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Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement that the ISC report is factual and detailed, and is not a whitewash. It is important for the Committee that that statement is recorded, but it is even more important that the agencies back his statement. The report expressed concern that special branch is underfunded and does not have the capacity or capabilities required to deliver
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the right security and the investigatory responses required. Does his Department acknowledge that and, if so, what is it going to do about it?

John Reid: I undertake to look carefully at the points made by my hon. Friend, as we take these issues very seriously indeed. As an indication of that, and because of our feelings for the victims of 7 July, we have made a small but symbolic gesture, and every single Home Office Minister is present on the Front Bench today. I will continue to make sure that we look at the problem.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): The Foreign Secretary spoke about the need for effective international co-operation. Is he happy with the co-operation that we have received from other countries? If not, which countries require further work? And what is the Foreign Office doing to try to make communications much better?

John Reid: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have not yet occupied the post of Foreign Secretary—the Foreign Office is one of the few Departments about which I can make that categoric statement. On the serious point that the hon. Gentleman makes, I am not yet in a position to assess in which areas we wish to develop friendships and the exchange of information and intelligence, but my experience in the past few years, particularly in Defence, is that there is an increasing awareness among all countries of all backgrounds of the common threat that we all face. I have had useful discussions with many countries in the Gulf, and I have had the pleasure and privilege of long conversations with President Musharraf of Pakistan and others. There is a growing awareness, as I said earlier, that there is a threat not just to one of us but to all of us. It is not a clash between civilisations—it is a threat to civilisation.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement and the candour he has displayed in more than an hour of answering questions. May I draw his attention to the Intelligence and Security Committee’s conclusion that the radicalisation of British citizens was still not fully understood or properly taken into consideration by the intelligence community? Does he accept that criticism, and what do the Government intend to do to address that shortcoming?

John Reid: I can tell my hon. Friend that I accept that we have a great deal more to do. May I make the general point that part of the motivation of the four suicide bombers was a sense of injustice about the treatment of Islam throughout the world by the west? That is the starting point, but we need to go much further and appreciate what underlies that strength of feeling. None of that justifies suicide bombing—neither my hon. Friend nor anyone in the House is suggesting that it does—but the more that we understand one another and understand what motivates those people, including what shapes their development and the context of their beliefs, the better we can cope with the problem. That is why, in the
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aftermath of 7/7, we set in train, as I said earlier, short-term work, including a programme of ministerial visits to engage local communities. Many Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, are actively engaged in dialogue and action with faith communities. Whether we have reached the parts that we ought to reach is an open question, and that is something that I want to look at. I think, too, that it will be high on the agenda of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who places a strong emphasis on the matter. We shall try to make sure that that is an important aspect of the work that she carries out.

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): The Home Secretary rightly talked about the victims’ families and the agony that they are going through, particularly given the publication of the report and the forthcoming anniversary. He will be aware that some of their anguish stems from their difficulty finding the injured on 7/7 and discovering which hospital they had been sent to. They tried to identify and reach their relatives, but they did not want to disrupt the emergency services in the process. I have previously raised the issue on the Floor of the House, and I have spoken about the campaign for Emily’s boards, which provide a mechanism for communication. I have met officials from the Department of Health, but Home Office involvement is required. Our efforts to introduce that procedure are moving forward at a snail’s pace. Can my right hon. Friend provide me with a point of contact in the Home Office so that we can try to progress a solution? I hope that there is not another atrocity in London or anywhere else in the UK but, if there is, families should not be exposed to that experience again.

John Reid: I thank the hon. Lady, and I urge her to pass on her thanks to her constituents, including the parents of a young victim who I believe, from discussions with my right hon. Friend the Culture Secretary, is called Emily. I thank her for her proposal, as that is one of the lessons that we must learn. As I have said, I do not regard this as the exclusive preserve of any particular party. I shall give what support I can to identify someone to develop the proposal. The matter is not within the ambit of the Home Office, as it is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend, but I undertake to look into it and to contact her.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Post-incident analysis and learning from our mistakes is a vital part of intelligence work. The House should not hold back from scrutinising the Government and the Committee’s report on the event. Will the Home Secretary clarify something that remains unclear in the report and his previous answers? Were the two bombers, Tanweer and Khan, under surveillance at any stage in the lead-up to the incident and, if so, was that for years or months? I am not just talking about tracing their telephone calls. As a result of the report, will he undertake to consider whether we have the right balance between human intelligence—informers and people working with the community—and intelligence gathered purely from surveillance? A lack of human intelligence often results in our missing threats, as has been the case both at home and abroad in the past.

