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House of Commons
Wednesday 19 October 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The threat level in Northern Ireland remains at severe, and we continue to work closely with our partners in the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government to counter that threat. We are not complacent, and this Government remain totally committed to ensuring that the Chief Constable has the necessary resources to deal with the threat posed by those terrorist groups.
Mr Hanson: Does the Secretary of State welcome the many hundreds of people who came out in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) last week to protest against the bombing for the second time of the city of culture office in the city of Derry? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they represent the true voice of Northern Ireland, and will he work with the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that nothing deflects from the city of culture programme taking place in Derry?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for this question and entirely endorse his comments. It is quite extraordinary, when we think of how that city is coming together, united behind the city of culture programme, which is coming along soon, that that tiny number of unrepresentative people could do such a crazily reckless thing. The demonstration of people coming out on to the street shows the support that exists for the settlement and for the PSNI, and that was endorsed this morning in my conversation with the Northern Ireland Justice Minister, Mr David Ford.
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Jack Lopresti: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the recent unanimous support from all parts of the Northern Ireland Assembly for the Police Service of Northern Ireland in dealing with the dissident threat sends a clear message that those organisations will not succeed?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, which follows on from what I have just said. He is absolutely right to draw attention to the fact that we now have a police service that is wholly accountable to a democratically elected Justice Minister and a democratically elected Policing Board, on which all parties sit.
Mr Paterson: I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, and as she knows we have put in very significant extra resources, with £200 million going in over the next four years, backed by the Executive putting in a further £45 million. In discussions with the PSNI, we are determined to bear down on those groups, which are dangerous, and we are not complacent about them.
To answer the hon. Lady’s question directly, we have slowed down the increase in such activity which we saw when we came into office, but there is definitely more work to do, and none of us should underestimate the danger that that small number of people represent not just to the police, but to people going about their everyday business.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): I endorse what the Secretary of State has already said about the lack of support from all parts for dissident groups in Northern Ireland, but on combating the dissident threat, what is he doing to strike at their source of funding and their raising of finances, particularly through illicit fuel laundering and other sources of revenue? What is happening to tackle that?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that question, because it gives me an opportunity to make clear to the House the remarkable successes that the PSNI has pulled off, stopping fuel laundering and making some very significant arrests on illegal cigarettes. We should all remember the extraordinary level of co-operation that we now have between the PSNI and the Garda, working both sides of the border, because such activity is not restricted to the north.
Mr Dodds: I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but he will know that, as well as finance helping the dissident terrorists, one thing on which such people thrive is the hope that they are dictating the Government’s agenda. On that point, they have taken great comfort and solace from the fact that the Ministry of Defence decided not to allow a homecoming parade for the Royal Irish and the Irish Guards in Belfast. Will he continue his efforts and speak to the MOD about that issue, which has gone down very badly in all quarters of Northern Ireland, especially when such parades have been allowed elsewhere throughout the Province? Will he have a word with the Ministry of Defence on that?
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Mr Paterson: I am grateful for that question, too, because I can now clarify that I have regular discussions with the Ministry of Defence. I went to Balmoral showground and I was there with the First Minister when the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards put on a wonderful demonstration and were warmly welcomed by a large number of people. That was agreed by the Ministry of Defence with the city council.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Recently there have been two bombs found in south Belfast, a bomb found in Bradbury place, and a pipe bomb left on the windowsill of a Polish couple on an estate in Antrim. These are in addition to the other bombs and outrages of which the Secretary of State will be aware. This is totally unacceptable. People have a right to live without fear and intimidation in any community. It is welcome that these attacks have been widely condemned as the work of a very small number of people who seem determined to turn the clock back. What is the latest assessment that the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Executive have made about the dissidents’ capabilities, and what steps have they agreed to take to combat their activities?
Mr Paterson: I very much welcome the hon. Gentleman to his first Northern Ireland questions. As I said in the statement last week, Northern Ireland would not have progressed to where it has without the extremely close co-operation of the main political parties, not just in the UK but in Dublin and Washington. I very much look forward to working with him and wish him well in his difficult role.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we work extremely closely with the Justice Minister, David Ford, and, as I have already said, we work very closely with the authorities in Dublin, and our assessment is that these groups are still dangerous. He has rightly cited a number of recent incidents which are absolutely outrageous and which are wholly exceptional. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland want to grab this wonderful opportunity to move Northern Ireland on, and so we will guarantee to work extremely closely with the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Justice Minister, and the Garda in Dublin.
What plans does the Secretary of State have to use his role in working with Northern Ireland ministerial colleagues to promote Londonderry/Derry as the UK city of culture 2013 both nationally and internationally? Is it not the case, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said, that one very powerful way of combating any dissident threat is to give a positive image of what the city and the whole of Northern Ireland can offer in terms of culture, and to give a true reflection of the people of Northern Ireland, in stark contrast to those who so recently caused outrage when they attacked the city of culture offices?
I am very grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question and totally endorse it. I was at the launch of the city of culture with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, but the key people there were the
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young people who put on the film and the soundtrack by Snow Patrol, which wowed the judges; Phil Redmond confirmed that it was the thing that really swung it. That is a complete celebration of everything good that is going on in that city, as was the opening of the bridge this year. The tiny number of crazy people putting bombs outside the offices are unrepresentative, and they will not succeed.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): My right hon. Friend the Minister of State and I have been meeting a range of political parties and victims’ groups to discuss the issue of dealing with the past. So far, we have not found consensus. While the Government have a role to play, the way forward on this matter must come from within Northern Ireland.
Paul Murphy: The Secretary of State is of course right that solutions must come from within Northern Ireland, but he will realise that there is now widespread opposition to his proposal for a semi-inquiry into the Pat Finucane case. Does he understand that by going ahead with his proposal, £1.5 million is likely to be wasted, and will he now rethink?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question, and I pay tribute to him, as I did last week in the statement. I am sorry that we disagree on this. He committed to a public inquiry, but he then passed the Inquiries Act 2005, which was the stumbling block. We inherited a complete impasse; this was going nowhere. We think that by accepting the conclusion of the Stevens inquiry, which is possibly the largest police inquiry in British history, and by having the family to Downing street for a fulsome apology, we can now concentrate on what is really important, which I raised with the family when I first met them—namely, to get to the truth as fast possible. That is why we have gone down this route of appointing a well-respected international lawyer and giving him very wide powers to get to the truth by December next year.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. However, given the political sensitivity surrounding legacy issues and the fact that the greatest legacy issue in Northern Ireland is the murder of Pat Finucane, will he reflect on the comments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade in Dublin and of members of the Finucane family, and realise that this could undermine the very architecture of the Good Friday agreement? Will he now redress the situation and ensure that there is an independent judicial inquiry into—
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Mr Paterson: I am afraid that I simply do not agree. We inherited an impasse and have come up with a solution. I have talked to senior members of the Irish Government and I talked to the Tánaiste this week after he had seen the family. On this issue, sadly, we will simply disagree with them. We will not let this one issue undermine the extraordinarily good relations we have with the Republic, nor will we let it undermine the settlement. If the hon. Lady had been at Hillsborough last night and seen people from right across the community welcoming the President, she would have seen just how far Northern Ireland has moved on. We are all determined to keep that going.
David Simpson (Upper Bann) (DUP): One legacy issue that has never been addressed is the role played by elements of the Republic of Ireland’s Government in creating, financing, training and arming the Provisional IRA, and Dublin’s shielding of the provos by refusing to co-operate fully with extradition. Does the Secretary of State accept that the families in Birmingham, Warrington, London, Aldershot and elsewhere deserve to see Enda Kenny step to the mark, acknowledge the failings of the southern Government and formally apologise for those killings?
West Lothian Question
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): In September, the Government set out the steps that we are taking to establish a commission on the West Lothian question. Northern Ireland Office Ministers and officials will continue to have regular discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister and his office on this and a range of other issues.
Harriett Baldwin: The Minister will know that the West Lothian question is also known as the West Belfast question. Does he agree that it is important that the commission comes to a conclusion relatively quickly in order for steps to be taken to resolve this tricky constitutional issue before the next election?
Mr Swire: Yes, I believe—as do the Government, which is lucky—that we need this commission. I think that we will hear its terms of reference shortly. When it is set up, it should conclude quite quickly. No doubt my hon. Friend, who has campaigned assiduously on this matter, will wish to give the commission the benefit of her views.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): Does the Minister agree that the creation of a two-tier Parliament here would be against the interests of the United Kingdom and the interests of Unionism throughout the United Kingdom? Does he further agree that if he were to proceed along the way of the West Lothian question, he would have to stand at that Dispatch Box and argue for double jobbing? Is that not against the interests of his Government?
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Mr Swire: I think that the hon. Gentleman knows our views on double jobbing in relation to Northern Ireland. He will equally know of my view that everybody in this place is equal. I take a rather more positive view than he does. The Governments in Edinburgh and Cardiff and the Executive in Northern Ireland are up and running and functioning. I therefore believe that it is time we looked at how parliamentary business—the business of this House—can be done better to reflect a post-devolution United Kingdom. That is what the commission will look at. That should reinforce the strength of the Union—something in which he and I both believe.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Following discussions between Treasury Ministers and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, the Treasury and the Financial Services Authority published a joint consultation paper in August setting out proposals for the transfer of the regulation of Northern Ireland credit unions from DETI to the FSA on 31 March 2012. [Interruption.]
Mark Durkan: I thank the Minister for that reply. Tomorrow is international credit union day, and credit unions in Northern Ireland have been waiting for the change that he described for a long time so that they can offer their members a much greater range of services. Will he assure us that his work with Treasury Ministers will mean that the primary legislation will be adequate, the secondary legislation will follow fast and the transition arrangements will have a strong regional presence so that the credit unions can work with the new regulator to make a success of the new powers?
