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Protecting the anonymity of complainants in rape cases is enormously important. More womenand, indeed, menwho are victims of rape are reporting the incidents, and that is positive. However, rape is difficult to prove, especially in cases in which those involved knew each other and the central issue is consent. It is therefore important that the Law Officers respond cautiously to requests to enable the courts to publish names. Indeed, such a request has been made in the Warren Blackwell case. We are anxious to ensure that those who are considering reporting rape
can know that they retain an appropriate level of anonymity and that their names will not be published in newspapers unnecessarily.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Does the Solicitor-General agree that one of the problems that we have experienced with applying the European convention on human rights is associated with the role of the Attorney-General? In the past few years, we have relied far too much on questions relating to the interpretation of the law on human rights. If we are to have a new Attorney-General, he should not only be in the House of Commons, but he should not be totally committed to the European convention on human rights in all its shapes and forms.
The Solicitor-General: As one of the Ministers who took through the Human Rights Act 1998 and introduced the convention to law, may I defend it, especially in the context of the question, which is, to some extent, about the freedom of the press? The Human Rights Act enshrines some of those freedoms. Before the hon. Gentleman starts to say that he wishes to remove them from people like those who sit in the Press Gallery, he should exercise a great deal of caution. There are protections that we want to keep.
Mr. Speaker: I have to tell the House that yesterday I received a letter from Sir Philip Mawer, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, informing me that he wishes to step down from the appointment on 31 December 2007. By that date, Sir Philip will have served for almost six years. He records in his letter that he counts it a great privilege to have been able to serve the House in such a worthwhile capacity. There will be an opportunity for Members to express their appreciation at a future date. I shall arrange for a copy of his letter to be placed in the Library.
Monday 2 JulyConsideration of Lords amendments to the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2003 (Commencement No. 2) Order 2007, followed by a motion to approve a European Document relating to global navigation systems.
Tuesday 3 JulyOpposition day [15th allotted day]. There will be a debate entitled Access to NHS Services, followed by a debate entitled Crisis in Pensions. Both debates arise on an Opposition motion.
Tuesday 10 JulyProceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 2) Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Terrorism Act 2006 (Disapplication of Section 25) Order 2007, followed by Second Reading of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [Lords].
Mrs. May: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the future business for what I am now confident will be the last time. He has always been courteous in his dealing with me, and he has always been prepared to stand above party politics in the interest of the House. According to the BBC, his successor as Leader of the House is likely to be the deputy leader and chairman of the Labour party. I know that we women can multi-task, but three-hats Harman is perhaps taking it a bit too far! The new Prime Minister says that he wants to strengthen Parliament, yet he is appointing a part-time Leader of the House whose two other jobs are party political positions. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that that is acceptable in the interests of the House?
Picking up on the statement that the Speaker has just made, I should like to thank Sir Philip Mawer for all the work that he has done as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. It is an important role. Will the Leader of the House confirm that there will not be an interregnum before his successor is appointed, as there has been with the chairmanship of the Committee on Standards in Public Life?
According to Sky News, there will be a ministerial statement to the House on Monday on one of the Prime Ministers big ideas, yet the Leader of the House did not mention it when he announced the forthcoming business. The Prime Minister says that he will respect Parliament. Will the Leader of the House assure us that the media are not being informed of House business before hon. Members?
This week, the Ministry of Justice published the 54th criminal justice Bill since Labour came to power. With only four weeks until the House rises, the Bill has little chance of proper scrutiny before the end of this Session, and it was published just days before the Home and Justice Secretaries left their jobs. Delivering a Bill written by Lord Falconer must be the ultimate hospital pass. As it appears that the Leader of the House will be the next Justice Secretary, will he make a statement on the Bills timetable?
The Government have created 3,000 new criminal offences, but have not expanded prison capacity to match. The criminal justice Bill will therefore introduce greater use of cautions, end suspended sentences in magistrates courts and limit jail terms for repeat offenders. After five Home Secretaries, 54 criminal justice Bills and 3,000 new criminal offences, the Government still do not have a clue. So much for being tough on crime. Can we have a debate on the crisis in the criminal justice system?
According to research published this week, Home Office police targets and performance management have increased bureaucracy and stifled innovation. At any one time, one fifth of officers are not available for operational duties. Nearly three quarters of superintendents believe that Home Office reporting requirements have damaged the quality of policing. So much for trusting front-line professionals. Can we have a debate on the role of Home Office targets in policing?
Official figures released this week show that more and more schools are being forced to take back unruly pupils after deciding to exclude them. Almost a quarter of excluded pupils successfully challenged their
exclusions. That is a 20 per cent. increase since Labour came to power. So much for trusting teachers. Can we have a debate on school discipline?
The Minister for Schools has said that the Government will raise £80 million by imposing a 5 per cent. levy on schools with budget surpluses. The levy will apply whether or not the money is earmarked for future projects. So much for trusting head teachers. Can we have a debate on trusting schools to run themselves, free from Government interference?
After 10 years of Labour, surely those examples tell their own story. The new Prime Minister might spin that he is a change, that he respects Parliament and that he trusts the people. He still believes, however, that the man in Whitehall knows best. That is not a new kind of politics; it is just same old Labour.
