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I appreciate that some Members may think that the title of the Bill is not as clear as it might be, so let me briefly explain its intention. It would reduce the number of Members serving at Cabinet level, Minister of State level and Parliamentary Under-Secretary level from 83, the current limit, to 60. It would not reduce the number of Whips or Parliamentary Private Secretaries, although if separate legislation were brought forward to that effect I would certainly support it.

My central proposition is that there are too many Government Ministers. It may help the House if I provide some background. In 1900, at the start of the last century, when Britain ran large parts of the world, the total number of paid ministerial posts was 60. By the middle of the century, in 1950, when Britain was starting to extract itself from some, if not all, of those obligations, but large parts of the domestic economy had been brought within public ownership, the number of paid Government posts had risen from 60 to 81. By 1999, when Britain was neither running large parts of the world nor had large parts of the domestic economy within the public sector, the number of Ministers had, funnily enough, risen still further to 106.

The situation with the total payroll vote is even worse. At the time of the April 1992 general election—you may be surprised to learn, Mr. Speaker, that that was the first time I was eligible to vote—the total number of people on the payroll was 125. By December 2004, shortly before I was elected to this House, it had risen to 151, largely because during that period the number of PPSs had risen from 41 to 62—a 50 per cent. increase. It is particularly striking and extraordinary that, despite devolution to Scotland and, to a more limited extent, Wales, there still has not been a reduction in the total number of Ministers.

As an aside, I am in favour of reducing the overall number of Members of Parliament. I am aware that there are exceptional cases involving particularly large or remote communities such as Orkney and Shetland or the Isle of Wight. Nevertheless, if, at the last general election, every constituency had had the same number of voters as Taunton, my constituency, the House would have 518 MPs instead of 646—128 fewer, or a reduction of approximately 20 per cent. Happily, other Members have made the case for reducing the number of MPs, including the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) in his publication, “Pruning the Politicians—the case for a smaller House of Commons”, which was published in December 2004 and which I recommend to the House.

However, my Bill is concerned with reducing the number of Ministers. I want to give three reasons for doing so, in ascending order of importance. The first is to save money. It is difficult to predict the exact cost of reducing the number of Ministers, but each Cabinet
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Minister costs £74,902 extra in salary alone and, of course, there are many associated costs of supporting a Minister in office.

The second reason is to make Parliament more effective, something that has been raised in this House on a number of occasions. In 2000, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy) said that

That view is not advanced only by members of my party. In its report “Strengthening Parliament”, the Norton commission—established by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) when he was Conservative leader— recommended a reduction in the size of the Government and had three specific proposals: that the size of the Cabinet be capped at 20; that the number of junior Ministers be capped at 50; and that there should be only one PPS per Department, responsible to the Cabinet Minister. That is broadly in line with what I am proposing this afternoon.

Another Conservative leader, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), has also proposed a smaller Government Bill, which in addition to reducing the number of MPs would cut the number of Ministers by 20 per cent; again, approximately what I am proposing this afternoon.

The distinguished political commentator Peter Riddell, in his book “Parliament under Blair”, called for

and went on to argue that this could be done in two ways:

A distinguished body of opinion supports my assertion this afternoon that Parliament would be more effective if there were fewer Ministers.

My final and most important point is that I think that reducing the number of Ministers would make the Government more efficient. I will look at a number of Departments and see if I can convince the House. At the moment, the Home Office—a Home Office Minister is here, fortuitously, for the debate—has seven Ministers, a large number. If ministerial numbers were the determining factor for judging the success of the Home Office, it would be widely admired for its competence and efficiency; sadly that is not the case. Were the number of Ministers to increase, I do not believe that the Home Office would become any more effective or efficient. The problem with the Home Office is the decision-making mechanisms, the inadequate structures and the lines of accountability. If anything, more Ministers would make the situation even worse.

The second Department to which I shall draw attention is the Department of Trade and Industry. The House may recall that at the last general election my party
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argued for the abolition of the DTI . I do not believe that there is a need for an interventionist Department that is directed at political interference in commercial matters and at propping up failing industries against market and consumer demand. The DTI is a throwback to the days of large-scale intervention in the economy. It is no longer appropriate to a modern, liberal market economy based on competition and consumer choice.

If we go back to the 1970s, when steel, coal, water and the national airline were in public ownership, we can see that there was a case for a Department of Trade and Industry. The case is far less compelling now. I would argue that the Department should be abolished and some of its functions transferred. However, we still have six DTI Ministers.

