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Site Landscaping

4. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What recent developments there have been in landscaping the site of the London 2012 Olympics. [298004]

Tessa Jowell: I know that the hon. Lady has a great interest in the matter of landscaping in the Olympic park, which is progressing well. Land is being prepared for planting, including the installation of drainage and extensive irrigation systems. Last week Her Majesty the Queen planted the first of what will be 2,012 trees in the park-a mature willow tree grown in Milton Keynes. In fact, the plants for the park have been sourced from Hampshire, Thetford and Wales. I will shortly announce the result of the great British garden competition run in collaboration with the Royal Horticultural Society.

Miss McIntosh: I am delighted that some nurseries and horticultural companies from the United Kingdom will benefit, but can the Minister say for what reason companies such as Johnsons of Whixley in the north of England, which can source excellent plants for a showcase for the landscaping of the games, have not been chosen? Will she assure me that such companies are just as eligible for the competition as others in the UK?

Tessa Jowell: Obviously, I cannot specifically comment on that business, which I believe is local to the hon. Lady's constituency, but all such contracts will be advertised on the CompeteFor website. We are very fortunate with the very wide range of horticultural suppliers, and I urge all horticulturalists in her constituency to bid again.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): What assessment has the Minister made of the role that volunteers could play in the landscaping of the site? She will be aware that 250,000 people have already volunteered. Will she ensure that they are brought into use as soon as possible-indeed, given those volunteering opportunities immediately?

Tessa Jowell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is a tremendous enthusiasm for people giving their time as part of the Olympics, not only in London but around the country. We want to ensure that that energy and that will to give time, motivated by the Olympics, is fully utilised in a variety of ways, and we will make announcements about that at the beginning of next year. On his point about involving volunteers in the park, some 20 primary schools-the construction crew-take part in such activities. I know that the organising committee and the delivery authority will want to maximise that.

Educational Materials

5. Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): What discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on the development of educational materials based on the London 2012 Olympics. [298005]

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Tessa Jowell: The opportunities for children in schools are enormous. We have already announced the Get Set programme, which is in 12,000 schools. It involves young people in Olympic-related projects, which are a reflection of Olympic and Paralympic values. I encourage hon. Members to encourage their local schools to become involved in the programme if they have not already done so.

Nia Griffith: Does the Minister agree that, in addition to the economic benefits that can come to Wales and other parts of the UK through hosting Olympic teams, we should do everything that we can to encourage community groups and schools to take advantage of all the possible cultural exchange and understanding that can take place?

Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I know that she regularly raises this point on behalf of her constituents. There are benefits to be gained for the whole country. She rightly refers to the cultural Olympiad and I am sure that her constituents will have noticed that the steel for the aquatic centre was rolled in Neath. The whole country is supplying materials for the Olympic park, and that can be an inspiration for communities and constituencies such as hers.


7. Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): When she next expects to meet the London Organising Committee for the Olympic games to discuss the budget for the London 2012 Olympics. [298007]

Tessa Jowell: I meet the chairman and chief executive of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games on a regular basis. We discuss a range of issues, including its budget for staging the games, and the Government's budget for construction, security and wider delivery.

Mr. Bellingham: Can the Minister confirm that the LOCOG budget will be met 100 per cent. by the private sector, and that there will be no recourse to funding from taxpayers' funds?

Tessa Jowell: The organising committee is confident that its budget is secure. There are obviously aspects of staging the games that rightly fall to the public sector and some are shared responsibilities, including some aspects of security and other areas that we are working through with the organising committee at the moment. There is general confidence in the excellent success that it has had in raising money.

Sex Industry

8. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Whether she has commissioned any research on the effect of increased visitor numbers for the London 2012 Olympics on demand for the sex industry; and if she will make a statement. [298008]

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Tessa Jowell: My hon. Friend has a great record in championing tough action against the exploitation- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the Minister. I do not know how detectable it is elsewhere, but within the Chamber there are far too many private conversations taking place- [ Interruption. ] Order. I need no help from the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey). To put it bluntly, it is straightforward bad manners for people to witter away from a sedentary position when a question is being asked or answered.

