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2 Apr 2009 : Column 1052

Fiona Mactaggart: The Solicitor-General has been very helpful to me, and to my constituents, in the case of a major fraud, but one of the problems with fraud is that of repeat, relatively minor frauds. My constituent, Parmanjeet Sandhu, has been a victim of a woman whom she knows as Suzanne Halim. This perpetrator also goes under the name of Soad Al Majeed and has many other aliases, but is not being prosecuted because the Crown Prosecution Service does not believe that it can secure a conviction. One of the phenomena about fraudsters is that they are very good at covering their tracks, so will the Solicitor-General talk to the CPS about whether there are better ways to protect our constituents against repeat fraudsters?

The Solicitor-General: My hon. Friend is a fierce defender of her constituents’ rights, and she has come to me with an earlier case. I am grateful to her for saying that I have been helpful—I hope that I can be as helpful on this matter. The calibre of the police investigation is what matters, but it is always open to the police to look again at a case if additional information emerges. In this case, it sounded to me as though she may have additional information in which the police might be interested. As she says, I believe rightly, the case is not going to be prosecuted as things stand, so I urge her to make the appropriate contacts.

Prosecutions (Children)

7. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con): How many prosecutions there have been of children at or above the age of criminal responsibility in each of the last three years? [268321]

The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman asks about the number of people who are prosecuted at around the age of criminal responsibility, and I can tell him only who has been prosecuted in the youth court over the years about which he inquires. The CPS prosecuted just over 118,000 young offenders in 2006, 134,000 in 2007 and 119,000 in 2008—those are approximate numbers, but I can give him the chapter and verse if he wants that.

Mr. Steen: The CPS guidance of 2007 was updated in 2009 to instruct police and the prosecutors to refer to the UK Human Trafficking Centre regarding the identification of trafficked children. However, the guidance is not being consistently implemented, and children found in cannabis factories are being prosecuted and sent to prison—a number of cases are outstanding in the courts. Will the Solicitor-General meet a number of the non-governmental organisations that are concerned about this and wish to discuss the fact that the CPS is not following its own guidelines?

The Solicitor-General: We do meet the third sector; the inter-ministerial group that looks into trafficking on an ongoing basis itself has a stakeholder group, which is comprised of the very people to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring. I am very willing to meet anyone further about the matter, but he must bear in mind the fact that that guidance is in place and is observed. It is by no means the case that all Vietnamese young people—this is who he is talking about—who are found in cannabis factories are trafficked, so there may always be
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decisions taken to prosecute such people because those decisions are compatible with the evidence that these are not trafficked people; indeed, they are not necessarily
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as young as they at first sight appear. Of course I shall meet anyone whom he wishes me to meet, if he is worried about this.


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Business of the House

11.35 am

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the forthcoming business?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): The business for the week commencing 20 April is as follows:

Monday 20 April—A general debate on defence procurement.

Tuesday 21 April—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Bill, followed by: the Chairman of Ways and Means has named opposed private business for consideration.

Wednesday 22 April—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 23 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 24 April—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 April will include:

Monday 27 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Tuesday 28 April—Conclusion of the Budget debate.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 23 and 30 April will be:

Thursday 23 April—A debate on the report from the Foreign Affairs Committee on overseas territories.

Thursday 30 April—A debate on DEFRA’s Darwin initiative.

Alan Duncan: I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. However, I and others are concerned that Government business appears to be in a rather chaotic state. The equality Bill and the child poverty Bill were in the Queen’s Speech, but have not been published. The draft floods and water Bill that was promised has not been published either. We were also promised a statement by now on the heritage protection Bill, because the Government have dropped it, but we have heard nothing. The selection of names to sit on the Autism Bill Committee has not been taken forward. Can the right hon. and learned Lady please explain what on earth is going on in all those areas?

We are pleased that the Chancellor is to give a statement to the House on the G20 this afternoon. We called for that and we are glad that the Government will come to the House before we rise for the recess. Many will conclude that the conduct of some of the demonstrators created a poor image for Britain, so perhaps we might all take the opportunity to appreciate, in contrast, the authority and dignity of Her Majesty the Queen at moments such as this. She is a unique asset for Britain—for which we should be proud and grateful.

