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9.41 pm

Tristram Hunt: I am grateful that we have been allowed to discuss the Bill. Today's debate has been awash with the abuse of peers at the other end of the Palace who have simply being doing their job of scrutinising Government legislation. We should not omit the vital role of the newly ennobled Lord Fellowes in that act of scrutiny, whose contribution was, we are told, to give an hour-long talk in an upstairs room entitled "A life on stage and screen". Such are the indignities of packing the second Chamber.

18 Jan 2011 : Column 802

I wish to focus on the length of the fixed-term Parliament. We have seen, in the actions of the Government in relation to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, that what drives them is not the good of the nation but the good of the coalition-or the Tory-led Government, as we like to call them. They are always at pains to ensure the that yin and yang of the coalition are in perfect harmony, so, rather than giving people the chance to put away the notion of the alternative vote on 5 May, they are demanding to keep the two parts of the Bill together to keep the coalition happy. And so it is with this Bill. It proposes a Parliament of five years, not four years, because that is what the coalition, not the nation, needs.

Professor Robert Blackburn, of King's college, London, put it well when he said:

Sir Alan Beith: I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's argument. If the coalition's motive had simply been to postpone an election for five years in order to have more time to sort the country out, that could have been achieved by prime ministerial decision. What the Bill does is to ensure that the next Government, and the one after that and the one after that, will be subject to these provisions. Perhaps, some day, the hon. Gentleman's party will recover enough to form such a Government.

Tristram Hunt: Coalition Members really do not understand the difference between the norm and the maximum. We have had this problem with them over many weeks now. The issue is whether we want to move from the norm to the maximum. Across the academic and political communities, we can see-if we look at the work of Robert Hazell, for example-that four years are preferred to five. The view of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee-on which I am happy to serve with the hon. Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire (Simon Hart)-was that most opinion suggests that it would be better for general elections to be held every four years, rather than every five.

Simon Hart: The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that fixing the term at five years automatically favours the Government of the day, whereas it can of course have the opposite effect. Does he agree with me, as did some of the witnesses who appeared before our Committee, that by tying themselves into a five-year fixed term, the Government might find that the election coincides with a rather dismal period in the opinion polls, giving great advantage to the Opposition? I thought that that evidence was given to the Select Committee-

Mr Speaker: Order. We are grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but his intervention is getting rather long.

Tristram Hunt: I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but the benefits of a fixed-term schedule outweigh those potential risks. I regard four years as within the rhythm of this country, as it is within the rhythm of other European as well as Westminster-style democracies-
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Canada, Denmark, the American presidential term, Germany, Sweden. The change to five years is for the good of the coalition, not the nation.

The Deputy Prime Minister referred to and quoted the Chartists again in today's Question Time, but the Chartists believed in annual Parliaments, not in extending the term to five years. As we have heard, the Liberal Democrats used to believe in four-year terms-before the allure of office moved them to change their minds. May I suggest that the coalition listen to a real coalition leader, the late Herbert Asquith? On introducing his own cut to the parliamentary term, he spoke of securing a House of Commons that is

That seems to be the perfect combination. I will move on quickly, as others wish to speak.

I do not feel that the Government have dealt with the problem of exclusive cognisance very effectively, so it still poses the danger of judicial interference. This Bill fits all too neatly into the Government's overarching constitutional reform strategy: coalition first, country second. Whether it be packing the House of Lords, increasing the number of Ministers by 10%, undermining the Union by slashing 25% of constituencies in Wales, or overriding historic or geographic settlements in new parliamentary boundaries, it is Clegg and Cameron first, country second. That is the abiding weakness of coalition Government. The tragedy is that if this Bill is passed, we will have five years of it.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Speaker: Order. There are fewer than 14 minutes to go and four Members are seeking to catch my eye. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves, so some regard for each other's interests would be appreciated.

9.47 pm

Simon Hart: I start by thanking the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) for early warning of his visit to my constituency next week. I extend the invitation to him; if he does not find the speech to the Labour group in Tenby going as well as he would like, he is always very welcome in my house, as he well knows.

Ministers are well aware that of all the constitutional measures going through Parliament, I find this one to be undoubtedly the most attractive. I have to say that I have found it ever more attractive as the debates have played out. One reason is that Wales provides a living example of fixed-term Parliaments. If my voters and electors are anything to go by, there is a very relaxed attitude towards whether it will be four or five years before they are asked to go to the polls.

There seems to be an increasing amount of synthetic frustration being expressed-not by all Members, but by some Opposition Members-about the potential economic, social, cultural and constitutional damage that can be done by this measure. If the experience of Wales is anything to go by, that is a very long way from the truth. The public are completely relaxed about whether they are required to follow the pattern adopted by the Welsh Assembly or the proposal before us tonight.

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I referred in an earlier intervention-on the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), if my memory serves me right-to witnesses appearing before the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee. Although there was a general tendency for those witnesses to err in favour of a four-year fixed term, there was certainly no significant alarm bell sounded about a five-year fixed term. Simply citing a number of other examples across Europe and the rest of the world in an attempt to suggest that this would have devastating effects in the UK simply does not wash. There are plenty of examples in the UK-Wales is one of them-to confirm that.