Tessa Jowell: Major sporting events in the past have seen increases in sex trafficking and the exploitation of young men and women. We are absolutely determined to take every pre-emptive action that we can, with the Metropolitan police and with established voluntary organisations, to ensure that the London 2012 Olympics do not become a target for that vile trade and are not tainted as a result.

Fiona Mactaggart: The Minister will be aware that last week the House of Lords concurred with this House that if a man seeks to pay for sex with a woman who is trafficked or bullied into prostituting herself, he is thereby committing an offence. Will my right hon. Friend convene a meeting with the Mayor of London and others involved in the Olympics to consider how they can publicise that new offence in advance of the Olympics, so that people are not inadvertently caught because there is sex trafficking associated with it?

Tessa Jowell: I am very happy to accept my hon. Friend's suggestion of convening a meeting of all interested parties, to ensure both that we take effective action to deal with that potential problem and that men and women-young men may be open to exploitation as well as young women-are aware of their rights. The other important thing is to ensure that a clear message goes out to the traffickers that there is no point in coming to London.

Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes) (Con) rose-

Mr. Speaker: If it is to be brief.

Mr. Steen: As always, Mr. Speaker.

The Minister says that she will work with the Met, yet the Met is planning to disband the Human Trafficking Centre in London. Bearing in mind that the traffickers see the Olympics as a honeypot, how can she tolerate that?

Tessa Jowell: The hon. Gentleman has a strong record in this area, and I would be happy to talk with him further about the issue. There is already a dedicated group in the Met working with the five boroughs, but I want the House to be under no misapprehension about how seriously the threat is taken. It is planning, well in advance of the games, that will ensure that it does not materialise.

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FOI Request (Immigration)

3.32 pm

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con) (Urgent Question): To ask the Minister for Borders and Immigration if he will make a statement on the Freedom of Information Act investigation into the withholding of immigration documents.

The Minister for Borders and Immigration (Mr. Phil Woolas): This relates to a policy to clear a backlog of general immigration cases between 2002 and 2004. The incidents in question happened more than five years ago and were the subject of a full inquiry by Ken Sutton at the time, in 2004. The Home Office accepted that report in full and implemented all the recommendations made. The report can be read on the website and has been there since 2004.

A request for information from a Mr. Steve Moxon was received in January 2005. We have followed the processes as set out in the Freedom of Information Act. Some information was released when first requested. As the Act allows, some information was initially withheld on the basis of an exemption under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The exemptions used were sections 36(2)(b)(i) and (ii), which relate to prejudice to the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views. Those are qualified exemptions, subject to a public interest test, which means that they can be applied only where the public interest in disclosure is outweighed by that against. The decision was appealed by the individual under the process laid out in the Act. After consideration of that appeal, we upheld our decision.

In line with the procedures set out in legislation, the appellant exercised his right to appeal to the Information Commissioner. In March 2009, the Information Commissioner ruled that further information should be disclosed. We then released that information in April 2009.

Chris Grayling: This morning the Home Secretary used the front page of a national newspaper to say that he wanted to start a national debate about immigration. It is a shame that he is not here to start that debate this afternoon.

More and more evidence is now emerging to suggest that the Government broke freedom of information laws and tried to cover up a deliberate change of policy designed to encourage much higher immigration, very probably for party political purposes.

Two weeks ago, a former Home Office adviser, Andrew Neather, was widely reported as saying that Ministers had covered up a secret plan to allow in more immigrants and to make Britain more multicultural. When I put those allegations to the Minister, he said, quite extraordinarily, that he had not and that he did

-[ Official Report, House of Commons, 26 October 2009; Vol. 498, c. 7.]

Let us hope that he can do better today.

First, there was what was originally a secret plan. Will the Minister confirm that what he was talking about back in 2002 was a relaxation of the rules for
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clearing immigration applicants so that those who had been waiting more than 12 months would be granted clearance to stay without any further investigation into their cases? Will he also confirm that the head of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate said in an e-mail to the then Minister that that involved

and that the policy meant that

Will he also confirm that Ministers were aware of that policy change and that they accepted that it involved taking risks with immigration applications?

