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The editorial stated that the Home Office-Ministry of Justice split

Yet we have waved through the proposal, because the present Home Secretary told us that the Home Office is not fit for purpose and that something needs to happen. The proposal was waved through, and the people who should have been consulted were not consulted.

The reorganisation culture is almost Maoist. We have had endless reorganisations of the national health service and have gone round in a circle. There have been endless reorganisations of public bodies and in Whitehall. The historical figures are interesting. Twenty-eight Departments were created between 1960 and 1979, which was a long time ago, and by 1981, 13 of those Departments had been wound up. Since 1997, we have had musical chairs. We have had the Department of Transport, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, who disappeared in a puff of blue smoke, and now we have the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office.

When the Government were elected in 1997, we had the Department of Transport, which morphed through two or three subsequent creations and has now become the Department for Transport. It was the Department of Transport; 10 years later, it is the Department for Transport. The Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry lasted for 24 hours, when the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry did not like
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the idea and ordered the permanent secretary to get a workman to take down the plaque that had been attached to the front of the building in Victoria just along the road. That tells us that such things are not thought through. It is capricious, and sometimes we should say, “Stop and think.”

I raise the matter now because we are shortly to get a new Prime Minister, and in the way of these things we will get more reorganisations. I have here a cutting from the Financial Times of 10 April, when its readers were told:

On 15 May, we were told:

On 18 May, again in the FT—I read it religiously—we were told, under the headline “Brown at work on Whitehall shake-up” that he is

Watch out for that one. Then, just a few days ago, on 20 May, in The Sunday Times this time, we were told:

I would put money on it that we are going to see a big flurry of activity and a huge shake-up of Whitehall, and I am not entirely sure that in the long run it will make much difference to how services are delivered.

This reconfiguration of Whitehall is carried through without any reference to Parliament whatsoever. The powers derive from the royal prerogative and are used extensively. Way back in 1989, the Labour party said of the royal prerogative that we recognise the need

In 1993, the Labour party said:

We know that to be the case. In 1994, my friend the Leader of the House said:

and that it has been

That must change. If my friend the Leader of the House becomes Deputy Prime Minister, as we read in the press, I hope that he will be true to his word, even though it is a decade old, and do something about the use of prerogative powers.

It is perfectly possible to bring those prerogative powers into Parliament and to establish them by statute. We have done it before, for example, in the Interception of Communications Act 1985, the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. It is therefore possible. The powers to organise the civil service and reorganise Whitehall
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Departments derive from prerogative. I believe that they should be given to Parliament through a civil service Act.

The Government acknowledged that there should be a civil service Act but have done precious little to advance that. The Public Administration Committee published a draft Bill and the Government consulted on a civil service measure, but they have not introduced it or published the details of the consultation that they conducted in 2004. The measure has been put on the back burner, with Ministers saying that they agree in principle with a civil service Bill but that it never materialises because there is no legislative time and so on for it.

Not only Labour Members—and not only me and my friends on the Public Administration Committee—believe that there should be a civil service Bill. When the shadow Foreign Secretary appeared before us a year or two ago, he told us that the US Congress and our sister Parliament in Ottawa—which is almost a mirror image of this place—must approve all major Government reorganisation. So it can be done. We do not want to turn government into a sclerotic business whereby it is impossible to get things through, but in major reorganisations—not the Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry, which lasted 24 hours, but splitting the Home Office in two and creating a Ministry of Justice—we should have a say. It is a scandal that we do not.

Consultation papers were published on the reorganisation of the police force. That, too, has gone on the back burner, but at least consultation took place. We did not have a consultation on reorganising the Home Office. Not only judges say that it is time to change how things are done. The former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Butler of Brockwell, appeared before the Public Administration Committee recently. He said that his views had changed and that he believed that there should be a debate in Parliament. He went on to suggest,

Many people argue the same case. Lord Butler talked about the costs of reorganisation. He said:

That applies not only to the one-off costs, but opportunity costs and transitional costs. They are huge.