The argument I have heard repeated over and over again by the shadow Minister and others is that this measure will result in us having the longest fixed-term Parliament ever, to which I say, "So what?" If the public and my electors, in common with electors further afield in Wales and elsewhere, are as content as they seem to be, so what? If it results in settled and sound government, we should have nothing to fear from it.

Let me end my brief speech by saying that we have heard no evidence, either in the Select Committee or during today's debate, to suggest that a five-year fixed term would pose any constitutional, economic, social or any other dangers that need trouble the House or, much more importantly, the voters who put us here.

9.50 pm

Austin Mitchell: It was interesting to hear the Deputy Prime Minister present as a great constitutional innovation what is in fact a sordid little Bill, which is intended to keep the coalition clinging together for five years in the hope that that will be long enough for the Liberal Democrats to extract some concessions from the Conservatives as a reward for joining the coalition.

Sadly, this brings to mind an image from the Brazil floods that many of us saw on television last week. A poor lady was on the roof of her house clutching a dog-the poor lady representing the Conservative party, and the dog representing the Liberal Democrats. The lady was being winched up by a helicopter, while the dog was being washed away. That is the end of the story. The woman was saved, as the Conservative party will be by this measure, but the Liberal Democrat dog was washed away into the waters.

The Opposition have tried to amend and improve the Bill. We have tried to remove some of its faults. In particular, we have tried to reduce the term involved, or rather to prevent a five-year term from becoming the norm-for although the Deputy Prime Minister has described five years as the norm, it is not; it is the exception.

It has been said that this is a genius of a Bill because it prevents Prime Ministers from manipulating the economy, or manipulating politics, in order to be returned to office. That happened in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when Prime Ministers could manipulate the economy. Now the economy manipulates Prime Ministers. When we examine the record of past Prime Ministers, it is interesting to note how many of them made timing mistakes that lost them elections. Let me list them. Wilson in 1970: mistaken timing. Heath in 1974: mistaken timing. It was either three weeks too late or three months too early. Callaghan in 1979: mistaken timing.
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He should have gone for it in 1978. Then there was one called Brown who should have gone for it in 2007, but, as was mentioned earlier, he made the mistake of outstaying his welcome.

That is what the coalition will do by extending the length of this Parliament. The fact is that the people want us to be kept us a shorter leash, and shorter Parliaments provide the most effective way of ensuring that that happens. They ensure that we remain accountable, that we present ourselves to the electorate, and that we are open to re-election. I think that a three-year Parliament, like that adopted by Australia and New Zealand, would be far more sensible, and would accord more with the public mood. [Interruption.] Forget 1984; I have already.

Let me end-because I want to be brief-by saying that the Bill is an attempt to keep the coalition in power through manipulation. I think that the coalition will find in five years that by trying to stay in power and by manipulating the electoral system through the loss of 50 Members-which the Deputy Prime Minister presumably thinks will weaken the Executive-it has outstayed its welcome. That is certainly what happened to us-and indeed, the coalition has outstayed its welcome already.

9.53 pm

Andrew Percy: I do not intend to detain the House too long. My hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) made many of the points that I would otherwise have made. He also launched a bid for the leadership of the Conservative party. I do not intend to emulate him in that regard; indeed, I do not think that I would be able to secure the necessary nominations.

I voted against the Bill on Second Reading, but I have absolutely no problems with the coalition. In fact, I have a great deal of regard for my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister. I have always respected him as a politician, although during the leadership debates my emotions were a bit more up and down in terms of his performance. I do not suggest for a moment that the aim of the Bill is to prop up the coalition. However, I think that the decision to adopt fixed five-year terms is wrong.

As I said in Committee, I think that one of our biggest problems following the expenses scandal and all that surrounded it is a disengagement with politics. I believe that a four-year term is more natural. It is the term to which we expect local councillors to adhere, as well as representatives in the devolved Parliament and Assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I fail to understand why the arguments as to why a councillor or MSP should serve for four years do not also apply to a Member of Parliament. Indeed, I am actually quite keen to get back to my electorate. When politicians have a five-year term, there is a temptation for them to take their foot off the pedal in respect of the work they do in their constituency. I hope not to do that; I hope still to be working as hard in two years' time as now. A four-year cycle is, however, a more natural political term, and I am very enthusiastic about engaging with my electorate as often as possible-so long as they make the right choice.

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I also have a slight concern about the mechanism in the Bill for how an election is called. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne that hundreds of years of parliamentary history suggest that we have not in the past had a particular problem with that, so I do not understand why we are putting this convoluted system in place. Frankly however, it is not an issue that taxes many of my constituents. Their concern is that they get an election when the time is right.

I think everybody accepts that most of the terms that have run to five years have not, by any stretch of the imagination, been in the best interests of the country. I would not want us to end up with long Parliaments, with the public becoming increasingly disengaged and angry as we head towards a general election.

