I know that voices outside this place have urged caution on us in rushing this legislation through, although a lot of their concerns have been addressed in the remarks made by other Members today, which I will

7 July 2011 : Column 1714

not repeat. I have made some suggestions about the potential limitations on police bail—for example, in cases that do not involve a large amount of documentation or serious fraud—but I want to return to straightforward examples of cases involving violence or assault, where far too often, over-cautious lawyers have waited before charge for all the evidence to be gathered, including medical evidence. Frankly, my suggestion to them is to remember how we used to do it. We would charge and then gather the evidence as quickly as possible, to ensure that we did not lose the interest, enthusiasm and participation of prosecution witnesses along the way.

The coalition Government quite rightly restored the decision-making power for certain offences to the police. That was a wise decision, which I believe will allow minds to be focused in the police station when dealing with a range of less serious offences. That will leave more serious offences to be dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service as part of the advice-before-charge procedure. At that stage, everybody needs to remember what we have said today in this House and elsewhere about the need for expedition and the need for good judgment to be exercised, even though all the evidence might not have been gathered.

I will draw my remarks to a close. I support giving the Bill its Second Reading, and I think that we as a House should be glad that such decisions are falling to us.

2.43 pm

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): It is important that we should have this debate. There has been a lot of discussion about why this has been rushed through in the way that it has. We are here to amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The sole purpose is to clarify the distinction between periods of detention and periods of police bail. I want to add my concern about rushed legislation and fast-tracking Bills. It was before my time, but I can certainly remember the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 going through—as well as legislation to deal with handguns—at a time when Governments wanted to be seen to be doing something, rather than amend the law in a correct and measured way. It is important when we debate legislation to ensure that there is time to digest the impact, make amendments and allow the public and other interested groups to comment on what is going on.

This, however, is a simple and straightforward Bill. In fact, I have never seen such a short Bill. It consists of one page containing two clauses, the second of which simply deals with the geographical reach of the measure and confirms the Bill’s full name. Indeed, the explanatory notes are longer than the Bill. It is none the less an important Bill. It looks at periods of detention in England and Wales, wherein a suspect can be detained initially for up to 24 hours, and for a further 12 hours if approved by a senior officer such as a superintendent. Detention for a further 36 hours can be applied for through a magistrates court, which can then be added on, giving a total cap of 96 hours, at which point the detention clock, as it has been labelled, stops.

At that point, the police have the option either to charge the suspect or to release them, or to place them on bail. We previously assumed that the detention clock paused when that bail was imposed, and restarted after the bail period was complete. However, we now face a new interpretation of the 1984 Act. Following the murder

7 July 2011 : Column 1715

case involving Paul Hookway, Salford magistrates court has thrown a different light on the provisions. That has led to the police detention period and the bail period being capped at a total of 96 hours. That decision has been upheld in the High Court and, as a consequence, we are now having to rush this legislation through today.

The Opposition have called for temporary legislation or a sunset clause to deal with this, but I think that that is unnecessary on two counts. First, we are a legislative body, and if we eventually find that this legislation is inappropriate, we can come back and amend it through primary legislation at any time. Secondly, this is not new law. It will simply take us back to the status quo.

There has clearly been some confusion since the new interpretation of the law was confirmed, and I have a number of questions for the Minister. During the period of confusion before the Bill gains Royal Assent, what will be the impact on the 80,000 or so people who are on bail at the moment? Given that bail conditions are designed for the protection of victims, will there be any consequences for victims who need to be protected during this period following the reinterpretation of the law? I also want to ask—not flippantly; it is a serious point—whether the Home Office has scoured the remaining sections of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, or indeed the Bail Act 1976, to ensure that no other loopholes are likely be discovered by an eagle-eyed magistrate, resulting in our having to do something similar to this in future.

I very much welcome the Bill, despite the expeditious nature of its passage through the House. It does nothing but change the law on paper, and it will allow the courts to continue to interpret the law in the spirit that the 1984 Act originally intended.

2.48 pm

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) began his speech by reminding the House of the impact of 7/7, on this, the anniversary of that atrocity. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary also paid her tribute to the victims of that crime this morning. It is a sobering reminder of the continuing importance of public protection, which is what we are debating today. I am grateful that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have supported the need for this emergency legislation. Certain issues have been raised, and I shall try to deal with them briefly now. It is important to note, however, that there was no dissent over the principle behind the legislation. It is widely accepted that there needs to be a correction to the rather extraordinary judgment of the High Court, which overturned 25 years of practice and legal understanding.

The Government are grateful to all parties for the support expressed, particularly the official Opposition for their support in enabling this emergency legislation to go forward, and I am also grateful for the support of Liberal Democrat Members. There is unanimity on the need to deal with this situation as swiftly as possible.

I begin by clearing up one or two of the more technical issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) asked a specific question about when the Bill could be expected to receive Royal Assent. Subject

7 July 2011 : Column 1716

to the Bill being approved by both Houses, we aim to secure Royal Assent before the other place rises on Tuesday 12 July. The legal change will then come into effect immediately. I hope that that answers the point.

For the record, I would like to clear up issues raised by the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), and by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), about the role of the Law Officers in this matter. Although the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford said—I hope I quote her accurately—that it is common for Ministers to say whether they have had advice from Law Officers, page 447 of “Erskine May” states:

“By longstanding convention observed by successive Governments, the fact of, and substance of advice from, the law officers of the Crown is not disclosed outside Government”.

I hope that that helps to clarify the matter.

It is nevertheless important to reassure the House that the Crown Prosecution Service was involved in discussions with ACPO and officials soon after the written judgment was received. I hope that the Chairman of the Select Committee—he is not in his place at the moment—will be reassured when he reads what I had to say. The CPS has certainly been involved in trying to assess the legal implications at the same time as ACPO was trying to assess the practical implications.

Yvette Cooper: The issue of the involvement of the Attorney-General is important. It is not simply about whether the Government might be prejudicing their case in a trial, which has been the traditional reason why the content of legal advice is not disclosed; it is about whether the Government did the right thing in response to a very pressing situation. The Minister really needs to confirm whether the Attorney-General intervened in the case in the hearing before the Supreme Court, which the Supreme Court gave him the opportunity to do. Did he do that earlier this week or not? Given that, according to Lord Goldsmith in his evidence to the Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Attorney-General has the power to bring or intervene in other legal proceedings in the public interest, did the Attorney-General consider whether he could intervene in the public interest by a request for a stay of judgment?

Nick Herbert: The right hon. Lady continues to seek to make what appears to me to be political hay out of this situation when the Government are doing everything they can to redress it. I noted yesterday that she made the absurd suggestion that somehow there had been a delay regarding the Supreme Court’s refusal to grant a stay of execution, which might have explained why it refused the stay. On her own analysis, the Supreme Court would have granted a stay of execution—or might have done so—when the implications of this judgment were not clear, yet for some reason it decided not to grant the stay of execution when the implications were made clear. The right hon. Lady takes a whole set of completely inconsistent positions simply because she wants to make political points that are inappropriate when we are seeking to address a serious political matter.

Let me return to the impact on the police and to specific questions—

7 July 2011 : Column 1717

Yvette Cooper rose—

Nick Herbert: I want to make some progress, if the right hon. Lady will forgive me, as I have only five minutes left.

Specific questions were raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) and for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood). The police have assured us that they are doing all they can to ensure that public safety is not compromised, and are taking interim steps to manage the situation in its current form given the current state of the law as expressed by the High Court. However, they are anxious for the law to be restated in the future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon rightly raised the issue of the protection of victims and witnesses, which is at the centre of our approach. The police service shares our concern about the issue. The chief constable of Essex, Jim Barker-McCardle, has written to all chief police officers repeating his assurance that the service remains completely focused on doing all it can to protect the public, who, of course, include victims and witnesses.

Three substantive issues were raised by Members in all parts of the House. First, it was asked whether we should take the opportunity provided by the Bill to engage in what the shadow Home Secretary called a wider debate about, for instance, whether time limits on the use of police bail would be necessary. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras raised the issue of protracted bail periods, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson) said that we should not give the green light to the keeping of suspects on bail, by which I assume he meant inappropriately.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary responded on that issue, but let me add that I do not think it appropriate to amend emergency legislation that seeks simply to restore the status quo ante by introducing limits on the use of police bail that have not applied for 25 years without proper consideration. As I said last Thursday, as far as I am aware no representations have been made to the Government about the inadequacy of police bail. Although in recent days some have suggested that it has been a cause of growing concern, I believe that they should set out that concern in a proper manner and on the basis of evidence. We need to have a proper debate about the issue, and were the Government to conclude that changes were needed, there would have to be proper consultation. Such provisions cannot be introduced in the emergency legislation.

