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Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): May we have a statement or an urgent debate on access to cancer services? I understand that the Department of Health published a report on its website on 19 August that contained some specific recommendations. Such a debate would be opportune, given that out of 28 cancer networks, the North of England Cancer Network figures worst in terms of access, and has the seventh highest incidence of newly diagnosed cancers—Yorkshire is 27th. It would be useful if we could have a statement or debate on that.

Sir George Young: The Government’s view is that those who are recommended by their general practitioner to have a scan for cancer should have it as quickly as possible, and that any subsequent treatment should also take place as quickly as possible. I shall raise with the Secretary of State for Health the particular problem that the hon. Gentleman outlines and will ask my right hon. Friend to write to him.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The Government’s latest plans to reorganise the coastguard accepts the importance of local knowledge in retaining 24-hour coastguard stations. The closures of Crosby in my constituency and of Clyde leave the whole north-west of England and west of Scotland coastlines without a single coastguard station. Will the Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Transport to reconsider the closures at Crosby and elsewhere before it is too late, because of the importance of local knowledge?

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity a week today for the hon. Gentleman to raise his concerns with the Secretary of State for Transport, who will be at this Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman can ask my right hon. Friend whether he is prepared to consider that proposition.

Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Leader of the House aware that this week is the 20th anniversary of the ceasefire in the Western Sahara? Will he consult Ministers and seek time for a statement or debate on the UK’s position on resolving that conflict, and on how the Sahrawi can see justice sooner rather than later, rather than wait another 20 years?

Sir George Young: I understand the hon. Lady’s concern and I am grateful to her for raising it. I shall ask the Foreign Secretary to write to her to respond to her question to see whether we can make some progress on this important issue.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): In July, an answer to a written question made it very clear that officials in the Department for Education should not use Hotmail addresses to contact schools that were going for academy status. However, a press report last month said that that was happening. May we have a statement on what is actually going on?

Sir George Young: There will be an opportunity on Monday 17 October, but that seems a little far away, so I will ask the Secretary of State for Education to write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify that matter.

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Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): The Leader of the House responded to the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) by referring him to a speech by the Secretary of State for Education. The Leader of the House spoke of the formal recording of restraint of, and use of force against, pupils in schools. He is clearly not aware that the Secretary of State for Education made a written statement to the House on Monday in which he made it clear that he no longer requires schools formally to record the use of restraint and force against pupils in schools. Clearly, one hand of the Government does not know what is happening on the other. May we have an urgent debate, so that we can know the Government’s position on the use of restraint and force against pupils in schools?

Sir George Young: As I said a few moments ago, my understanding is that the Secretary of State has removed the requirement that teachers should keep a record of each time they use physical restraint on pupils as part of the initiative to rebalance discipline in the class, and to give teachers more authority. The Secretary of State will have seen this exchange, and if by any chance I have not set out the position accurately, I know that he will write to the hon. Lady.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Further to the earlier exchange on Backbench Business Committee time, the Leader of the House will be aware that a huge number of Select Committee reports, including a Procedure Committee report, must be debated in the Chamber. Will he ensure that if additional time is found, it will also be made available for Select Committees?

Sir George Young: The hon. Gentleman will know that the Liaison Committee has its own quota of time for debates, which sits alongside the time available to the Backbench Business Committee. His remarks should

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therefore be addressed to the Chairman of the Liaison Committee, who allocates debates of Select Committee reports.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Last week, I spent two days with Hull Churches Home from Hospital Service, a wonderful organisation that provides support to patients, families and carers. May we have a debate in Government time on the role of such organisations, and on how we can secure their support during the chaos of the NHS reforms?

Sir George Young: I hope that the extra resources that the Government are putting into the NHS will mean that the more dramatic scenario that the hon. Lady paints will not take place. I would welcome such a debate, and perhaps she should like to apply for a debate on the Adjournment so that we can hear more about the heroic work that is being carried out.

Gregg McClymont (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East) (Lab): May we have a Government statement on the status of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ change plan? A year after the spending review, the 500 staff in the Cumbernauld HMRC office remain in the dark about the impact of HMRC cuts on their jobs.