If we move to the alternative vote we could end up with a strange system. Candidates who have come second in their constituency but who still manage to get elected might represent a third party, and they might then determine whether we had a general election even though they had come second. Whichever party they might represent, I do not think allowing a party to switch sides midway through a Parliament and change the Government without going back to the people is at all desirable.

I will not detain the House any longer, as I know that one more Member wishes to speak. I opposed the Bill on Second Reading, and I will not support it if there is a Division on Third Reading, because I genuinely believe a four-year term is far more appropriate than five years.

9.57 pm

Mark Durkan: Those of us who have been through all the stages of this Bill, including the Committee stage and the Report stage tonight, were delighted to see the Deputy Prime Minister join us. The same thing happened during proceedings on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill; the Deputy Prime Minister came in like Janet Webb at the end, pushing out the two comedians who had run the show, to make the valedictory statements.

Many of us have no issue with the principle of a fixed-term Parliament. We support that, but we do have serious questions about details of the Bill, and how it interacts with the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. That other Bill is the real reason why the parliamentary term is being set at five years: that Bill fixes that the boundaries will be fixed every five years for each Parliament, which is what has necessitated the five-year fixed term in this Bill-it is because of that fix, and there is no point anybody denying that.

The Deputy Prime Minister and the Government have brought this Bill about in a way that has shown a complete disregard for the interests of the devolved institutions, as they also did with that other Bill. That reckless disregard almost has the air of a joyrider about it. The Deputy Prime Minister needs to recognise that the day will come when he will regret the premature miscalculation that has been involved in both these Bills. They will not hold the coalition together. As we have seen in the experience of Irish coalition politics on so many occasions, there comes a point in the life of a coalition when people look to get out of it.

The Deputy Leader of the House said earlier that this Bill will prevent any snap election in future. It will do no such thing. The device for a motion of no
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confidence is not unusable. It is not the case that nobody is ever going to use it; it will be used. Many of us have been through the experience in politics where the unthinkable has happened, because that is the device people had available to them. I have been belonged to a system where a resignation that took place was then deemed not to have taken place at all. I have been present when judgments that were meant to be made by a Secretary of State, under the law, to select a date were then completely undone. I have served with people who, on being elected to office, immediately had letters of resignation in their pockets, simply because that was the device that could be used. People will do the absurd. In politics, as in so many other things, when the imperative comes for divorce, divorce will take place. People will not say, "We are not going for it because we will have to go through temporary embarrassment or we will take some of the blame." That is what people will do, and the Liberal Democrats will find themselves caught in that situation, with the Tories and Labour happily ending this Parliament prematurely.

10 pm

Debate interrupted (Programme Order, 13 September).

The Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided: Ayes 320, Noes 234.
Division No. 175]
[10 pm