I tried to raise such issues on 30 April when I asked the Home Secretary a straightforward question. I have the relevant copy of Hansard before me. I asked him whether he would issue a consultation paper setting out the advantages and disadvantages of dividing the Home Office in two. He chose to ignore the question. A big event was happening that day. The fertiliser bombers had just been sentenced to life imprisonment and the Home Secretary used my question as a vehicle to talk about something completely different. In my supplementary question, I said that the Home Secretary had not answered my question but he disregarded it again and went sailing off to discuss the fertiliser bombers. I hope that I am in order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I raised the fact that the Home Secretary had not responded to my question with the Speaker on a point of order, and in subsequent
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correspondence, the Speaker said that I could raise the matter in today’s Adjournment debate on the grounds that the Home Secretary had not properly replied to my question. I spoke to the Clerks on the subject, and it is a parliamentary procedural curiosity that it is impossible to hold an Adjournment debate on matters that fall within the remit of the Prime Minister. Although I wanted to speak about the things that I have just spoken about, I could not secure an Adjournment debate, because although the Home Secretary was the frontman, it was the Prime Minister’s prerogative powers that were being exercised.

I have drawn up early-day motion 1396, in which I ask the Procedure Committee to address the anomaly whereby Adjournment debates cannot be secured on matters that fall within the responsibility of the Prime Minister. In it, I suggest that the Speaker could nominate a Cabinet Minister or another appropriate Minister to stand in for the Prime Minister in those circumstances. I have left that issue with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight), and I hope that something will happen. There is a real lacuna, and it means that over the next few months a lot of debate about reorganisations of the kind that I have mentioned will be stifled.

That sounds a nerdy point, does it not? [Hon. Members: “No!”] I stand up at the end of term and talk about machinery-of-Government issues, and most people, I am sure, are not interested, but the subject goes to the heart of the way in which we are governed. Do we want a system in which the Prime Minister of the day—I am not talking about the current Prime Minister or the next one—has unfettered power to do what he or she wishes? That is what the current situation amounts to. I would like a situation in which Parliament could assert itself. It should not act as a brake on the Executive unduly, but it should cause them to think twice before they embark on a huge change.

3.43 pm

Mr. John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, not least because earlier today I did not expect that I would get here, as I was taking part in a charity football match at Stamford Bridge to help raise money in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. I should like to thank Chelsea football club for hosting the event, and all the former professional footballers who took part in the game and showed us members of the parliamentary football team why we never fulfilled our ambition of becoming professional footballers. I would also like to say a great thank you to Neville Southall for letting a ball go straight between his legs, which meant that I got to score a goal at Stamford Bridge this morning.

I want to raise two issues of considerable interest and concern to south Manchester, namely the proposed sell-off and redevelopment of part of the Marie Louise gardens in Didsbury in my constituency, and Trafford council’s decision to cut funding for the Mersey valley warden service. The Mersey valley borders my constituency, and in fact part of it is within my constituency boundaries. The Marie Louise
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gardens are an open public space in West Didsbury that was bequeathed by a Mrs. Silkenstadt to the people of Manchester back in 1903, in memory of her only child, Marie Louise, who died young. Several years ago, part of the gardens behind the lodge were used by the gardeners for greenhouses and sheds in which to grow plants, and as a maintenance depot. Over time, the council has allowed the area to fall into disrepair, and it has been unused. A covenant had been placed on the land that restricted its use to public gardens for the enjoyment of local people, but Labour-run Manchester city council, which neglected the gardens for many years, now wants to sell the section behind the lodge for development.

I am sure that the House can imagine how local people have reacted to the plan. The West Didsbury residents association has launched a campaign to save the gardens from development and, as of yesterday, nearly 2,500 people had signed a petition against their sale. Last month a protest picnic was held in the gardens. Even though it rained all afternoon, in excess of 400 people turned up. The council tried to scupper the picnic by claiming that people did not have permission to gather in the gardens, but the event went ahead anyway.

The West Didsbury residents association has also spent a considerable amount of time looking for living relatives of Mrs. Silkenstadt. It has found support in Jan Silkenstadt, who is now involved in trying to enforce the covenant on the land. The campaign has also received sterling support from West Didsbury’s three local Liberal Democrat councillors, and in Parliament, where I have tabled early-day motion 1263. I urge hon. Members to support that EDM.

Unfortunately, the protests have fallen on deaf ears so far. The council seems determined to go ahead with the sale, claiming that the area involved is not part of the original gardens but merely a maintenance depot, although photographic proof shows clearly that it is part of the gardens and therefore subject to the covenant. The council’s dodgy dossier of evidence is full of errors, but at least the new executive member for leisure has agreed to review the evidence. We hope that the council can be persuaded to change its mind.

