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17 May 2006 : Column 985

Mr. Evennett: I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for that reply; Conservative Members certainly find it most interesting. What confidence can my constituents have in his policy co-ordination, given the disastrous mess he made of the cross-departmental Thames Gateway project? My constituents wonder how he can justify a full salary for his job.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly reject what the hon. Gentleman says about the Thames Gateway. For the first time, we are seeing major housing, infrastructure and community development there. There have also been many developments in many other communities, and we have notified the House about them. I will be judged on the basis of my record, rather than the hon. Gentleman’s rhetoric. As to my salary, I have already pointed out that I am doing far more than Lord Heseltine— [Interruption.] I thought the argument was that my salary should be cut simply because I am doing less work, yet no complaints were made about Lord Heseltine at the time. I am doing far more work than he did and fully justifying my salary. The Prime Minister has given me an important job to do and I am getting on with it.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Renewal, neighbourhood renewal, regeneration and social housing have always been central to the Deputy Prime Minister’s delivery in the House and the country. In his new role, may I ask whether he is still going to have a hands-on role in these areas? [Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

The Deputy Prime Minister: It sounds like a sixth-form public school rally. Yes, I can tell my hon. Friend that we will continue to play an active part in those matters. One of the Cabinet Committees that I will be involved with is housing and planning, whichis important in meeting the housing needs of this country. I noticed that there was a great deal of laughing about my proposal to— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I ask the House to quieten down again. With all the noise in the Chamber, hon. Members are making the situation difficult for me as Speaker. I ask for the House’s help and co-operation. [Interruption.] Order. We can do without the Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong), throwing in her tuppence worth.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I was happy to have been involved with a Department that doubled the resources going into housing and made a real contribution to improving our housing stock for more than 1.5 million people. Yesterday I attended the launch of the £60,000 house, which many people said could not be done. It is one of the best things that we have done, offering great opportunities for first-time buyers and the Government are responsible for it.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Among the many important jobs that the Deputy Prime Minister is going to continue to engage in, does he retain any responsibility for standards of conduct and propriety in local government?

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The Deputy Prime Minister: That is the responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—


5. Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): If she will make a statement on the Government's proposals for reform of charities law. [71283]

8. Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): What plans she has to meet the Charity Commission to discuss implementation of the Charities Bill. [71286]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Edward Miliband): The Charities Bill has been widely welcomed for the way it improves and modernises charity law. It has completed its passage in the House of Lords and will return to the House as soon as parliamentary time allows. I will meet the chair and chief executive of the Charity Commission on Monday 22 May to discuss a number of matters of mutual interest, including the Charities Bill.

Mr. Scott: Will the Minister look further into the burden of VAT on charities as part of his work?

Edward Miliband: I know that the hon. Gentleman worked hard in the charities industry before entering the House, and he is a doughty fighter for charities in his own constituency. On the issue of irrecoverable VAT, it would cost £500 million to return all that VAT to charities. Two reviews have looked at the questionof whether there is a way of doing so for somecharities and not others, but they have not found a solution. The Government have done a huge amount of work on charities’ tax position, and there has been a £400 million increase in the amount that they receive under Gift Aid since we introduced reforms. That is just one of the things that the Government are doing to help the charitable sector.

Mr. Walker: I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box, but what is he going to do about the awful practice of chugging? Basically, £8 of every £10 goes to organisations that put hired muggers on the street to make people part with their hard-earned cash in the belief that it will go to good charities when, in fact, it goes to the organisations that have won the contract.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman asked a characteristically robust question. Everyone in the House wants to encourage charitable giving, including donations through face-to-face collections. The Charities Bill makes a difference, as it regulates the practice of collecting on the street through the Charity Commission and a system of licensing by local authorities.

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Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to his new post—it is a well-deserved appointment. Does he agree it is a matter of concern that people who collect for charities in supermarkets, licensed premises and restaurants sometimes produce a badge that has not been registered with the Charity Commission? What steps are he and the Government taking to improve licensing?

Edward Miliband: I thank my hon. Friend, both for his welcome and for his question. The Charities Bill will make a difference to face-to-face and street collecting. It applies less to the small collections that everyone in the House welcomes than to collections in supermarkets and elsewhere, which will be regulated for the first time.

Margaret Moran (Luton, South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that in my real life before coming to the House I was chief executive of a registered social landlord? We were a registered charity, and were subject to regulation by no fewer than five organisations, including the slow-moving Charity Commission. Will he undertake to look at the over-regulation of registered social landlords so that we can make progress on the provision of more social housing, which the Government rightly support and promote?

