter registration—the reason, I assume, why the previous Government were keen to introduce it as well—is precisely that there will be an individual responsibility on voters in the future, including students, to make sure that they are properly registered. As long as we make sure that there is still, as I said there will be, face-to-face household canvassing, there is no reason why this experiment and this introduction of individual voter registration should not lead to an increase in the registration of students.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Police commissioners’ pay is still to be finalised, but the key thing is that the elections, which will be held next autumn, will give people a real sense of accountability over policing in their local areas.
T12.  Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Deputy Prime Minister assure my constituents that their representations, particularly from Hempstead and Wigmore, will be fully considered by the Boundary Commission for England and that real consideration will be given to preserving community ties?
The Deputy Prime Minister: As my hon. Friend will know from the legislation, the boundary commissions will be listening to all representations. They have a fair amount of latitude under the legislation to listen to representations, including those that relate to community links in each and every area.
The Deputy Prime Minister: Yes, I very much do. It is very important that we get to see all the relevant papers. I pay tribute to the former Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who did a great deal in the first place to create the panel that will receive these papers. The only point that I would make, however, is that it seems to me that we should allow the families, who are still grieving their losses from that terrible tragedy, to look at those papers first before they are fully published by the panel.
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without parental permission, not allowed to serve on the front line even if they have that permission and not allowed to get married without parental permission. Why are all those who wish to lower the voting age from 18 to 16 putting about these spurious myths?
The Deputy Prime Minister: This issue clearly divides opinion—within parties, I suspect, as well as across them. I am personally persuaded that, in this day and age, if an 18-year-old can vote there is no reason in principle why a 16-year-old cannot. My hon. Friend has marshalled some of the arguments and examples about why he would argue the counter-case. The issue is not in the coalition agreement; it is not a Government policy as such, and no doubt we will continue to debate it.
The Deputy Prime Minister: The adviser’s duties are clearly set out. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that asking the most senior civil servant in Whitehall to conduct a thorough investigation and produce a report is something that his previous Government did on numerous occasions and is entirely in keeping with a proper response to the very serious concerns that have been raised.
T14.  Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): My right hon. Friend has spoken about the need for infrastructure investment for economic growth. What is he doing to support investment in green infrastructure and the infrastructure needed to support the high-tech industry?
The Deputy Prime Minister: We are doing a number of things. We have retained the previous Government’s capital spending plans; in fact, capital spending will go up slightly by the end of this Parliament. We have done much more than that. We have also introduced innovative ways in which we can marry public and private capital to invest in our transport, energy and communications infrastructures—notably the green investment bank, the first of its kind anywhere in the world. That will use £3 billion of public money to leverage in about £15 billion of private investment in the green technologies that are absolutely crucial to our economic future.
Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Does the Deputy Prime Minister understand the concern of many Liberal Democrat Members in the House of Lords and elsewhere who remain dissatisfied with the Health and Social Care Bill? Why is this measure going through when there is so much concern, certainly among the public, as well as among his own colleagues in the House of Lords?
The Deputy Prime Minister:
We will see how my colleagues in the other place vote. In fact, the more people have looked at the Bill, the more reassured they are that its purposes are fully in line with many of the reforms to the health service that the previous Government introduced, with less centralisation, less bureaucracy, more control by clinicians and GPs, and a more patient-centred health service, all the while enshrining and protecting the founding principles of the NHS—free at
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the point of use, and based on need, not on the ability to pay. The hon. Gentleman may feel that the NHS is in no need of reform at all; anyone who knows anything about the NHS and realises that it faces increasing costs accepts that it must be reformed, but of course reformed in the right way.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Those of us who favour reform of the upper House are concerned that there should be no slippage to the timetable. Will Ministers confirm that the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill will indeed report by the end of February?
The Deputy Prime Minister: I am absolutely delighted to see that I have an ally on this issue on the Government Benches, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will communicate his enthusiasm for reform of the other place to all those on the Benches behind and on either side of him. The Committee has indeed been asked to report by the end of February next year; that will allow us then to present the legislation in a timely way. I very much hope that the Committee will be able to meet that timeline.
John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): Further to Question 7, is the Deputy Prime Minister seriously arguing that the removal of compulsion to register will increase the number of voters in Britain? We all know that he is not the sharpest tool in the box, but that is a pretty bizarre conclusion.
The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not know how many times I need to say this: there is no removal of compulsion. The offence regarding whether households give information on registration remains on the statute book and will not change. The only concern that has been raised—I know that the hon. Gentleman and all his colleagues have chosen to misinterpret this utterly—was about the proposed opt-out. The Electoral Commission raised concerns about that, not about compulsion. I have been very open in saying that we have listened to those concerns, we are sympathetic to those concerns, and we will reflect them in the final legislation. He may choose, if he wishes, to grab the wrong end of the stick time and time again; we are trying to do the right thing.
The Attorney-General was asked—
Magistrates’ Sentencing Powers
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Mrs Glindon: It is clear that the Attorney-General and the Justice Secretary do not see eye to eye on magistrates’ sentencing powers. Will the Attorney-General clarify whether he disagrees with any other aspects of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently going through Committee, such as the likely increase in the number of people forced to represent themselves in family law cases?
The Attorney-General: To stick to the point that arises from the question that was initially asked, I can assure the hon. Lady that there is no difference of view between my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and myself on this matter. As she will be aware, in 2003, the previous Government introduced the power for magistrates to increase sentences as part of custody plus, but were never able to implement it because, I think, they were concerned about the rise in the prison population. There remains an issue of debate about the value of increasing those powers. It would undoubtedly put more cases into the magistrates courts, but at the same time it would run the risk of increasing the prison population. The problems remain much as they were under the previous Government. My right hon. and learned Friend has therefore taken the decision that it is best to keep this power in reserve, even though the way it is expressed at the moment is by no means perfect—it is linked to custody plus in the Criminal Justice Act 2003—and to consult thereafter on whether it could be brought into operation profitably to improve the working of the criminal justice system or might have to be replaced by a similar provision that was not linked or worded in the way that it is at present.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Is it correct that, on average, magistrates have imposed significantly longer sentences for offences committed in the context of the riots? If it is correct, does my right hon. and learned Friend welcome that, as I do, and will he confirm that magistrates are absolutely right to take the context in which certain offences are committed into consideration when determining sentences?
The Attorney-General: The courts always take the context in which an offence is committed into consideration in determining the appropriate sentence. Few people would disagree with the principle that it is a serious aggravating feature if an offence is committed in the midst of riotous assembly and general mayhem. As usual, if for any reason the courts have passed a sentence that is excessive or inappropriate in any way, it can be reviewed by the Court of Appeal. I am afraid that I cannot help my hon. Friend on the precise statistics. Quite apart from anything else, many cases are still coming into the courts in respect of behaviour and crime committed during the riots, and it is far too early to make a final assessment.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):
The Attorney-General assured the Justice Committee that he had given no guidance whatever to judges or magistrates on sentencing policy after the riots. Nevertheless, is he not concerned about the apparently disproportionate sentences that have been handed down to a lot of young people, which may of course be changed on appeal? Is he prepared to undertake a study so that we can see what has happened and find out how many young people
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who naively got involved in things that they should not have been involved in have been given wholly disproportionate sentences?