It appears to me that opportunities are being taken to make statements that are not necessarily correct. For example, I noticed that the press release that accompanied this morning’s call by members of the legal profession for a delay in the legislation included the following statement by a spokesman from Mary Monson Solicitors, a firm that was involved in the original case:

“The legislation is being rushed through now without proper debate to widen police powers”.

It does not “widen police powers”; it restores to the police powers that they have had for 25 years. That is a serious misrepresentation of what the Bill seeks to do.

7 July 2011 : Column 1718

Frank Dobson rose—

Nick Herbert: I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman very briefly.

Frank Dobson: Does the Minister not accept that if we are to have a rational, evidence-based debate about the possible increase in protracted bail periods, it will be necessary for the Home Office actually to collect some data? Otherwise we shall all be just talking.

Nick Herbert: I am all in favour of evidence-based policy, but I think that rather than its merely being asserted that there is a problem, such a problem, if it exists, must be properly presented and, of course, backed up with data.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) suggested that the Bill should include a sunset clause. The Government disagree. A sunset clause would create further uncertainty, which is exactly what the police do not want. We do not want it either. This is a straightforward piece of legislation that restores the previous position. We also believe that the retrospective action that is being taken is necessary, because if it were not taken, hundreds of thousands of people would potentially have a claim for false imprisonment at any time over the past six years, which is the limitation period. Liberty has said:

“We do not believe that the proposals are retrospective in their nature as they do not seek retrospectively to create a criminal offence, sanction or other burden.”

This is a sensible piece of legislation which was designed to correct an unusual judgment and restore 25 years of legal practice, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time ; to stand committed to a Committee of the whole House (Order, this day).

Mr Ivan Lewis (Bury South) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. As Members will be aware, News Corporation’s proposed acquisition of BSkyB is now a matter of great public importance and interest. Rumours are circulating, and briefings are coming from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport that the Secretary of State intends to delay his decision for a minimum of three months. On an issue of such importance, and on the day when we hear that the phones of the families of brave men and women who died fighting for this country in Iraq and Afghanistan were hacked, the least the Secretary of State should do is come to the House as a matter of urgency this afternoon and make a statement.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): As you know, Mr Lewis, it is not up to the Chair to demand that Ministers come to the House to make statements. It is very much up to Ministers to make that decision for themselves. Mr Speaker allowed an emergency debate yesterday on the phone hacking issue. I agree that it is a fast-moving and significant issue, but I have not been notified that any Minister intends to come to the House to make a statement today. If that changes however, the House will be told immediately in the usual way.

7 July 2011 : Column 1719

Police (Detention and Bail) Bill

Considered in Committee (Order, this day)

[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair .]

Clause 1

Amendment of Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

3.2 pm

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans): I call Mr Coaker.

Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Perhaps I should explain to Members who were wondering why I was not standing up to speak that I was trying to give others a chance to make a contribution. Some of what I say may appear to repeat aspects of the debate we have already had, and although I do not mind being subjected to barracking, I hope I will not be subjected to barracking over and above what one might normally expect.

As we have now moved into Committee, let me go into a little more detail. To be fair to the Minister, a few moments ago he could have done with a little more time to address some of the measures he is trying to rush through. Clause 1 is essentially the Bill, so it is almost as if we are repeating Second Reading, but let me say again from the outset that we support the provisions in clause 1. We absolutely agree that we need to fast-track the Bill, and the reasons for that are well set out in the explanatory memorandum.

Earlier, the shadow Home Secretary was trying to elicit from the Government answers to two key questions on fast-tracking and the legal advice and preparation—or lack of it—that the Home Office made in introducing the Bill. First, our understanding is that the Attorney-General was asked by the Supreme Court to intervene in the public interest in the application for a stay of judgment. Did the Attorney-General intervene and support the Government? Was he involved in seeking that stay of judgment in the Supreme Court? As I say, we support the fast-tracking of the Bill, but secondly, will the Minister tell us when the Home Office commissioned officials to draw up draft legislation? It would be of interest to us all to know when that advice was commissioned, so that we could have greater clarity about the Bill and the speed with which the Home Office acted. Our view is that it did not act as quickly as it might or should have done.

We do not, in any way, underestimate the importance of and need for speed in this matter, as 80,000 individuals are currently on police bail. If hon. Members have not had the opportunity to look at the submission from The Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff—NAPO—I urge them to examine it. That body has put together some case studies that illustrate some of the difficulties that have arisen as a result of the judgments. I shall just discuss one of its examples, which relates to a 24-year-old man arrested on suspicion of an alcohol-fuelled assault and affray. He was held in cells overnight to sober up, and it is believed that that counts towards the 96 hours. His interview was then delayed for a further two hours to

7 July 2011 : Column 1720

wait for the duty solicitor. He was then bailed on condition that he avoided the victim and the pub, and the police are now collecting witness statements and forensic analysis from the site. Five days have already passed since the incident, and so the bail conditions will fall. NAPO’s submission contains other examples, which are set out for the Committee. Those case studies are extremely important and they show why the Government have introduced this fast-track Bill.

In the previous debate the Minister started to respond to some of the questions posed by hon. Members from both sides of the House. If we examine what Liberty, Justice and many hon. Members have said about the Bill, we find that everyone accepts the need for it to be fast-tracked. However, we need to consider what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) was saying, as it goes to the heart of the matter. As he set out, the Bill contains no sunset clause and, irrespective of whether or not that is the right way to proceed, that does not mean that the Government should not consider some of the issues that people have raised. The fact that everyone accepts the need for it to be fast-tracked does not mean that we should not address the issues relating to time limits for how long somebody can and should be able to remain on police bail, and those concerning some of the conditions that are attached to bail.

I believe that the Minister said earlier that the system had been operating for 25 years without anybody raising such issues and so there was not previously a problem. I do not mean to misquote him, and apologise if I am doing so, but the fact—or not—that these issues have not been raised before does not mean that the Government should not consider examining those that have arisen as a consequence of the judgment. There needs to be a debate. Given that the Bill contains no sunset clause, will the Minister say whether he feels that there is a need for a debate about time limits and the application of conditions in police bail, just to see whether any change to the guidance should be made? There may well be no need as a result of that debate to make such a change, but all this throws up an opportunity for us to discuss with the police and others whether any change is needed.

Steve McCabe: I do not think that I have heard either on Second Reading or during this debate whether someone who decides to leave this country, which at the moment they are perfectly entitled to do, will be subject as of 12 July to the retrospective conditions. Presumably it would cost quite a lot of money and time to try to bring that person back. Is that the kind of problem about which my hon. Friend is concerned? There is a category of people who would be perfectly at liberty to leave the country now because no controls apply to them, but whom we would want to contact and bring back because they are engaged in potentially quite serious offences.

Vernon Coaker: That might well be one example of concern to us all. Whether we use that example or others—the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) cited examples of police bail having gone on and on—we need to consider any constraints or restraints or whether the system works so well that we do not need to worry about it. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister thinks that it is time to discuss that and to see what the evidence tells us, or that we should just carry on.

7 July 2011 : Column 1721

The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington—it might have been the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)—mentioned the use of police bail. Do we need to consider that? Is it totally appropriate? Are we sure that it works in the way that we would want in all circumstances?

One of the things about a fast-tracked Bill is that the information that comes to us is fast-tracked, too. Some Members were sent just this morning, when it was published, the report on police detention and bail by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. I do not know whether all Members have managed to see it. Although the Committee does not oppose what the Government are doing, it has raised one or two questions. It wonders whether, because the Bill is being fast-tracked with limited opportunity for amendment, the Government will need to return to consider some of the matters that might otherwise have been debated. It is important to consider the detail now we are in Committee, and the Constitution Committee raises the constitutional issue of the fact that Parliament is legislating before the Supreme Court has made a judgment. The Constitution Committee does not necessarily say that there is anything wrong with that, but states:

“We are concerned that asking Parliament to legislate in these highly unusual circumstances raises difficult issues of constitutional principle as regards both the separation of powers and the rule of law. We have noted the constitutionally important distinction between legislative and adjudicative functions before. We are concerned that, in the understandable”—

note the word “understandable”—

“rush to rectify a problem which the police have identified as being serious and urgent, insufficient time has been allowed for Parliament fully to consider the constitutional implications of what it is being asked to do.”

The Committee says that it will return to the matter later in the year to consider what

“the effect of Parliament legislating in advance of the Supreme Court hearing may be on the Court when it hears the case on 25 July.”

Can the Minister tell the Committee the Government’s view? I appreciate that the Government might have seen the report only relatively recently and I am unsure whether the Minister will have had time fully to consider it. If the Minister has not had time to do that, he might need to ensure that there is a full discussion and debate in the other place.