In conclusion, I refer to two other Departments. The first is the Cabinet Office. It is hard to know where the Deputy Prime Minister resides in the current Government structure, but there are three Cabinet Ministers in the Cabinet Office: the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster—a new post created as a consolation prize for the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong)—[ Interruption.] The specific title of the Chancellor of the Duchy’s responsibilities is new. The third is the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Salford (Hazel Blears). It escapes me why the chairman of the Labour party’s salary ought to be paid out of public finances. However, all three of them are entitled to attend Cabinet meetings.

Traditionally, the interests of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been represented in Cabinet by the Foreign Secretary. Now, three of the four Ministers in that Department are entitled to attend the Cabinet—the Foreign Secretary, the Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), and the Minister for Trade, the right hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney).

In conclusion, my point may be best illustrated by drawing the House’s attention to the fact that, for 183 days, nobody occupied the position of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I have to tell you, Mr. Speaker, that not a single constituent of mine complained about the Government discharging their duties less effectively during that 183-day period. That illustrates more than anything the need for fewer Ministers.

This is the nub—what is needed is better, more accountable, less remote and value-for-money government. What is not needed is a hugely inflated Executive that acts as a job-creation scheme, costs public money, diminishes the role of Parliament and militates against effective government. I urge the House to support my Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jeremy Browne.

Ministerial and other Salaries (Amendment)

Mr. Jeremy Browne accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Ministerial and other Salaries Act 1975 so as to reduce from 83 to 60 the total number of Ministerial salaries payable by virtue of paragraph 2(c) of Part V of Schedule 1: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 October, and to be printed [Bill 203].


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Police

2.1 pm

The Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety (Mr. Tony McNulty): I beg to move,

I am sure that hon. Members will recall the debates that we had during the passage of what became the Terrorism Act 2006—in particular, the lengthy debates on section 23, which amends schedule 8 to the Terrorism Act 2000 to extend the maximum period of detention of terrorist suspects from 14 to 28 days. Members will know that the purpose of the order is not to revisit that debate or its substance, but is specific to the code of practice under PACE—the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—and I want to concentrate on that.

Colleagues will remember that the issue in relation to pre-charge detention was that the changing nature of terrorist activity meant that the existing maximum period of detention, 14 days, was no longer considered adequate. The strong advice that we received from the police was that terrorist investigations are now more complex. They may involve, for example, the need to de-encrypt computer equipment or to obtain evidence from overseas; they may require the translation of large numbers of documents. This led the police to conclude that they might need to hold terrorist suspects for up to 90 days. I say that purely by way of context, rather than to reopen the debate on that matter. Following a debate in Parliament—a debate that I am sure we all remember with acute fondness—it was agreed to extend the maximum period of detention available to the police to 28 days.

The subject today is limited to the new code of practice on the detention of terrorist suspects. The Government agreed during the debates on the Terrorism Act 2006 that a new PACE code of practice would be issued before the extended period of detention was brought into force. It was agreed that there should be a new code of practice rather than an amendment to the existing PACE code of practice on the detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers—code C—because it was felt that the procedures around holding terrorist suspects were different enough to justify a separate code.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): The Minister has been clear about his wish not to revisit the time periods; I understand that. But will he confirm that if this House did not approve the codes, it would not be possible for him to move from the existing period of detention to the extended one?

Mr. McNulty: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for staying within the strictures of the debate, although it is tempting to do otherwise. I can confirm, as I believe we have already clearly stated, that the new code of practice should be laid before the commencement of the new order to increase the period from 14 to 28 days.

Mr. Hogg: I am sorry to interrupt, but I believe that it goes further than that. My understanding of the
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statute and of the Government’s commitment is that the period of detention will not and cannot be extended unless the House approves the code.

Mr. McNulty: I am sorry, but that is exactly what I have already said. That is entirely the position. As it says on the tail end of the code rather than the order, the extension from 14 to 28 days will come into effect only the day after the code of practice has been laid for the requisite time—to 24 July, I believe. The link between the two is exactly what the Government promised, and that is what has prevailed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is right in that regard.

Within that context, it was felt right and proper that, rather than amend the existing code C, we should bring in an entirely new code of practice—code H—not least because we were exhorted to do so by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve). The proposal for a new code was supported by Opposition Members, and rightly reflected the fact that in this area detailed guidance to the police was required—a point with which we concur.