The Attorney-General: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s question, but I repeat what I said to the Justice Committee, which is that it is none of my business. It would be improper of me to express a view on individual cases and the sentencing done by judges. There are occasions when serious offences come to my office under the unduly lenient sentences referral scheme, which may be referred to the Court of Appeal. However, that does not really come into the picture in the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises. I have no doubt that how sentences have been passed in the post-riot period will be the subject of study in due course, as such things usually are. As I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), many cases are still coming into the courts. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that there are currently cases before the Court of Appeal in respect of the riots, and it will doubtless be able to provide some guidelines.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): In his discussions with the Secretary of State for Justice, has the Attorney-General looked at magistrates using restorative justice as part of their sentencing powers?
The Attorney-General: The Lord Chancellor is certainly committed to using restorative justice as part of his programme of reducing reoffending through the rehabilitation of offenders. Powers are available to magistrates in that area. As my right hon. Friend will appreciate, further changes to the law are a matter for the Lord Chancellor and his Department, rather than for me.
Female Genital Mutilation
2. Jane Ellison (Battersea) (Con): What representations he has received on the updated guidelines issued to prosecutors by the Crown Prosecution Service on the offence of female genital mutilation. 
Jane Ellison: It is well known that European countries such as France and Sweden have brought successful prosecutions on this matter, but it may surprise the House that many African countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Kenya and Burkina Faso have also brought such prosecutions. However, in the 25 years since the UK legislated on this matter, we have brought no prosecutions for this terrible crime. Does the Attorney-General feel that the new guidelines will bring that possibility closer, and will he urge prosecutors to use the expertise built up in child sexual abuse cases to bring prosecutions closer?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will understand, the Crown Prosecution Service has cases referred to it by the police, and if cases of female genital mutilation are referred, I can absolutely assure her that every effort will be made to prosecute them
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successfully if the evidential base on which to proceed is present. I understand that, in 2010-11, only one case was considered for prosecution by the CPS, and it resulted in no further action being taken because it did not meet the evidential criteria.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that if we are to prosecute such cases successfully, we need to create a climate in which victims can come forward. Of course, in many cases people will have become victims when very young, and that is one problem that besets the matter. I simply say, finally, that the fact that there have not been prosecutions does not necessarily mean that the legislation is not succeeding at least in providing some deterrent effect on individuals engaging in this appalling behaviour.
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): I strongly support the thrust of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). Would it not perhaps be sensible to monitor unexplained absences from school among young girls from certain communities, to try to build up some evidence to pursue prosecutions?
The Attorney-General: The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I certainly know anecdotally, and indeed from visits to a school in my constituency, of concerns being expressed by teachers about the absence of pupils who appeared to have been sent abroad. In that context his idea is very sensible, but as he will appreciate, it will require co-ordination. The Crown Prosecution Service will not be able to do it on its own.
Crown Prosecution Service (Staffing Costs)
4. Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): What proportion of savings to be made by the Crown Prosecution Service over the comprehensive spending review period will be made through a reduction in staffing costs. 
Jessica Morden: Given that the CPS’s own submission to the spending review said that a 25% budget cut would bring considerable risk to service delivery, what steps is the Attorney-General taking to ensure that Government cuts do not damage its ability to prosecute crime?
The Attorney-General: When these savings were first outlined, the Director of Public Prosecutions and I gave very careful consideration to whether they could be achieved without reducing front-line services. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the plans centre principally on reductions in staff numbers at headquarters, recruitment freezes and the streamlining of services, particularly savings in IT services and elsewhere. For that reason, the CPS and the DPP remain of the view that it is possible to implement the budget reductions without affecting front-line services.
Emily Thornberry (Islington South and Finsbury) (Lab):
The concerns about the cuts to the capability of the CPS are matched by concerns about the capacity of the Serious Fraud Office, whose job is to investigate and
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prosecute cases of domestic and overseas corruption. Given those concerns, has the SFO been able to brief the Attorney-General on the case of 3M
Boulter in Washington, which is a case of blackmail that allegedly involves the attempted dishonest settlement of a dispute between an American company and a subsidiary of the Ministry of Defence? Some may be aware that the case has arisen of a meeting at the five-star Shangri-La hotel in Dubai between Porton Capital’s chief executive Harvey Boulter, the Secretary of State for Defence and the latter’s friend Adam Werritty, at which it has been alleged that there was a conversation about $30 million and the taking away of a knighthood. Will the Attorney-General assure the House that the advice that he receives, and the action that is to be taken, will not be affected by cuts to the prosecuting departments?
The Attorney-General: May I first welcome the hon. Lady to her new post? I look forward to many opportunities to debate matters with her, and I congratulate her on her appointment. So far as the matter that she has raised is concerned, I simply make a couple of points. The SFO will examine cases that are referred to it, and as she will be aware, in any case that might have any degree of political sensitivity, by convention, proper steps are taken to ensure that the Law Officers’ role is kept to a minimum.
Domestic and Sexual Violence
5. Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of domestic or sexual violence. 
The Attorney-General: I have not had a recent discussion with the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to domestic and sexual violence. However, I support the continuing work of the Crown Prosecution Service to improve prosecutions in that area and to support victims of crime.
Kate Green: Last month, I met Change, a user-led organisation of people with learning disabilities, which highlighted the extent of domestic abuse against people with learning disabilities. Will the Attorney-General tell me what steps the Government are taking to ensure that such victims are properly catered for in criminal proceedings, and what discussions he is having with colleagues across the Government to ensure that such vulnerable victims are properly looked after?
The Attorney-General: The hon. Lady is right to highlight this matter. A great deal is done by the CPS in multi-agency working at a national level to try to ensure that there is good support for victims who come forward in such a setting. If the hon. Lady wishes me to write to her with further details on the specific instances that she raises, I will be most happy to do so. However, from my discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions, I have been left with a sense of confidence that there is a full understanding of the difficulties raised by such cases, that the CPS will do its utmost to ensure that justice is done and that prosecutions are brought wherever possible, and that the victim is supported during the process.
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The Attorney-General: My hon. Friend highlights an area of undoubted concern—violent behaviour by younger teenagers—but as she will appreciate, that is first a matter for the police. Secondly, if such cases come to the attention of the CPS, consideration must be given as to whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. Each case will turn on its own facts, and prosecutorial discretion may have to be exercised in such circumstances.