3.15 pm

The Minister has dealt with the issue of retrospection. I think that all hon. Members are concerned about retrospective legislation, and that concern is understandable in this regard. Will the Minister confirm that the Bill will apply only to cases after 19 May—I think he said that it restores the law to what it was before the judgment—or will it impact on anything that happened before that judgment? We should be sure that we understand the extent to which the Bill will act retrospectively, so it would help the Committee if the Minister confirmed that point.

Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): One of my concerns is that the decision might mean that the rule was ineffective going back 25 years and that a collection of people who believe that they were wrongly treated during that period might bring claims for compensation. There is some

7 July 2011 : Column 1722

detail about that in the explanatory note and my reading of the clause is that the retrospective effect rules out any such potential issue. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that and welcome it?

Vernon Coaker: I think so, but we are in Committee and I would need the detail in order to understand what legal advice the Government have had about retrospective effect before I could properly answer the hon. Gentleman. I thought that either the Minister or the Home Secretary had said that all this will apply only as far back as 19 May, when the initial judgment was made. I seek to clarify whether it is possible to apply such provision to cases from the past 25 years. There will be a legal opinion on that and I suppose it will be either one thing or the other.

I have only a few brief points to make, because of course we all agree with the Bill. Clearly, we all want the Bill to become law as soon as possible and certainly before Parliament goes into recess. In answer to the very important question about Royal Assent, the Minister said that the Government aim for the Bill to become law on completion of its passage through the House of Lords, which is on Tuesday. Will he confirm that what he actually means is that Royal Assent will be given at the end of that day? Are the Government aiming for that, or will it definitely be given then? We all want absolute and firm assurance on that, because every Member of the House supports the Bill and will want to know, 100%, that Royal Assent will definitely be in place before the House rises for the summer recess. Of course, that is assuming that the Bill is passed by both Houses.

With those few brief comments and detailed points I will sit down and wait for the Minister’s response or to hear what other Members have to say.

Nigel Mills: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I should like simply to expand a little further on the point I made in my intervention on the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) about the potential for retrospective effect. We have seen, in relation to other issues earlier this year, how concerned the public are about any possibility of compensation being paid to people who are guilty of offences and are, perhaps, now being denied their right to vote. I expect the public would be incredibly concerned if people who have been through what was thought to be due legal process now had some chance of compensation, no matter how little, because that process, despite having been believed by everyone to be right, might have been ruled technically out of order by one judge in a verdict with which no one seems to agree. I accept the fact that, as is made clear in the explanatory notes, making the Bill’s provisions retrospective, right back to 1984, is an attempt to address that.

My concern is that to some extent we are in this mess because Parliament was not clear enough about its intentions when it passed the 1984 Act. It would be helpful if Parliament was entirely clear about what we mean when we give retrospective effect and if the Minister made explicit the intention, as set out in the explanatory notes, that these powers will be restored to what we all understood them to be for 25 years so that the courts will not allow any compensation claims. The explanatory notes are clear that that is what the Bill is attempting to do.

7 July 2011 : Column 1723

To try to clarify the point that the hon. Member for Gedling made, if he looks at page 9 of the explanatory notes, he will see that paragraph 36(c) states:

“Unless the Bill is given retrospective effect, it is possible that a very large number of people could bring claims for damages for detention occurring before the judgment, even though that detention was in accordance with what was honestly thought to be a long-understood legal position.”

There could be a huge number of claims and a large amount of money at stake, and it would be very generous to think that some claims-handling firms would not go around trying to find people to make those claims and test the process.

I want to ask the Minister two questions. First, will he make it absolutely clear that the Government’s view, and Parliament’s intention, is that no compensation would be due? Secondly, will he address the point about whether it would be wise to add a separate subsection to the Bill that makes that absolutely explicit so that if and when such claims are brought there is no doubt that our intention is that no compensation should be due?

Nick Herbert: The hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) have raised a number of concerns that I will try to answer, but first I wish to return to the Opposition’s general allegation about delay. It is simply not the view of senior police officers that there has been inappropriate delay in the matter. The Opposition are claiming something that does not have the support of those most affected by the judgment’s implications.

I attended the ACPO conference in Harrogate this week, which the hon. Gentleman joined for the last day, and talked with the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, the force originally affected. He said that at the time of the oral judgment his force could not believe that a single judgment in Salford could affect all the cases across the country and overturn something that had been operating since 1986. The police force affected did not appreciate at that stage the potential wider implications of the court’s decision. The High Court judge, Mr Justice McCombe, said that the consequences would not be

“as severe as might be feared”,

a view with which the shadow Home Secretary disagrees. As I noted earlier, the ACPO lead on the issue, the chief constable of Essex police, Jim Barker-McCardle, has said:

“It was only when ACPO received the written judgment on 17 June…that the seriousness of the issue became apparent.”

The chief constable of the force concerned did not appreciate the wider implications, the High Court judge said that the consequences were not severe and the ACPO lead said that their seriousness was not appreciated until 17 June, and yet the Opposition appear to know differently and apparently, with astonishing clairvoyance, saw the need for action in May. Neither the police, nor the High Court judge saw the need for action, but the Opposition apparently did. This simply is not a credible position for the Opposition to take. I repeat that the Government acted as fast as we could. In particular, once we received formal advice from ACPO that it believed that emergency legislation was necessary, we acted very fast indeed.

7 July 2011 : Column 1724

I say to the hon. Member for Gedling—this is an important point—that the Opposition could take a different approach. He may remember that, in 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled on witness anonymity and against the common law understanding of the issue, the then Government decided to introduce emergency legislation and we supported them. I know that we did so because I led for the then Opposition. I did not claim that the Government of the day had in any way delayed, yet that emergency legislation was introduced to almost exactly the same timetable as this legislation after the written judgment had been received. We also hope that this legislation will be on the statute books sooner than that one was, so there is no need to strike such a partisan stance on the matter, given the cross-party agreement that it is necessary to do something. I am sorry that, when we need to consider the substance of the issue, the Opposition have continued to make political points, but I hope that deals with the issue of delay.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the Government felt there should be a debate about time limits. My point on Second Reading was that, if there are believed to be problems with the operation of police bail, and if the suggestion is that bail is being extended for too long a period or over-used, those who believe that to be the case should assemble their evidence and present a serious case, at which point I am sure that hon. Members on both sides will debate and consider it carefully.

Such points were made, it seems to the Government, at a very late stage and only when the High Court judgment came in, so we do not think it appropriate to amend the emergency legislation. That does not preclude sensible debate about the matter in future, but I gently point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition did not raise them before that point, either. The House did not appear to be aware of a concern—if, indeed, there is widespread concern, and I do not presume that there is—about the operation of police bail.

The Government certainly do not have a closed mind to the issue, and of course we should pay the closest attention to a proper case, should one be made to us, but we will not arbitrarily and in a rushed manner set limits on the operation of police bail without proper evidence, proper understanding of the problem, proper consultation and proper consideration of the impact of such limits. That is a responsible position to take.

The hon. Gentleman asked also about the Government’s response to the Lords Constitution Committee report, which he correctly said we received just this morning, and in particular our response to its conclusion that there is an issue of constitutional principle regarding the separation of powers and the rule of law, because Parliament is introducing emergency legislation when an appeal is pending to the Supreme Court.

The Government do not see that the decision to legislate in advance of an outcome to that appeal raises any constitutional issues. The sovereignty of Parliament means that it is entirely open to Parliament to legislate at any time in response to a court judgment, and that is what we are doing.

The hon. Gentleman also raised the important issue of retrospection, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) was also concerned in relation to compensation claims. The hon. Member for Gedling wanted in particular to know whether the retrospective nature of the Bill meant it went back only

7 July 2011 : Column 1725

to the original judgment on 19 May. That is not the case, because the High Court judgment itself applied to all cases going back to 1986. The Court, owing to its different understanding of the Bail Act, stated that any cases prior to 1986 may have involved unlawful detention, so this legislation must go all the way back as well. That is why if hon. Members read clause 1(3) they will see the following wording:

“The amendments made by subsections (1) and (2) are deemed always to have had effect.”

That is particularly important because we need to create legal certainty. As I said on Second Reading, it is important that we do not permit what might otherwise be the bringing of a rash of legal cases.

3.30 pm

Vernon Coaker: The Minister is providing helpful clarity in responding to what the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and I said. Without having the legal support that the Minister does, it was not immediately obvious to me that that was the case, and I was worried about it. His reply will give a sense of relief to all sane people throughout the country.