Sir George Young: There was an opportunity on Tuesday to ask Treasury Ministers about the future of the staff at Cumbernauld, but I will raise that issue with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Speaker: I must thank the Leader of the House and point out to colleagues that in 44 minutes consumed by Back Benchers in business questions, 51 had the opportunity to question and receive an answer from the Leader of the House. I thank him and all colleagues for their extreme succinctness and self-discipline.

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Baha Mousa Inquiry

12.30 pm

The Secretary of State for Defence (Dr Liam Fox): With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the report into the death of Mr Baha Mousa in Iraq in 2003. In any conflict, no matter what the reason for our country’s involvement and no matter how difficult the circumstances, what separates us from our adversaries are the values with which we prosecute it and the ethics that guide our actions. To represent Britain, in war as well as in peace, is to represent our inherent democratic values, the rule of law and respect for life. When those values are transgressed, it is vital that we get to the bottom of what has happened, are open about the issues and their causes, ensure that what reparations we can make are made and do all that we can to prevent it from happening again. Only in that way can we ensure that those values hold firm in how we think of ourselves and in how others perceive us.

I am today laying before the House the independent report published this morning by Sir William Gage as chairman of the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Baha Mousa in Iraq in 2003. I am grateful to Sir William and his team, who have produced a report that is sober, focused and detailed. Above all, I believe it to be both fair and balanced. It is, however, a painful and difficult read. As the report sets out:

“Baha Mousa was subject to violent and cowardly abuse and assaults by British Servicemen whose job it was to guard him and treat him humanely”.

That was the primary cause of his death. The inquiry was rightly set up in 2008 by the previous Government with the intent of shining a spotlight on the events surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and to provide the most definitive account possible in the circumstances. It does that comprehensively. What happened to Baha Mousa and his fellow detainees in September 2003 was deplorable, shocking and shameful. The Ministry of Defence and the Army have previously made a full apology to the family of Baha Mousa and to his fellow detainees and have paid compensation to them.

We can take some limited comfort that incidents like this are extremely rare, but we cannot be satisfied by that. Given the seriousness of this case, there is a series of questions that I have asked myself and that other Members will ask too. Among these are: who was responsible and what happened to them as a consequence? What action has been taken to prevent a recurrence? Do we have the right protection in place today in Afghanistan? And, of course, how will the Government respond to the recommendations made in the report? On responsibility, the report makes clear the extent of the failings of individuals, the MOD and the armed forces at the time and in earlier years. In addition to the shocking displays of brutality for which individuals were responsible, it is also clear that there were serious failings in command and discipline in 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment. There was a lack of clarity in the allocation of responsibility for the prisoner-handling process, and sadly, too, there was a lack of moral courage to report abuse. However, it must be acknowledged that a small number behaved with both integrity and courage in reporting what they had witnessed. They are examples of how others should have behaved.

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Wider than the battalion, there were also deficiencies in policies, orders and training relating to detention at that time. The chairman noted that there was inadequate doctrine on prisoner handling and a “systemic failure” that allowed knowledge of the prohibition on abusive techniques put in place by the Heath Government to be lost over the years. The report also confirms that the Army was underprepared for the task of handling civilian detainees, having expected after the end of war-fighting to provide humanitarian aid rather than become involved in counter-insurgency activities.

Since this incident in 2003, six different Defence Secretaries have stood at this Dispatch Box. I am sure that they all regret that it has taken so long to get to the bottom of what happened and that even now the refusal of some involved to tell the whole truth means that it has not been possible to establish the full extent of the culpability of individuals. Their behaviour is a matter for their own consciences, but others must take responsibility for the wider failures and deficiencies, and this report does not mean that our investigations of mistreatment of detainees are over. The evidence from the inquiry will now be reviewed to see whether more can be done to bring those responsible to justice. It would therefore not be appropriate to comment in the House on specific individuals and their role in this appalling episode.

