14 Dec 2011 : Column 773
14 Dec 2011 : Column 773
House of Commons
Wednesday 14 December 2011
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office was asked—
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): On 21 November, I announced a package of measures to transform how the Government buy. We want to save money for the taxpayer and for suppliers and to make it easier for small and medium-sized enterprises and voluntary organisations to bid successfully. That is why we have announced a pipeline of £50 billion-worth of future business opportunities. We will make it 40% quicker to do business with Government and we will, in future, engage proactively with current and future suppliers to discuss upcoming procurement opportunities.
Mr Maude: If there are problems not only in how central Government procure but across the wider public sector, I hope that my hon. Friend’s constituents will make contact with my Department through the helpline that we have set up specifically for the purpose. If they highlight how procurements are being done that entrench the old, inefficient and anti-enterprise way of doing things, we can then intervene proactively, as we have done on a number of occasions, to make improvements.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 774
Mark Pawsey: It is the small businesses that often have the greatest difficulty in accessing Government contracts, and that is because of a regulation from the European Union. Will the Minister tell us what steps he is taking to reform EU regulations to make it easier to secure contracts with Government both at a national and local level?
Mr Maude: The first thing that we are doing is trying to ensure that the way in which we implement the European directives is sensible and not overly bureaucratic and legalistic, which it usually is at the moment. The European Commission is introducing proposals to streamline and simplify the procurement directives, which we welcome. I was talking to Commissioner Barnier in Brussels two or three weeks ago, and he was very open to that happening.
Mr Spencer: Fresh Opportunities is a company in my constituency that supplies water drinkers to jobcentres. Sadly, though, it lost the contract. That was not because it was inefficient or too expensive but because it could not deliver a service on a large enough scale. What can the Minister do to enable SMEs, which cannot operate on a national scale, to be able to deal with Government bodies?
Mr Maude: We have two objectives here. We want to buy as efficiently as we can, which, in many cases, means using the scale of Government to aggregate volume and drive down prices. In many areas of procurement of commodities, goods and services, we are able to get the price advantages of aggregation but, none the less, involve SMEs much more in the process. We have a commitment and an aspiration to increase the value of SME business to 25% of the total.
Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): The Minister will be aware that public procurement guidelines in Northern Ireland are set by EU directives and UK regulations. Will the Minister, therefore, give a commitment to work alongside the Northern Ireland Executive and not to turn his back on Europe in negotiations to tackle the issues of over-complexity, cost and red tape, as those are issues that are affecting local business?
Mr Maude: As I said, we are actively engaged with the European Commission in supporting the good work that it is undertaking to streamline procurement processes, but we need to ensure—and I hope that the hon. Lady will do this—that the Administration in Northern Ireland do not overimplement the directives because we are finding that central Government and the wider public sector in Great Britain tend to do that.
Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Notwithstanding what the Minister said about the economies of scale, the Federation of Small Businesses has reported an increased tendency for public sector contracts to be aggregated into much larger ones, thereby penalising smaller businesses. What has the Minister got to say to those small businesses?
There is a whole range of procurement opportunities that are particularly suitable for smaller businesses. Even when we aggregate, that does not exclude small businesses. For example, we have just let the contracts for travel for the whole of Government
14 Dec 2011 : Column 775
and one of the successful two bidders is a very small business, which, as a result of winning that contract, will become a much bigger one.
Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend include in that assessment the ability of charities and small organisations, mutuals and so on to bid for public sector contracts as providers of public services? May I commend the report that the Select Committee on Public Administration has published today on the big society, which recommends that the Government extend the eligibility for the VAT refund scheme, which currently applies to public sector bodies, to charities that deliver public services under contract with a public sector organisation?
Mr Maude: I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor takes note of my hon. Friend’s suggestion. We want to make it easier for small voluntary organisations and mutuals to bid successfully. One thing that we aim to do is to get contracts chunked up into smaller lots. We have much bigger contracts, generally, than France or Germany would have in equivalent circumstances, which tends to militate and be biased against the interests of smaller businesses and voluntary and charitable organisations.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): The big society is all about building social capital, which is key to solving social exclusion. There are four places where most of us build the relationships that sustain us: in the family, in school, in our communities and at work. We are taking action to build social capital in all of those through a focus on the 120,000 most troubled families, through competition and raising standards in schools, through community organisers and the community first initiative in communities and through the Work programme, the rehabilitation revolution and the drug and alcohol recovery programme.
Jonathan Ashworth: I thank the Minister for that answer and I know that he is sincere in wanting to see civic society flourish, as am I. In Leicester, many organisations who work with vulnerable people at risk of social exclusion, such as the Shama women’s centre or those at the Saffron Lane resource centre, increasingly find that their grants and pots of money are being cut. Does the Minister think he will be able to create the big society on the cheap?
As I said the previous time the hon. Gentleman asked such a question, he is extraordinarily assiduous in this area. I have done some further research on where he has been recently and the Saffron Lane centre that he describes is, I am glad to say, one area where the community organisers to which I referred will be located. While I am at it, it is clear that the hon. Gentleman drags the Government with him every time he goes anywhere. He also visited the Eyres Monsell centre and that is now receiving a £50,000 grant from
14 Dec 2011 : Column 776
the community grants system. We can be said to be delivering not on the cheap but on the expensive in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): This year, 40,000 households were made homeless. As we approach Christmas and with today’s rise in unemployment, Shelter estimates that every two minutes someone else faces losing their home. Now we hear that Government cuts to the big society have resulted in homeless charities facing 25% reductions in their funding. Will the Minister at least immediately agree to restore the social exclusion taskforce, which the Government shamelessly abolished when they entered the Cabinet Office, so that in the future the homeless and others who suffer from social exclusion will at least have a voice when he and his colleagues make such hard-hearted decisions?
Mr Letwin: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands the changes in the machinery of government that have taken place under this Government. It is perfectly true that the social exclusion taskforce has been abolished, and the reason for that is that we have set up instead a fully fledged first-rank Cabinet committee on social justice—
Mr Letwin: It is not in the least secret, as the hon. Gentleman mutters from a sedentary position, in the sense that it will produce a social justice strategy that he will be able to read along with the rest of the House. I think he will find that we are putting absolutely at the centre of our activities the fostering of the big society in order to help, among other things, those who are homeless. That is also one of the reasons why we recently issued our housing strategy, which does more than the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues did in many years to try to improve housing in this country.
Government Documents (Disposal)
Mr Maude: I can provide a detailed answer to the hon. Gentleman if he requires. If he is concerned about classified Government documents going amiss, I suggest he raises the matter with his right hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary, who in 2009 had to apologise for leaving a briefcase full of classified Government documents on a train.
Big Society Capital
14 Dec 2011 : Column 777
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): Big Society Capital is all about trying to make it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. We think that we are making good progress, moving swiftly through the Financial Services Authority authorisation and EU state-aid approval processes, and we are confident that Big Society Capital will be open for business by spring. In the meantime, the interim investment committee, which made its first investment in July, will announce its next investment shortly.
Richard Fuller: I thank the Minister for his answer. My focus is on the voluntary organisations whose budgets are always tight, so will he advise me on how he can enhance their capacity to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Big Society Capital?
Mr Hurd: My hon. Friend knows from his lengthy experience in the area that we have fantastic social entrepreneurs in this country, and we want to make it easier for them to access capital, but, as he points out, some of them need more help to become more investment-ready. That is exactly why we have set up a £10 million investment and contract readiness fund—to provide grants for organisations that want to attract investment but know they need more help to become more investment-ready.
Mr Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op): Among the Public Administration Committee’s many criticisms in its report today, it rightly highlights that Ministers cannot expect the big society bank to provide the solution to the funding crisis that their cuts are causing for hundreds of charities. Given that the report goes on effectively to accuse Ministers of being out of touch and not providing effective leadership to tackle the problems that charities face, would not now be the perfect time for yet another one of the Prime Minister’s big society re-launches?
Mr Hurd: I am not going to take any lectures on leadership and Big Society Capital from the Opposition, because they talked for 10 years about setting it up but did not actually do it. We are doing it because we want to make it easier for social entrepreneurs to access capital. It is on track, and we are very proud of it.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): As we set out in the “Open Public Services” White Paper, we are committed to an ambitious programme of mutualisation, allowing staff to break free of bureaucracy and to spin out from the public sector. To support that, we have put in place the mutuals support programme, the mentoring of mutuals by groups such as John Lewis, the mutuals task force chaired by Professor Le Grand and the mutuals information service, and we are increasing the “right to provide” scheme.
Ian Murray: The Minister for the Cabinet Office expects there to be an extra 1 million workers in organisations taking over the running of public services by 2015. Will he update the House on how many he expects to be doing so by the end of this financial year?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 778
Mr Maude: I have certainly not set a target of 1 million, but it is perfectly feasible that 1 million public sector workers will choose to take themselves out of the public sector in order to deliver in employee-led organisations the services that they currently provide. The number is growing, and, although we cannot make it happen, we are going to make it a great deal easier and to support all those groups. The benefits are huge in terms of productivity. Staff absence falls, staff turnover falls and customer satisfaction rises very dramatically, so I hope that we have the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiastic support for this programme of mutualisation.
9. Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): How small and medium-sized enterprises in Calder Valley constituency can bid for central Government information and communications technology and facilities management contracts. 
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): It is absolutely vital that small and medium-sized enterprises should be able to bid for ICT and other contracts, and that is why the Minister for the Cabinet Office said a moment or two ago that we have set an ambition for 25% of contracts to go to SMEs. We have also simplified the contracting process, making it easier for SMEs to find out what the Government seek to purchase, and I recommend that the enterprises in my hon. Friend’s constituency look at the Contracts Finder website, which I have been on myself, It is an absolutely admirable one-stop shop for finding out about Government contracts.