Nick Herbert: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support, although I did it almost all on my own without the legal support that he claims. Nevertheless, that is the effect of the Bill, and that is important because it means that there is no doubt about the matter. Any claim based on what the High Court has said since the May judgment would not succeed because Parliament is stating clearly that the original understanding of the legislation should apply. I am happy to put on record that the Government’s, and I believe Parliament’s, intention is not to allow compensation claims that may have arisen as a consequence of this judgment. It is expressly our desire to prevent such claims, which would be improper and unwarranted in the circumstances.

The hon. Member for Gedling asked me a specific question about the Home Office’s preparedness for legislation—that is, did we prepare on a contingency basis before ACPO came to us with its formal request on the necessity for emergency legislation? ACPO presented its case to me on the morning of Thursday 30 June, and I made my oral statement less than two hours later. The Home Office had already studied the judgment, considered possible legislative vehicles, and prepared instructions to parliamentary counsel that were sent on the same day in time for a first draft of the legislation to be received later that day. We acted explicitly and swiftly. Of course, the drafting was not complicated because this is a straightforward Bill that simply restores the status quo ante.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was merely our aim that the Bill should receive Royal Assent next Tuesday or whether it would receive Royal Assent next Tuesday. Of course, that is a matter for the other place, but it is very much our hope and expectation that we will have Royal Assent on 19 May once the other place has considered the Bill. [ Interruption. ] I am sorry—I should have said 19 July. There is always a danger in reading things without my glasses. As I have said, the Bill will take effect once Royal Assent is received. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions.

7 July 2011 : Column 1726

Vernon Coaker: This is a hugely important issue not only for the police but for the confidence of the public in ensuring that we are doing as much as we can, as swiftly as we can, to protect them from the people they need protecting from. Notwithstanding our difference about the delay, it was helpful for the Minister to clarify some of those specific points, and I thank him for that.

Nick Herbert: For the record, may I correct what I said about when the Bill will receive Royal Assent? I should have said 12 July, not 19 July. That was written in larger writing, but I could not see it.

Vernon Coaker: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is the Minister absolutely certain that he has got it right this time?

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Dawn Primarolo): I believe that the Minister is absolutely certain. I am going to put on my glasses to ensure that I get things right.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Third reading

3.35 pm

Nick Herbert: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I do not need to detain the House, because there is broad agreement about the importance of this legislation and the substance of it. I hope that I have answered the questions that have been raised during the Bill’s passage. There will, of course, be a further opportunity to consider any issues when the other place debates the Bill on Tuesday. I hope that the fact that questions have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House indicates that there has been proper scrutiny of the Bill. It is a short Bill, but important questions were nevertheless raised about it. The Government are grateful for the support of the official Opposition and hon. Members on both sides of the House for this important legislation, which will simply restore 25 years of previously understood legal and police practice, and enable the police to do their job. I commend the Bill to the House.

3.37 pm

Vernon Coaker: The official Opposition are pleased that the Bill has progressed swiftly through the House. It is a very small Bill, but it is none the less very important. Important points have been raised, and the Minister sought to address them. No doubt that will inform the debate in the other place. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the judicial system, the vast majority of people in this country will have had an “I can’t believe it!” moment in relation to this matter. When the House has passed the legislation, it will help to give the police the clarity that they need with respect to the law, so that they can deal with some difficult cases and individuals in the proper and professional way in which they carry out their business. I hope that this unsatisfactory situation will be resolved as swiftly as possible.

7 July 2011 : Column 1727

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Legal Services

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (Appeals from Licensing Authority Decisions) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 May, be approved.—(Mr Vara.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

That the draft Legal Services Act 2007 (The Law Society and The Council for Licensed Conveyancers) (Modification of Functions) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 17 May, be approved.—(Mr Vara.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Constitutional Law

That the draft Criminal Procedure (Legal Assistance, Detention and Appeals) (Scotland) Act 2010 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 9 June, be approved. —(Mr Vara.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

That the draft Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 10 June, be approved. —(Mr Vara.)

Question agreed to.

7 July 2011 : Column 1728

Committee on Members’ Allowances

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): With the agreement of the House, we will take motions 9 and 10 together.

I must tell the House that Mr Speaker has selected amendments (c) and (d) to motion 9 and amendment (b) to motion 10. The debate will therefore be on the two motions and the three selected amendments. If amendment (c) to motion 9 is not agreed to, I will allow amendment (b) to motion 10 to be moved in a slightly amended form, to reflect the decision of the House on the name of the Committee. I will, of course, ensure that the House is fully aware of which amendment we are voting on as we progress. In due course I will call Mr Afriyie to move the first of his amendments, but we begin with the Minister.

3.41 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): I beg to move,

That Standing Order No. 152G (Committee on Members’ Allowances) shall be amended as follows—

(1) in line 2, leave out ‘Allowances’ and insert ‘Expenses’; and

(2) leave out lines 3 to 17 and insert ‘to consider such matters relating to Members’ expenses as may be referred to it by the House;’.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this we shall discuss the following motion, on the review of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009:

That, further to the instruction to the Committee on Members’ Allowances of 12 May, it be an instruction to the Committee on Members’ Expenses to report to the House on the review of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 by 31 December 2011.

Mr Heath: The motions would amend the terms of reference of the Committee on Members’ Allowances, in advance of its review of the operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. Earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker, you may have heard my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say in business questions that he would find it very difficult to find additional time to debate the matter before the recess, but by happenstance we now have adequate time to do the job today. I am extremely pleased that that is the case.

On 12 May, the House gave an instruction to the Committee on Members’ Allowances to review the 2009 Act,

“giving due consideration to ensuring:

(a) value for money for taxpayers;

(b) accountability;

(c) public confidence in Parliament;

(d) the ability of Members to fulfil their duties effectively;

(e) fairness for less well-off Members and those with families; and

(f) that Members are not deterred from submitting legitimate claims.”

The debate was initiated through the Backbench Business Committee by the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie), who I am pleased to see in his place. Following a good debate, the House agreed to the instruction without a Division.

7 July 2011 : Column 1729

Since May, the Government have been in discussion with colleagues in the House on changes to the terms of reference of the Committee on Members’ Allowances, given its change in remit. I express my gratitude to my long-suffering right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall) for his efforts in seeking consensus on a sensible approach.

One of the Government’s proposals following consultation was that the Chair be removed from the list of Select Committee Chairs receiving an additional salary, which was approved by the House on Tuesday 5 July. There are two outstanding motions that have previously been objected to and remain to be approved. Motion 9 would amend the Standing Order relating to the Committee by changing its name to the Committee on Members’ Expenses. That terminology reflects the fact that the current scheme, operated by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is an expenses-based system, not an allowances-based one.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): I echo the Deputy Leader of the House’s thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall) for his help in ensuring that we bring this matter to a swift resolution.

The instruction issued to the Committee on 12 May was that it review the 2009 Act, which does not relate directly to expenses. My concern is that calling it an expenses Committee and limiting its remit would in some way prevent it from doing its work of reviewing the 2009 Act. If the Deputy Leader of the House can confirm that the change will in no way narrow the Committee’s ability to do its work of reviewing the Act and producing recommendations, there will be very little to detain us.

Mr Heath: I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Let me make it absolutely clear to the House that the change in wording in no way restricts the ability of the Committee to consider the issue of allowances as it relates to the review of the operation of the Act. The Committee will be free to consider the issue of allowances and to make recommendations as it sees fit. The Government have no intention of seeking to restrict the Committee’s remit in the way that is feared.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con) rose—

Mr Heath: I will give way in a moment, but let me just say again that the change merely brings the Committee’s title up to date, reflecting the new system that is in operation at the moment.

Mr Leigh: I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. Of course, I have no idea what the Committee will decide, but for instance—for the sake of argument—if it were to recommend that the current expense-based system on living away should be replaced by a flat-rate allowance, would that be perfectly in order?

Mr Heath: It would be in order for the Committee to consider any matter that it sees fit in reviewing the legislation as it is currently worded, so I think the answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes.

7 July 2011 : Column 1730

Mr Leigh: And can it make any recommendations as well?

Mr Heath: Indeed, it can make any recommendations based on the considerations into which it has entered. It would be a very odd restriction on a Committee if it were to be told that it cannot make recommendations when it has considered a matter. Of course, such recommendations would be the end result if the Committee so chooses.

Motion 9 also brings the Committee’s terms of reference up to date. The Committee has a number of specific functions, set out in Standing Order No. 152G(1)(a) to (d), in relation to the old allowances regime that was administered by the House until the election last year. They include, for example, approving practice notes for the now-defunct fees office. Clearly, those specific powers are no longer relevant—they are, in effect, spent—and the motion provides the House with an opportunity to replace them with a more general power to consider any matter related to Members’ expenses that the House might choose to refer to it.

I sense from the interventions from the hon. Members for Windsor and for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) that they have received some reassurance from what I have said.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con) rose—

Mr Heath: I hope that my hon. Friend is reassured as well, but I will allow him to say.