That said, if my hon. Friend feels that that is a growing difficulty, the multi-agency approach that we were talking about in a different setting a moment ago will probably be the only way to tackle it. At the end of the day, prosecutors can take only one of two decisions—to prosecute or not—but prevention must come from other agencies.
The Attorney-General: I have had no recent discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving human trafficking or slavery. However, the Crown Prosecution Service is working with law enforcement agencies and others, both in the UK and in source countries, to improve the investigation and prosecution of those involved in human trafficking. The CPS is also encouraging victims of human trafficking to support criminal proceedings.
Lisa Nandy: Having worked with the remarkable children caught up in this appalling trade over many years, I can tell the Minister that the most effective way to increase the number of prosecutions is to provide support for victims. Will he mark anti-slavery day by announcing a formal system of child guardianship, so that we no longer have the appalling spectacle of children as young as five having to instruct their own lawyers, simply because there is no one else to do so?
The Attorney-General: The specific matter that the hon. Lady raises is, I am afraid, outside my immediate remit in terms of my responsibilities for the CPS. As she will be aware, the Government announced the decision to opt in to the EU directive on human trafficking in March 2011. We are now working closely with the Commission on its implementation, which includes the review of our domestic legislation to ensure that it complies with the provisions, and that it does not inhibit our ability to bring successful prosecutions. The Government, the CPS and I will continue to give human trafficking a high priority. For those reasons, I hope that the hon. Lady’s point will be given consideration at the same time.
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Michael Connarty: I read with interest the CPS report on prosecuting human trafficking cases, and I cannot understand how the Minister can say that the matter is not within his remit, because it quite clearly talks about vulnerable children, the need for adequate support and safeguarding. It is difficult to get prosecutions if those children flee, and we do not know how many are in care or how many are missing. Surely the obvious thing to do would be to have a scheme of guardianship, in which the children are looked after individually. They could then be supported through the process of going to court, so that we can get prosecutions for this heinous crime.
The Attorney-General: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, and for the reasons that I gave in answer to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), I can see that it has considerable force, but I do not think that it is the specific responsibility of the CPS to deliver on this. It would require work with other agencies to achieve it and, for those reasons, it is something that I am happy to see taken forward, but it is not something that the CPS on its own can deliver.
Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): The Attorney-General is right that the issue of guardianship is for other parts of the Government. However, he is responsible for sentencing. The Government, in their human trafficking strategy, promised a review by December. Will he update us on how that review is going and congratulate the Prime Minister on marking anti-slavery day by having a reception in Downing street on 19 October?
The Attorney-General: I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the Prime Minister on properly commemorating anti-slavery day. I am afraid, however, that I am not in a position to give my hon. Friend an update. There is a timetable for this report to come out. If I have any further information on the matter, I shall write to him.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Human trafficking is a crime that crosses borders. What discussions have been held with Europol and Eurojust to try and catch the real perpetrators of this terrible crime?
The Attorney-General: I know that there are frequent discussions between police services and the CPS and its counterparts about co-operation. As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, the EU directive on human trafficking is designed to provide a measure of co-ordination in this area. I have to say again to him that I would be happy to arrange a briefing for him from either the police or the CPS, if that would be of assistance to him in understanding the details of how that work is carried out. However, I am confident from what I know of the work being done that a high level of co-operation is achieved with our partner countries.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): The original question was about how the Attorney-General will increase the number of prosecutions. According to an answer that I received not long ago, there have been only six prosecutions for holding someone in slavery since the introduction of that specific offence 17 months ago. What will he do to increase the number of successful prosecutions for holding people in servitude?
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The Attorney-General: There has been at least one reference by my office to the Court of Appeal of an unduly lenient sentence in which that sentence has been increased. In addition, I think that the CPS acknowledges that trafficking for forced labour is a particularly difficult area in which to get people to come forward and give evidence. The CPS will therefore continue to work with other agencies, including the police, to try to provide an environment in which that can better happen.
Forensic Science Service
8. Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on the effect on prosecutions of the closure of the Forensic Science Service. 
The Attorney-General: I have met the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who has responsibility for crime and security, twice since April 2011 to discuss issues and progress around the closure of the Forensic Science Service. Furthermore, representatives from my office and the CPS attend regular Home Office-led FSS transition board meetings and participate in key groups leading the FSS closure process.
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The Attorney-General: Yes, we were consulted, and our response was that, on the basis of our understanding of how the closure was to be carried out, the Director of Public Prosecutions was satisfied that the quality of forensic science available to the CPS would be maintained.
The Attorney-General: In view of that intervention, I would simply add that the current position is that the closure process has been monitored and the DPP remains satisfied at present that in no case has the closure of the FSS had any impact on his ability to carry out prosecutions within the CPS.
Mr Speaker: I am immensely grateful to the Attorney-General, whom no one could ever accuse of excluding from his comprehensive answers any fact that he judges to be material. We are most grateful to him.
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Weightman Report (Fukushima)
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab) (Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will make a statement on the implications for the United Kingdom of the Fukushima disaster.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): Safety is always our No. 1 concern, and we clearly needed to understand the facts before making any decisions. That is why I asked the UK’s chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to look at what Fukushima means for nuclear energy in Britain and at what lessons can be learned. Today, I have presented his final report to Parliament.
I have not forbidden Dr Weightman, the UK’s chief nuclear inspector, to do anything. When I asked for a report on the lessons that could be learned from the events at Fukushima, I made it clear that he could determine, in his independent role, the scope of the report as he saw fit. Dr Weightman’s final report sets out a number of conclusions and recommendations that identify various matters that should be reviewed by the Government, the regulator and the industry, to consider whether further improvements could be made to the safety of the UK nuclear industry. As part of the regulatory regime, the industry is already legally bound regularly to review the safety of its facilities and to make reasonably practical improvements if gaps are found. Any additional costs resulting from these reviews, including as a result of the chief nuclear inspector’s report, are a matter for site operators. The initial report made it clear that the current regulatory safety framework in the UK is satisfactory, and Dr Weightman continues to see no reason to curtail the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities here in the UK. He believes that the industry has reacted responsibly and appropriately, displaying strong leadership for safety and safety culture.
The final report restates Dr Weightman’s interim conclusions and recommendations. It also concludes that the UK practice of periodic safety reviews of licensed sites provides a robust means of ensuring continuous improvement in line with advances in technology and standards. It emphasises the need to continue the Sellafield pond and silo clean-up with the utmost vigour and determination, and it reassures us that nuclear can go on being a part of the low-carbon energy mix in the UK. Dr Weightman confirms the advice that he gave at the time of the interim report. He saw no reason to revise the strategic advice for the nuclear national policy statement or any need to change the present siting strategies for new nuclear power stations in the UK.