I have asked the Chief of the General Staff, where individuals are still serving, to consider what action is necessary to ensure that the Army’s ethical standards are upheld. That is occurring through the chain of command as we speak. The investigations of the Iraq historic allegations team, which started work last November, are now well under way and are revealing evidence of some concern. It is too early to comment on what the conclusions of the IHAT investigations might be, but cases will be referred to the Director of Service Prosecutions, if and when there is sufficient evidence to justify that.

Since 2003, action taken by the MOD and the Army to address failings as they were identified has touched every aspect of the prisoner-handling system, from policy and doctrine to ground-level directives, as well as training and oversight. The changes wrought have been fundamental. The Army Inspector’s report in 2010, validated by an independent expert adviser, is one example of the detailed scrutiny applied to the training and doctrine for handling detainees. I assure the House that there is a commitment to continuous improvement at all levels inside and outside the armed forces.

As the report acknowledges, further positive changes have been made as a result of matters that emerged from evidence heard during this inquiry’s final module—module 4—which was a thorough scrutiny of our current detention policies, practices and training. The Minister for the Armed Forces and I take a close personal interest in detention matters in Afghanistan, and I am confident that our approach to detention there has improved markedly since the period rightly criticised in this report. However, we are in no way complacent about the issues identified by Sir William, and I can inform the House that I am accepting in principle all his recommendations with one reservation. It is vital that we retain the techniques necessary to secure swiftly, in appropriate circumstances, the intelligence that can save lives. I am afraid that I cannot accept the recommendation that we institute a blanket ban, during tactical questioning, on the use of certain verbal and non-physical techniques.

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I share some of Sir William’s concerns, however, so I have asked the Chief of the Defence Staff to ensure that that approach is used only by defined people in defined circumstances.

Between 2003 and 2008, 179 British personnel were killed in Iraq serving their country, and many more returned injured. In autumn 2003, 1st Battalion the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment faced an immensely difficult challenge as it attempted to bring law and order to a large area that had been subject to a brutally oppressive regime for many years. As Sir William acknowledges, the issues addressed in his report

“need to be understood in the operational context in which they occurred: the tempo of operations; the poor state of the local civilian infrastructure; a daily threat to life from both civilian unrest and an increasing insurgency; the deaths of fellow service personnel and incessant oppressive heat. In combination these factors made huge demands on soldiers serving in Iraq in 2003.”

There are few of us sitting in the comfort of the House of Commons who can claim to understand what that must have been like. However, the vast majority of armed forces personnel faced these same challenges and did not behave in the way outlined in this report. They represent the fine ethical values found day in and day out in our armed forces, and we must not allow the unspeakable actions of a very few to damage the reputation of the whole.

I want to make it clear that Baha Mousa was not a casualty of war. His death occurred while he was a detainee in British custody. It was avoidable and preventable, and there can be no excuses. There is no place in our armed forces for the mistreatment of detainees, and there is no place for a perverted sense of loyalty that turns a blind eye to wrongdoing or erects a wall of silence to cover it up. If any serviceman or woman, no matter the colour of uniform that they wear, is found to have betrayed the values this country stands for and the standards that we hold dear, they will be held to account. Ultimately, whatever the circumstances, rules or regulations, people know the difference between right and wrong. We will not allow the behaviour of individuals who cross that line to taint the reputation of the armed forces, of which the British people are rightly proud. I commend this statement to the House.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for a strong statement. The whole House will welcome the way in which he is personally dealing with this difficult matter. I also welcome his courtesy in this morning allowing me early sight of the 1,400-page report into this horrific incident. It is a shocking episode, from which we must learn serious and lasting lessons. We all feel profound regret at the loss of Mr Baha Mousa’s life in British Army custody. His death in itself is tragic; that it appears that there was a cover-up afterwards compounds that tragedy. It is essential that our armed forces take responsibility for all actions committed during conflict. Our strength relies not only on our firepower, but on the standards and ethics that we uphold and on which we pride ourselves. This incident is a brutal violation of those standards.

