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11 Nov 2008 : Column 635

T9.[234524] Ms Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough) (Lab): A number of us visited Bosnia earlier this year, and I was particularly struck by the extent to which Republika Srpska has advanced economically and socially in the past 10 years or so, compared with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the EU plays its full part in ensuring that the whole of Bosnia enjoys economic and social development, and not just the residents of the ethnically cleansed RS?

Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for her question. It is absolutely vital that all those who live in Bosnia and Herzegovina feel that they have a stake in their future. That is what we are attempting to ensure, in co-operation with other EU partners and the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, whom I was pleased to meet last week. We have to make sure that we can focus on the big picture, which is security and prosperity for all who live in that country, but security for that part of the Balkans is also an important factor.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Will the Secretary of State look at the situation facing the Tibetan community in Nepal? Following anti-Chinese demonstrations, a number of Tibetans face extradition to China, and have been denied entry to India. Considering Britain’s relationships with Nepal, our history and relations with India and the fact that Britain occupied Tibet for the best part of 40 years at the beginning of the last century, what can the Secretary of State do for the Tibetan community there?

Bill Rammell: I am aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. We are, through our embassy, discussing those matters, and the recent change to our policy on Tibet means that we are now in a position to focus forcefully on the issue of human rights and the need in the Chinese constitution for greater regional autonomy. We are now in a position to push those issues very strongly.

T10.[234525] Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary use his influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to press the European Central Bank to take a lead from the Bank of England and secure substantial further reduction in interest rates?

Caroline Flint: I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend, but it is not for the Government to comment on the monetary policy of the central bank of the eurozone, not only because the UK is not a member of the eurozone but because it is absolutely right that monetary policy should be set independently, which is why we gave the Bank of England independence in 1997. However, I am pleased that the European Investment Bank is providing €30 billion, which is available to small businesses,
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to support them in the months ahead. That clearly demonstrates that there is a role for the EU to add value to what national Governments can do, and I am pleased that, as a Government, we can play a constructive part in making sure that that happens.

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the Government of Burma continue to practise some of the most bestial human rights abuses to be witnessed anywhere on the face of the planet, will the Foreign Secretary tell the House what steps he has taken to work with his counterparts in the United Nations Security Council to try to bring about a binding resolution that will bring the regime to book and offer the people of Burma the freedom and justice that we have so long enjoyed and which they have so long been denied?

Bill Rammell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, and I pay tribute to the work that he does on that subject. The situation in Burma remains one of our highest priorities. If the UN Secretary-General visits later this year, that visit would have our full support. Indeed, I hope in the next couple of days to discuss that matter in New York at the United Nations. The junta’s road-map process and the elections planned for 2010 lack all credibility, and that is a message that we need to send out loud and clear.

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): My constituents were appalled to read in the British press of a 13-year-old girl in Somalia who was gang-raped. When the authorities heard of the gang rape, they sentenced her to be stoned to death as punishment. What steps have the British Government taken to send a clear message to the Government of Somalia that that is certainly not the sort of behaviour that we condone, and can we take that up at international level? If women and children cannot be protected, what hope have we of a peaceful world?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): I share my hon. Friend’s outrage, and we, too, utterly condemn that barbaric practice. That tragic incident occurred in the city of Kismayo, which is under the control of radical Islamic insurgents. The Somali Government have no control in that area, and international agencies are unable to act. We deplore that horrific incident, and call on those responsible to act with restraint and in accordance with the peaceful tenets of Islam.


Remembrance day bank holiday

Mr. Frank Field, presented a Bill to designate 11th November as an annual public holiday in the United Kingdom; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed. [Bill 162].

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Police (Justice Commissioners)

3.34 pm

Mr. Douglas Carswell (Harwich) (Con): I beg to move,

Louise Casey, the Government’s Home Office adviser, is right: there has indeed been a collapse in trust in the criminal justice system. The Government’s former respect tsar is right to be concerned about surveys that show that only one third of people still have great confidence in the police. Louise Casey is not alone in recognising that public confidence in the administration of public justice is beginning to break down. The Secretary of State for Justice said recently that the justice system needed to “get tough” with criminals, and there has been no shortage of Home Secretaries and Ministers talking about the need to make the criminal justice system work, or of Westminster insiders talking about the need to get tough on crime. The trouble is that that is all it is—just talk.