May I seek the views of the Leader of the House on motion 23 on today’s Order Paper and ask her to add her name to it so that it can be debated and voted on? We all appreciate that the House should not interfere in the judicial process, but in this case there is confusion and even anger in the House about the ground rules that should govern the applicability of privilege when a Member is so directly involved. It is for the House to address matters of privilege, and we have the Committee
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on Standards and Privileges to advise us. The impression is being given that we have decided not to address the matter, but would rather leave it hanging. That is not the case. It is the right hon. and learned Lady’s refusal to endorse this motion that is preventing us from debating it and referring it to the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Will she now allow this motion to go forward so that the Committee can study the whole issue without her blocking it any longer?

Yesterday, Sir Andrew Foster published a damning review of the catalogue of failure in Ministers’ management of further education colleges. The Secretary of State said yesterday in a written statement that he would give a further statement after the recess. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that this will be an oral statement, and can she further promise another debate on this crisis that the Government have created?

Once again, may I ask for a further debate on Regional Select Committees? The whole set-up is becoming ever more farcical as each week goes by. The North East Committee is in disarray, the South West Committee was barely quorate, and the West Midlands Committee—scheduled to take place in Birmingham, appropriately at the old Custard Factory—was cancelled because members were not prepared to turn up. When will she be prepared to admit that this whole innovation is an embarrassing mistake?

Given the growing anger at Lord Myners’s apparently inaccurate witness to the Select Committee on the Treasury, hon. Members will want to see him questioned further until we get the full truth. May we also have a statement even from the Prime Minister himself about the conduct of and his confidence in that increasingly tarnished Minister?

Furthermore, may we have a statement from the right hon. and learned Lady on her equality Bill? It would appear that Lord Mandelson now wants to block it and is in a somewhat unequal struggle with her, the supposed equalities Minister.

Despite her difficulties with Lord Mandelson, the right hon. and learned Lady has many supporters elsewhere. May I refer her to an article that appeared this week in The Daily Telegraph, which made this claim:

Unfortunately, it was an article that referred to her as a Conservative plant, designed to insinuate her way into the top tiers of the Labour party, “destroying” it “from within”. May I therefore offer her my personal congratulations, and also wish her a very happy Easter? I hope that she can be my Easter bunny and not a hot cross bun.

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked about the child poverty Bill and the equality Bill. Both will be coming forward. Not only I, as Minister for Women and Equality, but the whole Government are committed to fairness and equality. That is why we put the equality Bill in our manifesto. That is why it was in the draft legislative programme and why it will be brought forward— [ Interruption. ] Opposition Members call out, “Who’s against it?” That is very good news; it is great if we can have the support of the whole House for that important measure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the important work of the G20 summit. As he said, there will be a statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer at 5 o’clock. The
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hon. Gentleman also mentioned the demonstrations, and I want to place on record the fact that the overwhelming majority of the demonstrations were peaceful protests, with people exercising their legitimate right to demonstrate in the streets. I pay tribute to the police for their work, which included dealing with the very small minority who sought to disrupt the summit and the peaceful protest.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the motion on the Order Paper on privilege. I do not want to delay the House for too long on that point, but the reason I will not support the motion or bring it to the House is that it is for the police to investigate criminal matters or alleged criminal matters, and it is for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide what evidence it is necessary to bring before the court to secure a conviction, if there is going to be a prosecution. It is for the court to decide what is admissible in evidence. It is not for any Committee of this House to decide what is or is not admissible in evidence. If there is a question of the privilege of the House and the House wants to assert its privilege in court, it can do so via the office of the Attorney-General acting as amicus curiae.

There is a difference of view between the shadow Leader of the House and me on this point. I have sought the Attorney-General’s advice and she confirms my view of the legal situation. I know that the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee has also asked for the Attorney-General’s advice, and on that basis no doubt that advice will be made plain. As Leader of the House, my concern is to ensure that we do not impinge on a criminal investigation, that Members of Parliament are not above the law and that we protect our privilege, but do so appropriately.

The hon. Gentleman asked about further education colleges. I want to thank Sir Andrew Foster for the report that he has helpfully produced. He talks about the excellent programme of capital investment in FE colleges that has transformed more than half the estates of those colleges, with benefits for countless students, staff and entire communities. He says that the programme has helped the skills in our economy and added to our global competitiveness, but concludes that it has been mismanaged. The Government are considering his important and helpful report, and we will be updating the House about it.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) talked about the South West Regional Committee. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) is in his place, and he will attest that there was rigorous examination by—

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): It had only three members!

Ms Harman: There would be more if Opposition Members joined the Committee. There was rigorous questioning of members of the local regional development agency about what they were doing to make sure— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Robathan, you are a senior Whip and therefore you should behave yourself and show a good example. You are not doing that. The Leader of the House has been asked a series of questions and is giving replies.