Like the Secretary of State, I want to make it clear that although the report is damning about the actions of some in the Army in 2003, it is not a reflection of our

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armed forces in general. It is important that those in our forces hear that we remain proud of their bravery and professionalism, whether they are the 100,000 soldiers who previously served in Iraq in the recent past or those in Afghanistan or Libya operations today. All too many among their number have lost their lives or been injured to have their reputations attacked in that way. In Afghanistan, it is essential not only that our forces know that we are proud of their behaviour, but that Afghan civilians hear it loudly, too.

I would like to put on record my thanks to Sir William Gage and his inquiry team for their report, which is both forensic and frightening. It now seems clear that perhaps as many as two dozen members of the Army, including some in the chain of command, knew about the 93 injuries inflicted during those 36 hellish hours. The Secretary of State has outlined the details of the events, but it is deeply worrying that it now seems clear that there was a failure in the Army’s justice system, including in the court martial and the chain of command, and that incomplete assurances were given to Ministers.

It is right that politicians should avoid interfering in the criminal justice system in general and in military justice processes specifically, but that is sustainable only where the processes work and are demonstrated to be working. The report finds that multiple assaults took place in a confined space, including by senior NCOs, and that there was a

“loss of discipline and lack of moral courage”

to report the abuse. In accepting today’s recommendations, it is crucial that the Government take forward the proposal that those service personnel who reported abuse or who make complaints against their peers about the mistreatment of captured personnel should be afforded protection.

The report raises some serious questions; I wish to address just three, one of which the Secretary of State has already anticipated. He has stated that he accepts all but one of the 73 recommendations. He intends to retain the right to exercise the harsh approach in tactical questioning. There will be concerns in the House and elsewhere about that, so can he share further with the House the details as to why he wishes to retain the ability to enforce the harsh approach?

Secondly, the Secretary of State mentioned this in passing, but back in 1972, Ted Heath banned the use of the five techniques used in Northern Ireland during internment. Those techniques returned, despite being prohibited, albeit not banned, in the way that Prime Minister Heath had anticipated. The report suggests that legislation is not needed to ban those five techniques. However, will the Secretary of State look further at whether there will be an early opportunity to change armed forces legislation through the Armed Forces Bill, which is currently in their lordships’ House, to implement any parts of the report that would require legislative change? I am sure that he agrees that if legislative change were needed, it would be wrong to wait five years for the next armed forces Bill.

Finally, although the Secretary of State is right that we should not name individuals on the Floor of the House today, the report finds that individuals did not give full and accurate evidence about what happened and that there was a refusal to reveal identities. Previously, soldiers were given exemption from prosecution during

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this process. However, in addition to fresh Army disciplinary procedures that are currently being undertaken, will fresh legal processes now be initiated in the light of today’s report? Those named in the report surely cannot hide from justice behind their silence or their evasion in the court martial process, or be protected by a calculated cover-up by their peers in the Army or a failure to act in the Army’s chain of command.

In conclusion, on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11, it is compulsory that UK forces should continue to behave in a way that is alien to our foes. When our forces have to detain someone, that detainee is both in our custody and in our care. There is strong support on this side of the House for the report and the recommendations, and for the Government’s reaction to it. However, the consequence of the report must be that never again should anyone be subject to such brutality and lose their life because they are in British custody.

Dr Fox: I am very grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his response and for the way in which he phrased it. He is quite right that the report in no way reflects on the general behaviour of our armed forces; indeed, the whole reason why we are discussing this case is that it was a shocking deviation from the normal standards of behaviour that we have seen from our armed forces. He is correct that a number of individuals are still serving. We are looking at the evidence in detail—it is obviously a very large report—and as I have said, the chain of command is looking at how those individuals still in the armed forces might be treated, although I expect a number of suspensions today.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of issues about the harsh approach to questioning and why we should adopt it. First, I should say to the House that the so-called harsh approach involves a short burst of shouting—defined as a short, sharp shock—to bring a captured person back to the realisation of their situation. It is not a violent technique, but it has produced information that has led to both civilian and military lives being saved. To deprive our armed forces of techniques that can make them safer and protect the population both here and abroad would be wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether we needed a change to the law in respect of the five techniques that were outlawed by the Heath Government back in 1972. My understanding is that we do not—they are absolutely banned, as is currently made clear in training—but I will look to see whether doing that would reinforce the position and whether our legal experts believe it to be necessary.