Mr Swire: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and his predecessor John Hume, on championing the cause of credit unions for many years. There are 177 credit unions in Northern Ireland. They are part of the big society agenda, and we think they are great institutions. We want them to be able to expand and offer the services that credit unions in Great Britain currently can. He will agree that what is important during the change is that people with their money in those credit unions are properly protected. Like me, he will no doubt welcome the move to bring credit unions under the FSA or its successor, to protect them in a way that the Presbyterian Mutual Society savers were not protected.
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman will surely remember that a well-crafted and consensual Labour Bill to address precisely this issue was presented to the House in the last Parliament and cruelly garrotted during the wash-up. Does he regret the actions of his party?
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Air Passenger Duty
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr Owen Paterson): I have had regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who came to Northern Ireland in June, heard at first hand from local businesses about the importance of the issue and became personally involved in resolving it. As a result he announced a cut in air passenger duty next month for all direct long-haul flights from airports in Northern Ireland.
Mr Hepburn: May I welcome yesterday’s announcement and say how encouraging it is to other parts of the UK that think that particular tax is unfair? Will the Minister keep the House updated on the progress of the tax cut so that we may learn something and get a change in other parts of the UK?
Mr Paterson: I think the hon. Gentleman is asking me to stray into areas that are not my responsibility, but I pay tribute to him and his friends on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who rapidly produced a report making a convincing case for the change. I would like to put on the record that it was a team effort. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State worked closely with the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) and with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster. The key person was the Chancellor, who saw the need for the change following his visit, took a real personal interest and pushed it through.
Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State, and indeed the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for taking swift and timely action on air passenger duty in Northern Ireland. When will the Secretary of State consider giving the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to set the level of corporation tax?
Mr Paterson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for leading the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and for getting the report through. I announced two weeks ago that a ministerial working group would be set up, chaired by my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, and it hopes to meet in early November.
Dr Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast South) (SDLP): Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with members of the Northern Ireland Executive about the devolution of taxes other than corporation tax to Northern Ireland?
Mr Paterson: I discussed air passenger duty with members of the Executive, namely the First Minister and the acting Deputy First Minister, yesterday, and I have discussed corporation tax. I have not discussed the devolution of any other taxes.
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Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): With respect to the devolution of air passenger duty, will the Secretary of State be pressing for a swift timetable to take that forward? Will he also consider other double-duty taxations caused by people having to travel through GB airports?
Mr Paterson: My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary made a statement yesterday confirming that from 1 November the long-haul rate will be reduced. I hope to see that followed through swiftly by the Treasury, which is working closely with Executive Ministers so that this issue can be devolved as soon as possible.
Donations (Political Parties)
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): It is clear from my discussions with the political parties in Northern Ireland that, like us, they want greater transparency over donations and loans. We will legislate to deliver this as soon as we can.
Thomas Docherty: I am grateful to the Minister for his answer. He will appreciate the deep unease on both sides of this House about the continuing special measures required in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister spell out exactly when he proposes to legislate on this issue and when Sinn Fein will no longer get their special Short money?
Mr Swire: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have reluctantly extended the current arrangements to 2013 and hope to return to the House on this matter before then. I point out to him that Sinn Fein is subject to the same requirement as all other parties, and donations of more than £7,500 must be reported to the Electoral Commission. We want to move to a period of full transparency, but the time is not yet right. [ Interruption. ]
Aviation (Economic Development)
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): I am in regular contact with Executive Ministers about air routes and fully understand the importance of the aviation industry to Northern Ireland, one of whose main companies, Bombardier Aerospace, I shall be seeing again shortly.
May I also welcome the Government’s decision to reduce air passenger duty on long-haul flights? This creates a new anomaly, of course, whereby if someone pays tax on a return flight from Belfast to New York they will pay less tax than they would on a return flight to Manchester. Given the importance of regional routes to the Northern Ireland economy, will
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the Minister press the Chancellor, who is sitting very close to him, for a lower rate of duty on flights between Belfast and regional airports in the UK?
Mr Swire: We have been pressing the Chancellor on quite a lot of things recently and I am not sure we want to press him much more. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Northern Ireland shares a land border and the flights from Dublin were cheaper—that was the problem. We are most grateful to the Treasury for recognising the anomaly of the transatlantic Belfast route, and any other airlines that are listening in might wish to take advantage of that, because we want to grow air traffic to Northern Ireland as part of rebalancing the economy.
Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): We all agree with the recent announcement on the Continental Airlines transatlantic route. Will the Minister make himself available so that if other routes become possible from all three airports in Northern Ireland on the transatlantic scene he will be able to help deliver more progress?
Mr Swire: Yes, of course we will. The key is the transfer of APD to the Executive for this transatlantic route. An investigation into APD is going on in the Treasury and the hon. Gentleman might wish to make representations to it. As I have just said, we are very interested in growing air routes to Northern Ireland, and not least in growing more from Great Britain into Belfast or any other airport. We want more tourists, more businessmen and more economic growth.
The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr Hugo Swire): Tackling youth unemployment is a key priority for the UK Government and Northern Ireland Ministers. The Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud, has visited Northern Ireland on two occasions and met the Social Development and Employment and Learning Ministers to discuss these very matters.
Mr Swire: The hon. Gentleman has a long track record in youth issues. We are very concerned about them. This was a problem for the previous Government, of which he was not a member, in all fairness, and it continues to be a problem. The Executive are dealing with a number of issues to do with apprenticeships and youth learning and we will continue to support them in every way. It is critical, however, that Executive Ministers engage with Lord Freud on the whole proposed package of welfare reform.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to increase youth employment in Northern Ireland is to invest in apprenticeships and the university technical schools, which is happening elsewhere in the United Kingdom?
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Mr Swire: My hon. Friend is right—that is certainly one way of increasing youth employment. There is youth unemployment in Northern Ireland as there is in Great Britain, but as I have pointed out, that problem bedevilled the previous Government as well as this one, and we take it very seriously. Most of the levers are in the hands—
Mr Swire: At the risk of repeating myself, the levers are mostly in the hands of Stormont Executive Ministers, and I urge them to engage with Lord Freud and his ministerial colleagues in respect of the package of welfare reform, which will be important for Northern Ireland’s future prosperity.
Mr Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP): Will the Minister join me in welcoming the Northern Ireland Executive’s decision to cap tuition fees at just over £3,000 and the boost that that provides to young people in Northern Ireland who seek to graduate from university?
The Prime Minister was asked—
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in remembering Rifleman Vijay Rai, from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles. He was a talented and dedicated soldier, and our deepest sympathies should be with his family and his friends. He was proud to be a Gurkha and it is at times such as these that we especially remember the deep debt of gratitude that we owe all those brave soldiers.
Is the Prime Minister aware that this year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Jarrow march? Is it not wrong that even today people in this country live in fear of the dole and unemployment? The Government have been in for one year and already we are back to the 1980s. I ask him a simple question: will he support workers or sacrifice them?
The Prime Minister:
I believe that we need to be supporting people and helping them back into work. As the hon. Gentleman says, we should commemorate the Jarrow march, and I notice that it has been commemorated this year. We have a challenge right across the country
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as we see the numbers of those employed in the public sector inevitably go down, which would be happening whoever was standing at this Dispatch Box. We have got to make sure that there are more jobs in the private sector.
It is worth while that in the north-east Nissan is creating 200 new jobs, Hitachi is creating up to 500 new jobs, the Lear Corporation is creating an extra 300 jobs, and BT is creating an extra 280 jobs, in South Shields. There are 500,000 more private sector jobs—new jobs—compared with the time of the last election, but I recognise that we need to do more. That is what the Work programme is all about.
Q15.  Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his joint declaration with the Canadian Prime Minister on ocean renewable energy? We need to ensure that we have growth in our economy. What does he think universities such as Plymouth, which has a very good reputation for marine science research, can do to help to ensure that we have that?
The Prime Minister: I commend my hon. Friend for his question, because a number of universities in our country—including Edinburgh, which I have visited—are leaders in marine renewable energy. My right hon. Friend the Energy and Climate Change Secretary yesterday announced that we will go ahead with renewables obligation certificates, ensuring that we boost that vital industry and attract jobs to this country for offshore wind and other renewable technologies.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Rifleman Vijay Rai from 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles? In joining the Army, he was following in a proud family tradition. He showed the utmost courage and bravery, and our deepest condolences are with his family and friends.
The revelations over the past week about what has been going on in the most sensitive Department at the heart of the Prime Minister’s Government are deeply worrying. The former Defence Secretary had an unofficial adviser with access to top officials in the military and, indeed, in foreign Governments, who was funded by undeclared private donations solicited by him, yet the Prime Minister says that he and No. 10 knew nothing about these goings-on for 18 months. How did he allow this to happen?
The Prime Minister: First, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is an important and serious issue, which is why I set up a full and proper inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary. He has produced his report, and it has been published in full. It is worth noting, however, that in this case the Secretary of State for Defence recognised that he had made a mistake, acknowledged that had broken the ministerial code and resigned. That was not something that always happened in the previous 13 years.
I have a piece of advice for the Prime Minister: this week of all weeks, show a bit of humility, eh? The truth is that we still do not know the full facts about this case, about the money trail and about who exactly in the Government met Mr Werritty. It is becoming clear that there is a network of individuals,
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some with close links to the Conservative party and other Cabinet members, who funded Mr Werritty. Given that the Prime Minister says that he knew nothing about the former Defence Secretary’s arrangements, can he give the House a categorical guarantee that over the past 18 months no other Minister has been engaging in similar activities?
The Prime Minister: I think that we should have a little humility from the people who gave us cabs for hire, passports for favours, mortgages for mates, dodgy dossiers, the smearing of opponents and good days to bury bad news. I note that these were the questions that the right hon. Gentleman was meant to ask last week. I have some advice for him: if he is going to jump on a bandwagon, make sure it is still moving.
Edward Miliband: The Prime Minister has no answer to the question that people want answered. We have seen a pattern of activity from him: he does not ask the tough questions of those around him, and when anything goes wrong, it is nothing to do with him. What did he say in the ministerial code that he published? He said:
“It is not enough simply to make a difference. We must be different.”