Edward Miliband: I agree with my hon. Friend about the important role that housing associations and registered social landlords play in the supply of housing, and I promise to look at the issues that she raised. The Bill modernises the Charity Commission in several important ways. It will streamline the organisation and, I hope, help charities to deliver the services that we want them to deliver.

Deputy Prime Minister

The Deputy Prime Minister was asked—

Climate Change

6. Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): What plans he has to visit Latin America to discuss the post-Kyoto climate change agenda. [71284]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr. John Prescott): My hon. Friend may be aware that I have visited a number of Latin American countries over the past few years, and I have held discussions with the presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. I have also held discussions with the presidents of Venezuela and Colombia. Most notably, I held a number of meetings with President Cardoso of Brazil during the Kyoto negotiations. More recently, in March this year, I welcomed President Lula of Brazil during his state visit to the United Kingdom. I have an invitation to return to Brazil and I would of course be happy to visit, should my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister ask me to do so.

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Mr. Blizzard: In his role representing the country internationally, may I encourage my right hon. Friend to visit more Latin American countries? Given our policies on common agricultural policy reform and fair trade, we are their best EU partner, but we need to follow through so that they are aware of that. Instead, President Chirac visits them, even though he spends a great deal of time trying to block the reforms that would benefit them.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend said. The House is well aware of the work that he has undertaken as the chair of the all-party groups on Latin America and Brazil, and I am particularly grateful for the advice that they have given me before my visits to Brazil and Latin America. Those countries will play a major part in the forthcoming global negotiations on trade, climate change and, indeed, the CAP. We will do all that we can—I am sure that the Prime Minister himself will do so—to work directly with their leaders to achieve the solutions that will be good not only for this country and Latin America but for the world economy.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Does not the Deputy Prime Minister think that when he meets the leaders of Latin American countries, they will treat him with the same degree of ridicule as does the House?

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call Greg Hands.

Duchy of Lancaster

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked—

Ministerial Code

7. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What her Department’s role is in monitoring compliance with the ministerial code. [71285]

The Minister for the Cabinet Office (Hilary Armstrong): The ministerial code was reissued in July 2005, taking account of comments made by the Public Administration Committee and the Committee on Standards in Public Life. Section 1 of the ministerial code sets out Ministers’ responsibilities in relation to the code.

Mr. Hands: The Government make provisions for the enforcement of standards and ethics at most levels of government, from parish councillors all the way up. Why is it that under the ministerial code, the only people not subject to independent outside scrutiny are Government Ministers?

Hilary Armstrong: The hon. Gentleman is a new Member of the House. He may not remember that under previous Administrations, there was no ministerial code. [Interruption.] There was no ministerial code, as such. There were questions about Ministers’ behaviour, but they were not published and nobody knew what those questions were until 1992. In 1997 we published the ministerial code. As from 23 March, Sir John Bourn
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has been appointed the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests. This, too, is an innovation, and Sir John will provide advice to Ministers and Permanent Secretaries on the handling of Ministers’ private interests, as set out in section 5 of the ministerial code.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [71294] Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 17 May.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families of Private Joseva Lewaicei and Private Adam Morris, who were killed in Iraq on Saturday. We owe them a great debt of gratitude and we pay tribute to their dedication and their courage in the service of their country.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I will have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Khabra: Does the Prime Minister agree that the Human Rights Act 1998 imposes an enormous duty on the state to protect its citizens against terrorism and crime? In the light of this clear duty, does he also agree that in making decisions in such cases, judges oughtto be aware of the wider interests of the public, and that human rights lobbyists should have a better understanding of their role in society?

The Prime Minister: I agree with my hon. Friend, but it is important to emphasise that because it incorporates the European convention on human rights, the Human Rights Act allows for a balance between the rights of the individual and the wider collective rights of society. If that balance is interpreted wrongly, we must look at that. It is always open to the House to decide that we will legislate, irrespective of the Human Rights Act. It is perfectly possible, both under the European convention and under the Human Rights Act, for that balance to be more sensible. Most people would agree, for example, that if someone is inciting hatred and inciting people to kill others in this country, it is absurd if we cannot return them to their own country.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On behalf of the Opposition, may I add our sympathies to what the Prime Minister said about the soldiers who gave their lives in Iraq? Our thoughts should be with their families for what they have done on our behalf.