The order before us today brings into force a new PACE code of practice on the detention, treatment and questioning of terrorist suspects arrested under section 41 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The new PACE code is to be known as code H. I hope that hon. Members will not press me on why H, rather than a letter between C and H, was chosen; I can find out but I do not know off the top of my head. The order also brings into force a revised version of PACE code C. At the moment, as I said, code C deals with the detention, treatment and questioning of both terrorist suspects arrested under section 41 and non-terrorist suspects. The order simply removes all reference to terrorist suspects from code C, which still prevails for all non-terrorist suspects.

The new PACE code that deals with terrorist suspects arrested under section 41 recognises the special arrangements needed for the effective investigation and welfare of those detainees, which was the import of our deliberations on the issue. It reflects the results of a consultation held between 2 May and 23 May—a necessarily truncated consultation that took place with the indulgence of Opposition parties. We received a total of 26 responses to the consultation from a number of organisations and individuals, including the Association of Chief Police Officers, Liberty, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and Lord Carlile. The overall response to the draft code was positive. The main points raised related to the security of investigations, the provision of medical attention and the transfer of detainees to prison.

The security of operations is, of course, paramount and we have included an extra note for guidance to clarify an important difference between the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and the provisions of the Terrorism Act 2000. That recognises that a reason for arrest must always be given, but that there may be circumstances in which it is not appropriate to disclose sensitive details.

We believe that the provisions for medical attention are robust. Detainees are subject to initial and ongoing assessment by custody officers, who must ensure that they receive appropriate clinical attention where necessary. The draft code expands on existing provisions by ensuring
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that detainees receive a routine daily health care visit after the first 96 hours in police custody.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Will the Minister say more about the human rights implications of code H, and its compatibility with the Human Rights Act 1998?

Mr. McNulty: I would like to say that I am shocked to hear the hon. Gentleman raise the Human Rights Act, but I am not. I am not surprised, and it is a fair question. Of course, no Government Minister, as far as I am aware, stands at the Dispatch Box to promote any legislation of any description without it being duly compatible with all the assorted human rights provisions in statute, including the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998. That is entirely the case, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for teasing such an admission out of me. I have no doubt that he will refer to it again subsequently when he gets his chance, as I hope he will, to contribute to our very narrow debate on the codes of practice before us.

As I said, the draft code expands on existing provisions, and a number of respondents, quite fairly, mentioned the potential effect of prolonged detention on the reliability of a detainee’s answers during interview. Annexe (g) of the new code H contains general guidance to help police officers and health care professionals assess whether a detainee might be at risk in an interview, which emphasises the importance of ascertaining a detainee’s fitness to be interviewed.

The parts about transfer to prison produced a number of responses, some in favour and some against. Transfer to prison will ensure that detainees are held in establishments that have the experience and facilities to deal with prolonged detention. The proposal is strongly recommended by Lord Carlile, owing to concerns that police stations are not intended or suitable for detention beyond the current maximum of 14 days. As a result of the consultation, we have included an additional requirement for police to inform a detainee’s legal adviser before transfer to prison takes place and for efforts to be made to inform any other persons who may have been informed previously of the person’s detention.

With those changes, we believe that the new code ensures that detainees are treated properly, while at the same time enabling investigations to be carried out effectively. Terrorism remains a huge international challenge, particularly for democracies, which must strive to protect individual liberties while at the same time ensuring collective security. I hope that the House agrees that the codes that we are planning to introduce get that balance right within the narrow confines of the narrow debate on the code of practice that applies when we move from 14 to 28 days— [Interruption.] However narrowly or otherwise, I commend the order to the House.

1.36 pm

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation of the purpose of the codes. This order concerns the most serious matters that the House could discuss: the prevention
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of terrorism and the extent to which the deprivation of liberty, sanctioned by the state, is justified to ensure that aim. We all agree about the need to counter the very serious threat of terrorism facing this country, and we all agree that ensuring the safety of the public must be the first duty of any Government.

I agree with the Minister that there is no need to rehearse the debate about whether detaining terrorist suspects without charge for 90 days was justified. The Government lost the argument and lost the vote, but in the furore caused by that proposal, it is often overlooked that Parliament agreed to a significant extension of the period of time for which terrorist suspects can be detained without charge. In fact, we agreed to double the period from 14 to 28 days.

Let me remind the House of why these new codes of practice are being discussed. It was the official Opposition who called for them. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) called for

pointing out that the current codes were


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