Mr Brazier: Would my right hon. Friend agree that at a time when the Governor of the Bank of England has said that we are facing a possibly unprecedented economic crisis, it is a good thing that the country is still committed to getting our debts under control and to retaining credibility in the financial markets?
“With a lower level of sterling and a credible plan to reduce the fiscal deficit over the medium term, we were on track. But the problems in the euro area and the marked slowing of the world economy have lengthened the period over which a return to normality is likely.”
That is what we face in this country, but it means that we should stick to the plan of dealing with our debts and our deficit. If we listened to the Labour party and added £23 billion to the deficit this year, it would not be “Greek-onomics”; it would be “freakonomics”.
Q2.  Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Prime Minister has acknowledged that there was collusion in the murder of Pat Finucane. Does he accept that in order to get to the bottom of that we have to get to the top of that? Does he recognise that many of us lack confidence that a desk review by even an eminent lawyer will be able to do that? Will he reflect further on the grave misgivings expressed by the Finucane family and the Irish Government?
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The Prime Minister: Of course I understand the scepticism of the hon. Gentleman; and of course, there was great scepticism by many at the time of the Saville inquiry about whether it would get to the truth. What matters most is the intent of the British Government in uncovering what happened, being frank about it, acknowledging it and apologising for it. That is what we are going to do, and we do not need an open-ended inquiry to achieve that. To those who are sceptical, I know that they will go on being sceptical; I would just ask them to have an open mind. I believe that we can deal with this issue properly.
Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): Will the Prime Minister join me in congratulating Cheltenham borough council on building the first new council housing in 20 years and planning more and more affordable housing on brownfield sites, but also recognise the council’s anxiety that the first draft of the new national planning policy framework could render it powerless to defend vital and treasured green spaces on the urban fringe, which are being deliberately targeted by developers?
The Prime Minister: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman on the planning policy. We are not making changes to green belt or other protections, and I am sure he can discuss that with the planning Minister. Of course I congratulate all local councils that get on and build the houses that we badly need to house the homeless and deal with overcrowding. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the announcements that have been made—the Deputy Prime Minister and I have been working closely on this—to ensure that we use money from the right to buy to build more social housing so that we end the scandal of overcrowded housing.
Q3.  Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): I thank you, Mr Speaker, and your staff, and would like to put on record my gratitude to the Home Secretary and those in all parts of the House for their support for the Hillsborough families during Monday’s debate. Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that Governments have made mistakes, that 22 years is 22 years too long to fight for the truth and that if it is proven that there was an orchestrated cover-up, justice should prevail, despite two decades passing, and those really responsible for the Hillsborough disaster should be brought to book?
The Prime Minister: Last week I promised the hon. Gentleman that the time for his debate would be properly protected and that the House would have proper time to debate it, which it did. This week I can tell him that we are going to open up those papers and publish them as we promised so that people can see what was happening. However, it is important to remember that the Taylor inquiry was a proper and thorough investigation. It was not just an inquiry into what happened; it also led to huge changes in the way we manage and arrange football in this country. Hillsborough was a national tragedy. I am hugely sympathetic to the families of the victims, and I am sure that there are regrets for all the institutions involved at the time, including the Government.
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commending the hundreds of schools taking part, celebrating inspirational role models and raising money for Help for Heroes?
The Prime Minister: I am very pleased to do that. I am a huge fan of Help for Heroes. The way the charity has grown has been a remarkable story. I have seen for myself the extraordinary efforts that it has made at Headley Court, where it has built an extraordinary swimming pool that is used by so many people who are recovering from their injuries in Afghanistan and elsewhere. I would certainly be pleased to support what my hon. Friend says.
Edward Miliband: Last week we heard that unemployment was at its highest level since the last Conservative Government. This week we heard that retail price inflation was at its highest level since the last Conservative Government. Does the Prime Minister still think that his plan is working?
The Prime Minister: To put the right hon. Gentleman right, the last time that CPI—which is the measure of inflation that we all now recognise—was as high as this was in 2008, when he was in government. That is quite an important point to note. Of course inflation is too high. The principal reasons for it being so high are world food prices, world fuel prices, the depreciation of sterling—[Hon. Members: “VAT.”] Yes, there was an effect from the increase in VAT, just as there was an effect when he increased VAT at the beginning of 2010, but the reason for increasing VAT is to get on top of the record deficit that the last Government left.
Edward Miliband: As always, the Prime Minister says that it is just like that in the rest of the world, but we have the highest inflation of any EU country apart from Estonia. That is because of decisions that he made, including the decision on VAT. Week in, week out, the evidence mounts that his plan is not working, but he refuses to change course. Last week, we heard that his flagship national insurance scheme had not worked. Now let me ask him about his flagship regional growth fund, which he launched 16 months ago. Can he tell us how many businesses have had cash paid out to them under the scheme?
The Prime Minister: First, let me just put the right hon. Gentleman right on this issue—[ Interruption. ] It is important. One of the reasons Britain has such a difficult situation with inflation is that we were the country with the biggest boom and the biggest bust of any major European country. He cannot hide from that. The regional growth fund is going to be distributing billions of pounds right across the country, and it is a thoroughly worthwhile scheme that he should be supporting.
I do not think that the Prime Minister knows the answer. The Government have certainly issued lots of press releases about the regional growth fund—22 of them—but how many businesses have been helped during the past 16 months? Two businesses have been helped. And how many businesses have gone bankrupt in that time? Sixteen thousand. What greater example could there be that this Government’s plan is not working? We have had 18 months of his economic experiment, and what have we got to show for it? More and more
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people losing their jobs, more and more businesses going bust and inflation going through the roof—and all we have is a Prime Minister who is hopelessly out of touch.
The Prime Minister: All the right hon. Gentleman wants to do is talk down the economy, so he will not mention the fact that 300,000 new businesses have started and that 500,000 people have jobs who did not have one at the time of the election. The big question for the right hon. Gentleman is: if he does not like our plan, where is his plan? We now know that his plan to deal with our debts is—[ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman’s plan is to add £23 billion to Britain’s deficit this year, and almost £100 billion to our deficit by the end of the Parliament. There is not a single country in Europe that would have such a crazy plan—[ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. We are most grateful to the shadow Chancellor for his advice, but I would like to apply it to the House as a whole. The whole House must calm down; otherwise, it will be in need of medical treatment.
The Prime Minister: The problem is that it was the advice of the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) that got us into this mess in the first place. When is he going to learn that there is not a single country in Europe that thinks that you deal with your debts by adding to your debts? That is why no one listens to him here or in Europe.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Yesterday, a report was published into the serious failure of Nottinghamshire police to protect a young woman who went on to be murdered by her violent partner. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is imperative that all police forces have the practices, policies and training necessary to protect women from violent men?
The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend; she makes an important point. Some police forces have taken huge steps forward in dealing with domestic violence, but not all of them have done so. We need to spread that best practice right across the country.
Q4.  Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): The Association of Colleges has just announced the largest fall in college enrolments since 1999, and it cites the abolition of EMA as a major factor. This is a tragedy of the Government’s own making, and it lies directly at the door of the Secretary of State for Education. What is the Prime Minister going to do to put this right?
The Prime Minister: I think that the hon. Lady will find that the figures show that some enrolments in some colleges have actually gone up. Our replacement for EMA is a well-funded scheme that will be much better targeted at those people in need. The people who really need the extra money will get more than they did under EMA.
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Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): Families in the country are facing very high fuel bills, and there is a vested interest among the big six fuel companies not to allow competition into the market. What exactly is the Prime Minister doing to encourage more competition and to bring prices down?
The Prime Minister: One of the things we are doing is insisting that the big six have to make more of their energy available in a pooling arrangement so that new businesses can come into the industry. The reason we have to do this is that the last Government abolished the pooling arrangements, creating the situation with the big six—and we do not need to ask who the Energy Secretary was during that Government as we are looking at him.
Q5.  Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Given the importance of carbon capture and storage both as a way of helping to reduce our carbon emissions and as an exportable technology to help rebalance the economy, will the Prime Minister put his words into action and step in to ensure that the Longannet demonstration project goes ahead?
The Prime Minister: What I can say is that the funding we set aside for carbon capture and storage is still there and will be made available. Clearly, the Longannet scheme is not working in the way that was intended, but the money and support from the Government for this vital technology is there.
Q6.  John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Given the huge savings for the nation made by the Cabinet Office across government without legislation and the huge financial risks provoked by constant structural reorganisation, as in the NHS, would it not be better if politicians learned to manage more and meddle less—even if Governments find the latter easier and more interesting?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Let me pay tribute to the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), who does this patient work at the heart of government and does not always get recognised for it. We have reduced management consultants by 70%, saving £870 million; we have spent £490 million less on temporary labour; we have spent £400 million less on marketing and advertising: that is an 80% reduction. These are serious changes to cut the cost of central Government and make sure we provide good value for money. None of those things was done under the last Government.
Q7.  Mr John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): Before the election the Prime Minister claimed that anyone caught carrying a knife should expect to go to prison. Has he read Brooke Kinsella’s article in today’s The Sun, revealing that 40% of all knife crime is carried out by under-18s? Why will he not deliver on his promise and put them in jail?
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Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that the British people are simply crying out for a referendum on the future of Europe. Will he please make history, follow the example of great Prime Ministers like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and give the British people the chance to vote on our future with the European Union?
The Prime Minister: I completely understand and share the frustration that many have about the way in which the European Union goes about its business, particularly the costs and the bureaucracy, but I have to say that the key focus is to get on top of the EU budget, keep Britain out of the bail-out schemes and ensure that the single market is working. Of course we are committed as the Conservative party to the return of powers from Brussels to Westminster. We are also committed as a Government to ensuring that if power passes from Westminster to Brussels, there will have to be referendum. That promise is good for the whole of this Parliament and beyond, but I do not support holding a referendum come what may. That is not our policy and I will not support such a motion.