Craig Whittaker: I thank the Minister for that reply. I am not a cynical kind of guy, but I wonder whether he can give the House some examples of how the Government are helping SMEs by awarding them contracts.
Mr Letwin: Yes, I can, and I refer again to something that my right hon. Friend was saying. Recently, the Government’s very large domestic travel contract was let—the domestic side alone amounts to £1.1 billion a year of travel—and one might have expected it to go to a very large firm, but, because of the way in which my right hon. Friend structured it, it went to Redfern Travel, a company with 33 employees. It is a small or, at any rate and by anyone’s definition, only a medium-scale enterprise, and it was able to win the contract. The managing director said:
“The award of this contract…clearly demonstrates that…any SME can not only bid for major Government contracts, but also meet the challenging requirements”,
Mr Speaker: Order. It is normally a great pleasure to hear from the hon. Lady, but the Wirral is a little distance away from Calder Valley, to which this question exclusively relates. We will save her up for another occasion.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 779
Public Sector Pensions
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): We have engaged in intensive and frequent discussions with the trade unions. At their request, talks are continuing at scheme level in the four public sector pension schemes that are currently being discussed, and we continue to make progress, I believe, in all four. We are determined that public sector pensions will remain among the very best available, but in order to make them sustainable and affordable for the long term, reform is urgently needed.
Mr Hollobone: Under the Government’s offer, a teacher earning £32,000 a year could anticipate a pension of £20,000 a year, whereas a private sector worker earning the same salary would have to devote some 38% of his or her wages in order to get a pension of the same size. Given the terms of the Government’s offer, should the trade unions not now call off any threat of further industrial action?
Mr Maude: I simply pray in aid what Lord Hutton, the former Labour Pensions Secretary, said yesterday, when he referred to public sector trade unions “holding a gun” to the taxpayer’s head. He said that the offer was generous and that it was hard
“to envisage a better offer being made.”
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Given that the Minister’s Department is currently the worst in Whitehall for meeting the Government’s business plan targets—targets for which he is responsible—having missed 38 at the last count, would his time not be better spent sorting out his own Department, rather than picking fights with public sector unions?
Mr Maude: The short answer is that we want to get these public sector pension issues resolved quickly. I would be quite interested to know whether the right hon. Gentleman shares our belief—and that of Lord Hutton, his former colleague—that we are talking about a generous offer that the trade unions should accept, and that they should stop “holding a gun” to the taxpayer’s head. Does he agree with that?
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The Minister earlier announced that if he had not secured agreement by Christmas, he would impose a pensions settlement or scheme on the unions. Is that still his intention, and if it is, will he make a statement to the House next week?
We very much hope that it will not be necessary for the Government to move to the stage of imposition. Our intention is that we should reach agreement. It is necessary that we reach agreement by the end of the year, because there is a lot of work to do to put the new
14 Dec 2011 : Column 780
schemes in place as early as possible, so that people know what their future holds and we can implement the new schemes; so yes, we will be making further announcements to the House before it rises.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): We are supporting the sector through this difficult time by cutting red tape, investing in transition funds for infrastructure and front-line organisations, creating significant new opportunities for the sector to deliver public services, and supporting new initiatives to encourage giving and social investment.
Julie Hilling: The Roots project in Westhoughton in my constituency has been praised by the Government as a beacon of the big society, but Liz Douglas, the founder, has had no wages for six months. Words are no good. When will the Minister take action to support the voluntary and community sector?
Mr Hurd: The hon. Lady knows that we have taken a great deal of action, not least by putting in place a £107 million transition fund to help the most vulnerable organisations. If she is talking about cuts being made locally by Bolton council, she will know that the reduction in its spending this year was only 7%. The questions that she has to ask Bolton council are: “Why were you so badly prepared for this situation?” and: “Why did you block a proposal from Conservative councillors to create a fund to support local voluntary organisations?”
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Mr Francis Maude): My responsibilities are for the public sector Efficiency and Reform Group, civil service issues, industrial relations strategy across the public sector, Government transparency, civil contingencies, civil society and cyber-security.
T2.  Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Mindful of the fact that we have not had flooding for a number of months and mindful of the forecasted storm weather, can the Minister for the Cabinet Office assure us that flood rehearsals are taking place between all the relevant emergency services on a regular basis?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 781
Mr Maude: I can certainly confirm that. Meetings are taking place between the relevant Departments—one took place earlier this morning—to ensure that capabilities are in place in advance of any possible flooding, with urgent consideration given to ensuring that the public receive the right advice. I am glad to say that the forecast is looking a little better than it was.
Michael Dugher (Barnsley East) (Lab): According to figures published by the Cabinet Office last week, the Deputy Prime Minister has appointed four more special advisers at a cost to the taxpayer of at least £190,000. At a time when the average family is set to lose £320 a year as a result of tax credit changes and at a time when almost everyone is asking what exactly is the point of the Deputy Prime Minister, does the Minister think that this is a good use of public money?
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Mr Oliver Letwin): I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would realise that it is extremely important in a coalition that the Deputy Prime Minister as well as the Prime Minister should have adequate research support. It is extraordinarily difficult for Government Members to take comments of that kind seriously, given the previous Government’s record on employing special advisers.
Mr Maude: I sense that the House is waiting on the edge of its seat for my answer. On 30 November, 146,256 civil servants went on strike, which represents about 30% of the civil service work force. I would like to express my appreciation to the 70% of civil servants who came to work that day as normal.
T4.  Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): The Minister is refusing to negotiate with the unions over pension contribution increases, the retirement age, cost ceiling, indexation and other issues. Is that not typical of this Government, proving that they enter into negotiations with no intention whatever of coming to an amicable agreement? Are not the Government spoiling for a scrap with the trade unions?
Far from spoiling for a scrap with the trade unions, we are engaged in very intensive discussions with them. Even in the week during which the strike took place—a completely unnecessary strike, which the Labour party refused to condemn, massively inconveniencing many people and damaging the economy—a number of meetings took place with the trade unions to try to secure agreement on the much
14 Dec 2011 : Column 782
needed reforms. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that Lord Hutton, the former Labour Pensions Secretary, has said that this is a generous offer and that the unions should stop “holding a gun” to the taxpayer’s head.
T8.  Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Does the Minister have any regrets about the way in which he has conducted negotiations with the public sector trade unions by using megaphone diplomacy through the media and not providing information in a timely way?
Mr Maude: No, I have no regrets at all. We have engaged in very intensive discussions over a long period with the unions and the leadership of the TUC over the individual schemes. If the hon. Lady thinks we are not negotiating, she should talk to the TUC about the intensiveness of the negotiations. Perhaps she would like to remind her friends in the unions of what Lord Hutton, the former Labour Pensions Secretary, said only yesterday about the Government’s offer. [Interruption.]
T7.  Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): What contribution are Departments making to greater energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions following the successful Durban summit?
Mr Maude: In the first year following the forming of the coalition Government, we cut carbon emissions by more than the 10% target that we had set ourselves. We have also committed ourselves to ensuring that carbon emissions from Government buildings—Government property—fall by no less than 25% during the current Parliament, and I am confident that we will fulfil that commitment.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): The Electoral Commission announced today that there are not 3 million but 6 million missing, unregistered voters. Does the Minister agree that the equalisation of seats should be postponed, or suspended, until a full investigation has been conducted to establish where those 6 million people are?
T9.  Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): The national citizens service is an excellent initiative to help young people to develop the skills and attitudes that they need in order to become responsible citizens. Can the Minister tell me what local branches of the service will be available to them in my constituency?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 783
The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): I will write to all Members shortly to tell them which providers of the service are operating in their local authority areas, but I can confirm that providers will be working in Cheshire East and in Cheshire West and Chester next year. I strongly encourage all Members to become involved with this programme, which provides a fantastic opportunity for young people.
The Prime Minister was asked—
The Prime Minister (Mr David Cameron): I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Sapper Elijah Bond of 35 Engineer Regiment, who died in Queen Elizabeth hospital, Birmingham last Thursday as a result of wounds that he had sustained in Afghanistan. He was a dedicated and highly professional soldier, and at this tragic time we should send our condolences to his loved ones, his friends and his colleagues.
The people of Bedford and Kempston will be disappointed that this week’s report on the financial crisis in the Royal Bank of Scotland contained no provision for the criminal prosecution of executives, directors, regulators and Ministers for their failures. Can the Prime Minister assure me that, unlike the last Government, his Ministers will reinforce financial regulations, and will not undermine them as the shadow Chancellor did when he was in office?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right, and as he will know, we are considering specific extra measures. We are considering sanctions in relation to what was done by people on the board of RBS. However, the report was not just damning about the board of RBS; it was damning about the politicians who were responsible for regulating RBS. And it did not just name politicians who are no longer serving: it also named the shadow Chancellor.
Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sapper Elijah Bond of 35 Engineer Regiment. He bravely gave his life in trying to improve the lives of others, and all our thoughts are with his family and friends. As we approach Christmas, our thoughts are also with all our troops who are serving so bravely in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Many will be spending Christmas away from their families and friends to ensure a peaceful Christmas for us, and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 784
“Uppermost in my mind as we enter the New Year is jobs.”