Two weeks ago the Prime Minister said that automatic deportation would apply to any foreign national

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Last week he said it would apply to those actually imprisoned. This week the Home Secretary said that automatic deportation would now apply only to foreign nationals serving a “significant” jail term. Which is it?

The Prime Minister: It is exactly as I explained when I first answered the right hon. Gentleman. It applies only to people who have gone to prison, which is why we are talking about foreign prisoners. If, for example, someone is sent to prison for a very short space of time and they have been in this country for a long period of time, then the presumption of automatic deportation would not apply, but in the vast bulk of cases, as has been explained, there will be an automatic presumption to deport, and the vast bulk of those people will, indeed, be deported. In my view, those people should be deported, irrespective of any claim that they have that the country to which they are returning may not be safe. That is why it is important that we consider legislating, if necessary, to ensure that such an automatic presumption applies.

Mr. Cameron: We have gone from “all prisoners” to “all significant prisoners”, and now we have got the “vast bulk”—the Prime Minister is making it up as he goes along. That is an example of a Government in complete paralysis. Let me give him another example: he has said that the Human Rights Act 1998 has led to an abuse of common sense and that he will review it, and a few moments ago he said that perhaps the House of Commons will legislate. Three years ago, however, in January 2003, he announced a review of the operation of the Act—what happened to that review?

The Prime Minister: It was precisely because we believed it important to rebalance the system that we introduced, for example, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, which allowed us to take money off those suspected of being involved in drug dealing. It was for precisely that reason that we introduced the antisocial behaviour legislation. And it was for precisely that reason that we introduced the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which allowed us to impose mandatory minimum sentences on people carrying illegal firearms. What those things have in common is that the Conservative party either opposed them or refused to vote for them. Yes; we will make sure that our human rights legislation does not get in the way of commonsense legislation to protect our country. However, when we have tried to legislate to toughen up the law, the Liberal Democrats have opposed all the measures and the right hon. Gentleman has opposed most of them.

Mr. Cameron: We have been telling the Prime Minister about the problems with the Human Rights Act for years. He keeps announcing reviews, but nothing ever happens. I asked him about the 1998 Act, but he did not say a word about it, so let me give him another example of Government in paralysis. The head of the civil service has said that the immigrationand nationality directorate has been “performing particularly well”, yet the head of enforcement and removals at that directorate says that he has not got the faintest idea of how many people are in Britain illegally. When the head of enforcement and removals
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was asked how many illegal asylum seekers were not removed, he said that he did not know. When he was asked how many people have been told to leave the country by his department, he said that he simply could not say. Does the Prime Minister agree that after nine years in charge that is just unacceptable?

The Prime Minister:

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman is quoting Michael Howard.

The Prime Minister: Yes, exactly—Michael Howard. Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman about the current situation in our asylum system: the number of unfounded claims is down; since 1997, the number of asylum seekers is down; all asylum seekers are now fingerprinted and issued with identity cards; and there are now three times as many removals as there were in 1997.

The right hon. Gentleman is right that it is necessary to control illegal immigration better, and there are two things that we need to do. First, we need to introduce electronic borders, which we have introduced for some 26 routes and which we need to roll out across the entire country. Secondly, we need identity cards both for foreign nationals and for British nationals. If we want to track people coming in and out of our country and to know the identity of people who are here,then that is what we have to do. The truth is that the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to support any of that. His spokesman has said that there have been43 Criminal Justice Acts and that not one of them has done anything to help. Let me say what is in those Acts, including the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which the right hon. Gentleman voted against: the early removal scheme that would allow foreign national prisoners to be deported at the halfway point in their sentence; tougher sentences for murder and sexual and violent crimes; measures to tackle jury-nobbling; allowing hearsay evidence in court; a five-year minimum custodial sentence for unauthorised possession of firearms; and everything to do with antisocial behaviour. So when we introduce the next load of measures to help to deal with this problem, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will support them.

Mr. Cameron: I can sum up the Prime Minister’s performance in one word—rattled. If the problem is the system he has inherited rather than the Ministers he has put in place, why did he sack his Home Secretary last week? Whether it is deporting dangerous criminals, sorting out the mess of the Human Rights Act, or dealing with illegal immigration, this is a Government in paralysis. The Prime Minister made the criminal justice system a top priority, yet he said this week that it is the Department that is

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