Q8.  Mr Gregory Campbell (East Londonderry) (DUP): We are all aware of the bravery and courage of our armed forces as they serve in Afghanistan. Last November Ranger Aaron McCormick from just outside Coleraine in my constituency died in Helmand province; he was one of many who paid the highest price to defend freedom. His commanding officer said:
“Today, there is a gap in our ranks which no ordinary man could fill. He was the best of his country and we mourn his loss.”
Will the Prime Minister ensure that a review is carried out into the way the Ministry of Defence prepares its honours list so that families can see that the entire nation recognises the sacrifice and selflessness of these brave men and women?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly look carefully at what the hon. Gentleman says and perhaps arrange a meeting between him and the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) who is responsible for veterans and these issues. That would be a good thing to do. Let me say again that I have the highest possible regard for the professionalism, the courage and the dedication of our forces. We have paid a very high price in Afghanistan and in Iraq for what we have had to do there. I think the whole country, perhaps in a little bit of a contrast to what the hon. Gentleman says, recognises that and feels that very strongly and is looking for new ways to recognise what our armed forces do. That is why there is such strong support for Help for Heroes, for homecoming parades, for lists of honours, for the military covenant and for all such things. I think we should go on looking at what more we can do to recognise the service and sacrifice of our armed forces.
Q9.  Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): As a result of inaccurate reporting and statements about a European directive applying to insulin-dependent diabetics, up to a million such people fear for their driving licences. Is it not the case that the way in which the Department of Transport interprets that directive will determine whether or not people lose their licences? Will the Prime Minister make the position clear?
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I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concern, which is shared by many insulin-treated diabetics throughout the country who want to continue to drive freely as they have in the past, but I can reassure him that relatively few of them will lose their licences as a result of the directive to which he has referred. The Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency is going back to the European commission to check its understanding of the interpretation of the minimum standards in the directive. As Members in all parts of the House probably know, Departments gold-plate directives on too many occasions, and it cannot be said too often that they should stop it.
Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): We learnt today that the British Airports Authority is to sell Edinburgh airport. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is important for the Scottish economy that we have as many direct international routes and services as possible? If so, why does he not listen to the views of the four major airports and Transport Scotland, which want air passenger duty to be devolved?
The Prime Minister: I think the most important thing is that investment goes into the infrastructure of our airports, and I know from first hand that Edinburgh airport has superb facilities which continue to be improved. As for air passenger duty, we will continue to listen carefully to those arguments.
Q10.  Mr Sam Gyimah (East Surrey) (Con): Does the Prime Minister agree that if we are to tear down the apartheid in the education system, for which he argued a few weeks ago, not only should well-performing private schools support under-performing state schools on an ad hoc basis, but we should go further and encourage them to federate?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an excellent suggestion. I believe that that should be a cross-party initiative, and I pay tribute to Lord Adonis, who has made some extremely important speeches about the issue. I see a real opportunity for independent schools to do what Wellington college, Dulwich college and Brighton college have done, and sponsor academies in the state sector. I think that we can see the breaking down of the barriers between independent and state education, I think that this is a great way forward, and I hope that it will be given all-party support.
Q11.  Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): A change in the national targets regime and cuts have led to disarray in the Greater Manchester emergency services. A stroke victim has had to wait for an hour for an ambulance, the response time of the fire service has doubled in parts of Greater Manchester, and the police switchboard is in meltdown. What reassurances can the Prime Minister give that the failure of those services will not lead to a tragic death?
The Prime Minister:
I will give careful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman has said. What I can say about health funding specifically is that we are implementing the £20 billion efficiency savings suggested by the now shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). However, the difference between the policy supported by his party and our policy is that we are putting all those savings back into the NHS,
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whereas the official Labour position is that increasing spending on the health service in real terms is “irresponsible”. We think it irresponsible not to increase spending.
Q14.  Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): David Brown Engineering in Lockwood, in my constituency, has received a regional growth fund investment that will help to create 80 new jobs. Does the Prime Minister agree that, notwithstanding the moithering and doom-mongering of Opposition Members, there are success stories out there? With that in mind, will he consider coming to open the new innovation and enterprise centre at Huddersfield university in the spring?
Q12.  Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): The answer the Prime Minister just gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr Spellar) is simply not good enough. The fact is that, despite all the Prime Minister’s promises, fewer people caught carrying knives are going to prison under this Government than under the last, so will he apologise to Brooke Kinsella and all the bereaved families of victims of knife crime for breaking the promise he made that he would take a tougher approach?
The Prime Minister: I am full of admiration for the campaign Brooke Kinsella has run. When someone has suffered such a loss in their own family, it is incredibly brave of them to get out there and campaign for change—and not just change in the law, but also change in the way the police behave and in the way young people behave. I think she is a thoroughly good individual, with a very great campaign. What this Government are doing—which the last Government did not do—is have a mandatory sentence for knife crime, which we will introduce in our forthcoming Bill.
Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend join me in supporting the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists “giving voice” campaign, which rightly emphasises the central importance of speech, language and communication in tackling a wide range of social issues?
The Prime Minister: I will certainly join my hon. Friend in doing that, and I know that you, Mr Speaker, take a close personal interest in this issue as well. Anyone who has brought up disabled children knows the vital importance of speech and language therapists. They also know that there are often not enough of them to provide all the help and services we need, and that getting their services through the statementing process can be extremely tough. I therefore certainly agree with what my hon. Friend says.
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Q13.  Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): We know that officials from other Governments were given the impression that the former Defence Secretary’s unofficial adviser represented the UK Government. How many people in total were misled, and will the Prime Minister provide a list?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should read the Cabinet Secretary’s report, as he will find there all the details he might need about what Mr Werritty was doing, but I have to say that for the hon. Gentleman’s party to lecture us on lobbying comes slightly ill given that we now know that the former Labour Defence Secretary is working for a helicopter company, the former Home Secretary is working for a security firm, Lord Mandelson is at Lazard, and even the former leader and Prime Minister has in the last few months got £120,000 for speeches to Credit Suisse, Visa and Citibank. He told us he had put the money into the banks; we did not know he would get it out so quickly.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Returning to the topic of Europe, does the Prime Minister accept that moves towards fiscal union in the eurozone will ultimately undermine the single market and the United Kingdom?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. While we believe that the logic of a single currency drives the eurozone towards greater fiscal integration, that poses particular threats and risks to those of us who want the single market to work properly. At the European Council this weekend it is important to argue for safeguards to make sure that the single market remains robust and properly protected. That is what we must do in the short term. Of course in the longer term there may be further moves towards further treaties and so forth, and at that stage there may be opportunities to bring further powers back to Britain—and there may, indeed, be opportunities to hold a referendum, but I do not believe the right answer is to hold a referendum willy-nilly in this Parliament when we have so much to do to get Europe to sort out its problems.
Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): On a statutory register of lobbyists, will the Prime Minister also ensure that so-called think-tanks—whose propaganda is clearly aimed at manipulating both Ministers and the public for their own ends—are required to reveal who ultimately funds them, so that we all know whose interests they really represent?
The Prime Minister: We are committed to having a statutory register of lobbyists. That does need to be put in place and, as the right hon. Gentleman says, it needs to include think-tanks and other such organisations. It also needs to include one of the biggest lobbies of all—the lobby that owns the Labour party lock, stock and trade union barrel: the trade unions.
Mr Speaker: Order. We now come to the statement by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. If Members leaving the Chamber can do so quickly and quietly, we can all look forward to hearing from Mr Secretary Clarke.
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Justice and Security Green Paper
The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement. I have today laid before Parliament the justice and security Green Paper. The document is the culmination of more than one year of careful analysis and consideration on how to respond to a difficult challenge for any liberal democracy: addressing how sensitive material can be properly handled in the civil justice system and how the work of the security and intelligence agencies can be properly scrutinised and those bodies held accountable.
The problem is this: in recent years, there has been an increase in the number and diversity of judicial proceedings that examine national security-related actions. In many cases, the facts cannot be fully established without reference to sensitive material, but this material cannot be used in open court proceedings without risking serious damage to national security or international relations. Difficulties arise both in cases in which individuals are alleging Government wrongdoing and in cases in which the Government are seeking to take Executive action against individuals who pose a risk to the public. The consequence is a Catch-22 situation in which the courts may be prevented from reaching any fully informed judgment on the case because they cannot hear all the evidence in the case. They cannot hear all the evidence because it would do serious damage to national security if the evidence was available to all parties and the public. The Government are left with unsatisfactory choices: they could risk damage to national security by disclosing the material or summaries of it, or attempt to defend a case with often large amounts of relevant material excluded. If the material cannot safely be disclosed, the Government may be forced to settle cases, either by paying compensation or by withdrawing a case brought against an individual.
Further problems are posed by applications for the disclosure of sensitive material being sought for use in other legal proceedings, particularly those overseas. The material has sometimes been generated by foreign Governments and shared with the United Kingdom Government on the most confidential of bases. In these cases, disclosure would endanger crucial international partnerships and put at risk the sharing of information, which is critical to Britain’s national security.
These are issues of the utmost importance, which the previous Government faced just as much as the current one do. The work of the security and intelligence agencies, and the sensitive information that they and foreign partners produce, is essential to prevent terrorist attacks, disrupt serious crime networks and make the case for Executive actions such as deportations and asset freezing.
The current situation is clearly unsatisfactory for everyone: the Government are unable to defend their actions; claimants are left without clear judgments based on all the relevant information; and the public are left with no independent judgment by the court, because it has not been able to consider all the evidence. So the justice and security Green Paper contains a number of proposals to address these extremely difficult issues, and takes account of recent Supreme Court judgments. The Green Paper seeks views on a range of proposals including: extending the so-called closed material
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procedures, such as those used already in certain civil contexts, to all civil proceedings; clarifying the law on the requirement to provide a summary of the sensitive material heard in closed procedures to the other party when the procedures are utilised; enhancing the existing special advocate system to equip it to best serve the interests of the individual affected by the closed hearings; and ensuring that security issues are properly considered in cases seeking disclosure of material for use in other legal proceedings, including proceedings overseas.