Adams, Nigel
Afriyie, Adam
Aldous, Peter
Alexander, rh Danny
Andrew, Stuart
Bacon, Mr Richard
Bagshawe, Ms Louise
Baker, Norman
Baker, Steve
Baldry, Tony
Baldwin, Harriett
Barclay, Stephen
Baron, Mr John
Barwell, Gavin
Bebb, Guto
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr Henry
Benyon, Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Berry, Jake
Bingham, Andrew
Birtwistle, Gordon
Blackman, Bob
Blackwood, Nicola
Blunt, Mr Crispin
Boles, Nick
Bone, Mr Peter
Bottomley, Sir Peter
Bradley, Karen
Brake, Tom
Bray, Angie
Brazier, Mr Julian
Bridgen, Andrew
Brine, Mr Steve
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Bruce, Fiona
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Buckland, Mr Robert
Burley, Mr Aidan
Burns, Mr Simon
Burrowes, Mr David
Burstow, Paul
Burt, Lorely
Byles, Dan
Cairns, Alun
Campbell, Mr Gregory
Carmichael, Neil
Carswell, Mr Douglas
Chishti, Rehman
Clappison, Mr James
Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth
Clegg, rh Mr Nick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Coffey, Dr Thérèse
Collins, Damian
Colvile, Oliver
Cox, Mr Geoffrey
Crabb, Stephen
Crockart, Mike
Crouch, Tracey
Davies, David T. C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Glyn
Davis, rh Mr David
de Bois, Nick
Dinenage, Caroline
Djanogly, Mr Jonathan
Dodds, rh Mr Nigel
Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen
Doyle-Price, Jackie
Duncan, rh Mr Alan
Dunne, Mr Philip
Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane
Elphicke, Charlie
Eustice, George
Evans, Graham
Evans, Jonathan
Evennett, Mr David
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Farron, Tim
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr Mark
Foster, rh Mr Don
Francois, rh Mr Mark
Freeman, George
Freer, Mike
Fullbrook, Lorraine
Fuller, Richard
Gale, Mr Roger
Garnier, Mr Edward
Garnier, Mark
Gauke, Mr David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr Nick
Gilbert, Stephen
Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl
Goldsmith, Zac
Goodwill, Mr Robert
Gove, rh Michael
Graham, Richard
Grant, Mrs Helen
Gray, Mr James
Grayling, rh Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, rh Mr Dominic
Griffiths, Andrew
Gyimah, Mr Sam
Halfon, Robert
Hames, Duncan
Hammond, rh Mr Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Matthew
Hancock, Mr Mike
Hands, Greg
Harper, Mr Mark
Harrington, Richard
Harris, Rebecca
Hart, Simon
Harvey, Nick
Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan
Hayes, Mr John
Heald, Mr Oliver
Heath, Mr David
Heaton-Harris, Chris
Hemming, John
Henderson, Gordon
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, rh Nick
Hinds, Damian
Hoban, Mr Mark
Hollingbery, George
Holloway, Mr Adam
Hopkins, Kris
Horwood, Martin
Howarth, Mr Gerald
Howell, John
Hughes, rh Simon
Huhne, rh Chris
Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Huppert, Dr Julian
Jackson, Mr Stewart
James, Margot
Javid, Sajid
Johnson, Gareth
Johnson, Joseph
Jones, Andrew
Jones, Mr David
Jones, Mr Marcus
Kawczynski, Daniel
Kelly, Chris
Kennedy, rh Mr Charles
Kirby, Simon
Knight, rh Mr Greg
Kwarteng, Kwasi
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lancaster, Mark
Lansley, rh Mr Andrew
Latham, Pauline
Laws, rh Mr David
Leadsom, Andrea
Lee, Jessica
Lee, Dr Phillip
Leech, Mr John
Lefroy, Jeremy
Leslie, Charlotte
Letwin, rh Mr Oliver
Lewis, Brandon
Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian
Lidington, rh Mr David
Lilley, rh Mr Peter
Lloyd, Stephen
Long, Naomi
Lopresti, Jack
Lord, Jonathan
Loughton, Tim
Lucas, Caroline
Luff, Peter
Lumley, Karen
Macleod, Mary
Main, Mrs Anne
Maude, rh Mr Francis
May, rh Mrs Theresa
Maynard, Paul
McCartney, Jason
McCartney, Karl
McCrea, Dr William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick
McPartland, Stephen
McVey, Esther
Menzies, Mark
Mercer, Patrick
Metcalfe, Stephen
Miller, Maria
Mills, Nigel
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew
Moore, rh Michael
Morgan, Nicky
Morris, Anne Marie
Morris, David
Morris, James
Mosley, Stephen
Mowat, David
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, rh David
Munt, Tessa
Murray, Sheryll
Murrison, Dr Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr Brooks
Newton, Sarah
Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse
Offord, Mr Matthew
Ollerenshaw, Eric
Opperman, Guy
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, rh Mr James
Parish, Neil
Patel, Priti
Paterson, rh Mr Owen
Pawsey, Mark
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Perry, Claire
Phillips, Stephen
Pickles, rh Mr Eric
Pincher, Christopher
Poulter, Dr Daniel
Prisk, Mr Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, John
Raab, Mr Dominic
Randall, rh Mr John
Reckless, Mark
Redwood, rh Mr John
Reevell, Simon
Reid, Mr Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, rh Mr Andrew
Rogerson, Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rudd, Amber
Russell, Bob
Rutley, David
Sanders, Mr Adrian
Sandys, Laura
Scott, Mr Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shannon, Jim
Shapps, rh Grant
Sharma, Alok
Shelbrooke, Alec
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr Keith
Skidmore, Chris
Smith, Miss Chloe
Smith, Henry
Smith, Julian
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Nicholas
Soubry, Anna
Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline
Spencer, Mr Mark
Stephenson, Andrew
Stevenson, John
Stewart, Iain
Stewart, Rory
Streeter, Mr Gary
Stride, Mel
Stuart, Mr Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Sturdy, Julian
Swales, Ian
Swayne, Mr Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr Robert
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Timpson, Mr Edward
Tomlinson, Justin
Tredinnick, David
Truss, Elizabeth
Tyrie, Mr Andrew
Uppal, Paul
Vara, Mr Shailesh
Vickers, Martin
Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa
Walker, Mr Robin
Wallace, Mr Ben
Walter, Mr Robert
Ward, Mr David
Watkinson, Angela
Weatherley, Mike
Webb, Steve
Wharton, James
Wheeler, Heather
White, Chris
Whittaker, Craig
Whittingdale, Mr John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, rh Mr David
Williams, Mr Mark
Williams, Roger
Williams, Stephen
Williamson, Gavin
Wilson, Mr Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Wollaston, Dr Sarah
Wright, Jeremy
Wright, Simon
Yeo, Mr Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Zahawi, Nadhim
Tellers for the Ayes:

