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5.39 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (David Maclean). I pay tribute to him. Despite his disability, he contributes fully to the work of this House. He gave a typically passionate and very fair speech highlighting issues that naturally concern Parliament at the moment, and he did so in a way that we can all respect. He was right, in particular, to praise Mr. Speaker for the way in which he conducted himself. Mr. Speaker was absolutely right not to start giving press conferences because of the circumstances that have arisen since last Thursday. He was right to come to the House to address Members first and foremost about this issue. There are no leaks from the Speaker’s Office, so nobody was aware of what he was going to say from the Chair, but I was as surprised as probably every other Member of this House to hear that a Member’s offices were searched without a warrant and with the consent of a third party.

Mr. Speaker was right to set up the inquiry that we will debate on Monday, when we will have the opportunity to discuss some of the issues that were raised by the
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Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O’Brien) and, to a lesser extent, by the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border. That is the right time for everyone to have an opportunity to air their views on this very important issue. I look forward to the debate. I hope that we will be able to set up a Committee that reflects the House and is able to do what Members want it to do, which is carefully to consider all the circumstances of this case. After all, we are setting up an inquiry into an event that occurred not several months or years ago but last Thursday, so it should be very fresh in the minds of everyone involved.

If the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border is right—I am sure that he is, judging from what has been said in the newspapers—this concerns a lot of very senior members of the Metropolitan police and of the civil service. I have spoken to the Home Secretary, who is yet to make a statement on the matter; I gather that she will do so tomorrow after business questions, although it has not been confirmed by the Annunciator. That will be her opportunity to put on the record what she knew about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green). In my conversations with her, she has been very clear that she knew nothing. However, let us hear it not from me or the media but from her when she makes her statement tomorrow and, if she participates, in the debate next week. Let us keep those discussions for that debate while registering, as did the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border with the passion that he displayed, our grave concern as parliamentarians as to precisely what happened last week. I hope that we get an explanation from all those who were responsible. As for Officers of the House, for whom we have very high regard, I am sure that the inquiry set up by Mr. Speaker will take evidence from them.

When this story broke last week, members of the Home Affairs Committee were keen that we should investigate all or part of the circumstances. We will discuss the matter on Tuesday, when members will for the first time have an opportunity to discuss the events of last week. If we decide to move forward on this issue, that will be a further opportunity to do as the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border asked, which is to examine very carefully what the police have done. It affects not only Members of this House but every citizen of this country if they are allowed to go into the house or office of a third party without a warrant but with the consent of a third person. That will create a lot of problems. For example, what if someone is out on a particular day when the police want to search their property, and their landlord happens to be there? If they get his consent, is that enough in law?

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious and important point. Many of us were astonished by what we heard from Mr. Speaker earlier. The right hon. Gentleman has a legal background. In his opinion, before what we heard this afternoon, would it have been right for a landlord to be able to give consent in such a matter?

Keith Vaz: Only if we regard the Serjeant at Arms as our landlord. The hon. Gentleman is right: what happened creates many precedents. I want to know the timeline—the
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moment the decision was made and when the Mayor of London was rung. It was odd to ring the Mayor of London, but not tell the Home Secretary. Perhaps the Mayor of London is normally rung about such matters and he knows about every arrest that is to be made in the Metropolitan police area. Who knows? The situation is new to us all and the story changed again only at 2.30 this afternoon. Life is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Peter Bottomley: My intervention is designed to be helpful. We have heard from several people what they did not know. Would not it be good if someone at the centre of Government asked people what they did know, and put it on the public record? If, for example, the Cabinet Office was consulted about whether Ministers should be told and it decided that Ministers would not want to be told, that would cast much light on a murky area.

Keith Vaz: The hon. Gentleman is right, but I cannot speak for the Home Secretary. She will make her statement and someone will lead the debate on Monday—it could be a House matter, so the Leader of the House might lead it. If we find that questions have not been answered, the Select Committee will want to hear from the Home Secretary, because the situation might arise again. It is better to get everything straight and above board now. Let us wait for the debate and the Committee. We have no indication of when the Committee of the magnificent seven will report, but it will not be as quickly as the police, whose report will be published on 16 December—two weeks from yesterday. However, I hope that the Committee will report soon.

Let us move on to the Gracious Speech. First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke), who has doubtless departed for Coatbridge to hear his constituents’ celebrations on his moving the Loyal Address. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), who was my Whip in the east midlands for most of her time as a Whip. I am glad that she has not revealed to the House some of the things that I said to her when I was unable to serve on a statutory instrument Committee. I have known both colleagues for many years and they both made excellent speeches. It is a privilege to move and second the Loyal Address, and they did so with great dignity and wit.

I welcome the Gracious Speech and I am glad that Opposition Members and even the Leader of the Opposition welcomed many aspects of it. The right hon. Gentleman claimed most of them—all the good bits—as his ideas. That is a good sign. We shall have a quiet Session, at least in the Chamber—we do not know about our offices—if the Opposition support everything that the Government propose.