Politicians are largely powerless to fight crime, and they are not able to make the criminal justice system work for those who elect them. We might fight elections with lots of talk about fighting crime, but policing today is almost entirely outside democratic control, and no one, least of all those in this Chamber, likes to admit it. At election time, national or local, the candidates of all major parties wearily pledge to “put more bobbies on the beat”, but they promise something that it is not in their gift to deliver. The deployment of police personnel is wholly at the discretion of chief constables, and the only voice that elected representatives have is as a minority on police authorities, which is perhaps one of the many reasons why voters, hearing the ritualistic promise of more police but never seeing much change, have increasingly given up on the whole charade.

Today, I propose a different approach. Let us imagine that local people, not Home Office officials, determined the priorities of the police where we lived. What if we, as local residents, could hold our local chief constable directly to account for fighting crime? Let us suppose that the justice commissioners we elected to our county or city decided how to deploy resources, and had to decide whether to spend their budgets on more patrols or on more speed cameras, and then stood for re-election on the basis of their record.

The link between police and the public was a founding principle of the police force. Sir Robert Peel said:

and, indeed, lip service is still paid to that notion. The Metropolitan Police Service’s expensive logo at Scotland Yard proclaims: “Working together for a safer London”. But behind that fa├žade sit thousands of police officers doing anything but working together with the community. We do not need more top-down crime and disorder reduction partnerships, more Whitehall initiatives, or more community safety plans imposed on local communities; we need recognition that the tripartite system established under the Police Act 1964 is broken. Chief constables are much more accountable to Home Office target-setters than to local people, and through
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targets, funding streams, audit and inspection, the Home Office has imposed de facto national control over police forces.

Police authorities, which are supposedly the third pillar of tripartite accountability, are not up to the job, because they fail to hold chief constables effectively to account, and they do a poor job representing local people. Police authorities are largely appointed, and some are quangos with local worthies but without democratic verve. Too often, the authorities see it as their job to defend “their” chief constable against attacks on his or her performance; instead, they should hold the chief constable to account. Few people know that police authorities exist, and even fewer know who sits on them.

My Bill would abolish police authorities. Instead, a simple, effective and transparent system of local accountability should be introduced: directly elected individual justice commissioners. Justice commissioners would appoint and dismiss chief constables, set targets for the force, make their own policing plans and control their own budgets, which would be allocated as a block grant. Initially, there would be one commissioner for every one of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, but, in time, it would make sense to bring the forces into line with local government boundaries. My Bill would enshrine in law the operational independence of chief constables. It is possible to have policing that is both democratically accountable and operationally independent of untoward interference. Where there was a directly elected mayor whose jurisdiction was congruent with a police force area—a situation that currently occurs only in London—the mayor would exercise the function of the justice commissioner.

The criminal justice system is not, however, simply about chasing criminals through the streets. Criminal justice is about pursuing wrongdoers through the courts, determining their guilt or innocence and managing offenders justly. People are losing confidence in the criminal justice system not merely because of failures of policing, but because of failures further downstream. Some have argued that we need a measure of justice commissioner involvement in prosecution, although it is not included in my Bill. Similarly, there is a case to be made—I stress that I am not making it today—for a joined-up system of criminal justice that allows the justice commissioner some involvement in probation. That might give greater local legitimacy to some of the more compassionate and just forms of offender management that we now need.

Throughout the ages, those opposed to greater democracy have argued that things are best left to the experts—so, too, with those opposed to democratic policing. They say that it is too technical, too difficult and too sensitive and that it is far better left to qualified professionals rather than elected populists. Really? Are they thinking of the same qualified professionals who presided over one of the highest per capita crime rates in the western world, or of the legal system that sends a seventh-conviction burglar to prison for an average of 21 months?

Is there perhaps a danger that a rabid populist might take charge of local policing? Not at all. The police would remain entirely operationally independent. The law would still be the law, and it would continue to be
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enforced without fear or favour. As for populist politicians, we might well end up with a Rudy Giuliani or a Ray Mallon in every town.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Or a Sarah Palin.

Mr. Carswell: However, better that we have a Rudy Giuliani or a Ray Mallon—or a Sarah Palin—than another Sir Ian Blair.