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John Reid: I am asking for clarification of the details. My understanding was that there was not a sustained surveillance operation. Rather, the men were picked up as contacts of a primary target who was under surveillance. The answer that I have just been given partly corrects me and is partly indecipherable. It has obviously been written by one of our intelligence agencies! The reply that I gave the hon. Gentleman was my original understanding. If it transpires that there was systemic surveillance of the men for any prolonged period, I will write to him.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I particularly welcome the part of the Home Secretary’s statement in which he said how important it is that we engage all communities in British society. Does he agree that it is crucial that we all do much more to integrate all communities, particularly Muslims in west Yorkshire and the rest of the country, into the British culture and the British way of life, so that they do not feel such hatred towards us
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as a nation, and that we do much more to tackle the people who preach hatred about our country, and perhaps kick some of them out of the country? All of us need to tackle the culture of political correctness, which has done so much harm to the integration of people into British society.

John Reid: I agree strongly with the first point that the hon. Gentleman made. One of the great things about Britishness is the strength of unity that we get from our diversity. That has been true for centuries, and I speak as a Scot and a Brit. I want everyone to understand that that is part of being British, as is tolerance of the views of others. I therefore strongly support the positive side of the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but if we are to be tolerant of the views of others, we must be rather less tolerant of those who are intolerant of others. That is the other side. As regards political correctness, I do not think I am qualified to pass judgment.

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Points of Order

1.42 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I have given the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) notice. Last Thursday in the House he alleged that I had made an offer of a peerage to Peter Law. That is utterly and totally false. I never made any such offer, nor would I. Indeed, Peter Law himself, on a television programme in December last year, said that he had never received—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the ruling that the Speaker gave earlier today. He said, “I do not intend to allow any debate or points of order about the hon. Member’s apology, still less about the substance of his allegation last week. That is a matter to be pursued elsewhere, if at all.” I must abide by the Speaker’s ruling.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No. I have dealt with the point of order and that is the end of it.

Mr. Hain rose—

Chris Bryant rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must move on to the main business.

Mr. Hain: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: No. I have dealt with the point of order and I am not returning to it.

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Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc. Bill

(Programme) (No. 2)

1.43 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move,

We have had wide consensus on the Bill, both on the content and on the need to ensure that it reaches the statute book at the earliest opportunity. I thank the Opposition parties for their support for the Bill and for their willingness to meet representatives of the Housing Corporation and lenders in order to discuss the detail. Accordingly, I hope all Members will support the programme motion.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a Bill that will clearly go through the House fairly quickly, it seems strange that we should impose an unnecessary guillotine on the business of the House. The programme motion is unnecessary and should be rejected.

Question put and agreed to.

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Orders of the Day

Housing Corporation (Delegation) etc. Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

Order for Third Reading read.

1.45 pm

The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We had considerable discussion in Committee of a short Bill that enjoys widespread support in the House, both for its content, as I said, and because of the need for a speedy response from Parliament to the issue that has arisen for the Housing Corporation. The provisions are not the most dramatic, but they are extremely important to the Housing Corporation, the housing associations that it regulates, the lending community and, ultimately, the 2 million people who depend on social housing.

In Committee we undertook extensive scrutiny of the details of the Bill and its underlying purpose. I shall summarise the conclusions of that debate. The Bill’s purpose is simple. It gives the Housing Corporation a power of delegation from board to below-board level, either to a committee of the board or to officials, with retrospective effect. It also deems the corporation always to have had such a power, since it was founded in 1964. Over the past 40 years the board had been acting, in good faith, on the basis that it had an implied power of delegation, until it was discovered at the end of last year that the board did not have that express power of delegation.

It was not just the corporation that thought it had such a power, but everyone else with an interest, including the Department, the lending community, housing associations and the residents of housing associations. When the Housing Corporation was created, it was common for public bodies and non-departmental public bodies not to be given an explicit power of delegation. At that time, powers of delegation were more readily taken to be implied. Since then, the majority of bodies set up without explicit powers have been wound up or have had their legislation modernised to confer such powers.

That did not happen in the case of the Housing Corporation because of administrative oversight on a series of occasions. Hon. Members asked whether we were aware of any other NDPB being in the same predicament as the Housing Corporation, but we are not. As I assured the Committee, we have examined all the NDPBs that were responsible to the former Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I will need to confirm that any new non-departmental bodies that may arrive in the Department as a result of the change in the Department’s responsibilities are similarly checked, in order to ensure that we have addressed the issue. We have contacted the Cabinet Office, which is co-ordinating further consideration of the matter across Government.