I want to highlight four matters. Policing is obviously an issue. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border mentioned the police and reduction of crime Bill. I welcome the Government’s desire for and commitment to greater accountability for the police. The Conservative party favours the election of commissioners—the chiefs of police in local areas. The Government propose elected members of the police committee. I have always said that the profile of local police committees should be much higher. I have no fundamental objection to their
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members being elected rather than appointed by the various political groups and others, but when the matter is discussed in Committee, we will have an opportunity to scrutinise the proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and I share a police committee, a chief constable and a police force. Sometimes we feel that there should be better accountability. We need to explore the best way of achieving that when the Bill is given a Second Reading.

David Taylor: My right hon. Friend and I do indeed share an excellent police authority that operates fairly well at the moment. Does he share my concern that in aiming to create popular policing, the measures, as we currently understand them, will risk creating populist policing, by having directly elected people on police authorities? The turnout for elections of that kind is not likely to be high, so are such bodies likely to have much legitimacy?

Keith Vaz: My hon. Friend is right; there are concerns. It has been put to me that holding such elections might mean that those on the far right will get on to the committees and therefore control police forces. However, in my view, the people will get what they vote for. There can be sufficient safeguards to ensure that such bodies represent the views of the public. Therefore, I support in principle what the Government propose. We need to deal with the issue by raising the profile of police committees. That will promote a better understanding of what such committees do, enabling people to call them to account in a way that was perhaps not possible previously. So, with the caveat about low turnouts that my hon. Friend mentioned, I think that people should know who runs our local police forces.

I welcome the Government’s proposals on alcohol sales. The Select Committee on Home Affairs produced a major report, entitled “Policing in the 21st Century”, in which we made a number of recommendations about police time. We felt that too much police time was being spent on alcohol-related crime. One in every two crimes in this country is in some way alcohol related. We felt that the real culprits were the supermarkets, by offering two cans of beer or lager or two bottles of spirits for the price of one and by reducing prices so much. That meant that it was easy for people to get pre-loaded before going out on a Saturday night. They then went out in our towns and cities, bought beer in pubs and caused even more disorder.

I am not making an attack on the alcohol industry, but it must be more responsible. If the industry is more responsible, a lot of the time that the police spend dealing with alcohol-related crime will be saved. If hon. Members go to any custody suite on a Saturday night, they will find it full of people who are drunk and who have committed violent offences or public order offences. That occupies a huge amount of the police’s time. That is why it is so important not just to deal with what is happening in our supermarkets, but to send out a message to those running our clubs who offer happy hours, free drinks or two drinks for the price of one—anything to get people totally smashed, so that they do not know what they are doing. What we have heard today is a good sign that the Government are prepared to listen.

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There is a commitment in the policing and crime reduction Bill to cut down even further on police paperwork. The Government’s appointment of Jan Berry as the new paperwork tsar—she has not taken up her appointment yet—is a very good choice indeed, as she proved to be a very successful president of the Police Federation. As someone who has so recently served with the police at the level at which we as parliamentarians should deal with them—we need to deal not just with chief constables, but with custody sergeants and officers on the beat—Jan Berry will know where the red tape lies. When she makes her recommendations, which I hope will be in line with what Sir Ronnie Flanagan said in his report, I hope that the Government will slash that red tape, ensuring that what needs to be recorded can be recorded and that whatever is unnecessary is left to one side.

That is why we on the Committee called firmly for every police officer in the country to be given a personal computer. If they each had a BlackBerry or personal computer, they would be able to record what was happening at the scene of the crime, rather than inviting people to come back later. I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border considered such a proposal when he was the Minister with responsibility for policing—I am not suggesting that computers had not been invented then—but the technology has advanced much since, so let us use it.

David Maclean: When I was the Minister with responsibility for policing, I discovered that much of the information collected by the police was required by the Home Office because we in Parliament were asking questions about it. If we as parliamentarians are prepared to accept that we might not get to know the level of crime in a particular area on a particular Saturday night, the police will no longer need to collect that information. We would be slightly more in the dark, but police time would be greatly freed up.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right and makes a point that will greatly assist the use of police time. He asked earlier why they were not doing something else and why they could not find something better to do. We would like our police officers to solve crime at the local, neighbourhood level. That is terribly important.

Secondly, I welcome the equality Bill, for which we have been waiting for a long time. It is definitely the handiwork of the Leader of the House, the Minister for Women and Equality. The Bill will not introduce affirmative action, but it will deal with the remaining equality issues that we need to deal with, to ensure that our public bodies are accountable and transparent. It is good that we are going to put all the equality legislation of the past 20 to 30 years into one definitive equality Bill—one statute that deals with all the issues.

