Previous Section Index Home Page

25 July 2006 : Column 751

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend’s comments about the need to crack down on illegal working. Further to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), the Chair of the Select Committee, about the need for all parts of government to work together on this matter, will the Home Secretary consider establishing one clear point of contact to which anyone with suspicions about illegal working can report them in the reasonable expectation that they will be properly looked into and dealt with by all parts of government working together?

John Reid: The new director of enforcement whom I announced earlier today is already engaged on that matter, and I think that he has already started to make arrangements with Crimestoppers in that regard.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I thank the Home Secretary for giving notice of the statement and I welcome many of the initiatives, particularly the action on rogue employers. With regard to the consultation on the creation of a migration advisory committee, no doubt to inform the creation of the shortage occupation lists, the Home Secretary will know that the Government have rejected devolution of the separate Scottish occupation list, but will he consider seriously the creation of a Scottish migration advisory committee to inform the creation of the separate Scottish occupation list?

John Reid: We always keep in contact with our colleagues in the Scottish Executive on these matters. For instance, I know that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), will visit Scotland in September. I visit regularly and we have discussions not only with the Minister for Justice there, Cathy Jamieson, but also the First Minister, Jack McConnell, and they have been forceful in trying to ensure that the Scottish dimension enters all of our considerations, and I am sure that that will continue.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab): To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) about the implications of a move to agency status, I have no problem in accepting that I have the right to represent my constituents, and I will do that in whatever way I want, but at the end of the day who will make the decisions? When one looks at other agencies, one realises that a possible implication is that in future Ministers will not get involved in individual decisions and a Member will not be able to take up a case with the Minister. Will that happen, or, at the very least, if anything like that is proposed, will that be discussed thoroughly with hon. Members before it does happen?

John Reid: I do not know whether I will disappoint my hon. Friend, but by and large at the moment we do not take those decisions. We reserve the right to intervene, and I do not envisage that we would lose that right, but at the moment we try to use that sparingly, not least because it is one thing—a difficult thing—to have an indiscriminate number of letters sent in about cases— [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) keeps intervening from a sedentary
25 July 2006 : Column 752
position and referring to cases that have been delayed or files that have been lost. I have already been absolutely clear on that. It is a sine qua non for looking at the relationship and the practical implications of intervention that we remedy the very defects that are causing hon. Members to intervene on so many occasions, causing legal difficulties in removing people because of the inordinate and unjustifiable delays. I fully accept that, and part of the deal has to be that there is a better performance and a speedier turnaround, and that at the end of the day Members and Ministers reserve the right to intervene and to make representations. All I am saying is that as we improve the system, I hope that we will thereby reduce the scale of intervention by Members and Ministers, because the inadequacies, unjustifiable delays, lost cases and miscarriages of justice on these matters will be diminished.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Home Secretary accept that perhaps he is creating some confusion between what he is saying and what the Lord Chancellor was saying on the “Today” programme today? In particular, will he accept that he is ducking the issue by transferring the interpretation of the existing legislation to the courts, and that the real legislation should be made in this House in terms that enable people to have a fair trial or fair treatment, and that means that we have to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 and guarantee that there is no move to majority voting in the Council of Ministers regarding immigration questions under the European treaties? Does the Home Secretary accept that?

John Reid: I am deeply sad to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but on this occasion he is not able to lay the ills at the feet of the Human Rights Act. The Chahal judgment was in 1996. It was before the Human Rights Act. Indeed, it was before the Labour Government. That judgment was made under a Conservative Government. The other impediment to a speedy resolution of many of these cases also predates the 1997 Labour election victory, and that is, as I said earlier, paragraph 364 or the immigration rules of 1994. If the hon. Gentleman wants to address both those matters, he should join us, but in doing so he would not destroy the Human Rights Act, because both matters pre-date that.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, South) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend envisage a change in the law in order to deal with asylum seekers who successfully claim refugee status, but who immediately apply for travel documents in order to return home to pay a visit to the country from which they claim to have fled because they have been persecuted, or do the Government already have the means to deal with that abuse?

John Reid: The answer is that I do not know. My hon. Friend has started to engage with my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality on the matter, which will be looked into. We have made it plain that if we need to amend the law or the regulations in order to achieve a fair and effective immigration system, which is what people want, we will do so. In today’s world, where 200 million people migrate every year, a managed migration system is important, and if we have to change the law and regulations to achieve that, we will do so.

25 July 2006 : Column 753

Points of Order

1.40 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the last three sitting days before the 76-day summer recess, there have been 98 written ministerial statements. It is impossible for hon. Members to scrutinise the Government given the deluge of statements, and it is also clear that the vast majority of the statements could and should have been made earlier. Can you help to rectify what appears to be a gross abuse of power by the Executive?

