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Q11. [86185] Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): Local people in my area want to know what they have done to deserve Government-appointed trust members and managers who are slashing services, sacking staff, closing wards and compromising clinical safety. As the Prime Minister is in a meeting mood, will he agree to meet a delegation of patients and clinicians from my
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constituency to explore the serious challenges behind an extremely serious situation?

The Prime Minister: I know the hon. Gentleman will continue to make representations on the matter, but I point out to him that it is not a question of management and people being appointed to the board; it is a question of ensuring that however much money we put into the national health service—we have put in vast additional sums that have reduced waiting times, reduced waiting lists, reduced waits for treatment such as cardiac care, and made sure that we are cutting the number of people dying from diseases such as cancer and heart disease—and although it has had a huge impact, every single trust has to live within its means. Sometimes trusts have to reconfigure services, but I do not believe that they will do so to the detriment of clinical management, clinical care or patient care in communities.

Q12. [86186] Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): My right hon. Friend has often said that it is essential to be at the centre of decision making in Europe. Will he tell me his assessment of the effectiveness of the current political groupings in representing Britain’s interests in Europe?

The Prime Minister: We will, of course, remain as part of the grouping of the centre left parties, and it is extremely important that the Conservative party also remains part of its grouping. I have a feeling that the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) has changed the Conservative party’s position, on which I congratulate him.

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Business of the House

12.30 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for tomorrow will now be, first, a motion to approve the Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) Order 2006. Then, in response to requests from both sides of the House, there will be a debate on international affairs on a motion for the Adjournment of the House. The debate on international development, which was due tomorrow, will now be scheduled for another date. I shall, of course, make my usual business statement tomorrow as well.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I am grateful to the Leader of the House for acceding in his statement to the request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and other hon. Members on both sides of the House to debate international affairs, particularly the growing problems in the middle east. Tomorrow we will have departmental questions, his normal business statement, the order that he has mentioned and, possibly, a statement by a Minister. Will he programme tomorrow’s business so that we can guarantee four hours for the international affairs debate?

Mr. Straw: I cannot formally programme the business, but we will do our best to ensure that it proceeds as quickly as possible. The order is down for a maximum of an hour and a half, but, frankly, it is not particularly controversial. Two organisations connected with Omar Bakri Mohammad are to be proscribed. The case for proscribing the first organisation, the Baluchistan Liberation Army, speaks for itself. The second organisation, the TAK, is a Turkish terrorist organisation that has admitted to carrying out terrorist outrages in Turkey. Provided that hon. Members are relatively brief, we should be able to proceed quickly.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I, too, thank the Leader of the House for providing an opportunity to debate foreign affairs, for which, as he knows, we have been asking for some time. Tomorrow’s debate will inevitably deal with the developing, and concerning, situation in the middle east. I repeat my other request in relation to foreign affairs, which is for a specific debate on Iraq. Tomorrow it will be two years to the day since the House last debated Iraq in Government time.

Mr. Straw: Tomorrow’s debate is on international affairs, so there will be every opportunity to discuss Iraq, and I have no doubt that the matter will be raised. The need to schedule a foreign affairs debate has raised an issue: it is eccentric that while some debates are programmed in Government time each year, including five debates on defence and a number of others at the
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request of the House, other key areas, including international development and foreign affairs, must take their chance in negotiations through the usual channels. I hope to ask the Modernisation Committee, which I chair, to re-examine how scheduled debates in Government time are organised and which subjects are debated.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Would it not be better to have a substantive debate on the situation in the middle east, rather than an Adjournment debate on international affairs? There is a widespread feeling on both sides of the House that the United Kingdom Government have abandoned their role as an honest broker and have become a client state of an American Administration who are failing to live up to their global responsibilities. A substantive debate would allow “Yo Blair” to develop some independence of mind and thought.

Mr. Straw: As ever, the hon. Gentleman makes a small error, which is that when he speaks for himself he thinks that he is speaking for the whole House. It is appropriate for such an issue to be discussed on a motion for the Adjournment, so that debate can be very wide-ranging. None the less, I am up for there being more debates in Government time on substantive motions. Indeed, there have been two in recent weeks—one on the BBC and the other on the pensions White Paper. In many circumstances, that is appropriate. I am not in the least worried, and neither is my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, about having a debate on foreign policy on a substantive motion. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to use some of his Supply day time for a debate on that, let us see it.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): The great majority of Members will be extremely grateful to the Leader of the House for moving so quickly to ensure that there will be an Adjournment debate on international affairs tomorrow. Had there not been such a debate, our constituents would not have understood why we were going into recess next week without one. May I press the right hon. Gentleman a little further? If, unfortunately, terrible events develop in the middle east during the recess, which might well involve our troops, can he give the House an assurance that it will be briefly recalled to debate those matters?