I hope that the Bill will also ensure that people feel that we remain a country of equal opportunity. Since 4 November, people have sometimes seemed to believe that equality has arrived only because President-elect Obama won the American presidential elections. However, ours is a country where people are treated equally, yet it is also important that our laws should reflect that. Changing the laws and then changing people’s behaviour and attitude is how we get real and lasting change.

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I have two final points, the first of which is about the banking Bill. I am sure that none of the right hon. and hon. Members in the Chamber this evening was around last Thursday when I discussed the 17-year liquidation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, an issue in which I have been involved in for the whole of that time. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) was at some stage the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I am sure that I had a meeting with him about the liquidation of BCCI in those 17 years. Hon. Members will remember that when BCCI closed and the Bingham report recommended better banking supervision, we were supposed to have very tight regulation, so that banks would never do the kinds of things that BCCI did.

As the House knows, 84 per cent. of the money deposited by BCCI’s customers has been paid back, even though when the bank closed on 5 July 1991, the then Prime Minister and Chancellor said that there was no money left in it. Because of the liquidation, almost all the money has been returned to the customers. I was simply making a plea that the liquidation should end quickly. I therefore welcome the proposals in the banking Bill that concern compensation to savers if a bank fails. That was not available to those who lost their money in BCCI. That is why they relied so heavily on the liquidation. I hope that we can implement the banking Bill in the light of what has happened in the past few months and ensure that our regulators really do regulate the banks.

My final point is about immigration. We are promised another immigration Bill, but in the 21 years in which I have been in the House, we have probably had 21 immigration Bills. All were supposed to ensure that the immigration system was working adequately, which it clearly is not, as anyone who attended the Home Affairs Committee sitting just a couple of weeks ago, at which the Minister for Borders and Immigration spoke, will know. We still have a major problem with the immigration and nationality directorate. I do not think that introducing another Bill will make the system better. What we need is administrative action. We still have a huge backlog of cases, which, to be fair, we inherited from the previous Conservative Government when we took office in 1997. However, it is no excuse to say after 11 years that there is still a backlog. I have told successive Immigration Ministers that their place in history would be assured if they were the one to clear the backlog, but there is still a backlog.

The Home Affairs Committee recently went to Bangladesh and India to look at the points-based system. In Bangladesh, we were told that the Government were deporting 25 Bangladeshis a month, but that 36 were claiming asylum every month. That is a major problem. The only way to deal with a net inflow of asylum seekers from a democratic country such as Bangladesh is to look at one’s systems, not to pass more laws or to say that anyone who wants to be a citizen will have to go out and do good works to get their citizenship. We must make sure that our administration runs properly. That is what the previous Home Secretary was saying when he said that the immigration and nationality directorate was not fit for purpose.

Other Members and I have large immigration case loads. Believe me, people come to me every Friday complaining about letters from the Home Office saying that they must wait until 2011 for a decision on their
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case. During those four or five years, some of them will meet other people and fall in love, and some will have children. Despite everything that the Minister with responsibility for immigration says about limiting the number of people in this country, we cannot stop those things from happening. I do not think that the Government have suggested that chastity belts should be issued to the public to keep the population below 70 million.

In wearily supporting another immigration Bill, I make a plea to the Government: if they want to pass such a law, they should do so, but they should remember that the way to solve the problem is to deal with the administrative issues. That is the way to get a proper and fair immigration system.

6.1 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House that I am a company director, and that I have declared my interests on the register.

I echo the words of the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) about legislation often not being the answer to the pressing problems that confront the nation. Perhaps I should begin with a rare word of praise for the Government: the good thing about this Queen’s Speech is that there is not too much legislation in it. I make two pleas, however. First, may we please have the time to debate, at length and seriously, the proposed legislation in it, in order to do it justice? If one legislates in haste, one repents at leisure and has to legislate again and again, as we have seen.

Secondly, may we also have more time in which to hold the Executive to account? What Ministers do when they spend money and when they lead or mislead their civil service teams, or do not lead them at all, is crucial work. Their implementation of programmes and their day-to-day work of judging cases and hearing representations is also crucial work. As a parliamentarian who would like the opportunity to have more sittings here that we could attend, I feel that we could profitably spend our time probing and discussing more of those matters. Sensible Ministers would welcome that scrutiny. As a Minister, I often found it good to have to explain to the House what I was doing. It made one marshall one’s case and realise where one needed to raise one’s game. Colleagues on both sides of the House made helpful points, sometimes in anger or desperation and sometimes as friends, and one would have been a fool not to take such points on board and to understand what the House was doing.

I want to speak mainly about the leading item in the Queen’s Speech, which is reflected in some Treasury legislation: the need to create financial stability. I think that is the Government’s phrase to mean that we need better economic policy so that living standards can start to rise again instead of falling, and so that we can do better by our constituents who face serious trouble. We see factory closure after factory closure and people going on to short-time working. Many people face having employment for only three or four days a week, some people are facing extended factory closures over Christmas and the new year and some people are facing redundancy.

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