That was a very bad start. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was present at a seminar organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology in the summer, at which Dr Weightman was asked whether he was allowed to consider costs. He said no, his remit was not to consider costs, so I believe that the Secretary of State is entirely mistaken in what he has said here. We have in the report a statement of the fairly obvious—namely, that this country is not going to have the kind of tsunamis and earthquakes that they have in Japan. It does not contain a word
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about the reason for the rush from nuclear throughout the world, which is cost. That is the reason that Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Malaysia and Thailand have moved away from it, and the reason that companies such as Siemens have pulled out and that RWE is probably going to do so.
I am afraid that, from the start of the disaster, the Government have decided to cover up and to conceal, but the evidence is there. The Guardian published internal e-mails from Government Departments that showed that the Business and Energy Departments worked closely behind the scenes with the multinational corporations EDF, Areva and Westinghouse to try to ensure that the accident did not derail their plans for a new generation of nuclear stations in Britain. This is a quite disgraceful, scandalous collusion between the Government and those companies, which have a commercial interest in making large sums of money out of nuclear power.
“the potential to set the nuclear industry back globally.”
“We need to ensure the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not gain ground on this.”
“Nuclear is a tried, tested and failed technology and the government must stop putting time, effort and subsidies into this outdated industry.”
“Nuclear power is too expensive, too costly and we should not go down that road.”
That was before he was bewitched by the pied piper of nuclear power, when he was free to think and to tell the whole truth before his mouth was bandaged by the seals of his ministerial office. The country needs advice on the way forward and it needs consideration of the full implications, principally the cost that is making nuclear power unaffordable and uninsurable throughout the planet. We are not getting that. We should ask the Government to do their full job and present us with a report that is comprehensive and full.
Chris Huhne: All I can say is that I am delighted; I could not expect anything less from the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Gorsedd of Bards: what he lacks in facts, he is able to make up for in poetry and rhetoric. Let me a deal with a couple of his key points.
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for Business, Innovation and Skills rather than from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. No, I do not approve at all of the tenor of those remarks; nor are they the tenor of the policy making we conduct in DECC. We are very clear that safety is absolutely the No. 1 concern. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we made a clear provision in the coalition agreement that nuclear power could go ahead, providing that there is no public subsidy and providing investors are prepared to do that. That is exactly what is going on.
I think the hon. Gentleman misinterprets what Dr Weightman said about the issue of costs. The situation is exactly as I said. Dr Weightman could have looked at costs had he wanted to; the reality is that he, quite rightly as the chief nuclear inspector charged with safety, takes the view that safety comes first—regardless of the cost issues. That is why he has come up with a report that does not look into whether the measures he puts forward will or will not have excessive costs. That is for the potential operators to judge, not for Dr Weightman, and the operators will do so.
Let me end my response to the hon. Gentleman by pointing out that a published study, commissioned from Arup, available on the DECC website, puts the costs of nuclear at £71 per megawatt-hour in comparison with the lowest marginal cost at the moment, which would be a gas plant operating at £77 per megawatt-hour. Although he is absolutely right that stringent safety measures might add to costs, the other factor that needs to be taken into account is that precisely because some other countries have not gone through the same process as we have—of assessing the facts and attempting to base our policy on the evidence—they have pulled out of new nuclear construction. The result of that is that demand for new nuclear power stations has fallen. Normally, according to my basic economics, when demand falls and supply stays the same, the price goes down, not up.
The terrible events in Japan earlier this year reminded us that the Government must ensure that our regulatory regime in the nuclear industry is robust, and that there can be no compromises on safety. In that light, the Government were entirely right to ask the Office for Nuclear Regulation to examine the events in Japan and their implications for the United Kingdom.
I welcome the recommendations in today’s report, which will of course need to be closely examined, but given that the situation in Japan is clearly still ongoing, will the Secretary of State tell us what further monitoring he has planned? Will he also clarify two points? Can he confirm first that Dr Weightman was satisfied with the amount of time that he was given in which to prepare the report, and secondly that he had enough access to UK sites to inform his recommendations?
In our view, nothing in the report calls into question the importance of a continued role for nuclear power as part of a more sustainable future energy mix. Given the concern expressed in recent days about the Government’s commitment to tackling climate change, along with the worrying news of Scottish and Southern Energy’s decision to pull out of a nuclear project in Cumbria and speculation about the future of RWE’s nuclear programme in the
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UK, may I ask the Secretary of State what he is doing to ensure that the Government give investors the support and confidence that they need to deliver the construction of new capacity in the nuclear industry on time and on budget?
Chris Huhne: I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her first outing in her new role. She was right to say that the events in Japan are ongoing, but we feel—and Mike Weightman certainly feels—that the circumstances are clear enough to render it unlikely that any substantial new information will necessitate a change in the recommendations. However, one thing that emerges from the review is the fact that the culture of nuclear regulation in the UK is, appropriately, one of continuous improvement. If new facts come to light, we shall be able to take them on board and improve the regulatory environment.
Dr Weightman certainly feels that he was given enough time in which to complete the report, but had he wanted more time it would have been available to him. I was particularly pleased that his expertise—of which the right hon. Lady will know, as he was appointed by the last Government to inquire into the Potters Bar rail disaster—his independence and his impartiality were recognised by the international community when he was appointed by the International Atomic Energy Authority to conduct its review of the lessons of Fukushima. He has been running that operation in parallel with this.
I think we can be confident that we have an extremely solid piece of work here, and that the lessons are genuinely being learned. Dr Weightman—who is, after all, the chief nuclear inspector—had all the access that he needed not just to the reactors, but to all the UK sites. In this final report, he deals with some of the lessons that may emerge from the silo and pond issues at Sellafield. The ministerial team is seized of the need to deal with those important issues, and to make certain that no resource constraint prevents us from acting as quickly as possible to ensure the proper security of the sites.
The right hon. Lady asked about the speed of nuclear projects. Some delay will inevitably have been introduced into the process because of the lessons of Fukushima, but we are confident that all the key elements of the process that we, as a Government, need to undertake to get things going have been undertaken. We have produced national nuclear policy statements, discussions continue between the operators and the regulator on the generic design assessment, and we have put through the regulatory justification. I understand that, either today or yesterday, planning permission was requested for the first new reactor at Hinkley Point, which is due to be completed at the end of the decade. I believe that investors in nuclear power are content that we are moving as rapidly as we could expect to move.
Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Given that the estimated cost of the clean-up of existing nuclear waste is £100 billion, that the national policy statement said nuclear power was not risk-free, and that the European cap on insurance is £1.6 billion, whereas the cost of the Japanese disaster is estimated at over £60 billion, will the Secretary of State confirm that cost will be a factor in decisions on nuclear power in the future and that nuclear power will remain an option of last resort?