The Prime Minister: First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman in his fitting and right tribute to our forces at Christmas time—those who are serving in Afghanistan, but also those who are serving in other parts of the world. One of the things that strikes you most in this job is that they are the best of the best. They are brave, they are courageous, they are dedicated, and their families, too, give up a huge amount. I join the right hon. Gentleman in saying that.
Let me say about the unemployment figures that any increase in unemployment is bad news and a tragedy for those involved, and that is why we will do everything we can to help people back into work. That is why we have the Work programme, which will help 2.5 million people; that is why we have the massive increase in apprenticeships that will help 400,000 people this year; and that is why we will give particular help to young people through the youth contract and through the work experience places. We will do all we can to help people back into work.
“private sector job creation will far outweigh the reduction in public sector employment.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 536, c. 531.]
The Prime Minister: Let me give the right hon. Gentleman the figures. Since the election, in the private sector there have been 581,000 extra jobs. In the public sector, he is right that we have lost 336,000 jobs, so we need private sector employment to grow even faster. But let me make this point to him, because I think this is important: whoever was in government right now would have to be making reductions in public spending. The only way you can keep people in work in the public sector while doing that is to cut welfare—something we are doing and he opposes—or to freeze public sector pay—something we are doing and he opposes—or to reform public sector pensions—something we are doing and he opposes. So it is all very well standing there and complaining about the rise in unemployment, but if we do not take those steps, we would lose more jobs in the public sector.
Edward Miliband: I think the whole House will have heard that the Prime Minister cannot deny that the central economic claim that he made—that the private sector would fill the gap left by the public sector—has not been met. He has broken his promise, and today’s figures also confirm that youth unemployment not only remains over 1 million; it is still rising, and long-term youth unemployment has gone up by 93% since he made his new year pledge on jobs. Is not the reality that he is betraying a whole generation of young people?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 785
The Prime Minister: We will not take lectures from a party that put up youth unemployment by 40%. That is the case—even the right hon. Gentleman’s brother admitted the other day that youth unemployment was not a problem invented by this Government; it has been going up since 2004. But let me explain what we are doing to help young people get a job. Through the youth contract we are providing 160,000 new jobs with private sector subsidies. With the 250,000 work experience places, half those people are actually getting jobs and getting off benefit within two months. That is 20 times more effective than the future jobs fund.
But the absolute key to all this is getting our economy moving. We need private sector jobs. It is this Government who have got interest rates down to 2%—that is why we have the prospects of growth—whereas the right hon. Gentleman’s plans are for more spending, more borrowing and more debt: more of the mess that we started with.
Edward Miliband: The truth is that the Prime Minister’s promises to young people for next year are as worthless as the promises he made in 2011. Let us turn from his broken promise on jobs to his broken promise on the coalition. And Mr Speaker, let me say that it is good to see the Deputy Prime Minister back in the House. This is what the Prime Minister said—[ Interruption. ] Calm down. This is what he said in his new year’s message for 2011—and I will place a copy in the Library of the House, just so that everyone can see it:
“Coalition politics is not always straightforward…But I believe we are bringing in a”
“new style of government.”
“A more collegiate approach.”
The Prime Minister: I will answer. No one in this House is going to be surprised that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats do not always agree about Europe, but let me reassure the right hon. Gentleman. He should not believe everything he reads in the papers. It’s not that bad—it’s not like we’re brothers or anything! [Hon. Members: “More! More!”] He certainly walked into that one.
Edward Miliband: I think our sympathy is with the Deputy Prime Minister. His partner goes on a business trip and he is left waiting by the phone, but he hears nothing until a rambling phone call at 4 am confessing to a terrible mistake.
How is the Prime Minister going to pick up the pieces of the bad deal he delivered for Britain? The Council came to conclusions on Friday morning, but the treaty will not be signed until March. In the cold light of day, with other countries—[ Interruption. ]
Mr Speaker: Order. Some very, very foolish person shouted out “Stop”. The person who did that will stop, because people in this place must be heard. If there is a Member here who does not think so, I invite that Member to leave the Chamber.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 786
Edward Miliband: In the cold light of day, with other countries spending the weeks and months ahead trying to see whether they can get a better deal for themselves, would not the sensible thing for the Prime Minister to do be to re-enter the negotiations and try to get a better deal for Britain?
The Prime Minister: First, I make no apologies for standing up for Britain. In the past two days we have read a lot about my opinions and we have read a lot about the Deputy Prime Minister’s opinions; the one thing we do not know is what the right hon. Gentleman would have done. While he was here on Monday his aides were running around the Press Gallery briefing that he would not have signed up to the treaty. Well, here is another try: what’s your answer?
Mr Speaker: I have no answer on this matter whatsoever—[ Interruption. ] Order. I am glad the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), has returned from his travels. We wish him a merry Christmas, but in his case it should be a quiet one.
Edward Miliband: There was a better deal for Britain that the Prime Minister should have got, and that is what the Deputy Prime Minister himself says. Here is the truth: last week the Prime Minister made a catastrophic mistake, and this week we discover that unemployment is at its highest level for 17 years. This Prime Minister thinks he is born to rule. The truth is that he is just not very good at it.
The Prime Minister: Even the soundbite was recycled from a previous Prime Minister’s Question Time. On Wednesday the answer was no. Today—I think—the answer is maybe. This Leader of the Labour party makes weakness and indecision an art form; that is the fact.
The right hon. Gentleman gave me my end-of-year report; let me give him his. He told us at the start of the year, in his new year’s message, that the fightback started in Scotland. Well, that went well, didn’t it? He told us that he would have credible plans to cut the deficit, but we still have not seen them. He said that he would stand up to vested interests, yet he backed the biggest strike for years. We all know that he has achieved one thing, though. He has completely united his party. Every single one of them has asked Santa for the same thing: a new leader for Christmas.
Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker. Yesterday’s announcement about local television was good news for my constituency, where Channel 7, the sole survivor from the original batch, is based. Does the Prime Minister agree that local broadcasting strengthens local communities and advances the big society? If he is in north Lincolnshire in the near future, will he find time to pay Channel 7 a visit?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 787
The Prime Minister: I would be delighted to do that. I do not have any immediate plans to visit north Lincolnshire, but I do support local television. I also think that north Lincolnshire had some very good news with the Siemens plant going into Hull. That is excellent news for the whole region.
Q2.  Mr David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough) (Lab): In the early new year the Government intend to announce a wholesale revision of the national curriculum. May I put it to the Prime Minister that it would be perverse—in fact it would be absurd—to require those coming from abroad to settle in Britain to learn about our democracy and to take citizenship courses while withdrawing the teaching of citizenship and democracy to our own children in our schools?
The Prime Minister: I listen very carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman says, because I agree with some of the proposals about citizenship that he put forward when he was Home Secretary. Many Members will have been to the citizenship ceremonies that he was responsible for, which have been a good addition to our country and our democracy. On behalf of the whole House, I pay tribute to him for that. We will look very carefully at what he says about the curriculum, but the key aim has to be to making sure that we teach the basics properly and well, and that we test on those basics, because if someone cannot read and write properly, no lessons in citizenship will mean anything at all.
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Ninety-one per cent. of people who get into financial difficulty believe they would have avoided doing so had they been better informed. Therefore, ahead of tomorrow’s debate on financial education, will the Prime Minister support our calls for compulsory financial education for young people?
The Prime Minister: This very much links with the previous question. I strongly support teaching young children about the importance of financial education, but the point of having a proper review of the curriculum is to make sure that we know what is absolutely essential and core and what can be included as extra lessons.
Q3.  Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): Unemployment is going up and living standards are being squeezed. Many more people are being forced into the hands of the payday lenders and fee-charging debt management companies. Will the Prime Minister act to protect ordinary people who are being preyed on and ripped off?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady speaks with great experience, because she worked for Citizens Advice before coming to the House. She stands up for Citizens Advice and is right to do so. All of us know what a brilliant job it does in our constituencies. She will know that the previous Government wrestled with the issue of how best to regulate doorstep lenders and other lenders, and the danger of driving people into the hands of loan sharks if we got rid of the regulated sector. I am very happy to discuss this further with interested colleagues. It is a very difficult subject to get right, but the Government are working at it.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 788
Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): Does the Prime Minister share my concern about the impact of pocket-money priced alcohol on the state of our nation’s health and antisocial behaviour in our town centres, as well as about the damage it does to our community pubs?
The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. There is no doubt in my mind that very low-cost alcohol is part of the problem in our town centres. One of the answers that the Government have already come up with is to ban the deeply discounted selling of alcohol, but we need to look at the broader question of low-cost alcohol. I have noted very carefully the letter in the papers this morning from a whole set of people with great expertise on this, and we are looking carefully at the issue.
Q4.  Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): This morning we learned that the Teesside airport is up for sale and it seems that, as unemployment is sky-rocketing in the north-east, our planes may be grounded. Is not the loss of infrastructure and jobs in the north-east further evidence that this Government’s economic plan is a catastrophic failure?
The Prime Minister: The key thing about the future of Durham Tees Valley airport, which is a vital airport, is not necessarily who owns it but whether it is being invested in and expanded. Is it working well? That is the key question, and that is the question that I know my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is looking at carefully.
Q5.  Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Has the Prime Minister seen the OECD and National Institute of Economic and Social Research findings this week, which show that soaring immigration was caused not by the prospect of prosperity but by the open-door policies of the previous Government—and will he prevent that from happening again?
“the increase in net immigration to the UK was not driven primarily by the economic performance of the UK or other countries.”
Instead, the report points to immigration policy. The fact is that the previous Government quadrupled immigration and let an extra 2.2 million people into the country. The answer is to deal with the bogus colleges, and we are doing that; to put a limit on economic migration from outside the EU, and we are doing that; and to have proper border controls and a border police command, and we are doing that as well.