James Duddridge and
Norman Lamb

Abbott, Ms Diane
Abrahams, Debbie
Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob
Alexander, Heidi
Ali, Rushanara
Anderson, Mr David
Austin, Ian
Bailey, Mr Adrian
Bain, Mr William
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barron, rh Mr Kevin
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr Joe
Berger, Luciana
Betts, Mr Clive
Blackman-Woods, Roberta
Blears, rh Hazel
Blenkinsop, Tom
Blomfield, Paul
Blunkett, rh Mr David
Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Mr Nicholas
Brown, Mr Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy
Byrne, rh Mr Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr Alan
Caton, Martin
Chapman, Mrs Jenny
Chope, Mr Christopher
Clark, Katy
Clarke, rh Mr Tom
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, Mr David
Creagh, Mary
Creasy, Dr Stella
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John
Cunningham, Alex
Cunningham, Mr Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curran, Margaret
Dakin, Nic
Danczuk, Simon
David, Mr Wayne
Davidson, Mr Ian
Davies, Geraint
Davies, Philip
De Piero, Gloria
Denham, rh Mr John
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Docherty, Thomas
Donohoe, Mr Brian H.
Doran, Mr Frank
Dowd, Jim
Doyle, Gemma
Dromey, Jack
Dugher, Michael
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Ms Angela
Edwards, Jonathan
Efford, Clive
Elliott, Julie
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Esterson, Bill
Evans, Chris
Field, rh Mr Frank
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Fovargue, Yvonne
Francis, Dr Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gilmore, Sheila
Glass, Pat
Glindon, Mrs Mary
Goggins, rh Paul
Goodman, Helen
Green, Kate
Greenwood, Lilian
Griffith, Nia
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr Peter
Hamilton, Mr David
Hanson, rh Mr David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr Tom
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Mr Stephen
Hermon, Lady
Heyes, David
Hillier, Meg
Hilling, Julie
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs Sharon
Hollobone, Mr Philip
Hood, Mr Jim
Hopkins, Kelvin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, rh Mr George
Hunt, Tristram
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs Siân C.
Jamieson, Cathy
Jones, Graham
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr Kevan
Jones, Susan Elan
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Kendall, Liz
Khan, rh Sadiq
Lavery, Ian
Lazarowicz, Mark
Leslie, Chris
Lewis, Mr Ivan
Lloyd, Tony
Llwyd, Mr Elfyn
Love, Mr Andrew
Lucas, Ian
MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Shabana
Mann, John
Marsden, Mr Gordon
McCabe, Steve
McCann, Mr Michael
McCarthy, Kerry
McClymont, Gregg
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr Alasdair
McFadden, rh Mr Pat
McGovern, Alison
McGovern, Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs Anne
McKechin, Ann
Meacher, rh Mr Michael
Meale, Mr Alan
Mearns, Ian
Michael, rh Alun
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Morden, Jessica
Morrice, Graeme (Livingston)
Morris, Grahame M. (Easington)
Mudie, Mr George
Munn, Meg
Murphy, rh Mr Jim
Murphy, rh Paul
Murray, Ian
Nandy, Lisa
Nash, Pamela
Nuttall, Mr David
O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi
Owen, Albert
Pearce, Teresa
Perkins, Toby
Phillipson, Bridget
Qureshi, Yasmin
Raynsford, rh Mr Nick
Reed, Mr Jamie
Reeves, Rachel
Reynolds, Emma
Reynolds, Jonathan
Riordan, Mrs Linda
Ritchie, Ms Margaret
Robertson, Angus
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr Geoffrey
Rotheram, Steve
Roy, Mr Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, rh Joan
Sarwar, Anas
Seabeck, Alison
Sheerman, Mr Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Shuker, Gavin
Skinner, Mr Dennis
Slaughter, Mr Andy
Smith, rh Mr Andrew
Smith, Nick
Smith, Owen
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr John
Straw, rh Mr Jack
Stringer, Graham
Tami, Mark
Thomas, Mr Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Stephen
Turner, Mr Andrew
Turner, Karl
Twigg, Derek
Twigg, Stephen
Umunna, Mr Chuka
Vaz, rh Keith
Vaz, Valerie
Walker, Mr Charles
Walley, Joan
Watts, Mr Dave
Weir, Mr Mike
Whiteford, Dr Eilidh
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, Hywel
Williamson, Chris
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Wishart, Pete
Woodcock, John
Wright, Mr Iain
Tellers for the Noes:

Angela Smith and
David Wright
Question accordingly agreed to.
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Bill read the Third time and passed.

Business without Debate

European union documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

citizens' initiative

Question agreed to.

18 Jan 2011 : Column 812


Further and Higher Education Funding

10.15 pm

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): On behalf of my constituents I present this petition from the staff and students of Swallow Hill community college in the Leeds West constituency.


Education Maintenance Allowance

10.16 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Seventy per cent. of the young people in City of Sunderland college are in receipt of the education maintenance allowance. Ninety per cent. of those receive the full £30.


18 Jan 2011 : Column 813

West Midlands Police

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn .-(Mr. Newmark.)

10.17 pm

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Thank you for granting this Adjournment debate, Mr Speaker. This is my third encounter today with the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. I assure him that I am not tiring of it, even if he might be getting a little fed up with the sight of me. I am glad that a number of colleagues have stayed for the Adjournment debate, which shows their concern about this issue.

Alongside many of my west midlands colleagues, I have spent quite a bit of time recently discussing the likely effects of cuts and reductions in policing. We have talked with the Minister, shadow Ministers, police officers of various ranks, members of the police authority and other key stakeholders. We all know that reductions in police funding are going to be at their worst in places such as the west midlands, and that there may well be consequences that have so far been overlooked.