Hon. Members will be aware that as soon as the issue for the Housing Corporation was discovered, we set about addressing the many decisions that have been taken, so as not to leave housing associations, the
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corporation and lenders in a state of limbo about previous decisions that had been delegated.

The Opposition raised concerns on Second Reading and in Committee about the retrospective nature of the legislation and the fact that it will legitimise past decisions that the corporation board had delegated. We had an extensive discussion of retrospective legislation on Second Reading and in Committee. We are clear that the concerns expressed by hon. Members about retrospective legislation do not apply. The Bill does not seek to alter the rights of individuals to the benefit of some and the disadvantage of others, or seek to unravel previous transactions that were undertaken in good faith, with unforeseeable consequences. It does not attempt retrospectively to change people’s understanding of the position that they are in; in fact, the converse is true. It seeks to restore what was thought to be the status quo and restores the parties to the position that they all considered, in good faith, they were in before the problem was discovered.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On what evidence does the Minister conclude that all parties thought that way?

Yvette Cooper: We are certainly not aware of any that thought otherwise. If the hon. Gentleman is challenging me because he thinks that I am, so to speak, unreasonably presuming that all swans are white because I have never seen a black one, he is probably making a fair logical point. However, on the basis of the evidence that I have and the consideration that was given to the historical files, I am not aware that any of the many organisations that engage with the Housing Corporation considered that this implied power did not exist. Certainly, if any of the lenders had considered that that was a possibility, they would have raised it with us pretty quickly.

As I made clear, the Bill restores to the Housing Corporation and to other stakeholders something that everyone previously thought already applied. It also ensures that they can move on, on a secure footing, in making decisions in future, and that they do not have to call a meeting of the board to consider a series of decisions that should sensibly be delegated either to sub-committees or to officers. It therefore allows the Housing Corporation to manage its business more effectively and efficiently and to take sensible decisions in exactly the same way as many other non-departmental public bodies. At an earlier stage of the Bill’s passage, we discussed a range of other organisations and non-departmental public bodies that have similar powers to those that we are introducing for the Housing Corporation.

We discussed in Standing Committee the kinds of delegated decisions that are involved. These are not merely decisions about the kinds of coffee and biscuits that are got in for meetings—they are about the statutory functions of the Housing Corporation. A series of different types of decisions is covered. Our main concern centred on consents under section 9 of the Housing Act 1996. It was important to ensure that those were covered by the ability to delegate. That section requires a registered social landlord to obtain the consent of the corporation for any disposal of land under section 8 of the Act. That includes the placing of charges by lenders as security against a loan and rule
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changes for RSLs. It is important to have certainty about such consents, as they have important implications for the future of social housing, new build and the levels at which housing associations can borrow. Legal advice assured us that, through provisions in the Land Registration Act 2002, housing associations could continue to borrow against their assets and regard their homes, which might have been transferred from another housing association, as their own, and could make decisions about the future on that basis.

However, we were also advised that notwithstanding the existence of such other provisions, there remained a degree of legal uncertainty about the validity of the decisions of the corporation. We felt, given the extent of long-term investment in the social housing sector, that it was critical to ensure that that uncertainty could be addressed. It could, for example, have affected the ability of housing associations to borrow against their assets, the rate at which they could borrow, the draw-down of loans, and the confidence of lenders. We are all agreed across the House that we want to maintain confidence in the social housing sector in those long-term decisions.

Another aspect that we covered was the status of regulatory decisions such as statutory appointments to the board of a registered social landlord. We wanted to ensure that those were also properly covered and that there was no uncertainty about them given the need to be able to regulate in the public interest. Similar concerns involved housing association registration and rule changes.

In each of the areas where we have pursued this matter, it is possible to provide some legal comfort regarding rule changes that might be provided by other legislation such as the Land Registration Act and the Companies Act 1985. Nevertheless, it became clear that each of those provisions offered insufficient certainty and comfort, whether for the Housing Corporation itself, for the housing associations, for their lenders or, ultimately, for social housing residents, who would bear the consequences were that uncertainty not resolved and were there to be any difficulties in terms of lending decisions that might follow.

There is wide-ranging consensus among the stakeholders, as well as in the Department and among hon. Members, on the need for the Bill and the need to respond relatively swiftly to the problem that has arisen for the Housing Corporation. We believe that the Bill is the only way to solve that problem. I thank all Members for their support and commend the Bill to the House.

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