Q6.  John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): The autumn statement saw 400,000 Scottish children lose more than £40 million as a result of changes in the tax system. In my constituency that meant that £600,000 was taken from children. Why is the Prime Minister taking money out of children’s pockets, while allowing it to remain in the pockets of bankers?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 789
who have put in place a bank levy that will raise more every year than Labour’s one-off bonus tax raised in one year.
Q7.  Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): As a York MP, I am extremely proud of our city’s vibrant tourism sector. Does my right hon. Friend agree that tourism plays a key role in our local economies? Will he ensure that northern tourist attractions in particular are promoted in the run-up to the Olympic games?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Millions of people will be coming to this country for the Olympic games. We need to encourage them not just to go to the Olympic games, but to visit other parts of the country and to return to Britain for a subsequent visit. We will be running all sorts of promotions and schemes to encourage that. If we could encourage people more generally to visit other places as well as London—York has many great tourist attractions and things of historical importance to see—we would drive a huge amount of jobs and growth in our regions.
Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): On 16 December Bangladesh will mark its 40th anniversary as an independent nation, following a war that cost 3 million lives. I want to pay tribute to the contribution made by this Parliament in supporting the people in their fight for liberty and self-determination. As Bangladesh is the country that is the second most vulnerable to climate change, with an estimated 15 million to 20 million people likely to be affected in the coming decades, does the Prime Minister agree that it is now more important than ever to support developing countries against the devastating effects of climate change?
The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. The whole House should recognise what she has done in raising the issue at this time, as Bangladesh approaches this important anniversary. Britain can be proud of the fact that we have very good relations with Bangladesh, and our aid programme in Bangladesh is now of the leading ones from anywhere in the world into that country. We are spending specific money on helping the Bangladeshis with climate change, meeting all the promises that we made. I have met the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. One of the issues that we do have to raise, though, is that there are human rights issues in Bangladesh, and we should not be scared of raising them with the authorities in the proper way.
Q8.  Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): An EU-wide agreement on prisoner transfers comes into force this month, which will enable the UK to repatriate to jails in their own country any EU nationals imprisoned here. Given that some 13% of our prison population is made up of foreign nationals, will the Prime Minister ensure that our EU partners stick to these new rules and take their criminals back?
The Prime Minister: If my hon. Friend, with his strong views, is asking a question about a successful EU scheme, it really must be Christmas, so his question is very welcome. He is absolutely right: 13% of our prison spaces are taken up by foreign nationals. That is hugely expensive, and the EU-wide agreement gives us a great opportunity to return people to their national prisons and save money at the same time.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 790
Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): Is freezing the pay of young privates and corporals while they are fighting in Afghanistan, without reference to the Armed Forces Pay Review Body, a breach of the military covenant?
The Prime Minister: It is this Government who doubled the operational allowance, which is the best way to get money to the privates and the corporals in Afghanistan who are doing such a good job. The operational allowance, being a flat cash sum, is of disproportionate benefit to relatively low-paid people in the armed forces, whereas obviously a percentage increase would mean more money for the generals, the colonels and the brigadiers, rather than for the people on the front line. Looking at the operational allowance is crucial, but this Government have not just done that. We have extended the pupil premium to forces children, we have increased the council tax rebates for those who are serving, and for the first time we have written the military covenant into the law of our land.
Q9.  Chris Kelly (Dudley South) (Con): I commend my right hon. Friend for protecting our national interest by exercising the veto last Friday. The people of Dudley South thank him for it. The deal that he vetoed commits eurozone members to restricting structural deficits to below 0.5% of GDP. Did the Prime Minister appreciate that this is 16 times the UK structural deficit left by Labour?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point, which is perhaps why the leader of the Labour party is struggling so much to tell us what his view is on the proposed treaty. On one hand he wants to join the euro, if he is Prime Minister for long enough, and on the other hand he wants to sign a treaty—[ Interruption. ] That is rubbish? He does not want to be Prime Minister for long enough! He wants to join the euro, he wants a deal with very tough budget deficit limits, and he wants to increase spending, borrowing and debt. He tells us that he has a five-point plan, and I can sum it up in five words: “Let us bankrupt Britain again.”
Q10.  Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Perhaps the Prime Minister could tell us why the Deputy Prime Minister did not support his position on Europe on Monday, and why not one single Liberal Democrat MP voted with the Prime Minister last night.
The Prime Minister: Last night there was something of a parliamentary rarity: a motion tabled by an opposition party praising the Prime Minister. I am very grateful to colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party. I suspect that many people concluded that Labour simply would not get its act together and did not think that it was worth voting, and as a result we won very easily.
Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con):
I am sure that the whole House will join me in thanking a remarkable man who has served this country and this place with courage and distinction for nearly 50 years. Eddie McKay, who is in the Gallery right now, has been a Doorkeeper here for 23 years and retires on Tuesday. Before coming to this place he served with distinction with the Scots Guards, leaving after 23 years of service as a senior
14 Dec 2011 : Column 791
warrant officer. In the Household Division, you are not promoted to drill sergeant unless you are exceptional. He saw action on Tumbledown mountain during the Falklands war in 1982. His company, G company, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, led that successful and audacious night assault. May I ask the Prime Minister, on behalf of us all, to wish Drill Sergeant Eddie McKay a happy retirement and a happy Christmas?
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue and, on behalf of the whole House, very much thank Eddie for his incredible service. I think that in this House we sometimes take for granted the people who work so hard to keep it working and keep it going, and I sometimes wonder what they think of all the antics we get up to in this House. We are incredibly grateful that he, after the incredible service he gave our nation, came here and worked so hard for so many years. We are all in his debt, and send him good wishes for his retirement.
Q11.  Mr Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) (Lab): Youth unemployment figures published this morning show that in the last quarter, 22% of 16 to 24-year-old economically active citizens are unemployed—an increase of 1.2% on the previous quarter. The Prime Minister ranted earlier in Question Time about what the Government are doing about youth unemployment in this country. Can he tell us why it is increasing?
The Prime Minister: Every increase in youth unemployment is unacceptable—[ Interruption. ] I will tell the House exactly what is happening. The number of 16 to 18-year-old young people not in employment, education or training is actually going down, but the problem, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, is that 18 to 24-year-olds are finding the job market extremely difficult. [Hon. Members: “Why?”] The reason why unemployment is going up is that we are losing jobs in the public sector and not growing them fast enough in the private sector, so we need to do everything we can to get our economy moving. The absolute key to that is keeping our interest rates low. We now have interest rates down to 2%. If we followed his party’s policy of extra spending, extra borrowing and extra debt, interest rates would go up, more businesses would go under and we would not get our economy moving.
Q12.  George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): Many Members will have encountered examples of banks using the threat of receivership to extract new charges and higher interest rates from their business customers. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is wrong for banks to use what is effectively an extortionate bargaining position in this way, and will he agree to meet me to discuss some of the proposals I have outlined to limit the power of receivers and require banks to obtain a possession order before selling up small businesses?
The Prime Minister:
I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend about this issue. It is vital that we not only get our banks lending properly, and lending to small businesses, but ensure that they behave in an ethical and proper way as they do so. We are addressing the first issue—the quantity of lending—through the national loan guarantee scheme and the other credit-easing measures that the
14 Dec 2011 : Column 792
Chancellor set out in the autumn statement, but we also need to ensure that the practices that the banks follow are fair, and seen to be fair. They have an interest in making sure that small businesses are in good health, and they need to follow those sorts of procedures to ensure that that happens.
Q13.  Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Youth unemployment in Dumfries and Galloway has risen by 65% over the past 12 months, and with the British Retail Consortium indicating that almost one in three jobs there are filled by under-25s, does the Prime Minister recognise that the predicted squeeze on the retail sector will only increase the chances of youth unemployment increasing across the entire country?
The Prime Minister: The thing that would put the biggest squeeze on the retail sector is interest rates going up. Just one percentage point increase in interest rates would see the typical family lose £1,000 a year through extra mortgage payments. Everybody knows we are in a difficult economic situation and we have to take difficult decisions, as there is effectively a freeze across the eurozone, but the most important thing is to keep those interest rates low, so that people have money in their pockets and we can see some good retail recovery.
Q14.  David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): East Cheshire hospice and many other hospices across the country run Christmas tree collection services that help many families to recycle their Christmas trees in an environmentally sensitive way. Will the Prime Minister join me in this festive season in supporting the great work that such charities do in collecting trees to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the important work of our hospices?
The Prime Minister: I certainly join my hon. Friend, at this time of year, particularly, in praising the amazing work that hospices do. Many hospices do not receive a huge amount of Government funding, and they have to be very ingenious about how they raise money from people up and down the country. Collecting and recycling Christmas trees so that we do not just leave them outside the house but do this thing properly is an excellent idea. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in praising the work that hospices do, particularly at Christmas time.
Q15.  John Cryer (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): For the past 18 months the Prime Minister has been promising legislation to create a register of lobbyists, but nothing has happened so far. Will he give us a publication date for a consultation paper leading to legislation—or could he take on my ten-minute rule Bill, which is already published? I am a generous sort of bloke, so he can have it now and get it on to the statute book.
The Prime Minister: I am a generous sort of bloke too, so I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the lobbying proposals will be published within the next month—so this Government will have moved faster in 18 months than the previous Government did in 13 years.
Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD):
The Prime Minister will have seen the news this morning of the study on the excess deaths of people with diabetes—unnecessary deaths, if the condition is treated correctly. The national
14 Dec 2011 : Column 793
service framework for diabetes comes to an end in 2013. Will the Prime Minister look at NSFs as a way of meeting the challenges in the health service and the health service budget, and helping people with diabetes?
The Prime Minister: I am very happy to look at the national service frameworks, as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The key issue with diabetes is that we need to raise the profile of the condition, because many people have it and do not know they have it—but also to look at the public health issues, because the explosion in diabetes is partly due to bad diet and obesity in childhood. We need to address those issues; otherwise we are always going to be dealing with the disease rather than trying to prevent it.
Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): Earlier this week in the other place, the coalition Government voted down, by a majority of two, a proposal to protect the benefits of disabled children. Is reducing benefits for disabled children by over £1,300 a year something that reflects the Prime Minister’s often repeated mantra that we are all in this together?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 794
all those benefits by 5.2%, so people will see an increase in the benefits that they receive next year.
Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): The Prime Minister will be aware that capacity levels on the west coast main line are intolerable and getting worse. Does he share the concerns of rail users that delays to High Speed 2 will only make their journeys more unpleasant? Will he provide the assurance that they seek about the future that he promised them?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. Clearly the country has a choice. Because the west coast main line is as congested as it is, we need to replace it with either a traditional line or a high-speed line. It is well known that the Government’s view is that a high-speed line is the right answer. That is why the consultation has been conducted. Not only will it be good for people who use the west coast main line; it will be a successful regional policy that will link up our great cities, shrink the size of our country and ensure that all parts of the country can enjoy economic prosperity and growth.
Mr Speaker: I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly so that we can all listen attentively to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—preferably facing the House or the Chair.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 795
Bovine TB continues to be a major problem in England. In 2010, nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England and the cost to the taxpayer is set to top £1 billion over the next 10 years. The problem is particularly bad in the west and south-west of England, where 23% of cattle farms were unable to move stock off their premises at some point in 2010 due to their being affected by the disease, causing much distress and hardship.
As I explained in my statement in July, cattle measures, including routine testing and surveillance, pre-movement testing, movement restrictions, and the removal and slaughter of infected animals, remain the foundation of our TB eradication programme. We have already strengthened cattle controls and will continue to do so. The Government are working in partnership with the farming industry and the veterinary profession to further promote good biosecurity and to provide advice and support to farmers. We also intend to invest a further £20 million over the next five years to develop effective cattle and oral badger vaccines as quickly as possible.
We know that to tackle this disease we need to look at each and every transmission route, and that includes transmission from badgers to cattle. Ultimately, we want to be able to vaccinate cattle and badgers, but there are practical difficulties with the injectable badger vaccine, which is currently the only available option. Badgers have to be trapped and caged in order to administer it. As I told the House in July, we are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine, but usable and approved vaccines are still years away and we cannot say with any certainty when they will be ready. In the meantime, we cannot just do nothing.
This terrible disease is getting worse and we have to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities. It is difficult to quantify or put a monetary value on that, but a report by the Farm Crisis Network describes the feelings of panic, stress and emotional devastation for farming families as they repeatedly have to send their cows to be slaughtered.
I think that we would all agree that we need to stop the disease spreading further, bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it. Evidence tells us that unless we tackle the disease in badgers, we will never eradicate it in cattle. No country in the world that has TB in its wildlife has been able to eradicate it in cattle without addressing it in the wildlife population. In July, I set out revised proposals for controlling the disease in the badger population. In order to reduce TB in cattle in the worst affected areas we proposed to allow a controlled reduction carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control. The policy would be piloted in two areas in the first year.
Following the responses to the consultation that we launched in July on draft guidance to Natural England, the policy has been further refined. I am now in a position to announce that we will go ahead with a pilot
14 Dec 2011 : Column 796
of the policy in two areas next year, to confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting. An independent panel of experts will oversee and evaluate the pilots and report back to the Government, and we will then decide whether the policy should be rolled out more widely.
This has not been an easy decision to make, and it is not one that I have taken lightly. I have personally considered all the options and evidence, and at present there is no satisfactory alternative. Today, I am publishing a detailed policy document, copies of which will be available in the Vote Office after the statement. We need to strike a balance between taking the actions needed to control and eradicate the disease, maintaining a viable cattle industry and using our resources in the most effective and efficient way possible.
Badger control licences will be issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, to enable groups of farmers and landowners in the worst-affected areas to reduce badger populations at their own expense. Guidance to Natural England sets out strict criteria that applicants for a licence will have to meet to ensure that the pilots are carried out safely, effectively and humanely.
Scientists agree that if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified through the randomised badger culling trial, we can expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years relative to a similar unculled area.
Licences granted by Natural England will be subject to strict conditions based on evidence from the randomised badger culling trial, which are designed to ensure that the result is an overall decrease in the disease in the areas where culling takes place. Applications for licences will be considered only for an area of at least 150 sq km over a minimum of four years, and with the pilots to be conducted by trained and proficient operators. Groups of farmers will have to take reasonable measures to identify barriers and buffers at the edge of culling areas such as rivers, coastlines and motorways, or areas where there are no cattle or where vaccination of badgers occurs, to minimise the perturbation effect in places where disturbing the badger population could cause an increase in TB in cattle in the surrounding area.
The Department has assessed the known and estimated effects of badger culling and vaccination, and its veterinary and scientific advice is that culling in high TB incidence areas, carried out in line with the licence criteria, will reduce the number of infected badgers, and thus the weight of TB infection in badger populations in the treatment area, more quickly than vaccination. It will therefore have a greater and more immediate beneficial impact on the spread of TB to cattle and the incidence of infection in cattle.
Nevertheless, we still see a useful role for vaccination, particularly in the future, and I have listened carefully to the views of groups that would like to help develop a vaccination programme. To support and encourage vaccination, DEFRA will make available up to £250,000 in each of the next three years to help meet the costs of badger vaccination in accordance with a badger control plan, with priority given to areas where culling is licensed. We will also support staff or volunteers of voluntary sector organisations wishing to train to carry out vaccination.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 797
I look to the farming industry to show that it takes its responsibility very seriously and that it is committed to delivering the programme effectively, safely and humanely. That will be carefully monitored in the pilots, and on an ongoing basis if the policy is rolled out more widely.
To select the pilot areas, I will invite the farming industry to bring forward a shortlist of areas, from which DEFRA will select two. Those two areas will then be invited to apply for a culling licence. Natural England will assess the applications against the licence criteria and decide whether to grant them a licence.
After the conclusion of the six-week pilots, from what we observe and learn, and taking into account the evaluation by the independent panel, we will take a decision on whether to roll out the policy more widely. Following the pilots, if we decide to proceed with a wider roll-out, a maximum of 10 licences will be granted to start each year.
Ensuring public safety is a key concern. In finalising the policy, we have worked closely with the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers to scope out the role of the police in supporting those licensed operations.
I know that there is great strength of feeling on the issue, but I also know that we need to take action now before the TB situation deteriorates even further. We need to tackle TB from all angles, using all the available tools. I am acutely aware that many people oppose badger culling and I wish that there was a current satisfactory alternative. However, we cannot escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for a controlled reduction of the badger population in the areas worst affected by bovine TB. The impact of that terrible disease shows us that we need to act now. We cannot keep delaying.
Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): We recognise that bovine TB is a devastating disease—that is why the Labour Government spent £50 million on randomised badger culling trials. Any decision on a badger cull must answer four key questions. Is it science-led? Is it cost effective? Is it humane? Crucially, will it work?
“After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report… we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain.”
The Secretary of State quotes scientists who told the Government that TB in cattle will be cut by 16% over nine years if the cull is carried out by trapping and then shooting the animals. However, her culls will not be carried out in that way. They will depend on farmers hiring people to free-shoot badgers at night—a method that has never been scientifically assessed as a way of controlling bovine TB.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 798
received on the likelihood of free shooting increasing the perturbation effect, which will reduce that 16% net figure still further?
Is the cull cost-effective? The right hon. Lady’s statement was curiously silent on the costs to farmers, yet DEFRA estimates that it will cost farmers £1.4 million per cull area. Farmers will need to prove they have the funds to complete the cull in the event that one pulls out or sells up. How will she access those funds in the event of a default? Who will access those funds, and on what basis? How will the money be held—in an escrow account or in joint names? How will liability be shared between farmers?
What guarantees can the Secretary of State offer taxpayers that the costs of completing a four-year cull will not fall on them in the event of those indemnities disappearing or becoming the subject of protracted legal wrangling? How many staff will the right hon. Lady need to issue those cull licences? What is the cost to the taxpayer of hiring those extra staff at Natural England, a body that has shed nearly 500 staff since her disastrous settlement in the comprehensive spending review?
We know that the Home Secretary has warned the Secretary of State against proceeding with the cull. Will she confirm that the culls will not start until the Olympic games are over? Will she confirm today that trained firearms police will be needed to police any public protests against the culls?
In the Secretary of State’s 2010 consultation, she estimated the costs to the police at £200,000, yet today’s report has revised those costs up to £2 million per cull area. If 10 cull areas are licensed every year, that is a compound cost of £20 million a year to the police. Will she confirm that DEFRA will meet those costs in full? If so, from which budget, given that the Department has had a 30% cut? How will local police forces access those funds?
In written answers to me, the right hon. Lady estimates that the cull will save the taxpayer £2.9 million in each cull area over 10 years. With 10 cull areas set to go ahead from 2013, that is a saving of £2.9 million a year, which is just 3% of the £85 million cost of testing and compensation to farmers. Will she therefore confirm that the costs of bovine TB will continue to be borne by the taxpayer?