Mr. Straw: The question of the recall of Parliament is kept under active review by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by senior Ministers throughout the recess. I am not just using that as a formula. The right hon. Gentleman will know, because it is a matter of record, that the House has been recalled on three occasions in the past nine years—in 1998, 2001 and 2002. If it is necessary, and subject of course to consultation with you, Mr. Speaker, I can assure the House that it will be recalled.

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Home Office: Reform Action Plan

12.36 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I should like to make a statement about our plans for transforming the Home Office. I have today placed in the Library a copy of a reform action plan which gives details of the changes that we intend to make.

All political change should start with values and objectives. The Home Office exists to protect the key elements of civilised society: to reduce fear and increase security, from global terrorism to local cohesion in our streets and communities, and from justice and fairness to the protection of opportunities to live life in security. However, the context in which we seek to apply those values is changing faster than ever before, and changing fundamentally, creating new and different challenges for the future.

In the past 15 years, we have seen no less than seismic geopolitical changes, ranging from the global to the local. Globally, the old cold war had frozen the world into relative immobility. States were frozen, ethnic tensions and religious extremism were repressed, borders were inviolable, and peoples were largely static. The end of the cold war brought a torrent of new problems and, above all, the challenge of international mobility on a hitherto unimaginable scale. We have seen unprecedented levels of migration, with the movement of more than 200 million people in 2005, the development of international terrorism— [ Interruption. ] That is hardly a laughing matter. We have also seen the growth of global and organised crime.

Moving from the global to the local, relative immobility has given way to social and geographic mobility, whereby the old group allegiances, extended family relationships and inherited patterns of voting and religious observance have broken down, and with them the old forms of community cohesion. Unlike most other Government Departments, we find that in this changing context many of the people whom the Home Office is trying to deal with—prisoners, criminals and illegal immigrants—see it as their primary objective not to co-operate with the Government, but to resist our authority and evade our control.

In the face of those challenges, the Home Office has been in a process of change and reform for some years. The Department now has a more streamlined focus as a result of some of our responsibilities being transferred to other Departments. I give credit to my predecessors and the civil servants who worked with them for facing those challenges. They took a system that was designed before the cold war and improved it in three important ways: through additional resources, improvements in technology and legislative and practical solutions.

Those improvements have led to notable successes in key matters. Crime is down significantly—the chance of being a victim of crime in this country is the lowest since 1981. We have record numbers of police and an additional 6,300 community support officers on the streets. Asylum applications are now tackled in two months, as opposed to 22 months under the previous Government. The UK Passport Service, which was failing just a few years ago, now regularly tops customer service polls, beating some leading private sector organisations. It is a shining example of transformation, and what can be achieved.

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However, the underlying systems and practices for dealing with those issues have not changed sufficiently. Many of the fundamentals that underlie the systems in the Home Office were designed for a pre-cold war era. In the face of the huge challenges that I outlined earlier, we have now reached the limit of what can be achieved without a fundamental overhaul. The Home Office capability review, which is published today, strongly reinforces those views.

Some of the inadequacies have surfaced recently—in co-ordination, administration and accounts. In co-ordination, the House knows only too well—I do not have to rehearse the matter—how the release of foreign prisoners challenged systems across the Home Office and the criminal justice system, and found them wanting.

In administration, the House knows that, for example, the National Audit Office last year suggested that 283,000 unsuccessful asylum applicants might still be here—excluding dependants and those who claimed asylum before 1994 and after 2004—reflecting the difficulties of successive Governments in removing failed asylum seekers. That is reflected in the immigration and nationality directorate’s case load of around 400,000 to 450,000 electronic and paper records, which, as hon. Members also know, are riddled with duplication and errors, and include cases of individuals who have since died or left the country, or are now EU citizens.

As for accounts, the House knows that the Home Office’s resource accounts for 2004-05 were disclaimed by the National Audit Office. We have sought to remedy those individual instances. I have today set out in a written ministerial statement, through my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, our plans to improve the way in which we deal with foreign national prisoners. We will tackle the case load in the IND with the aim of clearing it—not in 25 years, as has been suggested, but in five or less. We will put our books in order. However, as today’s capability review shows, we need to go much further in general and fundamental reform.

For all those reasons, I am today setting out plans for an ambitious set of reforms across the Department. They are outlined in the document that we published today, and I shall highlight some of them. We will sharpen the Home Office’s focus on its core purpose of protecting the public through the six key priorities set out in today’s plan. We will establish a new top team with a reshaped Home Office board and 15 immediate changes at director level—that is more than a quarter of all directors.

We will reshape radically the structure of the Home Office, with a major shift in responsibility and resource to the front line. We will fulfil our commitment to reduce the total size of Home Office strategic and operational headquarters by 30 per cent. by 2008—and today I can also tell hon. Members that I am making a commitment to a further reduction of 10 per cent. in headquarters staff by 2010.