Mr Bacon: I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can reassure me. He said that the motion brings the Standing Order up to date because the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is operating an expenses-based scheme, not an allowances scheme. I have looked at the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. It mentions the word “allowance” or “allowances” 37 times. Therefore, the authority under which IPSA operates—the Act—provides for allowances. It does not provide any authority to operate an expenses scheme. Can he clarify that for me?

Mr Heath: I can simply make it clear that IPSA does what it believes to be in line with the Act. The Committee will be free to consider those matters and to bring forward recommendations as it sees fit. I do not think that I can be more open than simply saying that no restriction is applied by the terms of the motions.

Mr Bacon: I am grateful to the Deputy Leader of the House for being as open as he thinks he can be, but I am still not quite clear. The 2009 Act could not be clearer. The words “expense” or “expenses” are not mentioned anywhere—I just searched a PDF copy of the Act and found that those words are mentioned nowhere in it—but the words “allowance” or “allowances” are mentioned 37 times. How can it be that IPSA operates a scheme that it thinks is in line with the Act if it ignores the terms of the Act? That is what I simply do not understand.

Mr Heath: It is probably not helpful for me to rehearse the subject matter of considerations that will clearly take place in the Committee. I do not speak for IPSA, but it has made it very clear that the current system is

7 July 2011 : Column 1731

one of expenses, whereby Members are reimbursed for costs that they can prove they have incurred. The previous, discredited scheme was one of allowances, whereby Members were allowed to claim, in many cases, with no proof of actual expenditure. I repeat that changing the title of the Committee would not prevent it from proposing that IPSA should introduce a new system that includes an element of allowances, but it would be better if the Committee’s title actually reflected the scheme that is in operation rather than one that is not in operation.

Adam Afriyie: From the reassurance the Deputy Leader of the House has given, I am satisfied that the remit of the Committee and the review will not be restricted, and we can look at everything and come to a calm, considered conclusion. My final question is on the timing of the formation of the Committee, given that we have had a 49-hour stutter in the proceedings.

Mr Heath: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what I take to be an indication that he will not press his amendment. That is good, because it means that everyone has the same understanding of what we are doing. In terms of timing, I know that the Leader of the House is champing at the bit to take the necessary steps to allow the Committee of Selection to establish the Committee. Indeed, I think it would probably have already been done had it not been for the delays—albeit quite proper delays—occasioned by the objections and amendments that have been tabled. If we can dispose of this business today, I have every confidence that the Committee will be up and running at a very early date. We will then be in business, which is what the hon. Gentleman wants.

Adam Afriyie: I appreciate that one can never predict the future, but can the Deputy Leader of the House say whether he expects that the Committee will be formed this side of the recess?

Mr Heath: I think that we can do even better than that. I shall make no further prognostication, but it will certainly be this side of the recess.

Adam Afriyie: Then I can say on my own behalf, and possibly on behalf of others, that I will not press my amendments. I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for his assurance and I thank the Leader of the House for the calm and considered way in which he has approached the issue.

Mr Heath: I am extremely grateful and I hope that, subject of course to the will of the House in approving the recommendation by the Committee of Selection in due course, we will be able to make quick progress.

Motion 10 asks the Committee to report back to the House on the issue tasked to it by 31 December 2011. That date allows the views of the Committee to be considered to a time scale that fits in with the next annual review of the expenses scheme by IPSA, which is expected early next year. A delay in reporting risks the ability of IPSA to consider, consult on and implement in an orderly way any changes that may be proposed. I gather that we may not now have a Division on the

7 July 2011 : Column 1732

amendment, which I am very pleased about. Otherwise, we might have a delay that would obstruct the work of the Committee.

The House agreed on 12 May that a review of the operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 should take place. The Government are keen that the Committee is set up without any more unnecessary delay and gets on with the important work that the House has tasked it with, and I commend the motions to the House.

3.53 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington North) (Lab): The Opposition welcome the fact that these motions are being debated today, and welcome even more that the House appears to be moving towards some consensus. It is of course a matter for Back Benchers to decide, but it is important that we get this Committee set up and running as soon as possible, because the scheme clearly needs amendment.

I see the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) in his place. Like me, he sits on the liaison committee with IPSA and we spend a lot of time trying to iron out problems in the scheme. It is imperative therefore that we reach a sensible position that both maintains public confidence in the scheme and does not use up too much of the time of hon. Members, who are fast becoming the highest paid data input clerks in the country.

Anyone who has read the National Audit Office report published today—I have had the time to read only some of it—will be clear that much work needs to be done on the scheme. The NAO quantifies the amount of time it is taking for Members and their staff, and actually puts a monetary value on that. It also comments on the repetitive nature of much of the information that is required. We clearly need to have a transparent expenses system. I do not think that anyone in the House would suggest anything else. However, we need to have one that facilitates the work of hon. Members and does not get in the way of our much more important work of representing our constituents. I am grateful to hon. Members involved for their work in setting up the Committee, which I hope can play a major role in ensuring that the scheme we have works properly and in the best interests of our constituents and the House. I look forward to the Committee being set up and being able to get on with its work as soon as possible.

3.55 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not having been here at the outset, but I was chairing Westminster Hall and it was not possible to get a substitute as quickly as I had hoped.

I hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) that much progress has been made during this short debate. I am certainly pleased to hear that. There is a lesson here: if the Government table motions on the Order Paper that are inconsistent with a resolution of the House agreed to as a result of a Back-Bench debate and do not discuss their reasons for tabling the motion, it creates a climate of suspicion. That climate of suspicion was confirmed yesterday, when the Committee of Selection was set up to confirm the membership of the Committee on Members’ Allowances but at the last minute did not deal with the business at

7 July 2011 : Column 1733

hand. I understand that it has been confirmed during this debate that there will be a special meeting today of the Committee of Selection to set up the Committee so that the latter can organise itself to meet next week. I do not know whether that interpretation is correct, but I understand that that is what has been agreed.

Why did we have to go through all this? It is regrettable that this adversarial attitude has been created over an issue that everybody on both sides of the House takes very seriously—IPSA’s administration of our allowances system. Yesterday, I went on to the IPSA website to make a claim for the past month—it was my first claim for a month—and I found that four previous items that I claimed for had been sent back. I will not go into the details except to say that after more than an hour on the telephone all those matters were resolved. However, it should never have taken so long. It was a matter of process dominating common sense and reality. The person from IPSA wasted more than an hour on the telephone. I had to waste more than an hour on the telephone. There were lots of delays and as a result one member of my staff was not paid as quickly as they should have been. That is why it is important that this Committee is set up with the terms of reference that we are debating this afternoon.

Mr Leigh: My hon. Friend can be reassured because we have had a categorical reassurance from the Deputy Leader of the House that there will be absolutely no restriction on what the Committee can decide or recommend. I have the greatest faith in our Front-Bench team—as far as I am concerned, their word is their bond.

Mr Chope: I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. I hope that when the Committee of Selection meets, he will be selected as a member of the Committee, with my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor as its Chairman. With those two on the Committee, I have little doubt that it can do some effective work. However, I still do not understand why it has taken so long to set it up. It was resolved on 12 May that it should be set up, but it is now almost 12 July.

I see that quite a few members of the Treasury Bench are in their places. I hope that they will learn a lesson from this—that we should be much more open with each other about these issues instead of creating or facilitating a climate of suspicion. It is possibly only because today’s business collapsed more than two hours early that we have had the chance to have this open and frank discussion on the Floor of the House on this important issue. When the report—or reports—come back from the Committee, I hope that the Government will again be open and frank, and allow us to ensure that the recommendations are debated and carried into action. That way, there will be no need to spend even more parliamentary time trying to get the Government to do what was agreed by the Prime Minister as long ago as before last December, as I recall, when he made it clear that if something did not happen by April, he would ensure that pressure would be put on IPSA to get its act together.

All’s well that ends well—I hope. In that respect, I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor for briefing me on what transpired earlier in the debate. I hope that it will be confirmed in the response to this

7 July 2011 : Column 1734

debate that the members of the Committee will be appointed by the Committee of Selection today, so that they can get down to their work first thing next week.

4.1 pm

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I shall be very brief. I am delighted by the Government’s reassurances, although I share the disappointment that it has taken since the resolution was passed in May to get to the point of setting up the Committee. If something had been decided that our constituents expected would happen, but then six or seven weeks later it had still not happened, we as Members would be advocating hard on their behalf. I am therefore glad that the decision has finally been made.