The Green Paper has a further vital goal: reviewing the existing oversight arrangements for our security and intelligence agencies and the wider intelligence community. Allegations of misconduct undermine public confidence in the work of the security and intelligence agencies. It is essential that we have a strong system for overseeing their activities.
In recent years the context in which the agencies work has changed significantly, with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and 7 July 2005. There have been revolutionary changes in the way that people communicate and use technology. Cyber-security is a major and growing issue, and the budgets and public profiles of the agencies have increased substantially. Given all these changes it is important to ensure that scrutiny of the agencies and the wider intelligence community is effective and credible in the eyes both of Parliament and the public.
The Green Paper makes proposals further to develop the status and remit of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. The Intelligence and Security Committee—that is the existing Committee—has recommended a number of detailed reforms and these have formed the basis of several of the proposals in the Green Paper. Significant reforms that we are floating include changing its status to become a statutory Committee of Parliament, giving Parliament a greater say in ISC appointments and giving the ISC greater powers to require information from the security and intelligence agencies.
The document seeks views on the appropriate balance of arrangements across the overall system of oversight. The Government welcome scrutiny of their activities in every area, including national security. The Green Paper seeks ways to increase both judicial and other independent scrutiny of such matters to unprecedented levels without undermining protection of the public and whilst maintaining strong safeguards for the rights of individuals. Faced with difficult challenges, Governments are sometimes encouraged to suppose that they need to choose between security on one hand and the rule of law on the other, but that is a false choice. As I hope this Green Paper shows, we must have both. I commend this statement to the House.
Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): First, may I thank the Secretary of State for Justice for giving advance sight of his statement this morning and for the briefing that was provided last week? We are supportive of the attempts by the Government to find a solution to the challenging situations that are encountered in sensitive legal cases. At the outset, I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to our security and intelligence services for the difficult and challenging work they do in keeping our country and citizens safe.
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As the Secretary of State said, the work of the security and intelligence agencies and the sensitive information that they and foreign partners produce is essential to prevent terrorist attacks, disrupt serious crime networks and make the case for Executive action such as deportations and asset-freezing. It is important that we support them with this difficult task, and finding a sensible way of handling intelligence material in judicial proceedings is one way in which we can do that. The starting point for all of us is, I hope, restating the principle of open justice, which is a central tenet of our justice system. However, we also recognise that there are occasions when the use of classified intelligence can prove to be a challenge to maintaining open justice. This is compounded by the fact that we are in a globalised environment where the sharing of intelligence between international allies is crucial to ensuring our national security and interest overseas.
I agree with much of what the Secretary of State has said about the challenges we face in this area. I hope that he has had a chance to read the excellent piece in T he Independent today written by my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary on the importance of strong oversight for strong national security. It recognises that changes are required to ensure that scrutiny of the agencies and the wider intelligence community is effective and credible in the eyes of both Parliament and the public.
We need, as a matter of urgency, to bolster the safeguards and scrutiny mechanisms concerning issues of security and intelligence. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State is proposing measures to enhance the powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee. We support the publication of a Green Paper: it is right and proper to foster a debate on what are challenging issues and to encourage key stakeholders to contribute their thoughts.
That being said, I want to take this opportunity to ask a number of questions of the Secretary of State. First, who will decide which cases are treated in the way that he sets out in his Green Paper? How many cases does he believe will be dealt with in the manner suggested and what advice has he received from special advocates and from others involved in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission? How will the overall system be scrutinised? Who will undertake the role of overseeing the whole system? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman comment on the views of the intelligence and security agencies on these proposals? Are they supportive of what has been recommended in the Green Paper?
We are happy to work with the Government to increase both judicial and other independent scrutiny of the intelligence and security agencies without undermining the protection of the public and while maintaining strong safeguards for the rights of individuals.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his extremely constructive response, which is important. As I said, these problems were just as acute for the previous Government as they are for the present one, and with the mounting number of actions being brought in this field, the situation is getting steadily worse. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the Government hope to
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get cross-party agreement. This is a very green paper. We are genuinely open to suggestions as to how to tackle the issue.
It is very much in the national interest that we do that. As the right hon. Gentleman has just said, we intend to protect our system of open justice and at the same time to protect the security of our intelligence agencies and public safety. It is essential that we set aside the ordinary partisan debate and seek to produce a system whereby our public and our allies can be reassured that these matters will be handled sensitively in this country. People will share intelligence with us knowing that it will be used properly, will not be misused and will not be disclosed in areas where it would do damage. At the same time, the public will be able to find out more often the outcome of complaints and actions involving the security services, and have a judge take the matter to a conclusion. I welcome what the right hon. Gentleman said.
I have indeed read the article in The Independent produced by the shadow Home Secretary. I have to say that she, too, was briefed on Privy Council terms, I think. I am used to that. I have been briefed on Privy Council terms quite frequently in the past by members of the previous Government and did not always leap out to the nearest newspaper in order to give a reaction to the briefing that I had just had, but of course in the spirit of bipartisanship that I have just proclaimed, I will take her views seriously. She is trying to find reasons for disagreeing with us on both sides of the argument, but sooner or later she will decide whether we are being too draconian and protective or too indifferent to individual liberties. I look forward to further instalments as, no doubt, does my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The first question that the shadow Justice Secretary asked is key. He asked who will decide that the closed material procedure is the right way to proceed in whatever civil action we are talking about. In the first case it will be put to the court by the Secretary of State, but the final decision will rest with the judge. That is absolutely key. The special advocate is quite entitled to challenge the fact that this evidence is being given under the closed procedure, and the judge will have to be satisfied that on what he or she knows of the claim, it is indeed reasonable to proceed on that basis and there is indeed a threat to national security. That is a considerable reassurance.
I do not know how many cases there will be. The present pattern is that the numbers of cases is steadily increasing. It is becoming fashionable, almost, to start challenging the courts in encounters of any kind with the intelligence agencies. I do not dismiss all these actions, but there are about 30 coming through the pipeline now, so it is urgent that we address the matter.
Accountability is like the ordinary accountability for the court process, but the ISC will no doubt play a part in seeing how the proposal is working and its impact on the Security Service. On the Intelligence and Security Committee’s views on its own reform, as I have already said, we have based many of our recommendations on what the Committee itself has said. It is my understanding—I may discover more clearly in a moment, if any of my right hon. Friends intervene—that the ISC is broadly supportive of where we are going. We are undoubtedly strengthening the Committee. It is being made a Committee of Parliament. It will be accountable
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to Parliament as well as to the Prime Minister, and it will have increased powers if our proposals gain favour in the course of the consultation.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I welcome the publication of the Green Paper because it is better to find a way of getting intelligence material into closed court proceedings than for the cases to remain unresolved. May I point out to the Secretary of State that if that is extended to inquests, it will strengthen the case for a chief coroner, which I have put to him? As someone who has served on the Intelligence and Security Committee for a long time, I believe very strongly that that Committee has to have access to operational information in order to do its job properly.
Mr Clarke: On the first point, we canvassed opinion on the prospect of it being extended to inquests. There will be a range of views on that, so this is a genuinely green part of the Green Paper. My view is that in cases where families are desperately anxious to have a proper inquiry and for someone to make some judgments about what caused the death of a family member, it is particularly unsatisfactory if the whole thing cannot be brought to some sort of conclusion because the proceedings are too open to members of the public so the evidence cannot be heard. We will therefore consult carefully on inquests. I am not sure that the legislation proposing that we have a chief coroner would have given him any powers to do much about such inquest cases, but no doubt that issue will be raised if we continue to debate whether we need a chief coroner.
We propose to improve the ISC’s powers to require information to be brought before it. There are of course difficulties and sensitivities relating to operational information, but those will no doubt be raised in response to the Green Paper and are touched on, rather carefully, in the document I have published today.
Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): On the strengthening of the ISC, I commend what the Secretary of State is proposing. It is 17 years since the ISC was established—a different time and in the shadow of the cold war—and, as he has pointed out, circumstances have changed, so the proposals must be right. On the main part of his statement, I congratulate him on finding what appear to be elegant solutions to the terrible dilemma that successive Home Secretaries and Foreign Secretaries have faced, as I know, where the pursuit of apparent openness has resulted in injustice being done to the intelligence and security agencies and the plaintiffs, and sometimes defendants, in these actions. Will he confirm that the model he is seeking to extend for criminal-related cases will build on the establishment, many years ago, of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission? He says that the matter is urgent, and I entirely agree, so when does he plan to conclude the consultation and introduce legislation?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He will not be surprised to learn that, although I made the statement today, I have been working very closely with my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary, whose interests are crucially involved, as he well knows, having done both jobs. We propose to complete the consultation by January next year, by which time we expect to be able to come back with
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legislation for the House to consider. I hope that people will feed in their views, because the whole point is to try to carry as much consensus in the House as possible. Although we have not yet decided, we will perhaps introduce legislation next year.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North East Fife) (LD): My right hon. and learned Friend will know well that much of the success of intelligence is based upon co-operation with other countries. Does he agree that one of the most difficult components in the balance we must strike is the need to ensure that we do not prejudice relations with other countries, such as those with whom we have a special intelligence relationship, such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand?
Mr Clarke: Having said that I worked on this with the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary, I have now seen my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), who was extremely closely involved in these matters.
On co-operation, I agree entirely with my right hon. and learned Friend. We share information and work closely with reliable allies, with whom we are mutually very dependent, and apply the so-called control principle. It would clearly make things impossible if they feared that legal processes in the United Kingdom would mean that the confidentiality of information they share with us was likely to be compromised. It is of great importance to the security of this country that we do not compromise that principle.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the Green paper and the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is working closely again with the Home Secretary on this and other issues, but I caution against extending the role of special advocates in any way. I do not know whether he was suggesting that, but there are criticisms of special advocates and the way they deal with information. I welcome the fact that the ISC is to be enhanced, but there have been occasions when the Home Affairs Committee has asked the head of MI5 to appear before us, only to be told that we must visit him. Will this now mean that he will appear before the Home Affairs Committee when we ask?