The cumulative effect of these changes will be to reduce the size of the headquarters of the Home Office and its agencies from 9,200 in 2004 to 6,500 in 2008 and to 5,900 by 2010. These changes will mark the biggest shift from the centre to the front line in the Home
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Office’s history. We will thereby save £115 million a year by 2010 in HQ costs, which we will invest in improving front-line services.

We will go further by establishing the immigration and nationality directorate as an executive agency of the Home Office—a shadow agency will be in place by April 2007—with strong accountability arrangements. I shall give more details of this in the next few days. We will establish clear performance frameworks for the operational services of the Home Office—the immigration and nationality directorate, the National Offender Management Service, and the identity and passport service—and hold the heads of those services accountable for operational performance. The National Offender Management Service headquarters will be focused on the job of commissioning high-quality services for managing offenders and of driving up the performance of the probation and prison services. As a result, the headquarters of NOMS will get progressively smaller. We will reduce it by 50 per cent. by 2010.

We will develop a renewed contract between Ministers and officials, clarifying respective roles and expectations in relation to policy, strategic decisions, operational delivery and management. We will seek to reduce further the bureaucratic burden on the police and other partners in tackling crime, by implementing simpler performance arrangements for policing crime and drugs.

We are also launching today a radical reform programme in the Home Office, with seven strands of change designed to transform the culture, skills, systems, processes and data of the Department. Today we have set out a clear action plan to deliver this reform, and more. By September, we will develop a full implementation programme. An external audit of progress will be conducted in December and annually thereafter. In the next few days, we will supplement today’s plan with two further sets of proposals: on rebalancing the criminal justice system and on reforming our immigration and nationality directorate.

We are determined to deliver a confidently led and well managed Home Office which delivers high-quality services to protect the public and better meets their expectations, and which builds through transformation on the improvements that have been achieved so far. I would like to thank my predecessors, my Ministers and my senior officials for all the work that has already been put into the development of the Home Office and into our new plans.

I stress to the House the fact that we are not starting from year zero, and that we do not expect perfection at the end of the process. This is the start of a long-term programme for transforming the fundamental systems of the Home Office. All those involved—Ministers, directors and staff—know the extent of the challenge, and that this will not be accomplished overnight. However, we are committed to making early progress to demonstrate our seriousness to the public and to our stakeholders and staff. The fundamental change that we are seeking will require determination and, above all, endurance. This is the unglamorous hard work of delivering good government. That is now the task ahead, and I commend the plan to the House.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary for giving me advance sight of his statement, much of which we agree with. We
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wonder, however, why it has taken 10 years for some of these lessons to be learned. I was quite surprised by the right hon. Gentleman’s undertaking—which I did not see in the original statement—to clear up in five years the backlog that the Home Office faces. Working on today’s numbers, that implies that it will be deporting a net figure of 80,000 people a year, and I would be interested to hear the Home Secretary confirm that that is the case.

In the past 12 weeks, we have witnessed a serial catastrophe in the Home Office, with daily disclosures of massive failures of policy. The issues have included the release of foreign prisoners, murderers on probation, sex-for-visas scandals, dangerous prisoners being put into open prisons, hundreds of thousands of failed asylum seekers, and massive numbers of illegal immigrants.

This has been a spectacular serial failure of government, the like of which has not been seen in modern times in this country. Each and every failure that we have talked about in the past 12 weeks has serious implications for ordinary decent British citizens. At the very least, the Government have wasted hard-earned taxpayers’ money and put excessive pressure on housing and public services. At worst, they have threatened public safety and even, in some cases, national security.

We need to understand why that has happened—the wrong analysis of the problem will lead to the wrong conclusion. The Home Secretary puts it down to the end of the cold war, and with it the rise in asylum seekers and other threats. But that does not explain why Britain, which is further away from the failed states than any other European state—except Ireland—and which is an island and therefore harder to get into, with borders that are easier to control, has had the second highest number of asylum applicants in the world in the past five years.

The reason is simple. The new Labour Government—I see that the previous Home Secretary but two is on the Treasury Bench—repealed Conservative laws allowing us to send people straight back to safe countries on the so-called white list. They terminated Conservative welfare arrangements designed to deter economic migrants, and failed to negotiate a continuation of the right to return asylum seekers to France. I see that the right hon. Gentleman is nodding. They later tried to reinstate some of those laws, but too late. In the following five years, more than a quarter of a million failed asylum seekers—failed asylum seekers, not real asylum seekers—tried to enter Britain, with almost 90,000 in one year alone. That, along with political decisions to increase net immigration by nearly 200,000 a year and not to strengthen our borders, is why the immigration and nationality directorate was overwhelmed.

Of course there have been failures of management, but there have been much bigger failures of political leadership. The same is true elsewhere in the Home Office. We have seen the disaster over foreign prisoners, the debacle over putting dangerous prisoners in open prisons, and the catastrophe of murderers released after a 25-minute telephone call and going on to murder innocent people. All those came from the same cause—a political decision not to build enough prison places.

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