Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Educational Visits

32. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Whether he has considered proposals to help schools with the cost of educational visits to Parliament. [221538]

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain): Yes, I will certainly keep the option of financial assistance in mind, although I think that our money is best spent on ensuring that the young people who do visit us have a valuable educational experience, not just a tour of the buildings.

I am delighted that the House of Commons Commission agreed yesterday to extend the autumn programme so that the education unit will run visits year round from October 2005. That will mean that more than 25,000 children and young people should be able to have managed educational visits, compared with about 6,000 at present.

Mr. Lazarowicz: I am glad that the education unit is to be expanded in that way, but I remind my right hon. Friend that the answer to my parliamentary question a few weeks ago revealed that of almost 300 school visits to Parliament in the last Session, only one was from Scotland, compared with 205 from south-east England. Indeed, there was only one visit from Wales, two from Northern Ireland and five from north-east England. Obviously, I accept that there is more likelihood of schools nearer the House visiting it more frequently, but will my right hon. Friend nevertheless consider
15 Mar 2005 : Column 143
providing some kind of funding to ensure that school students from constituencies further away from London can enjoy the new resources being put into the schools unit? He will know that the National Assembly for Wales has such a scheme—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think the Leader of the House can now manage to answer.

Mr. Hain: I am aware that the National Assembly gives a subsidy of about a pound a mile to schools visiting from outside the Cardiff area. Obviously, that is something we shall bear in mind. We decided yesterday to increase the parliamentary budget to the education unit by £135,000, recruiting extra staff to link with local education authorities, to ensure that they put our parliamentary democracy at the heart of their citizenship courses, because, as we discovered on the Modernisation Committee, that was not happening. We shall bear the question of subsidy in mind, although in the case of Scotland and parts of Wales, sheer distance is the problem. That is why we also need to expand electronic contact through our website, through virtual tours of the House of Commons. In that way, we can reach millions of youngsters who will never have the chance to travel here, whether we subsidise their visits or not.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In endorsing the call by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) for assistance with the cost of educational visits, I put it to the Leader of the House that one of the reasons why so many young people, including schoolchildren, are turned off politics is that they are fed up with the rather down-market, yah-boo character of so much of it. In that context, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, for whom I have considerable respect, to acknowledge that he was wrong to speak of the Leader of the Opposition in such abusive terms at the weekend and to apologise now—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There is no need to apologise. The hon. Gentleman should be apologising for pushing his luck.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): But is there not a serious point? The way in which people look at this place is influenced by the great figures in the House. Is it not right that the Leader of the House has a duty in that connection? Is he prepared to make any statement today about what happened on Saturday—

Mr. Speaker: Order. This is getting out of hand. I remind the House that there are only a few minutes of Question Time left, so it is also unfair.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD): May I return to the original question? I entirely endorse what the Leader of the House said; it is not just the cost of bringing school groups here, but also the practicalities. My constituents can only rarely come to the House, so I warmly endorse the points that he made. What will the Government do to make possible the Modernisation Committee's recommendations on electronic access for school groups to the business of the House?

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. We are upgrading the website in any
15 Mar 2005 : Column 144
case, as a result of the decisions taken by and the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee. A proper virtual tour of Parliament through the internet could better serve his constituents and those in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It would be good if we could find other ways to expand the education unit's budget because it does a fantastic job on a limited budget.

As for apologies, we always say things in the heat of the moment that we would have preferred not to say, and that was one of them.

Pre-legislative Scrutiny

33. Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): If he will make it his policy to encourage pre-legislative scrutiny of all Bills. [221539]

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): The Government are committed to pre-legislative scrutiny and have substantially increased the number of Bills published in draft, but it is not realistic to expect that all Bills should be published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny. I especially welcome the Liaison Committee's annual report, published today, which acknowledges the recent growth in the number of Bills published in draft and our practice of providing advance notice.

Mr. Allen: As the dust settles on the proceedings of last Thursday and Friday, I hope that people inside and outside the House will look back on them and say that Parliament did a very effective job in difficult circumstances, as the Prevention of Terrorism Bill was considered by the House. Does my hon. Friend accept that if we had been able to have proper pre-legislative scrutiny of that Bill, perhaps over many months in different circumstances, we could have reached agreement a lot earlier, not only in the House but between both Houses? Will he also take on board the possibility not only of effective pre-legislative scrutiny in that context, but of effective post-legislative scrutiny? We call for sunset clauses or reviews. Perhaps the House should always have a duty to review legislation within a given time.

Mr. Woolas: I shall answer the second question first. The House may be interested to know that the Law Commission has recently accepted the suggestion that it should carry out a study on post-legislative scrutiny and the definitions of what that may be, to inform the debates of the House. My hon. Friend has pressed for such scrutiny on many occasions.

On my hon. Friend's first question, I would caution against a presumption of publishing Bills in draft. To be frank, occasionally, for reasons of political controversy and because of other real-world decisions, some Bills cannot be published in draft. The Finance Bill is a very good example. Although pre-legislative scrutiny improved the cohesion of the Gambling Bill, it did not take away the controversy—only the debates and the votes can do that.