Special advocates are a key part of what we are proposing. Controlled material proceedings will involve the use of special advocates, but the Green paper touches on how to improve that use. There are serious problems relating to how much special advocates have to know about the evidence they will hear before
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they can take proper instructions from their clients and how far they can report back to their clients the gist of what has been said. At the moment that works quite well in immigration tribunals, on which this is based, but the Green Paper asks for suggestions on how the role of special advocates can be improved. They are an essential part of the process, but anything that helps us handle the difficulties in using them would be welcome.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): I warmly welcome the priority given to the protection of information provided by friendly foreign Governments, because, quite frankly, without that protection the provision of that intelligence would simply dry up, to the great detriment of this country. As Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, may I say how much the Committee welcomes the decision to follow its recommendation that it should become, for the first time, a Committee of Parliament and be given effective powers relating to the operation of the intelligence agencies and not simply relating to policy, procedure and administration, as laid down in the current legislation? That is very much to be welcomed because it will enable Parliament and the public to have confidence that there is genuine, independent and effective oversight of our intelligence agencies.
Mr Clarke: I am grateful for that authoritative response to the Green Paper. I think that it matters on both sides of the House that the ISC becomes a Committee of Parliament and, in a fuller sense, is accountable to Parliament as well as to the Prime Minister. We can build on the excellent work it has done since it was first established.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I, too, welcome the Green paper and its proposals. Maintaining the confidence of our allies in sharing their information is absolutely key, but so is maintaining the British public’s confidence in our legal system. If closed proceedings are to be extended, there will be controversy about the role of special advocates, not only in the House, but more broadly among the public, so the proposals to strengthen their role are particularly important. We must ensure that we get that right so that the public, defendants and the whole system have confidence in a fair trial and at the same time protect and maintain the necessary secret intelligence we have. It is a difficult balance to strike, but I am sure that the Secretary of State is up to it.
The right hon. Lady is also a member of the ISC, so I am grateful for her support for our proposals. She is quite right to stress the need for public confidence generally. The present situation is wholly unsatisfactory. The Guantanamo Bay case, which we settled recently, showed exactly what can go wrong. I had to come to the House to announce that we had paid out a total of £20 million, together with costs, because we had ceased to defend the action. Everyone who was inclined to believe the detainees thought that there was secret information that would confirm everything they said, and everyone who was against the detainees thought that the security services had been crippled, that they could have defended themselves and that we were paying
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money to worthless people. Every conspiracy theory could flourish, depending on temperament, before we even started. That is no way to retain public confidence. In our view that definitely requires closed material procedures, which means that we must have special advocates, so we welcome views on how to improve the way in which they carry out that very difficult task.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): The purpose of state secrecy is to protect the safety of citizens, not to cover up criminality or to avoid embarrassment. In the Binyam Mohamed case, which led to the Gibson inquiry, the very senior judges involved went to a great deal of trouble to balance the requirements of security and open justice, but, from what I understand of this Green Paper, I am concerned that had my right hon. and learned Friend’s proposals been in place a few years ago, what we learned from the Binyam Mohamed case would not have been put in the public domain, that we would not have had the Gibson inquiry and, indeed, that we would not have been able to resolve the issues arising from it. Other nations—Canada, Australia, Germany, France and Italy; all our major allies other than America—are able to be very robust about that. Why can we not be?
Mr Clarke: If my right hon. Friend will excuse me, I shall not comment on the Binyam Mohamed case in detail. The judges take one view and others take another, but the Green Paper addresses the problem. One would need the facility for closed material procedures, so the starting point would be a decision, confirmed by the judge, that in the interest of national security the case should take place in closed proceedings and, therefore, not be revealed afterwards. That is an altogether better way of resolving the issue than allowing an argument to break out between judges, the Security Service and everybody else afterwards about whether something has been revealed that should not have been. That was where we were in the case of Binyam Mohamed.
I cannot remember my right hon. Friend’s second point, but we have got the balance right. Members of the Intelligence and Security Committee have said that confidentiality vis-à-vis allies is absolutely crucial, and it is no good currying favour by trying to get behind that, because in fact the safety of people in this country would be endangered if we did not have the full and frank co-operation of allied countries providing us with their intelligence, just as we provide them with ours.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): I am very grateful, Mr Speaker, and I, too, welcome the Green Paper. It is perfectly clear that the balance on disclosure has tipped too far in sensitive cases, and that results in Ministers being constrained in their ability to fulfil their ultimate obligation, which is to protect the public. Given the complexity of the situation, may I ask specifically what plans the Secretary of State has to consult the judiciary?
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Mr Clarke: I have had some preliminary discussions with the judiciary, and I am quite sure that they will now respond quite fully to our Green Paper, but I agree that, as we are making very important changes to civil procedure, it is essential that we take on board their views. In the end, this House will decide, but it would be most unsatisfactory and be asking for a great deal of future trouble if we started trying to put in civil procedures that the judiciary thought unsatisfactory and, in case law, sought to modify. I have taken great trouble to consult the judiciary, and I will continue to do so. I think that that will be possible, because they are just as concerned as everybody else about national security and, certainly, about open justice, and they will help us to reach a conclusion.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): There will be nervousness at the use of special advocates in cases such as those of the Guantanamo detainees or in inquests. Does the Secretary of State agree that the most effective way of stopping such cases coming forward is to ensure that international law is observed, that torture is never condoned implicitly or explicitly and that our security services are more effectively monitored so that we can always be certain about the probity of their activities?
Mr Clarke: I certainly agree with all my right hon. Friend’s principles, and they are confirmed by the current Government: we are flatly against the use of torture; we do comply with international law; my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has published new guidelines for the security and intelligence services; and, as I have said, we certainly want them to be properly accountable.
No one has ever established malpractice in previous cases, and one thing we are seeking to do is to draw a line under all the past allegations. I have been settling cases and all the rest of it, but no one has ever made an adverse finding against the security services on any of those grounds. Having public confidence, we now want a process whereby we can sustain it.
Mr George Howarth (Knowsley) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that certain judicial decisions on intelligence sharing have undermined the confidence of our close allies, particularly the United States, with a material effect on some areas in which they are willing to co-operate. Does he not share my concern that our close allies will be concerned to find that he now places on judges the burden of making those decisions? In reality and in our experience, judges look at the conduct of their own proceedings, rather than at national security.
There has been the one case, the Binyam Mohamed case, which we have touched on, but unsurprisingly no one here has touched on the growing number of cases under the so-called Norwich Pharmacal procedure, on which we make recommendations. It is important that we do not find that the interests of the particular parties lead to highly sensitive intelligence material just getting into the public domain. Having consulted the judiciary, and from my experience of them, I have to say that it is actually wrong to argue that they are indifferent to the needs of national security; they accept that we need clear reform of our processes. We had been waiting for some Supreme Court cases before we produced our final proposals in this Green Paper, and the judiciary think it is time for Parliament
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to make clear how the processes can be modified to enable them to protect justice and liberty on the one hand and national security on the other.
Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): Will my right hon. and learned Friend please set out the position in respect of Northern Ireland? It is of course a part of the United Kingdom, and it bears the scars of conflict all too well, so will these measures be applicable in Northern Ireland?
Mr Clarke: It is very important that my hon. Friend raises this issue. We have indeed consulted the Northern Ireland Office. The issue applies to Northern Ireland, and these matters come up frequently in the Northern Ireland context. In the course of our consultation on the Green Paper, I expect that we will receive quite a lot of representations based on the experience there.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): We clearly need some form of closed material procedure, if only to deal with the counter-intelligence threat, which is very strong at the moment, from countries such as Russia, but may I urge the Lord Chancellor to look at whether the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee could not, as is the case with the Public Accounts Committee, always be a member of the Opposition? The Member who currently holds the post could perfectly well have held it when we were in power, so would it not make greater sense for the Chair to be a member of the Opposition?
Mr Clarke: Well, we will look at that, because I stress that this is a Green Paper and we are seeking cross-party consensus, which, were we ever to go into opposition again, I trust we would maintain on such subjects. The shadow Home Secretary made the same point, and we will look at it, but the idea that the Chairman’s party allegiance is an important consideration is not immediately obvious to me. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman confirms that the current Chairman, who happens to be a Conservative MP, is a former Foreign Secretary and whom nobody criticises as Chairman, is the right person to be Chairman. A rule that the Chair switches party might be relevant to other Committees, but for this Committee it is not quite as necessary as it obviously is for a Select Committee.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I commend the Justice Secretary for drawing the politicised sting from the false battle between justice and security. Will he give us his early thoughts on the possibility of creating an inspector-general of the intelligence services in order to ensure that oversight is concentrated in a single body?
Mr Clarke: The idea is floated in the Green Paper, and it often comes up. We will obviously look at it, alongside all the other things we are looking at to make the security services more accountable, but it is a suggestion often made, it remains a live issue and we will consider it very carefully.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): One way we could make the new Committee effective would be to guarantee that its reports were debated in this Chamber. Will the Government commit to making time for such debates, or will they leave it to the Backbench Business Committee?
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Mr Clarke: That is more a matter for the Leader of the House than for me, but I am just turning to some members of the Committee, and I note that its reports are debated here sometimes. If Members with a close interest in the subject do not consider the frequency of debate to be adequate, however, I suggest that they take it up with my right hon. Friend. I do not think that these particular measures touch upon the frequency of debate, but the Committee is to be made more accountable to Parliament. That is one of the underlying features of our reforms.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): I am instinctively uncomfortable about keeping evidence secret from those in court cases, but I look forward to seeking the detailed safeguards in the Green Paper. The Secretary of State says that the measures are intended for civil cases, but what assurances can he give the House that he will not consider using similar processes for criminal cases, in which somebody’s liberty might be at risk?
