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22 May 2007 : Column 408WH—continued

As with any framework or rulebook, a written constitution will be fought over and interpreted—and rightly so. Usually, that interpretation will be made by the elected political institutions placed there for just that purpose. Of course there must be a backstop of judicial interpretation; there is now. However, it should not be based on unseen and unwritten rules and conventions, as it is now, but played out in public on a basis formulated and endorsed by the people. Such a responsibility will itself be a catalyst for a new role for the judiciary and the new supreme court that will start on the other side of Parliament square in 2009. The judiciary—properly and democratically ratified—will have to become a real partner under a genuine
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separation of powers and no longer mistake isolation and irrelevance for independence.

Let the draft constitutional reform Bill be published this year, as promised by the incoming Prime Minister. Let the debate begin, and let the natives of the last country in the empire finally be free to govern themselves.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Before I call the Minister, I should remind you, Mr. Allen, that the conventions and constitution of this House stipulate that we should identify Members not by name but by constituency. You referred to the Chancellor by name at least twice. I know that you are a stickler for having a constitution; let us hope that we can stick to the one we work to.

12.46 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): Thank you, Mr. Hancock. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) on securing this debate, which he knows is timely, given the contribution made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

My hon. Friend has a long history of challenging and trying to modernise the institutions of Parliament and Government. A regular review of the Order Paper reveals that he still appears in respect of a number of issues that are important to the parliamentary integrity of this House and another place.

Safeguarding and reforming the constitution has been one of the key aspects of the Labour Government’s intentions since our election in 1997. When my hon. Friend reflects on what has happened to date, he will recognise that considerable work has been done. I thank my hon. Friend for his congratulations on my taking up office, about nine days ago, as Minister in the brand new Ministry of Justice. One of the key, central and integral roles that the Ministry will play will be to examine constitutional affairs and the role of the constitution in our society at large.

Mr. Allen: I recognise the fact that my hon. Friend has become a Minister in the new Department. What gives me even greater pleasure is that not only is the Minister a personal friend, but I wrote the policy on creating a ministry of justice in 1992. Sometimes, good things are worth waiting for.

Mr. Hanson: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s foresight. It would have been nice to have had a little more foresight of my arrival at the Department. I appreciate my hon. Friend’s contribution to that debate.

I refer my hon. Friend to the document “Justice—a new approach”, published by the Ministry of Justice on 9 May, the day of its formation. On page 26, the document sets out the approach that the Government will take to constitutional affairs. That page is headlined, “We will safeguard and reform the constitution”. That will certainly involve examination of further reform of the House of Lords. It will also have other aspects: examination of the management of
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relations between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations; ensuring that the values of proper ministerial accountability and parliamentary sovereignty are upheld; playing an international role in developing coherent EU and international strategies; and the creation of the United Kingdom supreme court in 2009, as my hon. Friend has mentioned. That role and the one that we have taken to date in developing the constitutional agenda are important. I wanted to place those issues on the record.

The Minister of State, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), will lead on those issues, reporting to my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State. It is important that we recognise that the Government will wish to consider how we take these things forward in future. My hon. Friend has put his finger on it: Parliament will be central in helping to define that debate. Today’s debate is an important contribution towards that.

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have undertaken significant constitutional reform. I have been in this House for 15 years and I can recall a time when there was no devolution in Scotland or Wales, or indeed in Northern Ireland, as I know from my previous ministerial job; when there were hereditary peers in the House of Lords; when there was not a freedom of information Act; when there was no London government, and when there was no potential for votes, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has indicated there will be, on whether we deploy military forces in future. All those things have been introduced by this Government. The debate will continue after today and after my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes the office of Prime Minister in June.

Devolution has been a major constitutional change. We need to consider how it will be implemented in future. I recognise the need to consider the future and the constitutional arrangements between the devolved Administrations, between us and the other place, and between us and the wider government machinery. We need to examine how we will modernise those aspects, based on experiences of the extensive modernisation of the past 10 years. There is now a more clearly defined separation than ever before of powers between the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. With the reform of the Lord Chancellor’s role, the independence of the judiciary, the establishment of an independent Appointments Commission, the removal of the Lord Chancellor’s powers to appoint judges and the establishment of the supreme court, we are in an exciting time for the development of the forward agenda.