Inevitably, talk of police cuts leads to discussions about the risks of rising crime and arguments over how the police use their time. Depending on the audience, it is not uncommon for young people to figure in the discussions, as if they are a major cause of crime and antisocial behaviour and the entire nature of their relationship with the police is one of conflict. I do not accept that-hence tonight's debate. It is easy to forget that the police are often the first port of call for worried parents when youngsters go missing or run away from home, when youngsters fall into bad company or when parents feel they are losing control. In my constituency of Selly Oak, it is common to see the police playing an active role in working in schools and youth clubs. They take a very hands-on approach.

Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that school-based police officers are crucial and make a huge difference that is noted by parents, teachers and local residents and, in particular, by students themselves? He might be interested to know that I was lobbied last week by year 7 and 9 pupils from Small Heath school in my constituency-incidentally, it is my former school. They were lamenting the loss of their local police constable, PC Inglis, who had been based at their school for a number of years and had made such an impact on the students and on antisocial behaviour, the rates of which had declined significantly.

Steve McCabe: I agree with my hon. Friend. At Highters Heath school, it is not unusual to see officers taking part in lessons or accompanying children on school trips. That is part of a project developed by the head teacher, Jan Connor, in conjunction with her local police inspector and sergeant. They recognised that contact with the police had to be about more than warnings, inquiries or witnessing arrests, so they set out to break down the barriers and build a long-term relationship with the community. That is important, but it will be hard to measure when the accountants want to balance the books. As with my hon. Friend, the young people and constituents whom I speak to tell me that it is making a difference.

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I often get complaints from constituents about antisocial behaviour on the Chinn Brook recreation ground, especially during the lighter nights. The solution in the old-fashioned, vehicle-led reactive policing days might have been to send out a car and issue a few warnings or round up the loudest. That does not really solve the problem and risks alienating young people from the police.

Last summer, I attended a barbecue organised by a local inspector and a sergeant and her team. They sent invitations to families across the area. They made it clear that the recreation ground could be used for fun and family events, but that it had to be shared and the needs of others respected. They worked hard to sign up every youngster who attended for a sports challenge or some other activity to keep them busy on summer nights. That is the kind of policing that my constituents want, and it is the kind of policing that pays dividends with young people.

West Midlands police have been one of the pioneers of a return to what is sometimes called autonomous or common-sense policing, whereby the police set out to resolve community conflicts, antisocial behaviour and sometimes intergenerational tensions by using their guile and common sense, rather than boosting their arrest figures. Using that kind of policing, minor vandalism can be dealt with by perpetrators putting right the damage, or a punch-up in the school playground not automatically being recorded as an assault. For me, that is the foundation of neighbourhood policing.

Many years ago, when I worked with young offenders, I can well remember the juvenile court packed with cases that might have been dealt with differently with a bit more common sense and desire for a just solution. That is why I am anxious to protect this model of policing. I am not alone in that view. More than 600 of my constituents have been in touch with me to express their anxieties about what might happen if there is a huge reduction in officers and less time for community engagement.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The hon. Gentleman will be aware that what he is referring to is replicated in a great many places across the United Kingdom, including in my constituency. It involves community policing, new ideas-sometimes, midnight football-and flexibility with children. It does not necessarily apply the rule of law and use prosecution, but it shows how we work with them and take them away from the attractions that sometimes lead them astray.

Steve McCabe: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is right that the police should try to forge links with those young people whom we sometimes describe as "hard to reach". The police should work with charities, voluntary groups and youth groups to help young people to feel safe and to enjoy themselves, while remembering to respect the needs of others. That is as important for front-line visibility as anything else that Sir Denis O'Connor might comment on.

We can argue another time about the intensity of the Government cuts and whether their scale and timing are right. For the purposes of this debate, however, I simply want to highlight my fears about some of their unintended consequences. Birmingham council's antisocial behaviour unit will be a victim of the cuts. It will lose most of its staff and might have to close. Although I have not necessarily agreed with its approach on
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everything, I recognise that its trailblazing work is designed to prevent the growth and persistence of the antisocial behaviour that wrecks communities and destroys lives. In 2010, the unit was able to work with the police on a spate of gang-related activities, as well as the identification and closure of premises that were being used as brothels in a dark world where young women are often lured into a life of depravity and despair. The police have worked with local charities to create safe havens to help to take youngsters off the streets and to develop opportunities for the police and others to work with them constructively. We have one safe haven in the Quinton area of south Birmingham. The police officers I speak to are positive about the value of that work. They intend to create a network of havens, but now we might be fighting to prevent the closure of the one that already exists.

In some parts of Birmingham, the authorities have made good use of money available from pots such as the working neighbourhoods fund and safer city partnerships. They use that funding with the police to tackle antisocial behaviour, to reduce gang activity and to act on neighbourhood tensions and intergenerational conflicts. Bodies such as the centre for conflict resolution have been part of that, but what is their future as their partners find their budgets slashed?

