Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind):
Would it be possible for the Leader of the House to provide for a debate on recognising the achievements of military men and women and on the support that they can expect on leaving Her Majesty's armed forces? Such a debate would allow me to mention Michael Lyons of the New Addington Royal British Legion, who has campaigned for repairing school memorials, and for seeking out and securing the repair of the gravestones of servicemen who won the Victoria cross. I would also
like to emphasise the great flexibility of Mayday hospital and the NHS in working to provide a centre for returning soldiers suffering from combat stress.
Ms Harman: Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle), the hon. Gentleman strongly supports his local Royal British Legion, and I commend the work that he has told the House about and which Mr. Lyons is doing in his constituency. Obviously, those in the armed forces regard their work as very rewarding, but we all recognise that it requires selfless duty and places many restrictions on the lives not only of our service personnel, which they willingly accept, but of their families. As he will know, the Ministry of Defence has produced a Command Paper setting out our commitment to our armed forces, their families and veterans. That is a cross-Government initiative. Furthermore, he mentioned stress and mental health issues. There are six ongoing mental health pilots within the NHS and throughout the country, and they will continue and be evaluated.
Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): We understand that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government intends to make an announcement just before the half-term recess about his decision on which unitary authorities can be established in Norfolk, Suffolk and Devon. May I urge upon the Leader of the House that a written statement at that stage is totally unacceptable? The Secretary of State should come to the House and explain it in an oral statement. Colleagues on both sides of the House feel strongly about the matter, and as she is probably aware, there has been a series of judicial challenges to the decisions made so far.
Ms Harman: Obviously accountability on such issues is very important, whether through written or oral statements. I shall undertake the hon. Gentleman's request to discuss the matter with the Secretary of State and make absolutely sure that the right level of accountability will operate.
Mr. Rob Wilson (Reading, East) (Con): Given that the right hon. and learned Lady clearly believes in its continued importance and relevance in today's world, may we have a debate in Government time on papal infallibility?
Ms Harman: That is not a matter for the House. What are matters for the House are public policy and legislative scrutiny, and what is a matter for the Government is to ensure that, although we respect the fact that some areas of religion must be subject to the control and decisions of those religions, for the rest, religious organisations, like everyone else, obey the law.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): If the Prime Minister is advocating a referendum on changing the voting system to the House, why is he going to restrict the public to two narrow choices? Why not put all options on the table, including the single transferable vote, and let the people decide? May we have a full debate?
Mr. Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater) (Con): The Leader of the House was very helpful a few weeks ago when I asked about Indians having temporary work permits to work in the Avon and Somerset police authority. She sensibly suggested that I ask parliamentary questions, which I did, but I was told that the information would be too expensive to get. On the back of the security implications of people's data being seen by foreign nationals, may we have Government time to discuss what is an important issue not just in Avon and Somerset, but-I am told-across the United Kingdom?
Ms Harman: I will follow up the hon. Gentleman's point. What is presumably being said is that providing the answer to the questions would incur disproportionate cost, but there is also an issue about the proportionate importance of these matters, so I will look at the questions and see whether we can assist him in getting them answered.
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer a named day question about net contributions to the EU over the past three years. I got a holding answer, and I then got a rather bizarre answer addressed to the right hon. Member for Wellingborough. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] More importantly, it did not answer my question; it simply referred to a footnote in a table, so nobody could actually see the answer. Will the Deputy Prime Minister, who does not do devious, summon the Chancellor to her office, discipline him, and report back next week that she has done so?
Ms Harman: Sometimes, the Treasury has to do complicated, and I think that that might be what has happened in this case. However, I think that referring hon. Members to footnotes that refer to other footnotes, which refer to tables in documents that are not readily to hand, is not the way to provide full and open accountability. I know that the Treasury wants to be fully and openly accountable about this country's contributions to Europe, against the background that working with Europe is important in regard not only to security and climate change but to the economy. I will therefore ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a full answer.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
May I be straightforward and understandable? May we have a debate on the Floor of the House in Government time on the loss of national identity? In the week in which
the Townswomen's Guild published the results of a survey of its 34,000 members which showed that over 95 per cent. were concerned that Britain was losing its national identity as a result of the scale of mass immigration that the country is currently having to put up with, it is important that politicians in this place should be seen to be discussing the issue.