The third question the Secretary of State must answer is this: is her cull humane? In 2010, 48 people were prosecuted for offences against badgers and 29 were found guilty. The police wildlife crime unit is concerned that illegal badger persecution will be carried out under the pretext of culling. Who will monitor cull licences and how will the conditions of the licence be monitored? She mentioned a six-week cull period, but how can she ensure that farmers will not go beyond that?
Between 60,000 and 120,000 badgers will be killed over a four-year period depending on the number and size of cull areas, yet in the Secretary of State’s statement, she curiously failed to mention the new national badger count announced this week, which will cost £871,000. Surely she should have commissioned that survey before announcing her pilot culls. How can we measure the impact of a cull on the badger population when we have no scientific baseline? What measures is she taking to prevent the extinction of badger populations in cull
14 Dec 2011 : Column 799
areas, and how will she ensure we remain in compliance of our international obligations under the Bern convention?
“several culling approaches may make matters worse”.
Is not the Secretary of State in danger of sleepwalking into a disaster by licensing badger culls, the method of which is unproven and untested, and which could make things worse? The Government have constructed the ultimate game theory test for farmers in TB-hit areas: join in the cull or face increased TB in the herd from badger perturbation. How will the views of farmers and landowners in areas affected by perturbation be collected and considered? What happens to farmers who do not wish a cull to proceed on their land? How will the Secretary of State ensure the health and safety of the people carrying out the cull and disposing of infected carcases, the police firearms officers policing the cull and the protesters who will undoubtedly turn up at cull sites?
Today’s announcement is bad news for wildlife, bad news for farmers and bad news for the taxpayer. The cull will not be cost-effective or humane and it will not work. In “Yes, Minister”, Jim Hacker said: “Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” Today the Secretary of State has turned her back on the scientific advice. Page 11 of her own document states:
“It is a matter of judgement, not science, whether the farming industry can deliver an effective, coordinated and sustained cull.”
Mrs Spelman: The hon. Lady asked a lot of questions so I will answer them as quickly as I can. First, I should point out that this is a science-led approach to the pilots and that when in office the previous Labour Government spent £50 million on trials. The science is important and this Government have responded to what was learned from those trials. We learned that culling could be more effective if the boundaries of the control area were firm ones, to reduce the perturbation effect. In addition, the ground she cited—she said that the cost would be prohibitive—overlooks that fact that the farmers have agreed to pay. I encourage the shadow Secretary of State to look at the long tail from that trial. Five and a half years after the analysis, the trial continues to provide a benefit in reduced TB incidence in those areas.
The method to which the hon. Lady referred—controlled shooting—is commonly used to control other wildlife populations, such as deer, foxes and rabbits. We therefore have reasonable confidence in our assumption that the method will be both effective and humane in relation to badgers, but, to be absolutely clear, those who undertake the culling will be required to have deer-stalking level 1 proficiency or equivalent, and they will be required to undertake an additional course to ensure that they understand badger physiognomy.
On cost-effectiveness, in the end, it is up to farmers to choose whether or not to be part of a controlled reduction of badgers in their area, but the Government make a requirement that groups of farmers form a limited company that puts aside in a bank account the four-year
14 Dec 2011 : Column 800
cost of the culling programme plus a 25% contingency, which deals with the hon. Lady’s point about the contingency cost.
Natural England’s existing staff will contribute to the programme. The overall cost to the Government of £6.22 million over 10 years must be seen in comparison with the overall cost of the unchecked progress of the disease, which will be £1 billion a year or more to the taxpayer over the next 10 years. The costs need to be seen in the context of the overall burden on the taxpayer.
I have had helpful and constructive conversations with the Association of Chief Police Officers, but it is up to the police to deal with the precise operational details of ensuring public safety throughout the pilot process. We should not simply extrapolate an estimated cost from the pilots, as, I am afraid, the hon. Lady just did. Part of the point of the pilots is to establish more precisely what the exact cost will be. I have agreed with the Home Office to share those policing costs in so far as additional and reasonable costs are incurred.
On humaneness, we can be assured that Natural England will monitor the cull licences very carefully. If any farmers should be so minded to exceed the six-week period, they would obviously lose their licence. I do not believe, therefore, that that will happen.
It is important to remember that the species is protected but not endangered. The last time the population was surveyed—in the 1990s—there were between 250,000 and 300,000 badgers in Great Britain. Of course, the previous Labour Government had ample opportunity to launch a survey if they had wanted to, but this Government have seen fit to do so. That is important in ascertaining the population in the controlled areas. We have satisfied ourselves that the Bern convention would not be breached by the policy that I have proposed.
Finally, I agree with the hon. Lady on this point. She said that a matter of judgment and not the science alone drives this decision. If the previous Government had exercised their judgment and acted when they had the chance, the disease, and the cost of dealing with it, would not have escalated to the point it has reached today.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Farmers and wildlife conservation groups will welcome the statement. The badger population must be controlled. Any constituency that produces so many cattle, including mine, lives in fear of one rogue animal entering the chain.
Will the Secretary of State address what the position will be when we have a vaccine in place, given that the meat of vaccinated cattle will not be allowed into the food chain? We have the time to address that. Will she bear in mind the conclusions of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report adopted in the previous Parliament, by which current members of the Committee stand?
Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend is singularly well qualified with her experience in the European Parliament to know how difficult it is to get the law changed there. It is currently illegal to vaccinate cattle and to sell or export that meat. We would have to get the 26 other member states to agree to a change in the law. We must accept that that would take many years.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 801
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State be clear with the House about what level of mortality she expects shooting to achieve, because the very clear advice that we received over many years as Ministers was that shooting would not achieve a level of mortality high enough to make any difference to the disease at all? She is allowing only a very short six-week period for the pilots, which cannot be credible.
Mrs Spelman: The science determines the level of mortality that must be achieved for the controlled reduction to be effective, and a 70% reduction in the badger population is what the RBCT trial showed had to be achieved. One key point of the six-week pilot is to confirm our assumption that controlled shooting will achieve that level of reduction in the badger population.
Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that this is a devastating disease. We must hope that this policy will help and not make the situation worse. In the implementation of the culling policy, how will she ensure that there is a proper and rigorous estimate of the badger population and also that there is a proper count of those badgers that are culled within the area and not outside it?
Mrs Spelman: I commiserate with my hon. Friend because his part of the country has been the most badly affected by this terrible disease. Natural England will carry out a survey of the badger population before any culling takes place and will also check that the percentage of badgers culled fits the criteria set out in the pilot.
Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): Should not the clarion call go out from this House today to all the right-thinking, compassionate people in this country to frustrate this cruel and unnecessary slaughter of animals? Is it not right that this has been founded on greed and bad science by the nasty party?
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): The compassionate people in my constituency will very much welcome the great thought, care, attention and bravery of the Secretary of State and her team in tackling this issue. I particularly welcome the investment by the Government in the voluntary trials for vaccination. Perhaps the Secretary of State could give us a bit more information about them, because, ultimately, those trials are what we all want to see.
Mrs Spelman: As I have said, this is a difficult decision and it is not one that I have found easy to make. Having spoken and listened to all the stakeholders involved, I understand that the cost of training someone to take part in the vaccination programme is significant, so I hope that with the money that I have announced today, we will be able at least to halve the cost of that training.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Rather than pursuing this cruel and counter-productive cull, what consideration did the Secretary of State give to reducing the trend towards increasing intensive dairy farming? Around 80% of bovine TB transmission is thought to be caused cattle to cattle and that happens far more easily in crowded conditions.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 802
Mrs Spelman: I am sorry to say that the hon. Lady is misguided in thinking that there is a link between the intensification of dairy farming and the incidence of TB in cattle. There is no evidence of that.
Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con): Farmers across North Wiltshire, many of whom have been devastated by TB and have lost their herd some two or three times, will very much welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today and will hope to be a part of the first 10, or even first two, trials. However, is she not concerned about the talk from Opposition Members about the security surrounding the cull? Is there not a risk that people will be enjoined by them and others to break the law in a way that was suggested by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn)? Will she take steps to ensure that the precise location of the cull is not in the public domain so that such actions can be avoided?
Mrs Spelman: I have had very careful conversations with the Home Secretary and with the Association of Chief Police Officers regarding security. Like members of the public, people who are licensed to undertake a cull have every right to expect their safety to be protected. Careful analysis has been undertaken by the police and I respect their expertise and thank them for their assistance.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Let me follow on from the question of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). There is nothing in this statement about dealing with the problem of cattle-to-cattle transmission. All the evidence shows that that is a significant factor in spreading bovine TB. What does the Secretary of State plan to do about that? It seems that the only solution on offer is shooting badgers.
Mrs Spelman: I refer the hon. Lady to the statement that I made in July, setting out the other important elements of the bovine TB package, of which controlled reduction of the badger population is just one part. We have strengthened measures on controlling the movement of cattle and expanded the areas for the testing of cattle. I know that that was very much wanted by the industry. As a west midlands MP, my farmers came to me and said that they would prefer to be part of the annual testing because they want to know more frequently whether their cattle are clear. In my July statement, all those strict measures were cited.
Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): The year after Labour came to power, fewer than 600 cattle were slaughtered in Devon. This year, we are well on course for more than 6,000 to be slaughtered. Bovine TB is spreading remorselessly across the UK and many areas of the country will no longer be disease free unless we take action, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement today. However, does she not share the concerns of farmers in my constituency who feel that they could be targeted by violent activists? Will she assure them that those who carry out this very difficult task will have their anonymity protected?