At least three youth groups in Selly Oak are expressing concern that the work they do with the police is at risk. The 641 group might have to close, and the Den and St Mary's youth group are also in a precarious position. Yesterday, I received quite a sad letter from two young men in my constituency-Kieran Greenway and Tom O'Rielly-who wanted me to know that they had started a petition to try to stop the closure of their youth club: Masefield youth club. They feel that the club is teaching them about co-operation and teamwork. It is providing assistance in their search for work or training opportunities, which is no mean task for a young person in Birmingham at the moment. The club encourages them to look at their own behaviour. It helps to divert them from trouble and from being blamed for causing trouble. It also reduces the chance that they might be drawn into acts of vandalism or exposed to violence and drugs, or that they might develop relationships with the police that are wholly hostile and confrontational. They want to keep their club in their area because they do not have to travel far to get there and, as a result, they are less likely to be exposed to street crime. Violence and robbery are real problems for many young people these days, and those under 25 are much more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

For a big city, Birmingham does not do that well in youth provision, although I pay tribute to the countless dedicated individuals who give up their time to help and support our young people. They are part of the Prime Minister's big society, but they are fighting a very tough battle and they increasingly think that the little support that does exist is being steadily removed.

Birmingham city council's own overview and scrutiny committee recommended in its November 2006 report that decent youth services required an average spend of £100 to £110 per youngster per year. In the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), the spend is about £60. In Selly Oak, it is about £45, and in the constituency of my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), it is about £30.

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Our young people are already being short-changed. They need people to advise them on the dangers of smoking and to provide honest advice on relationships and sexual behaviour. They need to know about the risks of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They need places to go where they can feel safe and form relationships with adults that are not destructive and exploitative. The police play a crucial role in supporting many of those services. We should not overlook the superb work they do in partnership with others.

Police cuts do not affect only the elderly, home owners and businesses, all of whom have reason to fear the scale of cuts in the west midlands. They also affect youngsters who deserve the chance to develop decent relations with the police, who need access to challenging activities to absorb their energy and exuberance, who come from violent homes or who have no home, and who want to feel safe and deserve a chance like everyone else. Now is not the time to reduce support for young people. Future generations deserve better from us.

I am sure that that is what the right hon. Member for Havant (Mr Willetts), now Minister for Universities and Science, had in mind when he talked in his excellent book "The Pinch" about the contract across generations and the responsibilities of the baby boomer generation to the subsequent generation. We need to recognise the important role that the police can play and not treat our young people as voiceless individuals-those without a vote who can be left at the bottom of the pecking order when these cuts are imposed.

10.32 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I congratulate the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) on securing the debate. I am delighted to be discussing these issues with him once again-I think for the third time today. I have also met him to discuss the funding of West Midlands police, and I know that he speaks with genuine concern, passion and interest about the subject, which is also motivated by the interests of his constituents and by wanting the best possible police service in his constituency and more widely in the west midlands. That is an ambition that the Government share. It is the first duty of the Government-of any Government-to ensure that the public are safe, and it is important to us all that we have an efficient and effective police service. However, the Government also have to deal with the deficit. The hon. Gentleman recognised that in his comments. We can disagree about the pace at which the deficit is being dealt with, but Government Members argue that it is essential that it is dealt with as fast as we are proposing.

Nevertheless, I think that both sides agree that the police would have to make savings irrespective of how fast that deficit was reduced, and there is indeed agreement on both sides that the police can make substantial savings, so what we have is a discussion about the scale of those savings and how they can be delivered in a way that does not affect or damage the service that people are entitled to expect in their homes, in their workplace and on the streets. I believe that it will be possible for police forces across the country, including the West Midlands police, to restructure, make savings and drive down costs in a way that will enable them to deal with the reductions in grant that we have had to announce, without producing a service that is worse for the public.
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We are asking the police to make savings to meet a challenging funding settlement. We have always said that it would be challenging; it was announced in the spending review that the central Government grant to police forces is reducing by 20% in real terms over four years.

Not every force is affected in the same way, because the amount of resource that is available to forces depends on how much they raise from council tax payers. Every force raises some money from council tax payers. On average, that is about a quarter of the funding that they receive, so it is a highly significant share. The West Midlands force receives the second lowest amount from the council tax payer, a point that has been well made by the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues. That means that the 20% reduction in real terms is more challenging for West Midlands than for other forces.

As I explained to the Home Affairs Committee today, we looked closely at whether it would be right or possible to adjust the grant reduction to take into account the fact that some forces, such as the West Midlands force, raise less from their precept, but there were a number of objections to that. One is that by doing so, we would be penalising council tax payers in other areas who already pay far more for their policing services and have had a big increase in council tax over previous years. That would be unfair. Also, by subsidising forces, including large forces such as West Midlands, in that way, we would be asking other forces to take a larger cut in central grant than 20%. They would have regarded that as very unfair.