Others oppose the idea on the grounds that it would lead to postcode lottery policing, but that is nonsense. Postcode lottery policing is precisely what we have today. If random chance meant that people happened to have a chief constable who thought it was okay to smoke cannabis, what could they do about it? If luck had it that a person’s chief of police believed that speed cameras were a good thing and that person did not, there would be little point in their complaining. Localism in policing means accepting that there would be local asymmetries, but there would be nothing random—no lottery—about it. Differences would be shaped consciously by local choices. For example, the justice commissioner of Essex might well endorse a zero-tolerance attitude to drunken public disorder behaviour problems, whereas the justice commissioner for Suffolk favoured toleration. One of two things would then happen: either Essex stag parties would flood across the county border in such numbers that the people of Suffolk would elect a tougher justice commissioner, or the good people of Essex would demand a justice commissioner who took a more relaxed approach to boisterous nights out. We Westminster politicians do not know what people would choose, and that is the essence of localism.

When I published a book calling for direct democratic policing in 2002, a Member of Parliament told me that my proposal was profoundly unConservative. Indeed it is—and so, in a sense, am I. We can do better than the status quo. Members from both sides of the House are sponsoring this Bill and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will now back it.

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3.42 pm

Sir Patrick Cormack: I shall speak only briefly, but I really think that this is an awful lot of populist claptrap. The best remark of all came originally not from me but from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who is sitting in front of me and was the first to make the remark about Sarah Palin; I gladly attribute it to a splendid colleague.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich (Mr. Carswell) destroyed his own case in his last few remarks about the differences that there could be between police forces in Essex and Suffolk. They were nonsense. At the moment, we are working hard in the United Kingdom to have the closest possible cross-border co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana in the Republic of Ireland. I was in Northern Ireland talking to police leaders only a couple of weeks ago. Sir Hugh Orde appeared before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee only last week, and it makes complete sense to have that sort of co-ordination. To politicise the police in the way that has been suggested— [Interruption.] Of course it would politicise the police; people would stand for election on party tickets and for populist policies. Frankly, the Bill is a prescription for anarchy and disaster, and I cannot support it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Douglas Carswell, Mr. Frank Field, Mrs. Nadine Dorries, Mr. Mark Field, Mr. Philip Hollobone, Mr. Richard Shepherd, Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. Charles Walker, Mr. Graham Allen, Mr. Stephen Crabb and Daniel Kawczynski.

Police (Justice Commissioners)

Mr. Douglas Carswell accordingly presented a Bill to provide for the replacement of police authorities with elected justice commissioners; to make provisions regarding the duties and powers of justice commissioners; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 21 November, and to be printed [Bill 161].

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Mr. Speaker: We now come to the main business. I inform the House that because of the large number of Back Benchers wishing to contribute, the time limit for Back Benchers is 12 minutes.

3.45 pm

The Secretary of State for Transport (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon): I beg to move,

I am grateful to the House and to the business managers for agreeing to this debate. I very much welcome this opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the future development of Heathrow airport. It is of course not the first debate on this subject in the House, but it is the first time that I have had the opportunity of taking part as Secretary of State for Transport. I am looking forward to hearing the views of right hon. and hon. Members. I know that many here today have particular points that they wish to make about Heathrow; indeed, some have previously asked to meet me personally. However, with the consultation on Heathrow now closed, it would have been extremely difficult for me to meet particular individuals or interested parties without invoking criticism that they were being given undue influence. That is why I asked for this debate to take place. The great benefit of today’s proceedings is that they are on the record and give all Members an equal opportunity to have their say before any final decisions are taken.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Ruth Kelly) informed the House in her written ministerial statement on 8 July, I hope to announce my decision on whether, and if so how, additional capacity might be added at Heathrow before the end of the year. It is right that we bring this period of uncertainty to an end as soon as practically possible for the benefit of the people directly affected and for the country as a whole. However, it is also right that we carefully and thoroughly review all the available evidence before reaching our conclusions. That is precisely what we are doing.

The House will be aware that the Government completed a very extensive consultation on the future development of Heathrow earlier this year. I am acutely aware that airport development in general, and the future of Heathrow in particular, arouses strong feelings. Indeed, we received almost 70,000 responses to the consultation from individuals and organisations across a whole spectrum of views. It is worth emphasising at this stage that this consultation was not about the need for new capacity at Heathrow. The Government made clear their views in the 2003 White Paper “The Future of Air Transport”, which supported the case for future development of Heathrow, including a further new runway and additional terminal capacity.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD) rose—

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Hoon: If I could make a little more progress, I will give way in due course.

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