14 Dec 2011 : Column 803
Mrs Spelman: The whole House respects my hon. Friend’s medical expertise, and she is right to point out that the disease has spread—it has spread from the south-west to the midlands. That fact demonstrates that doing nothing is not an option. As for her important point about personal information, I can assure her that, in the interests of personal security, personal information will be kept confidential.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I should declare that I am a member of the British Veterinary Association, which I know will welcome the right decision at the right time under the right circumstances following the right evidence to get the right conclusions. I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the fact that her Department has stuck to its guns on this issue. It is important that we reach a solution. I welcome the conclusion of the report that the reduction of the incidence of TB in cattle will be achieved if we follow this licensing procedure. I hope that the Secretary of State will ring the Ministers in the devolved regions and encourage them to follow these actions. We need to put in place a scheme such as this in Northern Ireland.
Mrs Spelman: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in close contact with other devolved Ministers. We should of course remember that Scotland is TB-free and would like to remain so. I hope that our policy will give it some comfort in that matter. I have taken the veterinary advice very seriously. It is the vets who point out that no programme of eradicating TB anywhere in the world has been successful without tackling the reservoir infection in the wildlife.
Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): I know that farmers in South East Cornwall will welcome this news. Alpaca farmers will welcome it, too. Is the Secretary of State aware that bovine TB has been affecting alpaca herds as well as cattle herds?
Mrs Spelman: Sadly, there is no satisfactory test for TB in camelids, which includes alpacas, and that is a source of considerable concern. We will continue to work on that. Alpacas are included in our programme of trying to manage and control this disease.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): No one is suggesting that bovine TB is not a problem. However, why does the Secretary of State believe that what she proposes will work given the scientific conclusions of a 10-year pilot by the previous Government?
Mrs Spelman: When a programme of badger control was part of the original randomised badger culling trial, the science showed a clear reduction within the controlled area, and an impact on the edge of the area. We have proposed to build on that science base and grant licences to areas with more firmly controlled boundaries to reduce the perturbation effect. It is indisputable that the original trial saw, on average, a 16% reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle herds.
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD):
The Secretary of State has quite rightly set out the sad decision that has had to be taken on this issue. She has also made it clear that the decision is based on the scientific evidence that was provided by the trials. Ongoing monitoring has
14 Dec 2011 : Column 804
shown there to be a lasting effect and that perturbation is only temporary. None the less, there will be those who, understandably, will have an emotional response to this issue. They may be inflamed by people in this House and elsewhere who are somewhat removed from the problem. Will she undertake to carry out as much publicity as she can and to work with organisations such as the British Veterinary Association to make the case for those who have an instinctive response and have not had the opportunity to consider the issues?
Mrs Spelman: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I understand that this issue excites strong emotions, but for those who feel strongly about it I point to the Farm Crisis Network report, which shows the devastating emotional cost to the farmers who lose their cattle. It is probably right at this point to pay tribute to the work done by Adam Henson and “Countryfile” to make members of the public more aware of the cost to farmers of the slaughter of their animals as well as of the impact on wildlife.
Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): The Secretary of State will know that the previous Welsh Government had intended a cull but the current Welsh Government appear to have had a change of mind. Has she discussed the reasons behind that change of mind with the Welsh Government? Furthermore, will she discuss the contents of her statement with the Welsh Government, given the substantial trade in cattle between England and Wales?
Mrs Spelman: Yes, I can give that assurance to the hon. Gentleman. The Minister of State is in regular contact with the Agriculture Minister. We meet regularly at Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings that I invite the devolved Ministers to attend and at which we have ample opportunity regularly to share our approach to the control of TB. I shall have that opportunity at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council tomorrow.
Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): May I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement, which is absolutely right for the farmers in my constituency whose cattle have suffered from this disease for many years? You have made the right decisions. If you tackle the disease in the wildlife, you stop it reinfecting the cattle every year, which is what has been happening for years. I thank you very much for acting on that. The only way they tackled the disease in New Zealand and Australia was by tackling it in wildlife.
Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend makes a very important point. In New Zealand, the incidence of the disease in possums had to be tackled; in Australia, it had to be tackled among wild buffalo; and in Ireland, it was tackled in the badger population. No part of the world has successfully tackled TB in its cattle population without addressing the reservoir of disease in wildlife.
Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab):
The wildlife trusts have said that the scientific evidence does not support the culling of badgers and could even make matters worse by disturbing the remaining badgers, spreading
14 Dec 2011 : Column 805
the disease further. How will the Secretary of State ensure that these short six-week pilots get the evidence base to demonstrate whether the wildlife trusts are right or wrong in their suppositions?
Mrs Spelman: I really must nail this point about the science. The science shows that if the badger population is reduced by 70%, TB incidence is reduced by 16%. That is what the original trial shows and we cannot get away from those facts. The judgment is whether the proposed method of controlled shooting will achieve that and that is the point of piloting it.
John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): The farmers of south Wiltshire and around Salisbury will warmly welcome today’s announcements. Will the Secretary of State confirm that these new provisions will be kept under review to ensure that they are successful in tackling this terrible disease? If they are seen to be successful, will moves be made to extend them as soon as possible so that everyone can have the benefit of the trials?
Mrs Spelman: As I made clear, the two trials that will take place next year—probably at the start of the autumn—will cover a six-week period, after which we would expect the evaluation of those trials to take approximately another four weeks. The evaluation will be undertaken by an independent panel, the composition of which will be announced in the new year. Of course, we will keep that under very close review, as we will all the parts of our package of proposals to eradicate TB.
Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): May I press the Secretary of State to say a little more about these trial areas of 150 sq km? Will all the landowners within that trial area have to sign up? If they do not, will the shooters be allowed to go on to their property to shoot?
Mrs Spelman: What is required for the pilots is access to 70% of the land, in line with the evidence from the randomised badger culling trial. We need access to 70% of the land. There is no element of compulsion on all landowners in the area, but 70% is needed as part of the limited liability company that a group of farmers would set up.
Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Today—this very day—cattle will be taken from the farm for which I have responsibility to be shot, because they were found to be reactors last week. I welcome the Secretary of State’s courageous announcement following the incisive scientific analysis by David King, but will she also insist that farmers play their part in maximising biosecurity and following all the regulations on testing and movement, too, so that we can maximise the effect of the announcement?
Mrs Spelman: I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman on the loss of those cattle. The front page of the Farm Crisis Network’s report brings home to anyone who has not experienced that what it feels like. One farmer said:
“I feel there is a constant dark cloud of uncertainty over me, causing stress, anxiety and fear.”
14 Dec 2011 : Column 806
including strengthening biosecurity measures, will be available. It is a full toolkit to tackle this terrible disease.
Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The impact of bovine TB is as devastating to farmers, cattle and wildlife in Wales as it is in England, but the control of the disease in Wales is devolved to the Welsh Government. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me that all the evidence, experience and information available to her will be shared with the Welsh Government so that the issue can be dealt with in Wales, too?
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be a requirement, particularly in the pilots, for a strict count of the number of badgers culled, that there will be a requirement for those badgers to be tested to substantiate that they are suffering from TB and that in the long term, there will be a requirement that those areas that are going through vaccination will not also have culling at the same time?
Mrs Spelman: I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Very strict requirements have been set out, and tomorrow I will publish the guidance to Natural England and he might wish to read that to see precisely how this will be controlled and how we will test the infection of badgers. On the point about coterminous vaccination and controlled reduction, it is important to remember that this is a package and the option we have chosen to pursue combines controlled reduction of the badger population with vaccination. Some parts of the area might not be suitable for one method of controlled reduction and boundaries might be secured by a programme of vaccination, too.
Guto Bebb (Aberconwy) (Con): May I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on her statement, which I welcome? In view of our bitter experience in Wales with proposed trials, however, how confident is she that these proposals will not be subject to a legal challenge?
Mrs Spelman: Far from it: I think we can be reasonably confident that they will be subject to a legal challenge and that is one reason why we have taken the utmost care. We have taken our time and we have taken a precautionary approach, and every step of the way we have tried to ensure that we have a copper-bottomed reasoned analysis that is the basis of our judgment that we should proceed with this policy.
Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD):
I am aware that more than 1,200 badgers have been vaccinated over the past 18 months in Gloucestershire in trials under separate projects from the Food and Environment Research Agency and the Gloucestershire wildlife trust to assess the practical use of a vaccine. I am pleased that the new vaccine plans have been announced today and they at least explain that we are trying different solutions to sort out this problem, which is a huge one in Somerset. When will the Secretary of State be in a position to assess the effectiveness and costs involved in that project in
14 Dec 2011 : Column 807
Gloucestershire and how will that inform the planned vaccination projects that are to come over the next three years?
Mrs Spelman: It will take some time—many years—before we can finally assess the effectiveness of the vaccination trial in Gloucestershire, but I went and saw it for myself and, as much as anything, it was about the practicalities of trapping and caging the badgers prior to injecting with the only vaccine that is available. There are considerable practical difficulties with the procedure, but today I have tried to make available a fund to help those voluntary groups that want to participate in the vaccination programme.
George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): I welcome the Secretary of State’s proportionate and measured approach to this very contentious issue, and it will be respected by farmers in the west country, many of whom have suffered tragic losses from their herd. I welcome also the long-term commitment to developing a vaccine, but does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems with the current vaccine is that it will only inoculate healthy badgers against future infection and cannot cure badgers that already have the disease?