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Chris Huhne: I certainly will not say that nuclear power is an option of last resort; the electricity market reform clearly anticipates that it can be part of the portfolio of low-carbon electricity generation, which could include renewables, nuclear or clean coal and gas. It is precisely because of the uncertainties that attach to all forms of electricity generation, and, indeed, the fact that all forms of electricity generation—whether onshore wind turbines, nuclear power or a new power station—seem to carry with them a little cloud of people who happen to dislike them, that we need a portfolio to deal with both the technological risks and the economic uncertainties.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the issue of the cap, and I would merely caution him not to confuse two things: the third-party liability, which is dealt with under the Brussels and Paris conventions, and the total cost of dealing with the Fukushima disaster—the figure he cited is one of the more extreme estimates. We had a consultation that ended in the spring, and we are looking at issues to do with raising the limit on the third-party liability. Those discussions are ongoing, and we will make an announcement in due course.
Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for delivering what was a perfectly rational statement based on the report by Dr Weightman, but will he reflect on the fact that political leaderships in many parts of the world are now putting tackling climate change ever lower down the agendas that count, and does he agree that it is therefore very important that Britain goes ahead with the civil nuclear programme, not only for reasons of energy security, but to confirm that we are absolutely determined to hit our CO2 reduction targets—which were, of course, agreed by this Parliament?
Chris Huhne: The right hon. Gentleman is one of the most expert and experienced Members in this field and he is absolutely right and I entirely agree with the sentiments he has expressed. I am not sure whether I would go along with his view that people are resiling from action on carbon emissions, however. One of the striking aspects of public opinion as shown in the recent European Commission Eurobarometer results is that there has been hardly any change in this country or anywhere else in the proportion of people who are seriously concerned about climate change. Indeed, the last Eurobarometer survey was undertaken in June and more people in this country were concerned about this issue than about the economic situation, which I found surprising as that tends to take precedence over other things when we are in difficult times.
The other point the right hon. Gentleman should bear in mind is that the entire low-carbon shift—the transition to a low-carbon economy—offers enormous potential growth opportunities. That is the case in terms of not only nuclear, but also renewables, clean coal and gas, and energy saving. They are the four key pillars of the Government’s policy. We are already seeing substantial demand effects and job effects from the investment being made in those areas. For example, just in terms of the three supply-side elements of energy policy, Ofgem has estimated spending at £200 billion over 10 years, which is roughly double the normal amount of energy investment in a business cycle. That is an important reason why we are likely to have support for the recovery going forward.
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Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): While my constituents in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington will have every sympathy for all those affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, they will equally want to be reassured that when they flick the light switch the lights actually come on. Can the Secretary of State therefore reassure them that nothing in this report will make that any less likely than it was before the Fukushima incident?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to point that out, and a key issue for our ministerial team and the Department is ensuring that the lights stay on. A quarter of our power plants are due for retirement in the next 10 years, and we need to replace all of those. Almost all our existing nuclear plants will come offline by 2023, as will a substantial amount of fossil fuel plants, and we are determined to ensure that the lights stay on.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I find it shocking that the Secretary of State has had to be dragged here by the urgent question asked by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), but I am glad that he is here because I want to ask him about flooding. The ONR’s interim report stated that there is potential for flooding to occur in the near vicinity of nuclear sites and it went on to say, crucially, that that risk is unknown because
“the detailed specific likelihood and consequences of flooding have not been assessed”
“Flooding risks are unlikely to prevent construction of new nuclear power stations”.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Lady is quite wrong to suggest that I have been dragged here; I am very happy to talk on this subject at any time but, unfortunately, we know that there are other matters with which the House has to deal. Let me address the key point on flooding, which was a question that I specifically asked Dr Weightman at the beginning of the process. We will not have seismic events like those in Japan; the biggest seismic event in the UK took place in 1931 on Dogger bank, and I believe that the Japanese earthquake was 35,000 times as strong. However, this country does have natural cataclysms. We know, from the flash flooding that has sometimes occurred at the top of hills when drains have been overwhelmed, that we can get a flood risk. That is precisely why I asked Dr Weightman to examine this matter. There is flood risk from storm surges and flash floods. That is taken into account in the system and we are dealing with it site by site to ensure that these sites can continue to operate with satisfactory back-up systems regardless of the events.
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lost their lives. He has referred to the fact that the Hinkley Point application has been received. I understand that it is a 95,000-page application, with 50,000 pages of supporting documentation. How are local people and the statutory authorities that are meant to consider that information supposed to be able to do that with any sense of fairness?
Chris Huhne: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. There is indeed reporting of a storm surge of substantial magnitude in 1607—the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has raised this in the past. Fortunately, this is not quite as common an event in this country as it is in Japan, as one can gather from our having to go that far back in the historical record. We can count our lucky stars that we do not have the seismically challenged environment that the Japanese do. All I can say to her on the planning process is that it is completely transparent and open. If local people want advice from a number of different sources, they will obviously be able to go to those sources. There will be absolutely no shortage of legal or other expertise available to them to do that. I am confident that they will be able to understand the purport of the application for planning permission that has been made.
Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): I welcome the Weightman report. The Secretary of State will know, however, that two key issues arise out of events at Fukushima, one of which is the hike in the price of gas, as a result of Germany’s approach and the decision taken in Japan to evacuate the nuclear space. What is he doing about the knock-on effect that that will have on fuel poverty in this country and about the way in which the European carbon emissions reductions targets are going to be much more difficult to meet, given that Germany and other countries will be investing in gas rather than nuclear? What discussions has he had at a European level?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman asks about the gas price, and he is absolutely right: if my memory serves me, outside the United States the gas price is up by about 27% over last year. One of the biggest debates in this area is what will happen to the gas price. We have clear demand pull factors from growth in the far east and the fact that a number of countries are moving away from nuclear towards gas. On the other side, we also have a substantial amount of new unconventional gas resources being discovered—not least among them those announced by Cuadrilla in the north-west of England, where the company thought it had discovered a substantial amount of new unconventional gas. The balance between those factors is not at all clear, and that is one reason why it is so important that we have a portfolio of technologies—clean coal and gas through carbon capture and storage, nuclear and renewables—to enable us to exploit them all.
On fuel poverty, the first key point is that we have made the warm homes discount statutory rather than voluntary and increased the amount of resources available to it by two thirds compared with what was being paid by the previous Government. The Warm Front scheme is gradually being phased out because we are phasing in the green deal next year, and a substantial element of it will tackle fuel poverty. I believe it will make a big difference, precisely because it will tackle the root causes of fuel poverty rather than merely putting a sticking plaster on the symptoms.
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Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Although it is interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) describe the tsunami as a “scandal”, will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm three points? First—this bears repetition—we do not sit atop a seismic fault; secondly, we do not stack five nuclear reactors in a row; and thirdly, we use a different cooling mechanism. Those are three reasons why, although we should not be complacent about our nuclear energy strategy, we should be confident that we have one of the best records in the world.
Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): I very much welcome the Weightman report, and also the interim report delivered before the House went into recess. The British nuclear industry has an excellent safety record, and the report confirms that. Will the Secretary of State ensure that potential developers for future nuclear builds make the findings of the Weightman report available, so that communities and constituents such as mine can make an informed choice based on the facts, not on fear and ideology?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—and better than that, the report is available on the Department of Energy and Climate Change website for any of his constituents who want to access it.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for his role in commissioning this largely reassuring report. For the avoidance of doubt, will he explain to the House what the effect would be on the Government’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions in the generation of electricity were we to exclude nuclear from our collection of generating units?
Chris Huhne: It is not easy to forecast the future, and we have taken the portfolio approach to different sources of energy precisely because we might be living in a low gas price world or a high gas price world, and we need a basket of technologies that allows us to exploit the most affordable low-carbon option for British consumers in the future. In a low gas price world, clean gas could be the cheapest way of providing electricity, but in a high gas price world, the cheapest way could well be nuclear. In such circumstances, there would clearly be an increase in cost.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I welcome today’s ministerial statement, and add my support for a nuclear strategy for the whole United Kingdom. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the international regulators who were contacted included those in France and Germany, which are strong supporters of nuclear power, and that those countries are satisfied with the outcome of the Weightman report on Fukushima?
Chris Huhne: Those countries will not have seen the Weightman report as yet, as it was only published today, but Dr Weightman is regarded very highly in the international community, which is one reason why he was chosen by the IAEA. I am confident that the report will have a substantial impact.
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Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): We should never forget the fact that thousands of Japanese families are still grieving for the loss of their loved ones as a result of this incident—not the nuclear issue, but the natural disaster. Will the Secretary of State send our thanks to Mike Weightman and Professor Sir John Beddington for their work in reassuring the British public about this matter, and will he confirm that, unlike with the smoke and mirrors in other Departments, there will be no cuts in scientific investment in his Department, which will carry on researching these important fields?
Chris Huhne: I can certainly, and happily, join the hon. Gentleman in thanking both Mike Weightman and Sir John Beddington. They have both performed a very useful role in making sure that our debate is based on the facts and does not run to conclusions not supported by the evidence. All Departments have had to take reductions in their budget because of our inheritance when we took office. We have had to prioritise, and I am afraid that the scientific area is the same as everywhere else in that respect. But I am confident that we are able to go ahead with the key issues that are important to the Department precisely because we have focused on what we believe those to be.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. My constituents on the east coast of Northern Ireland have a particular concern about the decommissioning of nuclear plants because of the historic legacy of Sellafield and the cumulative effect of the indiscriminate discharges of radioactive waste over many years. They will seriously want to know why the right hon. Gentleman feels that the future nuclear programme will not suffer from the same problems as occurred in the past, in terms of the cost and of environmental safety, associated with the decommissioning of nuclear plants.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Lady asks an important and interesting question, because I am determined that on the new nuclear programme we should be as open as we can be about all the considerations. Anybody looking at our past historic nuclear programme would have to be shocked. The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) has already mentioned the £100 billion cost of potential liabilities. On an ongoing basis, that means that literally 55% of the Department’s budget this year is being spent on nuclear clean-up. Perhaps it should be called not the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but the Department for nuclear and coal clean-up, energy and climate change. That percentage goes up to two thirds next year, so the ministerial team is acutely aware of the importance of ensuring that this never happens again. There are various reasons for that. I would be trespassing on Mr Speaker’s ruling were I to go on at greater length, but I will be giving a lecture on this matter to the Royal Society on Thursday, and we will try to arrange an invitation to that for the hon. Lady.
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Chris Huhne: It is crucial that we have qualified people for the new nuclear programme and for maintaining our existing nuclear fleet, which is still responsible for 18% of our electricity generation. That is one reason why my esteemed colleague the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), has been ensuring, with our colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, that the training programmes and nuclear academy are there, and that there is a future generation able to continue the tradition of engineering expertise in the nuclear industry.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Clearly, we would all welcome the clean bill of health for the principle of nuclear operations, but have Scottish Executive Ministers been in contact to object either to the methodology used by Dr Weightman or to his conclusions, and have they objected to the continued operation of Hunterston and Torness power stations?
Chris Huhne: I have interesting and continuing discussions with Scottish Ministers and with the First Minister—who, as we all know, when he was doing another job was one of Britain’s most distinguished energy economists: he used to work for the Royal Bank of Scotland. He certainly is very interested in all these subjects. I do not believe that those two power stations have been raised in those discussions, but I have certainly been informed in no uncertain terms by the Government north of the border that they have no intention of allowing new nuclear power stations to be built in Scotland.
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Fukushima was an horrendous human disaster owing to the failure of effective flood risk management, with the wave three times the height of the flood defences. Will the Secretary of State therefore give an undertaking to ensure that, in view of climate change, the flood defences in Britain are estimated on the basis of a one-in-400-years event—and also think again about the fact that he is cutting the projected budgets for flood defences? Will he also confirm that the costs involved will be published alongside the increased cost, given that nuclear energy supplies from Germany will be curtailed because the business there is being closed down.
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman raises the point that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) raised about the adequacy of our flood defences, which is something I am keen to ensure. I can assure him that the flood defences for nuclear power plants, and indeed for our critical electricity infrastructure, are not under the same budget as the budget to which he refers, and that we will continue to ensure that they are proof against extreme weather events.
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab):
Nobody wants a nuclear accident; nobody wants a nuclear disaster. Nobody wanted Windscale, Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Nobody wanted Fukushima, and our hearts go out to the people who are still suffering as a result of it, and will suffer for a long time to come. Is the inescapable truth not that a nuclear power generation system carries with it the most terrible danger, however remote, of a disaster from which it would be very hard to recover, and that it produces nuclear waste, a problem that cannot be solved, only stored? Does the Secretary
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of State not think that we are heading in the wrong direction by continuing a nuclear programme, and that we should learn from what Germany and other countries are doing by using renewables to a greater extent, and by conserving energy and using less of it?
Chris Huhne: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of using less energy. The Government are very proud of the fact that we are four-square behind a real emphasis on saving energy, which is one of the four key supports for our energy policy. That can be seen in the Energy Bill, which I hope is about to receive Royal Assent, and will be seen in the green deal next year. However, I disagree with what he says about nuclear power. Unfortunately, there are no energy sources to speak of without potential risks, downsides and detractors, whether we are talking about gas or coal. A substantial number of people worldwide are still killed mining coal every year—far more than have ever been killed as a result of nuclear energy—and there are substantial environmental consequences in parts of the world that do not apply such high standards for emissions from coal burning as we do in Europe.