I want to make one point about the National Audit Office report that was published this morning, to which the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) referred. I have had a look at it, and I think that it looks fairly reasonable. I know that one or two Members who have looked at it are slightly disappointed that it does not appear to tear IPSA limb from limb. However, given what had taken place—the MPs’ expenses crisis and the response that came forth with the new legislation—IPSA has done its best. We know that there is still further to go, and my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House drew attention to the terms of reference—the need for improved public confidence, better accountability and better value for money, and not deterring legitimate claims. We all know that legitimate claims have been deterred, that we need to get value for money and that there is still some work to do, so I am delighted that the Committee can now proceed with its work.

4.2 pm

Mr Heath: I am most grateful to colleagues who have participated in this brief debate. I do not think that any of us seek to minimise the difficulties that have on occasion arisen over the last year in the operation of IPSA. As we all know, there are numerous bodies trying to iron out the problems and produce a more user-friendly, but at the same time rigorous approach to the whole subject. The Committee that we are setting up—that the House has asked to be set up—will go a long way towards dealing with the more fundamental review of the legislation, to ensure that it is fit for purpose, and coming up with recommendations.

I have to say to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) that if he had doubts about the wording of the Government motions, we would all have been delighted to discuss his concerns with him and allay any fears. As I mentioned earlier, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Mr Randall) has spent quite some time discussing with interested Members the implications of the Government amendments, and to a large extent was able to reassure those who had a fundamental interest in the establishment of the Committee that their fears were groundless and that this was a real attempt to facilitate its setting up.

Mr Chope: Does the Minister accept that, if those fears had been allayed, my hon. Friends the Members for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) and for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) would not have had to table the amendments that are being debated today? How is what he has just

7 July 2011 : Column 1735

said consistent with the Government’s action yesterday in withdrawing from the business of the Committee of Selection the appointment of the members of this Committee? Finally, may I ask my hon. Friend why the opportunity for a short, five-minute debate was not taken—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his speech. I must also tell him that we are discussing motions 9 and 10 together, and that no amendments have been moved.

Mr Heath: I am most grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It would clearly have been entirely inappropriate for the Committee of Selection to pre-empt the decision of the House, and the House was prevented from taking a decision by the fact that amendments had been tabled that would have been treated as an objection to the order unless we could find time to debate it. Happily, we have had time to do so today, and I hope that I have been helpful to colleagues. I know that the Committee of Selection will be eager to meet at the earliest opportunity in order to make recommendations, which will then have to go before the House, to enable the Committee to be set up. We can now proceed without any further obstruction, should the House agree to the two motions that we have now debated. I hope that we can now do so with expedition.

Question put and agreed to.

Review of parliamentary Standards act 2009


That, further to the instruction to the Committee on Members’ Allowances of 12 May, it be an instruction to the Committee on Members’ Expenses to report to the House on the review of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 by 31 December 2011.— (Bill Wiggin.)

7 July 2011 : Column 1736


Barnett Formula

4.6 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): This is my first time presenting a petition in this place, and I did not expect to be doing it at this particular hour. I was hoping to do it a tiny bit later, because waiting for me in the Pugin Room are four Daventry councillors who are enjoying their afternoon tea while mine goes cold. However, this is a very important petition.

In the beautiful village of East Haddon in my constituency, there is a wonderful pub called the Red Lion. The talk of the town in East Haddon is not windmills, although we have plenty of them around the place, and they are the talk of the town in other parts of my constituency; nor is it High Speed 2, although the people who live in the village of Byfield will most certainly be talking about that in the pub. The talk of the town in East Haddon is the Barnett formula. A number of my petitioners, perhaps over a nice cold dry white wine one evening, got very excited about the Barnett formula, and about the fact that English people are being hard done by in regard to a fair and equal per capita distribution of taxpayers’ money across my constituency. They are therefore petitioning the House of Commons. Dr Angus Walker has put this together, and I hope that I can do him justice here today.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Daventry,

Declares that the Petitioners believe that the use of the Barnett Formula in the distribution of Government funds should be replaced with an equal per capita distribution for all races in the United Kingdom; notes that the Petitioners believe it to be iniquitous that some parts of the United Kingdom are discriminated against because of race; and further notes that the Petitioners consider that it is wrong to permit such discrimination to be exempted in law.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to discontinue the use of the Barnett Formula in the distribution of Government funds and replace it with an equal per capita distribution for all races in the United Kingdom.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


7 July 2011 : Column 1737

Ian Puddick (Internet Crime)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Bill Wiggin.)

4.9 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I do not know whether it is something in the water, but Enfield has recently produced constituents whose cases are of high national importance, which are challenging legislation, international treaties and guidance. I refer, of course, to my constituent Gary McKinnon, to Andrew Symeou in the neighbouring constituency, and to Ian Puddick, the subject of this Adjournment debate.

I do not wish to entertain the House with the salacious details of this case, which are at times complex and at other times bizarre and, frankly, quite frightening. I wish to explore the principles and practice involved in the case, about which the whole House will no doubt be concerned, as they are fundamental. My primary concern, which again the whole House doubtless shares, is with the principle of equality before the law—the principle that money and wealth should not be used to warp the course of natural justice and that equality should not be eroded in the age of the internet and super-injunctions, which we have seen in recent times.

It is only right for me to start by explaining some of the details of my constituent’s case. In June 2009, Mr Puddick became aware that his wife was having an affair with her employer, who is a board member of a large reinsurance firm. He found on her phone explicit text messages from this man, which then led to his wife’s confession that the affair had been ongoing for some 10 years. In his emotional state, my constituent began calling clients of this large firm, informing them that their manager had used company expenses to fund an affair with another employee. When the manager concerned became aware of this, he hired a private security firm, linked to his organisation, to discredit my constituent and to build a case of harassment against him. Mr Puddick received a phone call from the chief executive of the security firm, who reportedly said, “Our pockets are deep…we will bury you.” How was he buried?

In August the same year, my constituent’s home, office and his company accountants were raided by 16 officers from the City of London police counter- terrorism and major crimes directorate. They removed his personal computers, his mobile phones, laptops, digital cameras and even his personal sat-nav and sent all this equipment to a high-technology crime laboratory for testing.

My constituent was subsequently arrested and decided not to have a lawyer. He then gave a full and frank confession that he made those phone calls to clients and he apologised for it. He was then charged and stringent police bail conditions were attached. On the first occasion he attended court, the bail conditions were relaxed as it became immediately apparent that my constituent was a man of good character and not likely to commit any act of violence or to make any threats. The court realised that the case needed to be dealt with proportionately.

I understand from my constituent that, to the surprise of the magistrates, when the officers were asked about the evidence that provided the basis for this case of harassment, it became clear that my constituent’s wife had not even provided a statement. Despite all the

7 July 2011 : Column 1738

extreme, disproportionate and expensive investigations that had gone on, which seemed to suggest a major crime, the one witness statement that one would have expected to have been brought forward did not materialise. Any right-minded person listening to the debate—and certainly those listening at the back of the court at which Mr Puddick first came into the public gaze—would have questioned why this was happening.

A trial was set for April the following year. Before that date the man who had had an affair with Mr Puddick’s wife resigned from his position, and the case was dropped. One might have thought that that would be the end of it, and that there would simply have been complaints to the Independent Police Complaints Commission—as, indeed, there were—which would have been processed in the usual way.

If the case had ended in that way we would not have ended up discussing it here at 4.15 on a Thursday afternoon, but Mr Puddick was rightly appalled by what had happened, and particularly concerned about the disproportionate actions that he felt had been taken by the police. For reasons of his own, which one may understand and with which one may feel a great deal of sympathy, he set up a blog—www.ianpuddick.com—to which he uploaded a love letter that had been sent to his wife, as well as a video describing the disproportionate response of the police and questioning the actions of the private security firm. Entries to the website www.policeexpenses.com and other similar addresses were redirected to the original blog.

What then happened, in May 2010, seemed to my constituent to have come out of nowhere. He was arrested again, this time not by local detectives but by the City of London police murder squad. He was told by investigating officers that he could not put that information on the internet. He replied, “I am just putting out information that is true.” The response from the police, which might be considered chilling by anyone concerned about freedom of speech, was, apparently, “Even if it is completely true, you have committed a criminal offence.”

Mr Puddick was subsequently charged, again, with harassment, but on this occasion on the specific grounds that he had created and distributed three websites which were designed to discredit an individual both professionally and personally. He denied all the allegations, and the case went to the magistrates court in June this year. It was put to the magistrates that Mr Puddick was guilty of harassment through Facebook, Twitter and his websites, and it was partly because of those extra allegations that the case made national headlines. However, it was proved in court through cross-examination at an early stage that there had been no use of Facebook or Twitter.

I understand that an officer from City of London police offered the explanation that the counter-terrorism and murder squads had been called because of the level of distress that she believed my constituent was causing through his websites. One can only speculate, looking at other websites, on whether such distress constitutes grounds for using the precious and important resources of the counter-terrorism and murder squads. I am glad that the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) is present to note my concern in that regard. My constituent was finally found not guilty of the charge of harassment on 17 June this year.