Mr. Speaker: The advice that I received when I first entered the House was that I should specialise, and the hon. Gentleman should read the statements on the subjects in which he is specialising. It has taken me a long time to get Ministers to be accountable to this House, and written statements are a form of accountability, which I welcome. I would rather have written statements than nothing at all.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and I have made every effort to reduce the number of written ministerial statements tabled on the last day of the Session. In the past, about 60 written ministerial statements were tabled on the last day of the Session, compared with 14 today. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain about the large number of written ministerial statements that were tabled earlier, because we have done what we said we would do to ensure that hon. Members are not ambushed on the last day. On this occasion, it should be bouquets rather than brickbats from the hon. Gentleman.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, hon. Members jealously guard their right to be informed when other hon. Members visit their constituencies. On Friday, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, visited my constituency. I had discovered that he was coming before his visit, so I approached him, welcomed him to my constituency and told him that I could not be present at the function—I do not mind other hon. Members visiting my constituency, even if they do not tell me. However, he addressed a gathering of members of the British Hindu community in what he thought was flawless Gujarati. There was bewilderment, because the majority in the audience thought that he was talking in a cross between Chinese and Welsh. Is it possible for guidance to be given to hon. Members on the courtesy of writing to let other hon. Members know when they are visiting their constituencies and on the need to have a proper tutor if they choose to speak another language?

Mr. Speaker: I will not head into that area.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for momentarily delaying the well-deserved tribute to the Clerk of the House. May I seek your assistance in protecting the rights of Back Benchers and preserving the courtesies and customs of the House in connection with written answers? Following
25 July 2006 : Column 754
a well-publicised policy change by the Government arising from an article in the News of the World, I tabled a question for answer on 26 June. On that day, the Home Secretary said that he would reply as soon as possible. Nearly one month later, I tabled a further question asking when he might be interested in telling me when he met the News of the World to discuss the matter. Yesterday, I received another written answer from the Home Secretary, which stated that he would reply “as soon as possible”. The Home Secretary must know whether he met the News of the World. When and how will we get the traditional answers to written questions out of Ministers in a timely fashion?

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me know that he was going to raise that point of order. It is important that Ministers answer questions in time, and I know that the Leader of the House shares that view. I hope that the current delays can be dealt with quickly, because parliamentary questions are an essential part of the accountability of Ministers to this House.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a relative new boy, and I am inexperienced in the procedure of the House, so I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Last week at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the constituency party of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) had received funding from a company that wanted to build a casino. The hon. Gentleman replied that that was a lie and raised a point of order. However, I have checked his entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, which includes a company called Aston Wood Properties. In August 2003, the local newspaper stated that Aston Wood Properties hoped to build a casino, along with a hotel and nightclub, on the site of the old Keddies store in the High street, which suggests that the Deputy Prime Minister was correct. How can we rectify the situation?

Mr. Speaker: The House was very noisy at that Deputy Prime Minister’s questions—I remember the hon. Gentleman being in the Chamber. It is not helpful to the proceedings of this House when allegations go from one side of the House to the other. If any hon. Member has any complaint about the behaviour of another hon. Member, there is a procedure, which I will not go into at the moment—I am not encouraging anyone to use the procedure. If the word “liar” was shouted, it would have been helpful if there had been less noise in the Chamber, because those hon. Members who know me well know that I would not have tolerated such language and would have called for an immediate withdrawal. However, I cannot do that if there is so much noise that I cannot hear what has been said. I would appreciate it if hon. Members listened rather than throwing in their tuppence-worth and shouting across the Chamber.

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), Mr. Speaker. May I point out for the record that I accompanied my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to the function mentioned by
25 July 2006 : Column 755
the right hon. Gentleman? As my right hon. Friend’s tutor in Gujarati, and as a fluent Gujarati speaker, I advise the right hon. Member for Leicester, East to turn to page 7 of the Leicester Mercury, where the quality of Gujarati spoken by my right hon. Friend is highly praised.

Mr. Speaker: I have enough to worry about in dealing with the Springburn Herald, so I will not get involved.

James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), Mr. Speaker. May I apologise unreservedly for any intemperate or inappropriate language? I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue with me in advance, which gave me the opportunity to give him a statement from my local association outlining where the Deputy Prime Minister got his facts wrong. Would it be helpful if I were to write to you enclosing a copy of that statement to allow hon. Members to see where the point of confusion arose?

Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman has apologised, which is good enough for me. We should put an end to the matter and leave it at that. Sometimes, particularly at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, things get very heated, so we will move on and have a nice recess.