Mrs Spelman: My hon. Friend, who is very knowledgeable, has hit on the problem that the vaccine is effective only in badgers that are clear of the disease. That is one reason why vaccination takes so much longer than the method of controlled reduction by controlled shooting, but I reiterate that the Government have committed £20 million to the ongoing quest to find an oral vaccine for badgers. It has been effective in treating other diseases such as rabies, and if only we could find one, we would all, I am sure, be delighted.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 808
Victims of Crime (Code of Practice)
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a code of practice to be observed by all those working in the criminal justice system setting out the rights of victims of crime and their families; and for connected purposes.
It is a privilege to address the House on a matter of profound importance to the functioning of our criminal justice system, and I am delighted that so many Members have expressed their support for this endeavour.
The Bill sets out to provide more rights and support to the victims of crime and to their families. We all know, from meeting victims of crime in our constituencies, the horrific, appalling and devastating effect that criminals have on their lives, but all too often victims and their families feel let down, unrepresented and abandoned as they are processed through the criminal justice system.
Two sets of figures highlight how scandalous and inconsistent the treatment of victims can be. The 2010-11 British crime survey shows that only 39% of victims were confident that the criminal justice system is effective, compared with 44% among non-victims, and that 56% of victims are confident that the criminal justice system is fair, compared with 63% of non-victims. In other words, once a victim goes through the criminal justice system and has experienced its workings, they believe it to be less effective and less fair, compared with the expectations of non-victims.
The treatment of victims is of even more concern when compared with the treatment of defendants and offenders. Surveys show that only about one third of people believe that the criminal justice system
“meets the needs of victims”.
“respects the rights of and treats fairly people accused of committing a crime.”
“there is a need, if not to take away rights from offenders, to at least give consideration to ‘balancing up’ the system towards some basic needs of victims. Convicted or accused people are afforded a strong position in terms of definite ‘rights’ from the criminal justice system, whereas victims are afforded vague codes and unenforceable charters with no real route of complaint.”
The existing procedures for victims have failed and proved to be inadequate, and the victims commissioner called for a new victims law, which would include the rights for victims and their families to make statements to influence sentencing, to receive information about their case and to be given suitable support. Before Louise Casey left her post, she also called for more support and rights for the families of murder victims. It is deeply worrying that 51% of families bereaved in such circumstances have found the criminal justice system to be the most difficult issue to deal with, and that is why she called for them to receive greater rights to information, greater practical and emotional support and better treatment in the courtroom. She rightly called also for delays in releasing bodies to be overcome, so that loved ones might be buried within 28 days. Measures to introduce
14 Dec 2011 : Column 809
those recommendations and others are included in my Bill, as it strengthens the rights of victims and enshrines those rights in law.
In the time I have left, I should like to draw the House’s attention to some other issues that need addressing and are dealt with in my Bill. First, victims’ rights must be enforceable with an efficient and effective mechanism in place for them to seek and secure redress when their rights have not been respected. Offenders and defendants have a range of legal avenues available to them when they feel mistreated in the criminal justice system, including going all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, but the striking absence of a corresponding system for victims is unjust, and my Bill reverses that.
Secondly, as part of making victims the central focus of the criminal justice system, my Bill ensures that they have a genuine say over whether an offender is charged, and when a sentence is passed down once a guilty verdict is secured. Too often, victims are excluded from that process, an appalling example of which was when the police and courts let off an offender responsible for committing some 600 crimes in Essex. Instead of being put in a prison cell, he went into the community to reoffend. Needless to say, victims throughout the county were angered by the judgment and by the fact that they were excluded from the decision-making process and did not get their day in court to press for a more relevant and appropriate sentence. Under my Bill, that would not happen again.
Thirdly, as part of giving more rights to the families of homicide victims, my Bill compels authorities to offer more support to the families of British nationals murdered abroad. In recent months, two horrendous cases have come to my attention, in which constituents have suffered because of the murder overseas of those nearest and dearest to them. Not only have they had a terrible time dealing with the tragic loss, but they have
14 Dec 2011 : Column 810
had to encounter a range of practical obstacles, such as translation costs, travel arrangements and an unfamiliarity with foreign legal systems. Currently, only 13% of those families feel as though the British authorities treat them as victims, and there is a wide disparity in the support services available to them. I pay tribute to the outstanding work undertaken by the organisation Support After Murder and Manslaughter Abroad in assisting relatives faced with that tragic set of circumstances, and to its efforts to develop a memorandum of understanding with the authorities in this country. But a firm set of commitments, which my Bill provides for, is needed so that full assistance can be afforded and provided to them.
Finally, my Bill gives victims greater protection from criminals not only when the criminal is out in the community, but when they are in prison. In one shocking case in my constituency, a convicted murderer has been able from jail to torment the family of the deceased, through media articles both authorised by the Ministry of Justice and unauthorised. That cannot be right, and my Bill empowers victims in such circumstances to prevent hurtful statements by their convicted tormentors.
That Priti Patel, Mr Philip Hollobone, Charlie Elphicke, Mr David Amess, Mr Graham Brady, Mr Andrew Turner, Mark Pritchard, Mr Graham Allen, Bob Russell, Nick de Bois, Stuart Andrew, Mark Durkan and Elizabeth Truss present the Bill.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 811
Business of the House
‘(1) The Speaker shall put any question necessary to dispose of proceedings on a carry-over motion of which a Minister of the Crown has given notice under Standing Order No. 80A (Carry-over of bills) relating to a bill brought in upon a ways and means resolution—
(3) If proceedings in committee on the bill are begun but not completed before the end of the first Session, the chair shall report the bill to the House as so far amended and the bill and any evidence received by the committee shall be ordered to lie upon the Table.
(5) In the next Session of Parliament, a Minister of the Crown may, after notice, present a bill in the same terms as the bill reported to the House under paragraph (3) of this order or as it stood when proceedings were suspended under paragraph (4) of this order; the bill shall be read the first time without question put and shall be ordered to be printed; and paragraphs (6) to (13) shall apply to the bill.
(6) In respect of all proceedings on the bill, any resolution which the bill was brought in upon in the first Session shall be treated as if it were such a resolution of the House in the next Session and any reference in any resolution upon which the bill was brought in to a Bill or Act of the present Session shall be treated in the next Session as a reference to a Bill or Act of that Session.
(9) If the bill was not set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, any committal order in respect of the bill shall apply to proceedings on the Bill in the next Session (subject to paragraphs (10) and (11)).
(10) If the bill was reported from a public bill committee under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a public bill committee in respect of those clauses and schedules which were committed to a public bill committee in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.
14 Dec 2011 : Column 812
(11) If the bill was reported from a committee of the whole House under paragraph (3), it shall stand committed to a committee of the whole House in respect of those clauses and schedules which were committed to a committee of the whole House in the first Session and not ordered to stand part of the bill in that Session.
(12) If the bill was read a second time in the first Session and was not set down for consideration at any time in that Session, any order of the House giving leave for a committee on the bill to sit twice on the first day on which it meets in the first Session shall apply to the first day on which the committee meets in the next Session.
(13) If the bill was set down for consideration at any time in the first Session, the bill shall be set down as an order of the day for (as the case may be) consideration, further consideration or third reading.
(14) Notices of amendments, new clauses and new schedules given in respect of parts of the bill not disposed of in the first Session shall be reprinted as notices in respect of the bill as presented and proceeded with under paragraph (5).’.
That, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the legislative authorisation of (a) appropriation of expenditure and (b) maximum numbers for defence services, legislative authorisation of appropriation of Votes on Account and maximum numbers for defence services may take place on a day not later than 5 August in the Session following that in which the founding resolutions for the forthcoming financial year were agreed to by the House.
(4) in line 13, at end, insert ‘Provided that the foregoing provisions of this paragraph shall not apply on any day on which time has been allocated pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates).’;
‘Provided that on days on which time has been allocated pursuant to paragraph (2)(b) of Standing Order No. 24 (Emergency debates) or the Chairman of Ways and Means has set down opposed private business under paragraph (5) of Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), proceedings under this sub-paragraph shall not be entered upon until the business in question has been disposed of and may then be proceeded with for three hours, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House).’;
14 Dec 2011 : Column 813
‘(5) Any estimates on which questions have been deferred to another day in accordance with the provisions of paragraphs (4) and (6) of this order, together with any questions so deferred, and all other estimates appointed for consideration on any previous day or half day allotted under this order shall be set down for consideration on the day to which the questions have been deferred.
(6) On the day to which the provisions of paragraph (2) or (4) of Standing Order No. 55 (Questions on voting of estimates, &c.) apply which falls after or on any day or half-day allotted under this order, the Speaker shall, at the time prescribed in paragraph (1) of that order, put, successively, any questions deferred under paragraph (4) of this order on any previous day or half day allotted under this order, any questions deferred under paragraph (4) of this order on the day and any questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on all other estimates appointed for consideration on any day or half day allotted under this order.’;
(b) in line 2, leave out ‘the Speaker shall at the moment of interruption’ and insert ‘, at the moment of interruption or as soon thereafter as proceedings under the proviso to paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) have been disposed of, the Speaker shall (after putting any questions required to be put under paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 54)’;
(d) excess votes, provided that the Committee of Public Accounts has reported that it sees no objection to the amounts and modifications to limits on appropriations in aid necessary being authorised by excess vote.’;
(b) in line 2, leave out ‘the Speaker shall at the moment of interruption’ and insert ‘, at the moment of interruption or as soon thereafter as proceedings under the proviso to paragraph (3)(b) of Standing Order No. 54 (Consideration of estimates) have been disposed of, the Speaker shall (after putting any questions required to be put under paragraph (6) of Standing Order No. 54)’;