As for the right hon. Gentleman’s point about exemptions from prosecution based on evidence, let me be clear that there was an exemption from prosecution based on an individual’s own evidence, not an exemption from prosecution based on the evidence of others that came out in the inquiry. Both military and civilian prosecuting authorities will be looking closely at the evidence to see whether it is possible to bring more of those involved to justice.

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): I thank the Secretary of State for the content of his statement and for the tone in which he delivered it. I

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agree completely with what he said, including his reticence about the banning of non-physical harsh methodology. This incident was a dreadful stain on our very fine armed forces, and I welcome his comments about the continued efforts to pursue those who still evade responsibility for their appalling behaviour.

There are two areas that I want to ask the Secretary of State about. As with the Aitken report, this incident has again exposed the problems with corporate memory, which has come up in other areas, such as the loss of the Hercules and the coroner’s inquiry into that. What ongoing work, as I know that some work has been done, is the right hon. Gentleman doing to try to improve—no organisation can be perfect—this issue of corporate memory in the Ministry of Defence? What are he and his Ministers doing to continue to show an interest in detention facilities? No matter what rules and regulations are in force, if the top of the chain of command and Ministers themselves are not constantly vigilant in overseeing from the top the methods being used, the facilities provided and how they are being run, there will be lapses. Are the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministers continuing to be vigilant in respect of our facilities and how they are being used in Afghanistan and elsewhere?

Dr Fox: The answer to the final question is emphatically yes. The Minister for the Armed Forces and I have recently inspected detention facilities in Afghanistan. We also have a rigorous system of reporting in place where every allegation is reported, recorded and investigated, which is a huge difference from what happened back in 2003. If I may say so, the Ministry of Defence strategic detention policy that the right hon. Gentleman published when he was Secretary of State is one of the ways in which we are codifying policy to ensure that corporate memory is not lost. The procedures for improvements in training, the very clear delineation of what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and the writing down of these training materials are the means by which, I hope, these dreadful and almost unbelievable lapses in corporate memory will not be allowed to happen again.

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): This is a dark day for the British Army. Does the Secretary of State agree with me that the criminals who were responsible for this should be brought before the courts so that we can secure the good name of Her Majesty’s forces, which are made up of good, honourable people—men and women—who have been let down by a few thugs and the cowardliness of those who have baulked justice?

Dr Fox: If I may, I will disagree with my hon. Friend, as I do not believe that this is a dark day for the Army; it is a dark day for a small number of individuals who have damaged the Army’s reputation for high ethical conduct. The vast majority of the British Army behaves in a way in which the whole House could be utterly proud. My hon. Friend is right, however, that those involved need to be pursued, that justice needs to be done and that we need to see what evidence comes from the report. Where new evidence is brought to light, we need to try to break through this wall of silence—this misguided sense of loyalty—that prevents wrongdoing from being properly addressed.

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Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): It is fair to say that the whole House commends the Secretary of State and his ministerial team for their continued vigilance on this issue, but will he assure us that all the individuals who are either found to be guilty or refuse to co-operate will be stripped of their Army pensions?

Dr Fox: As I have said, we are looking at what evidence is emerging from the report. I have asked the Chief of the General Staff to look at it and, through the chain of command, to take the appropriate measures. Of course, anything that is done will have to be done within the law of the land.

Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): Both Front Benchers and Back Benchers who have spoken so far have all quite rightly concentrated on the ethical dimension of this terrible case, but is the Secretary of State satisfied that the significance of abuses of this sort to counter-insurgency campaigning and the way in which they play into the hands of our enemies is sufficiently stressed by the heads of the armed services to the people on the front line?