Mr Clarke: There is no question of having this in criminal cases—it would be quite impossible. A person could not be convicted on the basis of evidence that he was not allowed to hear and that was withheld from the public. The position will be the same after this as it is now—if evidence is not possessed that can be used in open court, the prosecution has to be dropped and cannot proceed. I share my hon. Friend’s sensitivities about any part of civil proceedings being closed—particularly, for example, in inquests, as I said a moment ago. However, I have come to the conclusion that that is less unsatisfactory than a situation in which the case cannot be heard in civil proceedings, so both parties go away, both claiming they are still right, and nobody has been able to hear all the evidence and give a judgment that, although not everybody will always accept it, will be of considerable reassurance to the general public if someone has heard it all and come to a conclusion.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that it is vital that we have a common regime across the United Kingdom in dealing with the fight against terrorism? Given that, what talks will he have with the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland to ensure not only that there is a consistent approach but that there are no loopholes?
Mr Clarke: I think that the issues are exactly the same, in relevant cases, in all parts of the United Kingdom. Obviously the situation in Northern Ireland is particularly relevant to all this, so we have already consulted in Northern Ireland with the Justice Minister and others, and we will continue to do so. We are hoping to resolve problems that have been big in Northern Ireland for a long time, and we could not possibly have different principles applying on either side of the Irish sea.
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Jonathan Evans (Cardiff North) (Con): Does my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that there remains a high level of dissatisfaction with the degree of parliamentary scrutiny covering issues in relation to, for instance, extraordinary rendition, which was investigated in Europe in an inquiry that I was associated with but which here in this House was dealt with only by an all-party committee? In those circumstances, does he think that the changes that he is proposing will enable the Intelligence and Security Committee to look into these matters more effectively?
Mr Clarke: Yes, indeed; I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I remind him that we are going to look into rendition and a lot of the other allegations once we get the Gibson inquiry under way. It is clear that that inquiry will go into all the things that have troubled my hon. Friend and other people for some years. Again, we try to do these things in parallel. We are trying to draw a line under the past and then make sure that practice in future attracts less criticism because there is less ground for it. We cannot start the Gibson inquiry until the police have completed their investigations, which are still ongoing; as soon as they have concluded them, the whole question of rendition, among other things, will be looked at by the inquiry.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): The Secretary of State rightly highlighted the importance of the growing cyber-threat. He is of course aware that the vast majority of targets of those threats are in areas such as finance, utilities and so on, which, historically, we have not regarded as places where security threats would occur. This now requires a much higher level of engagement from employees and people working in those sectors. Will he take steps to ensure that the industries where there are real threats are carried with us in this important regard?
Mr Clarke: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are investing in cyber-security. He is right to say that this is now an extremely important issue for many sectors of British industry, as well as for the Government, that complicates matters and gives rise to the need for more actions now. There are myriad circumstances in which national security may be compromised by certain material. Some of the simpler ones arise because the identity of informants might be revealed. In others, the existence of some particular technology of which the other side is blissfully unaware will be revealed if one starts putting in one’s intelligence material. It is just as important to national security that those who are not friends of this country should not always know the capacity of the intelligence services in these cases. That is why the growing problem of cyber-security is a particular reason for strengthening our procedures and strengthening their supervision by this House.
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Cabinet Secretary Report (Government Response)
The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the Cabinet Secretary’s report on the allegations against my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Dr Fox). In the interests of transparency, the Prime Minister published the report in full yesterday afternoon and copies were made available to Members immediately after publication. The Government have come to the House at the earliest appropriate moment following the report’s publication. It is not usual for the Government to make an oral statement following the resignation of a Minister. However, given the wider implications of the Cabinet Secretary’s report, it is right that the House has an opportunity to consider the Government’s response.
Before coming to the report, I would like first to set out to the House the changes to the regulations governing Ministers which this Government have already introduced. In May 2010, the Prime Minister published a new ministerial code and committed the Government to an unprecedented level of transparency. The Government are publishing on a quarterly basis details of all Ministers’ meetings with external organisations, including lobbyists, and including meetings with senior media executives; all hospitality received by Ministers; all gifts given and received by Ministers over £140; all Ministers’ visits overseas; contracts over £25,000; special advisers’ salaries over £58,200, and estimated pay bill; special advisers’ gifts and hospitality received; spend on Government procurement cards over £500; and senior officials’ hospitality expenses and meetings with external organisations.
The Prime Minister also significantly tightened the rules regulating former Ministers when they leave office. Former Ministers are now barred from lobbying Government for two years, as well as having to get the advice of the independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments for any appointments or employment they wish to take up for a period of two years after leaving office, and the code makes it clear that former Ministers must abide by the advice of the Committee.
Turning now to the matter in hand, following speculation in the media my right hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset requested that the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence investigate the allegations. The Prime Minister then asked the Cabinet Secretary to establish the facts of the case in relation to allegations in the context of the ministerial code. The interim report prepared by the permanent secretary found that
“there are areas where the current guidance on propriety and the management of Ministerial Private Offices needs to be strengthened”.
As the ministerial code makes clear, it is the Prime Minister’s duty to enforce the ministerial code, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has therefore acted at all times in accord with the proper process.
“I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred”.
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My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister accepted my right hon. Friend’s resignation from Government and his reasons for resigning while making it clear that he viewed him as a superb Defence Secretary, who had implemented fundamental changes that will help to ensure that our armed forces are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the modern era—and I wholeheartedly endorse that view.
The report by the Cabinet Secretary confirms that my right hon. Friend did indeed breach the ministerial code. The ministerial code requires Ministers to ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise. My right hon. Friend’s actions constituted a clear breach of the ministerial code which he has already acknowledged. However, as recognised in the Cabinet Secretary’s report:
“Dr Fox has stated to Parliament Mr Werritty had no access to classified documents and was not briefed on classified matters. There is nothing in the evidence we have taken to contradict this.”
“there is no evidence from this review that casts doubt on Dr Fox’s statement to Parliament that public funds were not misused”
“that Dr Fox gained financially in any way from this relationship”.
The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Defence has already accepted that there should have been much tighter procedures within the Department and is taking steps to strengthen them to ensure that the ministerial code is properly adhered to.
The Cabinet Secretary’s report concludes that my right hon. Friend’s close and visible association with Mr Werritty in the UK and overseas, and the latter’s use of misleading business cards, has fuelled a general impression that Mr Werritty spoke on behalf of the UK Government. The risks of my right hon. Friend’s associations with Mr Werritty were raised with him by both his private office and the permanent secretary. My right hon. Friend took action in respect of business cards, but clearly made a judgment that his contact with Mr Werritty should continue. This may have been a reasonable judgment had the contacts been minimal and purely personal and had not involved Mr Werritty’s frequent attendance at meetings in the MOD main building and on overseas visits. The damage arose because the frequency, range and extent of the contacts were not regulated as well as they should have been, and that was exacerbated by the fact that the Department was not made aware of all the various contacts.
The Cabinet Secretary also concluded that the links and a lack of clarity in the roles meant that the donations given to Mr Werritty could give rise to the perception of a conflict of interests. He went on to say that there was an inappropriate blurring of the lines between official and personal relationships. Mr Werritty should not have been provided with access to my right hon. Friend’s diary and itinerary. Nor should he have been allowed to participate in the social elements of the then Defence Secretary’s overseas trips in a way that might have given rise to the impression that he was part of the official party. He should not have had meetings in the MOD with such frequency, as that access may have provided others with a belief that Mr Werritty was speaking for Government and was part of an official entourage. That impression was, of course, reinforced by the business cards that Mr Werritty provided to people.
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The Cabinet Secretary has recommended further strengthening of procedures across Government. There are five specific recommendations in his report and it is worth setting those out in full. The first is:
“Where discussions take place with external organisations which raise substantive issues relating to departmental decisions or contracts and where an official is not present Ministers should inform their department.”
“On Ministerial visits, whether in the UK or abroad, departments should make sure there is no confusion about who is and is not a member of the Ministerial party”,
“Officials should accompany Ministers to all official visits and meetings overseas at which it is expected that official matters may be raised, and should seek guidance from the FCO if there is any uncertainty about the status of such meetings or the attendance of non-officials at them.”
“Permanent Secretaries should discuss with Ministers at the time of their appointment and regularly thereafter whether any acquaintances or advisers have contractual relationships with the department or are involved in policy development. The Minister and the Permanent Secretary should take action as necessary to ensure there can be no actual or perceived conflict of interest in line with the principles of the Ministerial Code.”
“Permanent Secretaries should take responsibility for ensuring departmental procedures are followed, and for raising any concerns with Ministers, advising the Cabinet Secretary and ultimately the Prime Minister where such concerns are not resolved.”
Finally, I will turn briefly to wider action that the Government already intend to take to ensure greater transparency between Ministers and external organisations. The coalition agreement committed us to regulating lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists, ensuring even greater transparency. It is worth noting from the Cabinet Secretary’s report that:
“Whilst Mr Werritty was not a lobbyist, the Government’s commitment to consult on a statutory register of lobbyists will bring further transparency to this area.”
We intend to produce a consultative document setting out our proposals next month, with an aim of legislating next year. This work is being taken forward by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House.
At the end of the last Parliament, public trust in Parliament was at an unprecedented low. This Government are committed to working to rebuild confidence in our political and democratic institutions and we will continue to put in place any measure necessary to ensure that the highest standards rightly expected of our elected representatives are met.
Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab):
I thank the Leader of the House for his statement, but what a condemnation it was of the way in which government is being run in this country. It is a matter of deep regret that the Prime
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Minister has chosen not to deal with this statement himself. It is the Prime Minister and not the Leader of the House who is the guardian of the ministerial code, and who has the final say on who is fit to be in his Government. Today, he has ducked those responsibilities.