As my hon. Friend said, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who occupies the unconstitutional position of Prime Minister-elect and will assume the prime ministerial role on 27 June, has said in the process of securing the nominations of more than 313 Members of Parliament that he will consider constitutional reform. He has said that the draft Bill will be published later this year, because he wants to lead a different type of political engagement in society at large. He will bring forward proposals to renew our constitution for the simple purpose of building trust in our democracy, ensuring a more open form of dialogue
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between citizens and politicians, and finding a way to relate to the United Kingdom citizen. I am excited and interested by the suggestions made by my hon. Friend.

What type of forward planning do we need to undertake, and how do we put into practice the aspirations of both my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor? The notion of a traditional written constitution can be seen in such diverse countries as the United States, South Africa and Australia. It would be a radical departure from our constitutional and historical arrangements. A carefully defined constitution, bound in a single document, would change the constitution and the way we operate in our day-to-day lives. My hon. Friend is quite clear that that is what he wants to happen. We need to examine the potentially wide-ranging implications, not only for the framework of our constitution, but for the institutions of state, the rule of law, the delivery of justice and the building blocks of democracy. The way in which we can marry the aspirations of my hon. Friend and those of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is a key issue that will be debated in the weeks and months to come.

The implications of such radical change will be wide-ranging. We need to reconsider aspects of our constitution, to emphasise, explain and ascertain certain values in our constitution, and to consider measures to make the Executive more accountable. I look forward to that debate, in which I know my hon. Friend will engage constructively. We need to consider how we can document and express the core democratic values of the UK. If we have a draft Bill in due course and a more enforceable written constitution, that will be a significant undertaking. I am sure that you would agree, Mr. Hancock, that we would wish Parliament to be integral to the consideration of those matters.

Mr. Allen: Does the Minister agree that we also need to exercise some imagination? He rattled off a monumental list of achievements of the Labour Government in the past 10 years, which was an incredible list of progress. Last week, both the Labour and the Conservative parties agreed to consider the war-making powers of the House. When I first tabled that proposal in the remaining orders five years ago, it was regarded as outrageous and somehow off the radar, but now it is—sadly, from my point of view—mainstream thinking in both main parties. We should not be constrained. Many things that the Government have done in the past we now take for granted. Let us try to imagine that we are looking back in 10 years’ time, thinking about the great challenges that faced us. I suspect that a written constitution might well fall into that bracket.

Mr. Hanson: I accept my hon. Friend’s foresight and vision on such matters. I often try to think about how they would be considered in years to come. I look forward to the day when my grandchildren—not yet born—will say to me, “Granddad, do you remember the time we learned about in school today, when people were in Parliament, not through election but through the nature of their birth, their parents and their grandparents?” I can say proudly that we have removed those hereditary peers, but it would have been the norm once upon a time. I hope that in the future, people will be incredulous that it happened.

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Change happens slowly, with deliberation and consideration. My hon. Friend is aware that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has indicated that we will consider these matters in detail. We will be drawn to a wider debate in this House and outside, I hope, for the reasons that my hon. Friend has mentioned—to electrify the public’s engagement with political life. I am sure that that will happen in the near future.

Parliamentary sovereignty is one of the foundation stones of our democracy, and so is the convention that no single Government can bind their successors. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor made it clear in another place:

We need to examine the issues in the light of my right hon. Friend’s discussion points, and consider how to take the matters forward positively. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained to my hon. Friend:

We need to examine all those issues. The changes that my hon. Friend has proposed today are significant and major. The agenda and the climate are right to examine them, and we need to examine how to take them forward.

Mr. Allen: In the context of the change of leadership that is about to occur, does the Minister feel that it is indicative of the strength of the Chancellor’s feeling on the issue that he has made no commitments for legislation to date other than to bring forward a Bill for constitutional reform? Does not that underline how significant he feels the issue is?

Will the Minister take back to his officials the concept that when we move forward on constitutional change we ought to involve not only Parliament, which is central, but the public, children at school, community groups, councillors and everybody else, so that we can generate some excitement? We all feel that we should excite people about politics again, particularly after the recent local elections, whichever way the results went—they were good in my city. This is one of the ways to do that.

Mr. Mike Hancock (in the Chair): Order. That was close to a second speech.