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Points of Order
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a question I asked earlier this afternoon about provisions relating to individual voter registration, the Deputy Prime Minister said that there had been no change from the current position in relation to the civic duty. However, the individual electoral registration White Paper, published on 30 June, stated quite clearly on page 20, paragraph 63:
“It is currently an offence to fail to comply with a request for information from an ERO, or to give false information to an ERO…While we strongly encourage people to register to vote the Government believes the act is one of personal choice and as such there should be no compulsion placed on an individual to make an application to register to vote.”
“it will therefore be a personal choice whether to respond to the ERO’s request to complete an IER application form.”
I appreciate that the Deputy Prime Minister is a very busy man, but it is quite clear from his answers that he either does not understand his own policy, or has inadvertently misled the House and caused huge confusion. The Government’s proposals mean that those who fail to respond to a household enquiry can be prosecuted, but not those who choose to return an individual application form, thereby diminishing the civic duty. I ask you, Mr Speaker, for guidance on how we can persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to clarify his remarks, because the consultation ends this Friday.
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for notice of his point of order. He will understand that this is not a matter for the Chair. All hon. and right hon. Members take responsibility for what they say in this House. However, what he has just said will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and is of course on the record of the proceedings of the House.
Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, during the Defence statement, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether his officials were, on his instructions, routinely giving out details of his ministerial diary to Adam Werritty. In his reply, the Defence Secretary said:
“that is not what I said. I was perfectly capable, without officials, of telling any of my friends where I would be, if I wanted to meet up with them.”—[Official Report, 10 October 2011; Vol. 533, c. 37.]
“it has become apparent that the Defence Secretary provided or asked his office to provide some diary details to Adam Werritty”.
The Defence Secretary denied ordering his officials to give out his diary, praying in aid the permanent secretary’s report, which directly contradicts that claim. Is it no longer the case that what Ministers say in this House has to be true?
There is an obligation on all Members to speak the truth in this House, but my response to the hon. Gentleman is very similar to my response to his right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who
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spoke from the Front Bench a few moments ago, namely—and in constitutional terms this is very important—that these are not matters for the Chair; all Members are responsible for what they say in this House. The hon. Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan) is, however, a wily campaigner, and in the course of raising his attempted point of order with me he has registered his views firmly on the record. I think that we will leave it there for today.
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Co-operative Housing Tenure Bill
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision that occupiers of dwellings owned by certain forms of co-operatives shall occupy those dwellings by virtue of their membership of the co-operative and not as tenants or under any other type of property interest; to make provision for co-operative tenure and for the respective rights and obligations of the co-operative and its members; and for connected purposes.
There are few members on either side of the House who would not acknowledge that we face something of a housing crisis here in the UK. For people looking to step on to the first rung of the housing ladder, the average price of a property in the UK is now more than £160,000, and for those living in London it is more than £280,000. As a result, a typical first-time buyer now needs to raise a deposit of £52,000, which is without doubt a substantial amount, and most people now have to rely on the “bank of mum and dad” to help them to finance their first home.
Estimates suggest that those who cannot seek financial support from their family will have to save for a deposit until they are 37, and in the coming years that age is expected to rise to 44, meaning that we could have a generation who are on the brink of becoming grandparents before they become homeowners.
Buying a home is tough, with local authorities and housing associations owning 1 million fewer homes than in 1977, but this generation can no longer rely on social housing either. In the private sector rents are increasing more quickly than wages, living standards are hugely variable, tenants often feel that they live at the whim of their landlords, and there is no immediate sign of an improvement.
The slow-down in the construction industry, the low levels of credit and the increases in demand caused by demographic changes will only tighten the squeeze on housing unless more alternatives can be found. It is now harder than ever for our young people to find a home of their own, whether they seek to buy or to rent.
I do not suggest that there is one single solution to this problem, but if we are to address the issue we will need to think differently and creatively in order to come up with solutions, and I propose today that part of that different and creative thinking should be to look beyond the traditional options of ownership or tenancy.
There is a form of housing tenure, used to great success in other countries, which is not yet available here, and that tenure is co-operative housing. My Co-operative Housing Tenure Bill will open the way for co-operative housing schemes, which are not currently acknowledged in the law of this country, and in doing so it will offer a new form of tenure that would bring additional benefits to residents. For example, the Bill would ensure that residents had a real say in the management of their housing scheme. It is a practical measure that would make a real difference to the lives of co-operative members, and through the use of shared ownership as security for finance it could also increase the availability of affordable housing.
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As a member of the Co-operative party as well as the Labour party, I am proud to introduce this Bill before the House today, and I acknowledge the support that I have received from the Co-operative party and from David Rogers, at CDS Co-operatives, in preparing it.
Many Members will be familiar with the principles of co-operatives, but for those who may not be, let me briefly explain. A co-operative is a business that is owned and controlled equally by the people who use its services, or by the people who work there. A co-operative housing project is therefore one in which the property is owned collectively by a co-operative of members, and those members, as residents, then democratically own and control the property in which they live. As members, residents have a greater say over the management and maintenance of the scheme than they would as tenants, and co-operative schemes can be developed to enable members to build up financial equity.
In many countries co-operative housing tenure is already recognised as a distinct way for people to acquire the right to occupy their homes. For example, in Sweden, where co-operative housing has existed in law since 1920, 18% of homes are provided in that way.
But here in the UK there is no legal recognition of the unique status of co-operative housing. The law recognises only ownership and tenancy—tenures that date back to feudal times. The Bill would legally acknowledge housing co-operatives in this country for the first time. Of course, co-operative housing schemes exist to some degree already in the UK, but with no specific legal provision they have to be governed by general landlord and tenant law. That means that the arrangements are legally speaking more contractual than co-operative, which presents frequent practical difficulties and limitations on the management and development of the co-operative housing scheme.
For example, if the law were to recognise co-operative tenure, members would be able to determine repair and maintenance obligations democratically. Currently, the law makes that impossible, dictating that a landlord must be wholly responsible. If the law recognised co-operative tenure, members would be able to make their own rules and regulations democratically. Currently
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those rules would not be legally enforceable because they would not be in the original tenancy agreement. If housing co-operative tenure were recognised in law, members might be able to access finance secured on their stake in the housing complex. Currently the law defines co-operative members as tenants, and makes that impossible.
The Bill that I am presenting today would provide for a modest but important change in the law that would allow real co-operative housing to exist and flourish. In doing so, it would provide a significant boost to investment in housing co-operatives, increasing the supply and quality of homes in this country.
For me, the values that motivate the Bill are deeply rooted in the co-operative and socialist movement, famously begun by the Rochdale pioneers at the end of the 19th century. However, I recognise that the virtues that co-operation promotes—the combination of rights with responsibilities, fraternity, respect and mutualism—have an appeal across the political spectrum. I welcome support from anyone with a serious interest in these matters.
I believe that the Bill would not have significant resource implications or place undue obligations on anyone who was reluctant; however, it would open the door to a form of housing successfully provided to great effect in other countries, and I believe that there is a need and appetite for it in this country. Since tabling the motion to bring in the Bill, I have received a great many messages of support and interest from all parts of the country. The time for co-operative housing is now, and I commend the Bill to the House.