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Ms Harman: My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud may sit on the Labour Benches but he is a fierce champion of his constituents and the region and there was proper cross-examination of the evidence put forward by the RDA. Opposition Members know that the Regional Select Committees have been set up as part of a pilot programme. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton asks whether they should be scrapped and re-examined, and we have agreed that they should be kept under review. The pilot will last for one Parliament only but the evidence from the sitting of the South West Regional Committee suggests that it is doing a very good job. I urge hon. Members to join the Committees’ work.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Lord Myners. I remind the hon. Gentleman that Lord Myners helped to save that bank when it was falling off the edge of a cliff, in stark contrast to those who had been running it. In addition, Lord Myners takes no pay, which is also in stark contrast to those who had been running that bank. He is doing important work on behalf of the Government.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the membership of the Committee considering the Autism Bill. That private Member’s Bill is on course to have its first sitting on 29 April.

Dr. Kim Howells (Pontypridd) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware of the growing problem of film piracy and intellectual property theft in the entertainment industry, which is one of the country’s most important employers and earners of foreign currency. In 2007, film piracy alone cost the UK film and television industry a staggering £486 million—money that could have been put to better use funding British talent and financing the next “Slumdog Millionaire” or “In Bruges”. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore consider holding a debate on the issue of piracy in the creative industries and its effect on our economy?

Ms Harman: I know that my right hon. Friend has a longstanding commitment to the arts and that he has a fine record as a Minister with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. He knows the importance of the film industry to this country. Perhaps he can bring that to the attention of Ministers on the Monday when the House returns.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I, too, welcome the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to make a statement this afternoon—although, had the House been sitting tomorrow, it would have been better to get a report then from the Prime Minister.

It is likely that one of the clear conclusions of the G20 summit will be that there should be a global crackdown on tax evasion, so can we have a debate in this House on that subject? We should look in particular at the position of the British overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Crown dependencies. We should also look at the position of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and how it treats what it describes as “high-risk corporates”. That term basically means that the bigger and richer a firm is, the less HMRC will chase it for tax, and that cannot be right.

The Home Office gave a solemn undertaking to the High Court that a statement would be made to the House before 24 April about the Gurkhas’ right of
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domicile. We have not yet had that statement. The Budget statement is on 22 April, so will the Leader of the House tell us categorically when the Home Secretary will come to the House to make that statement?

I wholeheartedly welcome the speedy response to the suggestion by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) that the party leaders come together to talk about MPs’ expenses. The suggestion was taken up by the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), and indeed the Prime Minister. Not only do those talks need to take place urgently, but they need urgently to be reported to the House, so that other Members have an opportunity to express a view. I think we all agree that something needs to be done as a matter of urgency—we cannot go on like this. It is unacceptable both for us and for the world outside.

While we are talking about remuneration in the public sector, may we shortly have a debate about what seems to be the rapidly escalating cost of appointments to non-departmental public bodies—the quangos? It seems to me that the amount of money being given to people who serve on those bodies is going completely over the top. The leader of the Infrastructure Planning Commission is the latest: £184,000 a year for a part-time, non-executive job. That is vastly more than the Prime Minister is paid. May we have a debate on that matter?

Last week, I drew attention to the shenanigans in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill Committee, where as a result of an incompetent Whip, feckless Labour Members and a hapless Minister, the Government lost votes, so after business questions the Whips threw all their toys out of the pram and decided that the Committee would sit all night—for 17 hours—and complete the Bill, leaving a day free. That is the politics of the kindergarten; it is not a way of seriously considering legislation, so can the Leader of the House give me an assurance that when the Bill returns to the House on Report we will have enough time for sensible, reasoned consideration of its measures, and that she will not attempt to guillotine it so that we again have rushed legislation that has to be amended in another place?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman asked about tax evasion. No doubt he can raise that with the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon when my right hon. Friend makes his statement on the G20 summit. Tackling offshore tax havens has been very much at the centre of discussion at the G20 today. The Government are working internationally to make sure that we clamp down on tax havens, but we also work every year in the Budget and through the Finance Bill to make sure that we plug tax loopholes. As I announced earlier, there will be a debate on Thursday 23 April on overseas territories, when no doubt such issues could be considered.

I will look into the question of pursuing progress on the response to the Gurkhas that the hon. Gentleman asked for. I will write to him about that, and perhaps when the House returns I will take the opportunity to tell the House if there is something substantive.


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