Dr Fox: I am, and it is an essential part of counter-insurgency—and successful counter-insurgency—that we are seen to protect the population concerned. The improvements made to training, to facilities, to detainee handling and, indeed, to the current training of the Afghan forces on how to do the same will ensure that, although we can never remove the risk of such incidents happening, we can certainly minimise that risk.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I acknowledge the tenor of the Defence Secretary’s statement on this grave matter. Will he tell us more about what Sir William has said about the extent of the failings of the Ministry of Defence itself in relation to these matters? When he speaks about allowing the harsh approach to continue, as used by defined people in defined circumstances, who will define the people and the circumstances in future? Will the techniques involved in the short, sharp verbal treatment include any threat to detainees, their families or their communities?

Dr Fox: The mechanisms and approaches are set out in the appropriate training manuals and are emphasised during the training process. It is a matter of great regret that there was, as the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) has said, a loss of institutional memory in the Ministry of Defence. I personally find it difficult to understand how a statement given by a Prime Minister on the Floor of this House outlawing five interrogation techniques could be “forgotten” by the body corporate. There was a lack of codification, which has, I think, been put right in recent years. I share the disbelief that such a corporate memory failure could be allowed to occur.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): To follow up what my hon. and good Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has said, I would like to take it to a lower level: when people are frightened, scared out of their wits, very tired and have lost friends, they sometimes lose their moral compass. Is my right hon. Friend instructing battalion commanders and brigade commanders

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to ensure that when such situations are likely, officers brief their men on exactly how they should act? In circumstances that we have heard about, as they apply to the Baha Mousa case, will my right hon. Friend ensure that supervision by officers and non-commissioned officers is as close as it possibly can be in order to stop weak people, who might also be thugs, from acting appallingly?

Dr Fox: In many professions, the whole point of professional training is to get individuals to behave under stressful circumstances in the same way as they would at any other time. That applies in the medical profession, and it applies to the Army. My hon. Friend is right to point to the duty of officers both to supervise and to guide those they lead. One of the most appalling failures set out in the Baha Mousa inquiry was the failure of those in command generally to supervise and guide those for whom they were responsible. My hon. Friend makes a very important point.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): Following the question from the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to stress that the ethical dimension cannot be separated from the UK’s national interest? Holding our armed forces to a higher standard than many other regimes is, ultimately, necessary if we are to protect UK interests and spread the values that we hold dear across the world.

Dr Fox: I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. What we do says who we are, and it is our behaviour, not our words, that defines how we are perceived and the ethical values that we represent.

Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) (LD): There is clearly a balance to be struck in the use of tactical questioning. We need to protect the prisoner from abuse but we also need to protect our service personnel from allegations of abuse. Will the Secretary of State undertake to recommunicate the current guidelines and limits to all service personnel?

Dr Fox: I will certainly examine whether there is a need to do that, and if there is, I will certainly do so. As I have said, compared with the period in 2003 that the report examines, we now have a system in which every allegation is reported, recorded and investigated, and detainees are asked at various stages whether they have any complaints about their treatment. The way in which we now conduct these operations could not be more different from the way that is set out in the inquiry. We have learned some very important lessons, but the tragedy is that victims such as Baha Mousa were part of that learning process.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): George Orwell wrote:

“We sleep peaceably in our beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on our behalf.”

Does the Secretary of State agree that the armed forces are unique because, along with certain elements of the police, they are armed and authorised to use lethal force on behalf of the state? Does he also agree that it is for that reason that we must never allow the principles of integrity and moral courage to be eroded, regardless of

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the circumstances in which our soldiers find themselves, and that we must never allow our rightful admiration for our armed forces to lead us to turn a blind eye to abuses such as this?