7 July 2011 : Column 1739

Having listened to that extraordinary tale, some may believe that it involves a purely operational issue which really belongs on the pages of the tabloids—where it did indeed appear in this instance—rather than in the Chamber. However, as I said at the outset, there is a key point of principle: the principle of equality before the law. As my constituent has stated on numerous occasions, if this could happen to him, it could happen to anyone.

I want to raise two key points with the Minister. The first is the apparent influence of wealth and authority on the implementation of the law. It seems clear that had it not been for the well-connected private security company and the high profile of the business involved, my constituent would not have experienced such a disproportionate use of force and response. If there is another reason, no one is aware of it. Indeed, it is interesting that the man who had the affair with Mr Puddick’s wife was even advised by police in Sussex—the county where he lives—that this was a civil, not a criminal, matter, and anyone looking at this case would say that that seems to be a very reasonable judgment to make. Despite that, City of London police were approached and the raid in May 2009 followed. My constituent argues that the second raid almost a year later, following the publication of the blog and website, was also based on information that came from the private security firm and outside interests.

We can go back into history—indeed, all the way back to AD 43, when there was the first recorded mention of equality before the law, by Pericles, and we can then eventually go on to the Magna Carta and other important integral documents in our constitutional law that establish that equality before the law is an important principle. Pericles stated:

“If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences…class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit”.

Those words and our fundamental principles based on the Magna Carta and established through international law and treaty obligations would seem to be all but forgotten when the 16 counter-terrorism officers from City of London police raided a residential property because, from the point of view of my constituent, who is a mere plumber, that seemed to be in the interests of more powerful and wealthy business interests, which were concerned about the effects on reputation and sought to challenge the concepts of free speech and the truth.

One could take a view about the appropriateness of how my constituent went about this matter. One could criticise that and say that it was not right, but questions have to be raised about the fact that those actions were criminalised to the extent that they were, and that the police decided to act in the way they did and used the resources they used, which is why the matter has come to this Chamber. This is a fundamental issue in the wider context of our legal system. As a practising lawyer, I have concerns, but this should be of great concern to all Members.

I do not need to remind the House of the recent super-injunction controversy and the complexity added to that by Twitter and the open-platform social media that provide a forum. The key issue in that debate was not merely the affairs and the scandals, but the fact that

7 July 2011 : Column 1740

our legal system sought to support, or some would say protect, those individuals of some privilege who were able, through wealth and influence, to seek to protect their reputations and their future incomes, regardless in some respects of the consequences and the human collateral damage.

It appears that my constituent’s experience is not an isolated one, since having secured this debate I was contacted by Dr Howard Fredrics, who is similarly charged with harassment because of a website exposing misconduct by officials at Kingston university. Even though, as I am also informed, Kingston police found no evidence of harassment, the Crown Prosecution Service went ahead with a case against Dr Fredrics, just as the CPS decided not to take account of Sussex police advice and a case was mounted against Mr Puddick. In both cases the common factor seems to be people and institutions of influence, and one would have to say that the concept of the rule of law has been challenged. Those are two examples, but there may be more, which might have gone unnoticed because of the under-reporting of magistrates court cases. The reason for this debate is that they should not go unnoticed by this House or the Government.

The disproportionate response to my constituent’s case raises fundamental questions, and we cannot cast them aside as an operational blip. The reaction casts a shadow over the way in which we respond to issues, not least issues of free speech. These issues are becoming much more complex, but they are so important. That applies to matters on the internet and online, and matters outside and offline.

The issues raised by my constituent’s case, which relate to free speech and the way in which the prosecuting authorities deal with enforcement, particularly in respect of the internet, are important and of wider significance. When dealing with cases of cyber-stalking or online harassment, it is important to consider how enforcement is applied and how the guidance really does affect these issues.

We need to recognise that there is no suggestion that Mr Puddick’s comments on his website were untrue. The prosecution because of his comments relied on the argument that the repetition and spreading of the factual points amounted to harassment. It is important for me to make it clear that I entirely agree with the Government’s policy and approach to this issue. The case law and policy make it clear that harassment is illegal online as much as it is illegal offline. We learn of some awful cases of cyber-stalking, and they should properly be prosecuted and punishable with the full force of the criminal law. If an individual persistently contacts or attempts to contact a victim and the court concludes that that conduct constitutes harassment, the police need to follow through proportionately to where the evidence leads them and a prosecution needs to follow, where appropriate. That should happen regardless of whether such behaviour occurs in person or through online social media.

I recognise that sound guidance is in place on dealing with cyber-stalking and harassment. I invite the Minister to consider, after this debate, whether that guidance is fit for purpose and whether it is appropriate, particularly given how it seems to have been wholly misapplied in the case of Ian Puddick. The Government are rightly examining areas of vulnerability in respect of young people and those with disabilities, who need particular

7 July 2011 : Column 1741

protection when it comes to dealing with the internet. We need to recognise that we have a particularly strong duty to those people, and it is right that the Government, in applying the guidance, are examining those areas. We also need to ensure that the fundamental principle of the equality of the law is applied across the board.

As is clear from the account that I have given, it is clear that the proper guidance and way to apply that guidance is far removed from what happened in Mr Puddick’s case. He was told that he was not allowed to put up his website because it, in effect, damaged the reputation of another individual and that that damage amounted to illegal harassment. Since this case has reached the public gaze, several commentators have remarked that if Mr Puddick had been found guilty, the floodgates would have been opened for a number of other such claims.

I am sure that other hon. Members, perhaps in an unguarded moment, would be tempted by the possibility of prosecuting the odd blogger who wrote an article about them with which they disagreed. I have had an attack website constructed against me. It is dedicated to opposing me and, some would say, to damaging my reputation, and colleagues would doubtless be able to give examples of different actions that have taken place. However, many of us would also recognise that there is a role and place for the law, including the civil law—there is no doubt that the law on libel and defamation has a role to play. I welcome the Government’s review into super-injunctions, which is examining how we can properly ensure that our approach to these whole areas of privacy, and libel and defamation are made fit for the modern-day purpose. I would also welcome a proper look at the current Crown Prosecution Service guidelines and how they apply in all the different circumstances.

I am calling for a level playing field—the level playing field that has been established over many years and that this country, rightly, is proud to promote and apply. I hope that my constituent’s case will set a precedent or at least be a marker to suggest that such websites and blogs should be properly considered in the context of an appropriate and proportionate application of guidance in both criminal and civil law. It is important that, as online technology develops rapidly, we ensure that the Government also allow for proper clarity in their guidance so that we do not face situations such as that which sadly caused detriment to Mr Puddick.

We also need to be particularly watchful when criminal law is involved. Cases such as Mr Puddick’s might be rare—we do not have the exact numbers—but we need to recognise that when there is enforcement by the police, liberty is lost and other consequences arise, we must be ever watchful and mindful of the serious repercussions and how they can chip away at, or even take a chunk out, of the fundamental principles that we all hold dear.

In conclusion, the issue in this case is not the affair that some people might have been interested in reporting on, and it is not about my constituent and his phone calls to clients. This is not about the man or the affair. The issue is whether Ian Puddick has made the case that large companies and private security firms have an influence that has led to a taxpayer-funded police force following what some might suggest was a taxpayer-funded crusade. Indeed, it was called Operation Bohan—I am not sure why it was named after Bohan, the son of

7 July 2011 : Column 1742

Rueben—and the whole operation was dedicated to this case, seemingly to silence his accusations because they might harm financial interests.

One could argue that if the complaint had been made to the City of London police by an ordinary member of the public—say, a plumber like my constituent—the estimated £1 million would not have been spent investigating and prosecuting the case. It would, I imagine, have been dealt with as a civil matter, worthy, if the police had been involved, of a quiet word from them. I say that the £1 million is an estimated figure, and Mr Puddick has been asking questions to find out the true costs. If possible, I would be interested in hearing at some point—I know the answer will not be available today—how much the police operation and prosecution cost.

Without any further information, it would seem that Operation Bohan flew in the face of the key principle of equality before the law by seemingly putting the interests of wealthy organisations above the free speech and basic rights of the everyday citizen. I do not say those words lightly. I have been a criminal solicitor for 14 or so years and have great respect for the rule of law, for our system of justice and for how it is properly applied day in, day out, by police officers and prosecuting authorities. When we see cases that seem exceptional and that are exceptional in their application of power, we must stand up for our constituents. It is worse for everyone, not just my constituent, that the operation was funded by the taxpayer. My tax-paying constituents—all of them—played their part in paying for the anti-terrorist officers, the high-technology laboratory and the extensive surveillance. Indeed, they also played a part in the Crown Prosecution Service’s seemingly doomed attempt to prosecute Mr Puddick.