When news of the potential wrongdoing at the Ministry of Defence first surfaced, the former Secretary of State for Defence announced an inquiry into himself, but only after he had called the allegations “baseless”. As the revelations mounted daily, the Prime Minister belatedly announced this limited inquiry by the Cabinet Secretary. By then, it was apparent to everyone that the ministerial code had been breached. The Secretary of State admitted as much. Why then did the Prime Minister not refer this case to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Sir Philip Mawer?
What we have today is a far cry from such a full, independent, external inquiry. The Cabinet Secretary has been forced to rely on the word of Adam Werritty and the former Defence Secretary, whose explanations have repeatedly unravelled at the first hint of scrutiny. This report merely scratches the surface of potential misconduct in government. Consequently, it raises more questions than it answers.
“not appropriate and not acceptable”.
It reveals, in stark detail, multiple breaches of the ministerial code. The former Defence Secretary has knowingly circumvented the long-established rules that are in place to prevent conflicts of interest from arising. The report shows that wealthy individuals funded Adam Werritty. He was, in effect, a privately funded special adviser. The former Secretary of State’s shadow political operation routinely undermined our civil service structures and their accountability. The report fails to expose the full facts about the money trail. There is no investigation into the benefits that Adam Werritty received. There is no full disclosure of his funders and the purpose behind the donations. Given the Prime Minister’s failure to answer this question earlier today, can the Leader of the House give the House a categorical assurance that no similar practices are taking place anywhere else in this Government?
I turn now to the details of the report. We need answers on the following issues. The role of the Sri Lanka Development Trust is not considered in the report. Mr Werritty’s presence in Iran, Washington and Israel remains unexplained. We do not know whether Mr Werritty profited from his association with the former Defence Secretary, although we do know about the five-star nature of his taste in flights and hotels. We do not know what those secretive donors, who were in effect Mr Werritty’s paymasters, were promised for their money, nor indeed if they got it. We do not know whether the former Defence Secretary commissioned any work from the MOD as a result of the offline and irregular meetings brokered by Mr Werritty. We do not know which other Ministers and senior staff have met Mr Werritty, because the Prime Minister has refused to publish a full list. That is totally unacceptable. A full list must be published. In order to deal with all those issues, will the Leader of the House agree that further investigation is both essential and urgent?
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Will the Leader of the House also tell the House whether he has initiated an inquiry into the use by the former Defence Secretary of his parliamentary office to run Atlantic Bridge as a charity, and whether he is satisfied that that was proper under parliamentary rules? Some of the key funders of Atlantic Bridge were the key funders of Adam Werritty. They are also the key funders of the Conservative party. The links are complex, but they are deep and well-established.
We learned yesterday of the meeting between Adam Werritty and two members of the existing Defence team. They must give the House a full explanation of the details of those meetings and their connections to Adam Werritty.
We also learned in the report that the risks of the former Defence Secretary’s association with Mr Werritty were raised with him by his private office, the permanent secretary, a former permanent secretary and a former Chief of the Defence Staff. He chose to ignore those warnings. Why was he allowed to make that choice? What did the permanent secretary at the MOD then do? Were any of those concerns raised with the Cabinet Secretary and, if so, did the Cabinet Secretary raise them with the Prime Minister? Why was this situation allowed to continue for so long? Why was the former Defence Secretary allowed to treat the ministerial code as if it was an optional extra?
The report recommends that senior civil servants have greater oversight of ministerial behaviour. Yet the fact remains that it is Ministers who are responsible for their own conduct and the Prime Minister who is the guardian of the ministerial code. He is expected to enforce it, not allow it to be broken multiple times.
“cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money”.
That promise has now been broken. This scandal has only damaged public confidence in the Government further. Meetings without civil servants; money off the books; luxury social visits in between visits to our brave servicemen and women; and today, the Prime Minister’s contempt on the matter was revealed. Simply saying that the Defence Secretary has resigned is not good enough. The Government need to take responsibility for this self-inflicted crisis. The House needs answers to the unanswered questions, or people will only conclude that this Government have something to hide.
Sir George Young:
I will go through the issues that the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) raised. No Prime Minister has ever made a statement to the House following the resignation of a Minister. In circumstances such as these, when there has been a report on a breach of the code, there has normally been a written ministerial statement. There has never before been an oral statement in circumstances such as these, but this Government
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have come to the Dispatch Box at the earliest stage, having made a written ministerial statement and set out our proposals.
“If there is an allegation about a breach of the Code, and the Prime Minister, having consulted the Cabinet Secretary feels that it warrants further investigation, he will refer the matter to the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests.”
That is exactly what he has done. We have established that there has been a breach of the code, the Secretary of State has resigned and we have a comprehensive report identifying the breaches and making recommendations for the future. It is not a superficial report; it is a comprehensive piece of work by the Cabinet Secretary, and the House should be grateful for it.
I turn to the specific questions that the hon. Lady asked. Other Ministers are perfectly happy to make it clear whether they have met Mr Werritty. On whether similar practices are going on throughout Government, if she has any evidence I would like her to bring it forward. [Interruption.]
“I am of the view that this is an issue which was specific to Dr Fox.”
The hon. Member for Wallasey raised a number of other issues, some of which are for other bodies to deal with. If she looks at paragraph 1 of the Cabinet Secretary’s report, she will see that it states:
“Since then, more allegations about Dr Fox’s conduct have arisen many of which will be the responsibility of others to answer, including the Electoral Commission which regulates political parties and their funding.”
The hon. Lady then asked what went wrong in the Ministry of Defence. If she reads the report, she will see that what went wrong was that the permanent secretary did not raise the issue with the Cabinet Secretary, who would then have raised it with the Prime Minister. There is a specific recommendation in the report that that situation should not happen again, and that if there are any future instances, the permanent secretary should notify the Cabinet Secretary, who will notify the Prime Minister.
I say very gently to the hon. Lady that her party is not negotiating from a position of strength on this issue. I think what the public want is a serious debate about what went wrong, and they want Members on both sides of the House to join together in driving up standards in public life.
Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members who came into the Chamber after the start of the statement—there were several of them on both sides of the House—that they certainly should not expect to
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be called. It would be much better if they did not stand. This is an Opposition day and there is pressure on business, so brevity is of the essence.
Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): I warmly welcome the Leader of the House’s statement. In it, he said that senior civil servants “accepted that there should have been much tighter procedures within the Department”. Will he say specifically what is wrong with existing procedures, and what steps he is taking to ensure that the failing lies with those procedures rather than with the action or inaction of the civil servants themselves?
Sir George Young: I thank my hon. Friend for his endorsement. What went wrong was that the permanent secretary, having raised the matter with the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State having persisted in the behaviour that she found disturbing, did not take further action. The matter should have been escalated to the Cabinet Secretary, who would then have notified the Prime Minister. A specific recommendation is going out to all permanent secretaries today that should there be a recurrence in future, it should be escalated. Had that happened in this case, the issue probably would have been addressed at a much earlier stage.
Given that it was quite clear on day one of this scandal to anybody who has bothered to read the ministerial code that the Minister in question not only broke it but drove a coach and horses through it, why the dither and delay from the Prime Minister? Does that not show yet again that we have a Prime Minister who does not do detail and does not have a clue what is going on in the rest of his Government?
Sir George Young: If I may say so to the right hon. Gentleman, I think that is way over the top. When Lord Mandelson resigned not once but twice, the Prime Minister did not come to the House to make a statement. In this case there is a statement from a Minister on the action that we propose to take to stop any recurrence. Far from the Prime Minister dithering or delaying, he asked for something to be on his desk on Monday. He then asked the Cabinet Secretary to produce a report. Out of decency and fair play, the Prime Minister decided to wait until the report was available rather than taking precipitate action. That is not dither and delay; that is fair play.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend not think it rather strange that some of those who are campaigning hard for a register of lobbyists did nothing over the past 13 years and created a lobbyists’ free-for-all? Does he not also think that it is strange for the Labour party, which found itself in the Bernie Ecclestone lobbying scandal, to now pretend it is Mother Teresa?
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case that from 1997 to last year, no action was taken to introduce a statutory register of lobbyists. When the Public Administration Committee recommended that in 2009, the Labour Government specifically rejected it, and they voted against other measures that would have promoted transparency, so I do not think we have any lessons to learn on this matter from Labour Members.
Sir George Young: If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence—[Hon. Members: “Ah.”] I think people should be careful before making general allegations without any specific evidence at all. This is a—[Interruption.]
Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Leader of the House, but may I say to the House that he is a person of unfailing courtesy? I think that would be accepted on both sides of the House. He does not yell at other Members, and—[Interruption.] Order. And other Members should not yell at him.
Sir George Young: I quoted a passage from paragraph 11 of the Cabinet Secretary’s report, in which he stated that he believed the situation was “specific to Dr Fox”. I do not think there is any evidence at all that Mr Werritty had a similar relationship with any other Minister in the Government. If the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer) has any evidence of any irregularity, I think he should put it forward and substantiate what he has said.
Brandon Lewis (Great Yarmouth) (Con): I appreciate the Leader of the House’s point about a register of lobbyists, and I add my voice to the call for a statutory register. Does he find it surprising to hear some of the comments from the Opposition, given that under the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), union officials were regularly in No. 10 unofficially attending meetings?
Sir George Young: I agree with my hon. Friend that this should not become part of the political currency between the two parties. On the issue of lobbying, as I think he knows, we plan to publish a consultation document early next month on our proposals for a statutory register of lobbyists, with a view to legislating next year.
Mr Michael Meacher (Oldham West and Royton) (Lab): I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s seemingly all-encompassing catchment in the designation of lobbyists, but I would like assurance on two points. First, will he confirm that the ultimate funding of all lobbyists, think-tanks and all others who seek to exert influence will be revealed on an open public register that is readily accessible and tell us what the sanctions will be if that is not done? Secondly, since all those who seek to manipulate always want to escape detection, how will he deal with the admittedly difficult situation in which formal meetings suddenly morph into informal meetings where significant commitments might be made but remain undetected?