Then there was the cover-up. Will the Minister confirm that the Home Office tried to withhold documents outlining that policy change from the Information Commissioner? I have copies of those documents, and they are clearly marked "withhold" at the top. Will he also confirm that the Information Commissioner found the Home Office guilty of breaking the law, and ordered the documents marked "withhold" to be released? Will he tell the House why Ministers broke the laws that this Government had passed?

The Home Secretary says that he wants a rational debate on immigration, but why on earth does he think anyone will take him seriously in that debate when it is now clear that this Government have set out deliberately to deceive the British people, and have proved utterly incapable of telling them the truth about their policies on immigration.

Mr. Woolas: Mr. Speaker, I seek your guidance on the hon. Gentleman's accusation that Ministers deliberately deceived the British public.

Mr. Speaker: My understanding is that no personal charge against an individual Minister has been levelled- [ Interruption. ] Order. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is absolutely entitled to seek a ruling on the matter. The infraction occurs if a Member accuses another Member of misleading the House or of dishonesty to the House. I was listening intently, and I have quite big ears, but I did not hear that.

Mr. Woolas: I am very grateful, Mr. Speaker, for your confirmation that that was not the accusation by the Opposition spokesman, who has just, in this House, accused Ministers of breaking the law.

Perhaps I could address what is clearly the hon. Gentleman's latest political gimmick. He seems to ascribe to Ministers a motive that he had when he made his rather embarrassing gaffe at the Conservative party conference. He has brought before the House this afternoon- [ Interruption. ] These are serious accusations.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) has relatively recently toddled into the Chamber- [ Interruption. ]

Richard Ottaway (Croydon, South) (Con) rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman came in earlier, so be it-I am happy to concede the point-but I am concerned with the issue of substance. I do not
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want sedentary chuntering of the kind in which he regularly indulges. I do not want to hear that.

Mr. Woolas: Let me explain the background to the House. As I said in my answer to the urgent question, the policy issues were dealt with thoroughly and comprehensively by the Sutton inquiry, and are not the subject of the question tabled today. That rather reveals the motive for asking the question. The hon. Gentleman referred to Mr. Neather, the Evening Standard correspondent, who wrote in that paper on 26 October:

That is what Mr. Neather, whom the hon. Gentleman prays in aid, said.

On the freedom of information request, the serious allegation was that we broke the law. In fact, the instruction from the Information Commissioner was issued on 5 March 2009, and on 9 April, in line with that ruling, we disclosed the information-to little or no comment at the time, if I may say so. That again calls into question the hon. Gentleman's motive in asking this question.

The plain fact about the policy issue in 2004, which was the subject of debate at the time, is that the then Minister acted entirely honourably. I do not know whether she is in her place now, but hon. Members will recall that my right hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes) acted entirely honourably and took full responsibility for what happened at the time. The backlog legacy programme that was put in place was designed to deal with a backlog that had accumulated not only under this Government; as I said in the House last week, it went back to Willie Whitelaw's time. Once again, we are having to clear this matter up.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): We will sustain public consensus behind the value of legal immigration only if controls are effective and illegal immigration is firmly countered. That has clearly not been the case. First, there is clear evidence that immigration policy was to grant applications rather than to refuse them, and to give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant-a policy that was never made public or debated in the House. Secondly, throughout this period, the Government did nothing to reinstate the exit checks that the Conservative Administration had begun to abolish. As a result, we have not been able to check whether nearly 2 million people a year who have been issued with short-term visas have left again. That is just as large a relaxation of policy as the decision to lean towards approvals. Given that just 60 per cent. of those leaving this country this year can be identified, will the Minister make an urgent commitment to introducing manual exit checks until the e-borders scheme is complete? Will he also estimate how many short-term visa holders have definitely left the country, and how many have overstayed? Will he commit to managing immigration properly, so that public confidence can be restored?

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