Mr. Straw: No, I think that it might be longer. As I said, I really enjoy this job, so I am happy to go on and on and on. I know enough about reshuffles to know that they are not over till they are over. I shall certainly not comment on any dispositions that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is recommending to Her Majesty the Queen.
In the normal ecumenical spirit that I have sought to adopt during these proceedings, may I say that I was looking forward very much to some jokes at the end of the right hon. Ladys speech? I thought that she had got the jokes up to speed in the previous two business questions. I am really sorry to have missed them on this occasion, but if I come back next week, she can do them then.
May I join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to Sir Philip Mawer, who has conducted himself, in a position of some great challenge, with considerable dignity, integrity and skill? I knew Sir Philip before he took the job on, and he has been a fine person to fulfil the duties. On the issue of the appointment, I will do my best to ensure that there is no interregnum, as the right hon. Lady puts it.
The right hon. Lady made some pejorative remarks about some reports on the television news, which, I am afraid, I have not seen; I was busy preparing for business questions. I, too, have a party card and I, too, am a partisan politician, as is everybody in the House, and successive Leaders of the House, on both sides, have shown that it is perfectly possible to acknowledge and follow the twin duties of Leader of the Houseto represent the Government to the House, and the House to the Government, as well as separately fulfilling their other duties. As she well knows, I have had other Government duties, including House of Lords reform, party funding and the chairmanship of many Cabinet Committees, so such things are possible.
On the issue of statements, we will follow the provisions that I have introduced to give as early notice as possible of statements, which is a further indication of the way in which the Government have sought better
to respect Parliament and to ensure that the House is the first to know of major, and indeed minor, announcements.
The right hon. Lady then went on to discuss the 54th criminal justice Bill. Well, it is a nice line. We know which Bills the Conservatives rubbished as gimmicks at the time, including the first major criminal justice Bill, the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, which contained measures that have made a huge difference to constituents, such as the reforms of youth justice, the introduction of antisocial behaviour orders and much else. The question for the Conservative party is whether it would repeal those measures in the unlikely event that it returned to power.
As for our record on crime and disorder, I would be delighted to debate it at any time. We have 14,000 extra police officers and police officer numbers are going up, when they went down under the Conservatives. Crime has fallen by more than 30 per cent. when it doubled under the Conservatives. It is a record of which we shall be proud.
The right hon. Lady asked about exclusions and school discipline. Of course, it is up to her if she wants to have a debate. I have given her a lot of comradely advice about how she can make better use of Opposition days: there is one suggestion.
As for respect for Parliament, let it be said that in the past 10 years we have introduced many measures, some of them recited in the latest Modernisation Committee report, better to strengthen the role of this House. I hope that the Committees report will be implemented.
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend find time urgently to debate the abuse of the privilege of press passes? He will no doubt be aware that I had to go to the High Court two weeks ago to obtain redress for an article in The Mail on Sunday by Simon Walters, the holder of a press pass. It is an abuse of privilege for a journalistif one may go so far as to call him thatto use a press pass to get tittle-tattle from security guards, police and other employees in the House to print lies about Members of Parliament.
Mr. Straw: My hon. Friend raises an important issue. I am aware that he succeeded in an action against Associated Newspapers. If he does have serious complaints about the issue of passes, I suggest that he refers them to the appropriate House Committee.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): As a former member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, I also pay tribute to Sir Philip Mawer and the excellent work that he has done in recent years. The Steward of the Chiltern hundreds yesterday said that it was the end, but of course it is only the closing of one chapter and the opening of another, although some of us think that it is odd that we have gone from Great Expectations to Bleak House in just 10 years.
There are still several items on the agenda, and the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) mentioned the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. I notice that the Leader of the House did not give us the timetable for that. The right hon. Lady did not mention the scale of the Bill, which has 235 pages, 152 pages of explanatory notes and 14 pages of regulatory impact
assessment. How on earth is the House intended to give proper scrutiny to another criminal justice Bill when it will not be introduced until the second half of July for Second Reading? If all of this criminal justice legislation is so good, can the Leader of the House please explain why it needs amending within the year?
We had a valuable statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on flooding, although since then, he has left for warmer climates. I know that there has been increased investment, but the cuts in flood defence spending have been disastrous. The result for many people has been personal catastrophe. May we have a statement from the new Secretary of State on the implications for the once-in-100-years assessments, because they are clearly not correct and we need to revise our flood defences in the light of recent events?
Lastly, I tried to co-operate with the Government last weekI always do, and I am still mulling over the offer of the Wales Officebut does the Leader of the House seriously believe that it is sensible to ignore the request from the outgoing Secretary of State for International Development for a corruption Bill, when the outgoing Attorney-General has said that there is a need for a change in the offences and when we have one on the Order Paper tomorrow? The Corruption Bill is No. 17 on the list of private Members Bills, has come through the House of Lords and would satisfy the Governments intentions. Will the Leader of the House instruct his colleagues and the Whips not to shout Object tomorrow so that we can make progress on enacting proper anti-corruption legislation in this country?
Mr. Straw: And Ill plead guiltyI was worried about my hon. Friend for a secondbecause I think the hon. Gentleman may be after a job. I made it clear last week that we are a broad church, and I am always happy to co-operate with the hon. Gentleman or anyone else on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I look forward to their seeing the light in due course [Interruption.] I am trying to be nice to them.
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