25 July 2006 : Column 756

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

1.49 pm

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend) (Lab): I beg to move,

The Bill is intended to strengthen passenger transport authorities—PTAs—and passenger transport executives—PTEs—in metropolitan England outside London. The reason for doing that is to encourage greater use of public transport and to enable PTAs and PTEs to be more innovative with public transport schemes in their own areas. Essentially, my proposal is to gain for the rest of metropolitan England what London already has.

My Bill has three elements: a strengthened regulatory role for PTAs and PTEs; the explicit ability to enter into partnership agreements with neighbouring areas, most obviously covering travel-to-work areas that cross county boundaries; and the ability of those strengthened PTAs to receive grant aid directly from central Government. In Tyne and Wear, that would have the great advantage of eliminating the funding shortfall for the pensioners concessionary bus travel scheme.

My Bill is unashamedly pro-public transport. It favours the citizen and the broader public interest over narrower commercial interests. All the traditional arguments in favour of public transport still stand: the impact of public transport on congestion, public transport as a liberating instrument of social inclusion, and public transport as a support for the labour market and economic activity more generally. Those arguments are well known and understood and are in themselves pretty persuasive, but it is surely the case for public transport as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly that should compel us to renew our efforts in this area. The strengthened PTAs proposed in my Bill would have control over the strategic highway network in their area. They would be able to control bus lanes and bus priority carriageways and assert the routes used for bus travel, so that the public interest could be asserted over the bus operator’s commercial interest.

Let me give an example of why this is necessary. The No. 22 bus operated by Stagecoach in my constituency is supposed to go down Shields road. It always used to go down Shields road, local people want it to go down Shields road, and the bus stops are on Shields road. However, the bus is now diverted into a residential area—Valentia avenue and Iolanthe crescent. Some 800 local residents have signed a petition requesting it to be returned to its former route. I have tried to get the bus route put back to how it was, as have the PTA, the local council, and local residents in direct meetings with the operator, but the answer remains no. That is not for any public service reason but for the operating convenience of the bus company, which has rerouted the bus past its depot so that it can change drivers. And people complain about provider capture in public services!

The operator behaves in that way because there is no-one to insist that it should not. My Bill would remedy that. Powerful stand-alone transport authorities
25 July 2006 : Column 757
would be able to invest in the public transport network and their own capital programmes. Of course they would have to be audited and held to account for the money that they were spending, but at least they would be able to get on with it.

Bus deregulation has not led to a growth in bus travel outside London. Since deregulation, fares have increased by 86 per cent. in PTA areas and bus use has halved. Bus use in Tyne and Wear has declined by 48 per cent. in the past 20 years. Bus operators’ response to declining use is to cut services, reduce costs, raise fares and seek public subsidies. As the bus service weakens, people look for alternatives—most obviously, the private motor car. Nor has deregulation brought new, exciting, innovative bus operators into the market. Market entry costs are high, and existing operators are pretty well placed to see off any new competition. In London, buses are carrying more passengers than at any time since the 1960s, whereas in the rest of metropolitan England the movement is in the opposite direction. That is neither sustainable nor desirable. As a remedy, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nicholas Brown, Mr. Doug Henderson, Mr. David Clelland, Mrs. Sharon Hodgson, Mr. Stephen Hepburn, Mr. Chris Mullin, Mr. David Anderson, Mr. Fraser Kemp, Mr. George Mudie, Mr. Clive Betts, Graham Stringer and Mr. Stephen Byers.

Passenger Transport Authorities (Regulation)

Mr. Nicholas Brown accordingly presented a Bill to enable passenger transport authorities in certain metropolitan districts in England to regulate passenger transport operations; and for connected purposes: 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 221].

25 July 2006 : Column 758

Sir Roger Sands KCB

1.55 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Jack Straw): On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the leader of the Liberal Democrats and all the other leaders of political parties here represented, I beg to move,

I have no doubt that the rest of the House will wish to join party leaders and me in supporting this motion to pay tribute to Sir Roger Sands, who on 30 September will retire as Clerk of the House. That date will mark 41 years of service, during which time he has not only watched the House change but played a vital role in shaping those changes and in ensuring its continued relevance and vitality. Over the course of his career, which began in the early days of Harold Wilson’s Government in 1965, Sir Roger has occupied almost all of the senior positions in the Clerk’s Department, including Clerk of the Overseas Office, Principal Clerk of Select Committees and Registrar of Members’ Interests, Clerk of Public Bills, Clerk of Legislation and Clerk Assistant, before becoming Clerk of the House in January 2003.

Yet according to more than one of his colleagues, despite playing such a number of prominent roles he has left few personal embarrassing personal anecdotes behind him; evidently he was too shrewd and reliable for that. However, he did manage to get described in one departmental missive as being

Next Section Index Home Page