Ms Harman: Indeed. Those same points were made against the background of Irish immigration. They were also made in respect of Jewish immigration, and of those immigrants who came here from the Caribbean, particularly to work on London transport and in our health services. This country has great traditions from those who have been here for generations, and it has become great on the back of the work of many successive waves of immigrants over the centuries and in the past decades. It is important to ensure that we recognise the contributions of immigrants, and that we have a fair society in which everyone feels that they get a fair crack of the whip.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I want to take the Leader of the House back to the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) about terrorist asset freezing. Given that the Government had ample warning of the potential loophole in the law but took no steps to plug it, and given the amount of time that will have elapsed before it is eventually plugged, how much money belonging to terrorists or terrorist organisations does she think will be left in the country to be captured by the retrospective legislation that she is introducing next week?
Ms Harman: Obviously, work was under way in the Treasury to ensure that contingency plans would be in place to bring forward arrangements, should the Court not allow a stay of execution of its judgment. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it would have been odd for the Government to introduce legislative provisions to deal with a situation that had not yet been decided on in the Supreme Court. Planning and preparation have been under way, and now that the Court has made its decision, which it did yesterday, we have told the House how we are going to deal with this matter. We are going to publish to the House the specific provisions; we are going to publish the Bill tomorrow, and on Monday it will complete all its stages in this House. It will be clear that it will be retrospective. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is none.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In business questions, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) raised the scandal of the 12,000 disabled students who are waiting for grants. Those students have been failed by the Student Loans Company. That story raises the issue of accountability to the House. That information was gathered by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) by way of a freedom of information request to the Student Loans Company. The same requests were made through a number of parliamentary questions that I tabled to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in December. Unfortunately, those questions remain unanswered. This morning, my office spoke to the office of the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. McFadden). Following that, and my giving notice that I was going to raise this point of order, I have now been told that those questions will be answered today. Is it not outrageous that, while answers can be obtained as a result of freedom of information requests, parliamentary questions on the same topic can remain unanswered for nearly two months? What can be done to ensure that this gross discourtesy to the House does not recur?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The hon. Gentleman has placed his remarks on record, and they will clearly be read by those concerned. The Speaker and the other occupants of the Chair have a responsibility for what happens in Parliament, and Ministers' responses. The hon. Gentleman's comments will have been noted.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Crime and Security Bill, it is expedient to authorise-
(1) the imposition of charges in respect of the cost of adjudications of appeals relating to vehicle immobilisation and release; and
(2) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.- (Mr. Timms.)
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Claire Ward): Hon. Members will recall that the House agreed a money resolution in respect of the Crime and Security Bill after its Second Reading on 18 January. Since then, the Government have tabled amendments to the Bill to establish a compensation scheme for victims of overseas terrorism, and to provide for a scheme to be set up so that motorists can appeal to an independent tribunal or adjudicator in respect of release charges when their vehicle has been clamped. Both these matters need to be covered by a Ways and Means resolution before the amendments can be considered in the Public Bill Committee. I commend the resolution to the House.
Andrew Rosindell (Romford) (Con): I am most grateful to the Minister for outlining the purpose of today's brief Ways and Means debate on the Crime and Security Bill. Certain financial implications will flow from some of the necessary measures in the Bill, however, and I am concerned that the Government appear not to have thought through the process involved from day one.
Andrew Rosindell: Yes, that was rather surprising, and I hope that she will come back at the end of the debate and address the whole range of questions to which the public need an answer. The provisions have major positive implications for those whose vehicles are clamped by cowboy clampers, but they also have financial implications for Government expenditure, as well as raising questions about any legal fees that might flow from them and about what the public might have to pay. There is also a possibility of local authorities having to spend money in this respect. These issues really need explanation, and I am surprised that the Minister has brushed them all aside and failed to address them at the start of this important discussion.
Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): This is a well-meaning law that will, without question, benefit people. I want to see an end to these cowboy clampers charging exorbitant amounts to people who, in many cases, have not parked illegally. Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the correct funding must be given to local government, rather than expecting it to come from its existing budgets? Otherwise, the pressures on local government would just be too much to bear.
My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. Having served on a local authority myself, I know how easy it is for Governments to bring in new laws and regulations that impose financial obligations
on local government without considering their impact on local government costs or any increase in council tax that might result. I hope that the Minister will explain herself at the end of this debate so that we can all understand the issue and explain to our local councillors and our constituents how this will be implemented, particularly the cost implications, along with the practicalities.
Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): I share my colleague's concern at the paucity of the Minister's comments. This is an important issue. In talking about charges, it is obviously important to explain what sort of charges will be involved. Will it cover full legal costs; will there be a scale rate; will there be fixed costs, and so on? I have to say that the paucity of comments from the Minister is somewhat breathtaking.
Andrew Rosindell: My hon. Friend emphasises the point. I have no doubt that when I have concluded my remarks-I have many points to make-the Minister will take the opportunity to explain herself and explain the Government's rather haphazard way of dealing with this matter, so that we can decide whether it is appropriate for the House to approve this motion today.
Of course, Her Majesty's Opposition welcome the provisions in the Crime and Security Bill to license businesses that engage in vehicle immobilisation. This change to the law is, I believe, long overdue, and I have no doubt that this will come as good news to motorists up and down the land, who are heartily fed up with being stung by cowboy clampers who charge exorbitant sums of money to all our constituents when they unwittingly park on private land, not realising the extent to which they could be fined. This, of course, has financial implications for the Government, for local authorities and, most importantly, for the constituents we are elected to represent. The Minister will need to answer these points.
I am sure that hon. Members from all parties will recall many examples of situations like this in their own constituencies. I certainly do. I have been contacted many times by constituents who have been clamped and fined huge sums of money. Their vehicles are immobilised and this can lead-
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The hon. Member may be straying rather wide of the motion, which is quite a narrow one. Will he now confine his remarks to the motion currently before the House?
Andrew Rosindell: I will certainly endeavour to do so, but the points I am making have implications for the costs at local level. Until I can explain my arguments to the Minister, it is hard to see how she will be able to respond in a meaningful way.
Madam Deputy Speaker: Let me remind the hon. Member of the purpose of the motion. I am sure that he is aware of it. We understand the background, so he should concentrate his remarks on the motion set out on the Order Paper.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The motion on the Order Paper seeks to authorise "the imposition of charges", and I would like to focus on the
word "imposition". Why has the Minister not explained how these charges are to be imposed? Who will administer this measure? Will the Government make adequate provision to ensure that it is done in a practical and meaningful way that will work? I would be most grateful if the Minister would outline the cost implications in greater detail. What overall costs for the appeals process are envisaged? What assessment have the Government made of how many people are likely to use this service? How much would each appeal cost on average? These are important questions that simply must be answered.
Mr. Vara: I think it is important to establish at this early stage whether the Minister intends to come back to the House and answer some of the very important questions that have been raised. The word "charges" is very broad and very vague, so I wonder whether my hon. Friend will be able to tempt the Minister to come back and give an assurance that she will make a substantive response as to what sort of charges are proposed.
Andrew Rosindell: I think my hon. Friend makes a valid point. I hope that the Minister has got the message at this stage-that those present in the House today feel that more detail should be given. How can we, as the House of Commons, make a judgment when so little information has been provided? I understand that the basis of the motion is financial, but to assess whether any financial motion should be approved, we need to understand how it will work in practice. The Minister will take the opportunity, I hope, to answer these questions and allay the concerns that many of our constituents may have.
May I also ask the Minister how much will be paid into the Consolidated Fund? How does she expect to recoup any of these costs? This involves taxpayers' money, so we need to know the answer to that question. Who, indeed, would pay the legal fees of those clamped but found innocent? Where would the money to deal with all of this come from?
Mr. Vara: Does my hon. Friend agree that it is very important to have clarification of the payment of fees? Will the charges apply to the separate parties or will they also include payment of the adjudicator and the adjudication process, which will have incurred some costs? Is this to be a system under which costs will be paid between the parties alone and what will the rates be? For example, if legal advice is provided, will all the attendant costs be covered or will there be a scale-based rate? It is highly important to clarify whether or not adjudication fees will be paid. Again, will they be paid at the proper cost rate or will there be fixed charges and a scale rate?
Andrew Rosindell: Once again, my hon. Friend makes extremely valid points about how this whole system will work, what charges will be imposed, who will pay the bills for the adjudicators and the legal costs when things go wrong and how the system will operate in practice. We are being asked to approve the financial implementation without being given the full details of how the whole system will work in practice.