That Jonathan Reynolds, Mr Andrew Love, Chris Leslie, Chris Evans, David Miliband, Tom Blenkinsop, Luciana Berger, John Woodcock, Mr Gareth Thomas, Gavin Shuker, Mr Adrian Bailey and Alison McGovern present the Bill.
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Protection of Freedoms Bill
‘The Secretary of State must commission a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the use of CCTV by the police and local authorities as a measure for the prevention and detection of crime.’.—(Mr Hanson.)
‘a code of practice containing’.
‘must have, in particular—
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My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, who originally tabled new clauses and amendments on behalf of the shadow Home Office team, has been promoted to the shadow Cabinet. If you will indulge me, Mr Speaker, I will begin by paying tribute to him for his sterling work in the police field during his time in this brief. Once upon a time, he was the Policing Minister. I succeeded him in government as the Policing Minister, he succeeded me as the shadow Policing Minister in opposition, and I succeed him again as the shadow Policing Minister. Between us, we have several years of service, but not continuously. I wish to place on record my thanks to my hon. Friend for his work in raising what we accept are politically contentious issues at a time when there is real concern about the future direction of policing and there are real differences between the Government and the Opposition. However, I hope I can say, on behalf of the Government as well as the Opposition, that he exercised those duties in a fair and equitable way.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (James Brokenshire): I, too, put on record, in the nicest possible way, my best wishes to the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). He and I had some frank exchanges over the years, but I certainly mark out the good-natured way in which we were able to reconcile our differences at times, and I welcome him to his new responsibilities.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful for the Minister’s support for my comments about my hon. Friend. I assure the Minister that I will try to kick him very hard on some of the political issues, but I hope that we can enjoy a similar relationship to that he had with my predecessor. Having dealt with the hon. Gentleman from the Government side of the Chamber when he was in opposition, I am sure that we will have a positive relationship.
I will move on to the meat of the issue, because that is important for the House. Part 2 of the Bill proposes the introduction of a surveillance code covering the operation of CCTV by public authorities in England and Wales, and the creation of a commissioner to promote compliance with the code. The code will operate as a mechanism of self-regulation and will be set by the Secretary of State. Our new clause and amendments would do several things which we want to explore with the Minister to get a feel for the approach he is taking. These matters were considered heavily in Committee. Perhaps fortunately, on some levels, I was not there, so we may need to revisit some of them today. It is important that we examine the concerns about CCTV; the amendments are designed to get a flavour at least of the Government’s thinking and to place on record the Opposition’s views.
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Labour Members want to ensure that the role of CCTV is strengthened and its importance is recognised. We want to ensure that the code operates in an effective way and does not hamper the development of CCTV. We want to have a presumption in favour of the police being able to set up CCTV in our communities to tackle crime through prevention and through bringing perpetrators to justice. The purpose of new clause 16 is to put in place a review by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to ensure that we examine, quantify and agree on the definitive benefits of CCTV so that we know exactly the baseline.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way and welcome him to his post. Shortly before the last general election, I heard a police officer from my region say on TV that his vision was to have CCTV cameras on one in three houses. He said that that would really give us a good eye on what was happening. Is that the sort of vision that the right hon. Gentleman has?
Mr Hanson: I have a vision of CCTV playing a role in stopping crime and catching criminals. Communities in constituencies such as Ashfield and mine in north Wales should have confidence that if a crime is committed, people can be caught using CCTV. It might also have a deterrent effect. We should have a proportionate response with CCTV in appropriate places where police, local authorities and, as we have discussed and will discuss, the private sector feel there is a need to provide such reassurance and support.
Mr Hanson: I would be comfortable with a reduction in crime like that under the previous Labour Government. I think that CCTV plays an important role. I will come on to that in a moment and we will test whether the hon. Gentleman would support the examples that I give.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his elevation, or perhaps I should say on his sideways move to shadow the position he held in government. I want to probe him on why he chose HMIC as the organisation that would monitor this matter under the new clause. In the new landscape, we tend to put a lot of responsibility on HMIC and I wonder whether it has the resources to deal with these additional responsibilities, important though they are.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his welcome. One advantage of being in opposition, although there are not many, is that his Select Committee will not scrutinise me and my Department, as they will the Minister. There are occasional silver linings in what are very big clouds.
My right hon. Friend asked a valid question about HMIC. He will know that the new clause was tabled prior to my elevation to this post and that it was my right hon. and hon. Friends who chose HMIC. It is important that HMIC looks at issues of police performance, one of which is the role of CCTV and its effectiveness in fighting crime. There may be other mechanisms to look at that, but I want to hear from the Minister a defence of CCTV. I am already getting a slight sniff that some coalition Members are not so supportive of CCTV.
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Dr Huppert: CCTV clearly has a role, which is why the Bill does not make having it illegal and merely tries to regulate it. CCTV is very useful in some cases. To answer the question that the right hon. Gentleman refused to answer, I am deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having CCTV cameras on one in three houses. I think that that would be a horrible, Big Brother state and it slightly alarms me that he is keen on it.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but he should not put words in other Members’ mouths. What I have said is that CCTV should play a role. I do not expect ever to see one in three houses in my street or in his street with CCTV cameras, but there is no strategic need for us to put obstacles in the way of CCTV being put in place if there is a need for it.
Andrew Miller: Is it not better to put it slightly differently? Many of our constituents who have suffered nuisance and criminality in their environment come to us and ask, “Why can’t we have CCTV?” Should this not be a matter on which we liaise with local communities to ensure that the scope of CCTV meets their needs?
Mr Hanson: As ever, my hon. Friend speaks common sense. Perhaps part of the guidance to be issued in due course could be about such consultation. I have not yet, in nearly 20 years as a Member of this House, had anybody come to me to say, “Mr Hanson, please do not put a CCTV camera in our street.”
Mr Hanson: It may happen in Cambridge, but it does not happen in my constituency in north Wales. In fact, most people in my constituency argue for more CCTV cameras, not fewer. I have digressed, but I repeat that new clause 16 asks for HMIC to make a case for the crime fighting capability of CCTV.
The second objective of our amendments is to strip away some of the bureaucracy that we believe could act as an obstacle to the police doing their job of tackling crime and making communities safer. I would welcome the Minister giving his view on why there has been no mention yet of the private sector’s role in relation to the further regulation of CCTV.
I hope it will help the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) if I say that only a few hours ago I looked through news from the past week or so about the impact of CCTV in our communities. I pulled off the internet four examples from just the past week of real instances in which CCTV has made a difference. I worry that the code of practice that the Minister is bringing in might well have an impact on the ability of the police or local authorities to provide the necessary level of CCTV coverage.