It seems right and fair to treat all forces in the same way and ask that they deal with a 20% reduction in real terms. The implications of that are not the same in cash terms. The cash reduction for forces in the first year is 5.1%. In the second year it is 6.7% on average. Taking account of the specific grants that are added, the average reduction is 4% in the first year, 5% in the second, 2% in the third and 1% in the fourth. Those are cash figures and do not take into account inflation, but they illustrate the fact that although these are challenging reductions, they are manageable, provided that considerable savings can be achieved.

Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary says that forces together can save more than £1 billion a year-that is some 12% of their funding from central Government-while protecting front-line services. They can achieve that by redesigning their services, and specifically by making changes in their back and middle offices, including by outsourcing. That has happened to differing degrees across forces, but the West Midlands police are now looking at such a radical service redesign.

I met the chief constable again today. Indeed, I have just been with him, discussing these very issues. The kinds of project that the force is considering are those that would save large sums of money as it attempts to meet the budget reductions, but I do not believe that those changes would mean a reduction in service that would be felt by the public.

The Government have never been able to give a guarantee about police numbers, and nor were the previous Government. We recognise that police forces are having to institute a recruitment freeze and that some forces, including West Midlands police, are using
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the A19 procedure so that police officers who have reached 30 years of service retire. There will be reductions in the size of police work forces, and that is true for West Midlands police. However, that is not the same as saying that there will necessarily be a reduction in the quality of service for the public. The task for chief constables and their managers in the police force, supported by their policy authorities and the Government, is to find ways to drive the kind of service redesign that will mean that the public still see their police officers on the streets and still receive a good response from them and that the police are still able to engage in the kind of partnership activity that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which is so important in dealing with youth crime.

In addition to the savings that the inspectorate of constabulary identified, we believe that further savings could be made by police forces. I rehearsed some of those briefly with the Home Affairs Committee today and will be happy to do so again. For instance, we think that procurement of non-IT goods and services could save another £200 million a year, bearing in mind that police authorities currently spend £2.8 billion a year on equipment, goods and services. We also think that savings from IT will be possible if police forces collaborate. We have a new approach to procuring and managing IT. There are 2,000 IT systems between the 43 forces, employing around 5,000 staff. The general view in the service is that savings will be possible by managing that better, and the Government are determined to help drive that.

Furthermore, we have set up an independent review of pay and conditions under Tom Winsor, the former rail regulator, and it will produce its first report shortly. That will advise us on the right and proper balance between pay and conditions and whether we have the right arrangements in relation, for instance, to overtime, special priority payments and such matters. That will enable us to ensure that we have an affordable service, but also one that fairly remunerates officers, who do such an important job, recognising that they cannot strike and that many do a difficult and often dangerous job. We await Tom Winsor's report and will then advise on our position. Any changes that might be made, including the possibility of a two-year pay freeze, which would also save significant sums of money for police forces and which we expect the rest of the public sector to undergo, would have to be agreed by the police negotiating board.

Despite the fact that we expect that the overall size of the police work force to be reduced, including in the west midlands, we are absolutely determined to protect front-line services.

Steve McCabe: I recognise the difficult job that the Minister has. Does he have any plans to issue guidance or advice to the police on the significance of young people when considering their budgets? That group cannot vote and does not have a voice in the same way as adults, and that is part of the purpose of raising the matter.

Nick Herbert: I was going to move on to young people. I have no specific plans to issue that kind of guidance, partly because I do not think that I need to persuade chief officers or police forces about the importance of such work. They know that the significant investment that has been made in the development of neighbourhood
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policing and the growth of partnership working, whereby police officers are engaged with local authorities in crime reduction measures, particularly those affecting young people, has been a really important move. It has helped to reduce crime and to build public confidence, and my understanding is that chief officers, including Chris Sims, the chief constable of West Midlands police, are committed to it.

We need to send a message to local authorities. They of course face equally challenging reductions in funding, but, as they too have to take very difficult decisions on how to make savings, it is important that we remind them that community safety is one of their statutory responsibilities, and that the partnership work that we have seen between local authorities and the police locally has helped to make communities safer and must continue.

As local authorities consider how to achieve those aims, we want to ensure that local partnerships have a purpose, that they are non-bureaucratic and that they do not waste time. They should not simply involve meetings between council officials and police officers; they should be places of real action-orientated policing, with a strong focus on preventing crime and all the measures that we know to be successful, particularly in youth services.

I pay tribute to the West Midlands police and its partners in the community safety partnership for their
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work in tackling youth crime and violence in Birmingham. Birmingham has worked closely with the Government on a number of programmes to tackle youth crime and violence, and the city pioneered the use of civil injunctions to tackle gang violence, an approach that was subsequently enshrined in law and will go live on 31 January. This year the Home Office will provide Birmingham with £350,000 for work to tackle youth crime, in addition to £85,000 for work to tackle youth violence. So we are doing what we can.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the people who work in Birmingham and elsewhere to prevent and tackle youth crime and violence: local communities, police officers, police community support officers, youth offending teams and others. The Government's aspirations for policing in the west midlands are the same. The chief constable could not have put it better when he said on 11 January:

We share that ambition.

Question put and agreed to.

10.47 pm

House adjourned.

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