The case has highlighted the inadequacies of covenants, which, all too often, are not worth the paper that they are written on. Perhaps we should wonder how much land would have been gifted to local authorities over the past couple of hundred years if the benefactors had realised that their bequests would end up being sold to the highest bidder. At a time of increasing pressure to build on every available piece of land, it is vital that our parkland be retained and looked after, so that it can continue to provide quality open space. Selling off part of Marie Louise gardens sets a dangerous precedent.

Another serious threat to services in the area is Tory Trafford council’s decision to cut funding to the Mersey valley warden service, which is a partnership between Manchester city council and Trafford borough council. Without even discussing their plans in the joint committee, Trafford councillors decided to slash the borough’s contribution to the budget by more than a third. There was no consultation with the public.

I wrote to the Tory leader of Trafford council, Susan Williams, asking her to reconsider her plans.
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Unfortunately, her response was very negative, and her only explanation for the cuts was to blame them on the council’s lack of Government funding. She offered no solution to the problem of how vital local services might be retained.

So much for the Conservatives’ commitment to the local environment. They slash budgets and cut services, but what does that mean for the Mersey valley? At present, we are cannot be sure, but at the very least the result will be cuts in jobs or services, with the visitor centre in Sale a probable target. One thing that is certain is that the council’s plans for the Mersey valley have aroused as much opposition as did their proposed sale of Marie Louise gardens. Thousands of people have signed a petition against the cuts, and many have voiced their opinions and concerns on various websites.

I shall read out a couple of quotations from residents in my constituency. Steve Connor of Chorlton wrote:

Zoe Power wrote

I pay tribute to the work that is being done by “friends” groups across the Mersey valley in opposing and trying to reverse the cuts. Let me mention particularly two of my constituents, Dave Bishop and Tracey Pook, who run the two friends groups in my constituency. Without the sterling work of the friends groups, Trafford council will never change its mind.

3.50 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): I believe that this is the first time I have spoken in an end of term Adjournment debate of this kind, and I am very pleased to be doing so. I apologise for having been out of the Chamber during some of the debate. The speeches that I have heard have been interesting and illuminating. I do not intend to concentrate on local issues, although I may touch on one or two at the end of my speech. I want to focus on an issue of fundamental importance to everyone in the Chamber, and indeed everyone in the country who cares about the integrity of the electoral system—which I hope means most people.

Following the debacle in Scotland, which we debated in the Chamber yesterday, it was revealed that more than 140,000 votes were discounted. No one knows how many electors were involved, because it is impossible to calculate how many were behind those 140,000 votes. That must surely make everyone in the Chamber deeply concerned. I was most interested to hear many Labour Members from Scotland in particular call for a restoration of the first-past-the-post system in Scotland to replace the convoluted, complicated and confusing system that has been imposed.

Students of history—I am a former student of history, so I hope I get this right—may recall that back in the 19th century, the great Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867, along with other measures, established this
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country as the parliamentary democracy in which we have grown up. In the days when the British empire covered a quarter of the globe, those reforms allowed this country to be considered a beacon of democratic integrity. It was used as an example by a huge number of other countries, at a time when not many countries had a democracy like ours.

I can also tell the three Labour Members who are present that it was the reforms of the 19th century, which were not carried out by any one party exclusively, that allowed the rise of the Labour party. I would probably have been among the wicked Tories then—as I am now. Those reforms meant that employers could not breathe down the necks of their employees while they cast their votes. They established free, fair and private voting, so that no one knew how anyone else had voted. They also got rid of the Hogarthian scenes of treating that could be seen at every election before 1832. Rotten boroughs ended in 1832 as well.

The beauty of the system that was in place until 1997 was that it was simple. Everyone understood it. You went to the polling booth, put a cross on a piece of paper and walked out of the booth. No one knew how you had voted unless you wanted to tell them. The system worked well: I do not think that any party, except possibly the Liberals in the past, had any reason to complain about it, and certainly the Labour party in 1997 had no reason to complain about the way in which that election had gone. We did, but I do not complain about the way in which people voted.

I first became aware of the undermining of the integrity of our electoral system in 2005, in the run-up to the general election, when, as a shadow Defence Minister, I discovered that service voters had been largely disfranchised because they were not on the register following changes introduced by this Government. I especially remember seeing a group of people in Basra, where soldiers were serving this country and in grave danger of being wounded or worse. I believe that I spoke to 12 people, only two of whom were registered to vote. One told me, “We’re not allowed to be registered to vote if we’re in the Army, are we?”

I raised the matter endlessly in January, February and March 2005, and I have to say that it is not to the credit of the then Defence Minister, Ivor Caplin—who is no longer in the House—that he said

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