My constituent is concerned about what he would call an apparent perversion of natural justice that must be identified, addressed and appropriately challenged by Ministers. The Government and the Minister are rightly big on accountability and I fully support that, but we also need to recognise that there must be accountability for the actions of the police and the prosecuting authorities. They must be brought to account in cases such as Mr Puddick’s so that we can ensure that another innocent member of the public is not awoken by an armed counter-terrorism unit acting, perhaps, on the whims of wealth and power.

4.35 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): First, let me congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) on securing the debate, which it is a pleasure for me to respond to on behalf of the Government. I know of his long-standing interest in these issues, particularly on ensuring that freedom of expression is protected and I fully understand why he seeks to raise his concerns about the case of his constituent, Mr Ian Puddick. I appreciate that my hon. Friend seeks to put the case for his constituent very forcefully, which he has certainly done.

I know that my hon. Friend understands that Ministers do not have a role in commenting on or interfering in specific cases, but it is important to restate that point. In this country we have a principle of operational independence for the police and it is very important that Ministers do not seek to direct police investigations or to comment on them improperly. However, it is also very important

7 July 2011 : Column 1743

that we have a proper system of accountability for the police and their actions in relation to the law and more widely. I will return to that point. I am afraid that I cannot therefore comment on the legal aspects of this individual case, but I understand that the City of London police took the allegation of harassment against Mr Puddick very seriously and that it was investigated in line with national procedures.

I also understand that the City of London police received a complaint last September relating to the conduct of officers involved in Mr Puddick’s arrest on suspicion of harassment in August 2009. Following a thorough internal investigation the force’s professional standards directorate found no misconduct. Mr Puddick was informed of that decision last December and had the right to appeal to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. I do not know whether he has pursued that course, but my hon. Friend might wish to contact him and help him in that regard. We have a formal complaints procedure whereby the conduct of police forces can be properly investigated precisely to deal with situations in which people feel they have been improperly treated by the police. Having the IPCC means that such complaints and police forces can be independently investigated quite separately from Government, as is proper, but there might be reasons why Mr Puddick has not taken that course.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful for the Minister’s response and I will certainly follow up the details of my constituent’s complaint. My presumption is that the progress of his complaint was subject to the fact that proceedings were ongoing, but they have recently been concluded and he will now be able to pursue many avenues. The problem he has probably encountered is that his complaint is not like usual complaints about how people have been treated in detention or on arrest, but is more of a systemic issue about an operational decision that was taken, and so he might find it harder to get to the truth. I therefore invite the Minister to make inquiries into why, given the facts of the case, the decision about Operation Bohan was taken.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend is seeking to draw me into precisely the sort of comment about individual investigations that I am prohibited from making. Nevertheless, I will say that it strikes me that this case would merit an appeal to the IPCC. I might be wrong about that and will ensure that I follow up the debate by sending him formal advice on whether that remains an option for Mr Puddick.

My hon. Friend referred to the involvement of counter-terrorist officers in the case, which the media also reported on. I can confirm that the investigation was run by the force’s major investigation team, which, although it was set up primarily to deal with major crime, occasionally deals with cases outside its remit to relieve pressure on other departments within the force. The team sits within the force’s serious crime and counter-terrorist directorate, which might explain the confusion and the suggestion that counter-terrorist officers were involved in the investigation.

I know that my hon. Friend will agree that, when the police receive an allegation of a crime, they should consider it properly. Indeed, they are required within

7 July 2011 : Column 1744

the rules set out to record it. The offence of harassment can cause the victim great distress, and the police are committed to responding in a timely manner when they receive such reports. My comments in this respect are not to be taken as an endorsement of the police action in this case, but I think that we would all agree with the general principle that it is proper for the police to respond to and investigate such claims.

The internet has hugely enriched our lives and every Member of the House is fully aware of its potency, but it can also be a useful tool for those seeking to abuse and intimidate their victims, and it is a source of particular concern to the Government that a new opportunity for crime has been created through cyber-bullying, cyber-stalking and such harassment of victims. The abuse can continue for long periods, with no refuge for the person on the receiving end of the harassment, and can involve a much bigger audience, with more people becoming accessories to the harassment by forwarding offensive messages and images, making it difficult to identify the perpetrator. For all those reasons, the Government are very concerned about the growth of this form of criminality and are seeking to deal with it.

Let me be clear that we have no plans to block legal internet content or websites. Our view on published material is that it is important to strike a balance between freedom of expression and protection of the public and that it should be proportional to the potential harm that might be caused. In other words, it is important that the action we take, and indeed the action of those who enforce the law, is proportionate, which is precisely the word my hon. Friend used. We are making progress in this area and there will be a ministerial seminar next week on personal harm on the internet, which will focus on the two key themes of cyber-stalking and hate crime. It is important that we continue to make progress in this area. Nevertheless, I strongly agree with the principle of equality before the law, as my hon. Friend set out. It is important that police forces in this country are impartial and act without fear or favour, and he is right to restate that principle.

My hon. Friend is correct to say that I am big on accountability, and so are the Government. We seek to ensure that police forces are accountable—of course—to the law for their actions, and they are in the case before us. I mentioned recourse to the IPCC, and should Mr Puddick believe that the police behaved unlawfully in his case he also has recourse to legal action. I make no comment on whether that is the case, but the police are not above the law.

The police should also be accountable for their actions, and we seek to strengthen the democratic oversight of policing, but that does not extend to interference in operational independence, because that principle must remain. We are, however, going to give directly elected police and crime commissioners an important role in the oversight of police complaints—not to receive complaints directly, because that will still be a matter for the IPCC, but to ensure that forces generally deal with complaints properly.

I regret that that measure will not be applicable to the City of London police, because it is the one force to which we will not be introducing directly elected police and crime commissioners, but I am sure that the force itself and the authority that holds it to account will watch carefully the developments in our legislation.

7 July 2011 : Column 1745

On the cost of the investigation, my hon. Friend cited the sum of £1 million. I am not sure whether he thought that that was the cost of the police investigation and the Crown Prosecution Service investigation, but the City of London police state that the £1.5 million cost that was ascribed to the investigation was very wide of the mark. I am not able to respond to his suggested cost for the combined operation of the police and the CPS, but I am happy to ask that the City of London police and the CPS provide that information to my hon. Friend. Importantly, the CPS would of course have had to agree to the charges that were brought before the courts and, in doing so, have taken the view that a prosecution was in the public interest, so the actions that were taken were a matter not just for the police, but for the CPS.

Without trespassing further on the detail of the case, I fully understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the matter and, indeed, respect the fact that he has brought it to the attention of the House. I hope he understands that I cannot interfere, but I hope also that I have provided some useful information.

Mr Burrowes: I am grateful for the Minister’s response. He will be aware, because I have raised the matter with him before, and agree that what is needed among other things in our justice system is information. Indeed, in the words of the victims commissioner, relentless information is a real driver of change and of accountability, and one aspect of that is the reporting of magistrates court cases, which often go unnoticed. I have raised two examples, but in that area as in others the benefits of more information will raise the stakes on accountability and ensure that Ministers are as aware as others of whether there is a prevalence of such cases and of the actions that could lead to criticism and to operational changes.

I therefore ask the Minister to have an eye for that, as well as just to—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Briefly.

7 July 2011 : Column 1746

Mr Burrowes: I will just raise one other matter concerning internet crime, which is the subject of the debate. I welcome ministerial involvement in the seminars on hate crime, which is a real concern. There is a particular prevalence of anti-Semitism on the internet, and I know that Ministers are taking on work from the previous Government in that area.

Nick Herbert: I strongly agree about the importance of transparency. The criminal justice system is relatively opaque, but this week the Government have announced further moves to increase transparency. One area in which we wish to do that is the criminal justice system, and I am working on such proposals because I believe that justice must be seen to be done. I hope that my hon. Friend will take a continuing interest in that and will encourage us in our efforts.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for supporting our action on hate crime, and I know that he understands the importance of dealing with it. In respect of this case and the issues that my hon. Friend raises, it is very important that we and the law strike the appropriate balance. Free speech is an important freedom that must be protected to the greatest extent possible, but it cannot be permitted if harm is done to others. The law exists in order sometimes to curtail the operation of free speech where such harm may be done. That is why we have a harassment law. It is right that our law enforcement agencies focus on areas where people may be bullied, harassed or subject to intimidation and threats, and that includes through the new medium of the internet. It is appropriate that our law enforcement agencies take action according to the laws that have been set out by Parliament. It equally behoves those agencies to behave in a proper and proportionate manner.

Question put and agreed to.

4.51 pm

House adjourned.