Mr. Hanson: I accept my hon. Friend’s encouragement to excite people about politics. That is important to our democracy as a whole. I believe that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will follow the lead that was set by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to take forward the constitutional agenda. Devolution, reform of the Lords, freedom of information and war-making powers are key things that have happened in the past 10 years. I look forward to the next 10 years of government, when the aspirations that my hon. Friend has laid out will be discussed by Parliament and set in context. I commend my hon. Friend for raising those issues; they will form part of a widespread debate. I look forward to hearing from him on them again in due course.

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12.59 pm

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): I am delighted to have the opportunity to discuss this serious issue.

A company in my constituency called ProEconomy is a successful business that has controlled legionella in water systems since 1993. It told me only this morning that there has not been a single case of legionella in any of the premises for which it has been responsible. I am grateful for the opportunity to put forward some of its concerns.

The Health and Safety Executive produced a document, the approved code of practice and guidance, entitled “Legionnaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems”, which was published in 2000. It recognised several ways of keeping water systems free of legionella. One of those, mentioned on page 42, paragraph 169, is under the heading “Temperature regime” and states:

Copper-silver ionisation, the technique that the company in my constituency applies, is listed as a treatment programme on pages 44 and 45 of the document, in paragraphs 175 to 178. Furthermore, in paragraph 185 on page 46, under the heading “Monitoring for legionella”, it is recommended that

The risk of contracting Legionnaires’ disease is greater in NHS premises than elsewhere, because the immune systems of people there are suppressed, so the Department of Health recently updated its guidance document, the health technical memorandum known as HTM04. It is designed specifically for NHS premises and took five years to produce. It recommends in the introduction and on page 24 that

and that

Furthermore, in is recommendation, the report strongly recommends that

Because of the use of the word “preferred” in HTM04, customers of ProEconomy who have until now happily and successfully applied the copper-silver ionisation process are moving back to a regime of temperature control after years of legionella-free water and water systems that ran at temperatures lower than those recommended in the document. ProEconomy has therefore not only been jeopardised but is concerned that HTM04, which was written without taking into account research showing the inefficacy of temperature control, represents a substantial risk to the public.

Legionnaires’ disease does not just affect the elderly. I shall give some examples. In Torbay in 2002, David Bick, at only 53 years old, died after being infected
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from the sink alongside his bed. In 2004, Daryl Eyles, a young father of 37, died from legionella found in the water system of the Royal United hospital in Bath. In 2001, there were 449 confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Spain, and only last week a 78-year-old lady died in the Netherlands.

Legionnaires’ disease is a killer, or makes people extremely ill if it does not kill them. We should not underestimate it. How are the Government dealing with it? When ProEconomy expressed concerns about the recommendations made in HTM04, it was assured that the overall scientific evidence supported the temperature control regime of having water at 50° C and above, after the drawing-off of hot water taps for one minute.

The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) wrote in a letter that

However, the business in my constituency was unwilling to accept that, and requested on three occasions to see the evidence. It was only when it put in a freedom of information request that it was given the evidence that the Government are effectively using to put it and the rest of the industry out of business. I wish to register my considerable concern about that.

Under freedom of information law, 31 scientific papers were produced, and they have been examined by a team of university graduates and legionella experts whom ProEconomy asked to assess them. They concluded that none of the 31 papers supported the temperature control regime. Three were against it, 21 did not discuss it at all and seven were in favour of copper-silver ionisation. That has been found to be safe because of the minimal concentrations required to control legionella. Those concentrations are particularly safe compared with using chemicals such as chlorine and chlorine dioxide, which were treated on a par with copper-silver ionisation in HTM04. The silver levels required are equal to those found in milk and within the values prescribed by the drinking water inspectorate. I have to hand the inspectorate’s certificate, which confirms that it is happy with the technique. The copper released in copper-silver ionisation systems is well below the current prescribed values, and most water distribution pipes are made of copper.

In America, copper-silver ionisation is welcomed and used widely as an effective method of controlling legionella. It has received the most extensive research of all the available methods and is the only disinfection modality to have fulfilled the four evaluation criteria set out by the university of Pittsburgh and the veterans affairs medical centre of Pittsburgh. Their report states:

The study also evaluated applying temperatures of 70° and concluded that

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using the temperature control regime.

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