15 Mar 2005 : Column 145


Energy Markets

Alan Simpson, supported by Sir Sydney Chapman, Mr. David Drew, Dr. Brian Iddon, Brian White, Sue Doughty, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Michael Weir, Dr. Ian Gibson, Adam Price and Llew Smith, presented a Bill to promote sustainable energy and energy efficiency; to make further provision about the regulation of gas and electricity supply industries and about electricity transmission; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 22 April, and to be printed [Bill 87].

15 Mar 2005 : Column 146

Proceeds of Crime (Compensation of Prosecution Costs)

12.33 pm

Brian White (Milton Keynes, North-East) (Lab): I beg to move,

In 2001, we introduced the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, whereby the assets of people convicted of serious crime, such as money laundering, could be seized, so that they did not just go to jail and still keep the fruits of their crime to reward them when they came out. That Act has been very effective in hitting criminals where it hurts, but I want to identity two areas where that legislation could be improved by letting others take action and recover their prosecution costs, which they are currently unable to do.

Last weekend, I visited a constituent who had been the victim of identity theft. In 2001, she moved house and changed all her details to the new home address. In January 2003, a new account was created using her old details, but the crime did not come to light until last December, when she applied for a new mortgage and was refused because of the debts incurred on the stolen identity. As requested by the credit card company, she reported the crime to her local police, but their civilian staff refused to issue a crime number because they said that a crime had not been committed.

When the inspector went round yesterday, he said that no crime had been committed against the police, so no action was to be taken. He said that it was the bank's responsibility to deal with the fraud and my constituent's responsibility to tell the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the Passport Office and the Department for Work and Pensions about the new identity that might be being used. However, credit card reference agencies will not do anything about the matter because there is no crime number and the police say that it is a victimless crime, so organised criminals are getting away with lots of money. Ironically, this all happened on the same day that Thames Valley police had its web page hacked into.

The national high-tech crime unit is trying to tackle precisely such crimes—the crimes that the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 was designed to stop. If local police cannot take action owing to a lack of knowledge and lack of resources prioritised on the matter, I argue that we need to empower other bodies to do so, such as financial institutions and banks. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), will know that I have consistently argued that the directors of security of banks and communications service providers should be given special constabulary powers to collect evidence and initiate prosecutions, because they are often the people who detect crimes and have the tools to collect evidence and track the money. Those people could play a strong role in not only the detection of crime, but the prevention of crime. We should copy the example of Canada, which has given such people special constabulary status. They do not go on the beat, but use their skills to fight crime.
15 Mar 2005 : Column 147

There was a story in the Washington Post last week about a gang that stole 145,000 identities in one hit. We are not at that stage yet here, but we might be if we do not take effective action. It is estimated that the current cost of intellectual property crime is about £11 billion and that the Exchequer loses £2 billion in unpaid value added tax alone. Such matters will become crucial during the next Parliament.

A couple of years ago, Waltham Forest borough council's trading standards department took action against pirates and counterfeiters on its patch. The prosecution was successful, so it applied under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 for assets to be seized, which they duly were. To give an idea of the scale of the task, the prosecution costs were £90,000. One can thus imagine the council's consternation when it found that it was unable to recover the prosecution costs because the assets had gone to the Treasury and there was nothing against which the council could claim.

If the Crown Prosecution Service had undertaken the prosecution, the costs would have been recovered, with the money obtained through the normal channels. However, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 does not allow non-central Government organisations to recover costs. Those organisations include local authorities and private sector organisations that might take action against organised crime and get a confiscation order, such as the British Phonographic Industry and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Piracy is rife in the music industry. The BPI could take serious action against the pirates—not the 16-year-old kids downloading in their bedrooms, but the piracy industry that has been built up. The sale of pirated DVDs in markets throughout the country costs £400 million a year.

Globalisation means that if we are to continue to enjoy our standard of living, intellectual property and its protection will be vital. The crime is not victimless. More than 1 million jobs in our creative and high-tech industries depend on us taking action. Counterfeiting and piracy are major sources of organised crime, so we will have a serious problem if we let the problem grow.
15 Mar 2005 : Column 148
I argue that closing the loophole and allowing non-governmental organisations to recover their prosecution costs would be a first, yet crucial, step in the fight to secure our future.

I go further by suggesting to the Government that we should allow such organisations to retain a percentage of the assets seized—I argue that the figure should be 10 per cent. If we did that, the police would be able to create more computer forensic officers. It would also give trading standards departments an incentive to take action because only the best, such as that in Waltham Forest, do so at present. We must encourage others to take action. I am a great believer in incentives, and I am convinced that any money that the Treasury might lose in the initial period would be more than recouped by the assets seized in the extra prosecutions that would be brought.

Our record as a leader in those industries and the protection that we give our constituents have been jeopardised because everyone is waiting for someone to take action. We should support and encourage trading standards officers who are prepared to act, and they should not have to face the barriers that are an unintended consequence of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. My Bill highlights a problem that will become more visible in the coming years. It closes a loophole and, I suggest to the Minister, it proposes a way forward. I therefore commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Brian White, Janet Anderson, Mr. David Amess, Claire Ward, Helen Jones, Mr. Huw Edwards, Mr. Richard Allan, Bob Spink, Paddy Tipping and Jim Dowd.

Next Section IndexHome Page