Dr Fox: I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is quite right. It is worth remembering that liberty is not the natural state of affairs; it has to be fought for in every place and by every generation, and that sometimes requires us to take on forces of fanaticism that require rough or violent ways of engaging with them. Our armed forces are indeed licensed to use lethal force in the protection of the state, but they also have to operate within the law, both domestic and international. They have to conform to the highest ethical standards, not only because they represent this country but because it is by operating according to those ethical standards that their use of lethal force gains the acceptance of the British public.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Although there can be no excuse for the horrors inflicted on Mr Mousa, will my right hon. Friend reiterate that the enemies of this country must not be allowed to portray the brutal actions of a few as an indictment of the 120,000 servicemen and women who gave heroic and exemplary service in Iraq, not least the two Tamworth soldiers, Private Leon Spicer and Private Phillip Hewett, who gave their lives in Iraq, and for Iraq, in 2005?

Dr Fox: I agree; it is indeed testimony to the quality and ethical behaviour of our armed forces that we are examining the behaviour of only a very small number of the 120,000 who served. However, as my hon. Friend says, there are no excuses, and the behaviour of a small number can taint the reputation of the many. That is why there can be no hiding place for this kind of behaviour.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I welcome the statement and the report, but will the Secretary of State tell us why this has taken so long to achieve, given that the incident took place more than a decade ago?

Dr Fox: The incident took place some eight years ago. In setting out this morning why the report took such a long time to produce—some three years—Sir William explained the complexities involved and the fact that the team had wanted to go into very great detail to ensure that as much information as possible was put into the public domain, that the full history of the detainee operations was set out, and that the context could be fully understood. He also said in his statement this morning that it would be for others to judge whether the time had been well spent. The report is very long and detailed, but it is actually very readable, and any Member who takes the time to look at it will come to the conclusion that Sir William’s time was extremely well spent.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I thank my right hon. Friend for putting forward his case so clearly. Will he tell me what the difference is

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between tactical questioning and interrogation? Also, how can we ensure that this kind of thuggish activity does not become a recruiting sergeant for those who oppose the operations that we are undertaking or endanger the lives of armed forces personnel?

Dr Fox: I believe that such activity has been reduced to the lowest possible level by the measures that have been taken. The way in which we conduct operations in Afghanistan is very different from what occurred in Iraq, and that has been one of the major reasons for the success of the counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan. My hon. Friend asked about the difference between tactical questioning and interrogation. Tactical questioning is defined as

“the obtaining of information of a tactical nature from captured persons…the value of which could deteriorate or be lost altogether if the questioning was delayed”.

That is obviously something that takes place close to the point of capture. Interrogation is defined as

“the systematic, longer-term questioning of a selected individual by a trained and qualified interrogator”.

That would normally take place in purpose-built facilities, as it does in Afghanistan at the present time.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement, and I pay tribute to the way in which he has responded to our questions. Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Oliver Colvile) on tactical questioning and interrogation, may I ask the Secretary of State what he meant by the term “harsh approach” that he used in his statement?

Dr Fox: As I said in response to an earlier question, the harsh approach is a short, sharp shock. It is used to ensure that the shock of capture is maintained, and to give us information. As well as extracting intelligence that can be used immediately on the ground—for example, information on where enemy forces or improvised explosive devices are—it can also be used to identify those who will go on into a further interrogation process. I believe that it is a necessary part of our weaponry in dealing with the threats that our armed forces face. That is why, although I was sympathetic to some of the issues that Sir William raised on this subject, I was unable fully to accept that recommendation.

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): I hope that my right hon. Friend would agree that, no matter what shame has been brought on our armed forces as a result of this incident, it is in no way representative of the history and record of that fine regiment.

Dr Fox: In no way does the incident reflect upon the very proud history of the regiment, but those who were involved need to ask themselves whether their behaviour contributed to its proud history. That includes those who were involved in violent behaviour and those who showed a lack of leadership. They are the ones who need to ask themselves questions, not those in the broader regiment.

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Fixed-term Parliaments Bill

[Relevant documents: The Second Report from the Political and Consititutional Reform Committee, Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, HC 436, and the Government response, Cm 7951.]

Consideration of Lords message

1.8 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): I beg to move, That this House insists on its disagreement with the Lords in their amendments 1, 2 and 9 but proposes the following amendment to the Bill in lieu of those amendments:—

(a) Page 3, line 23, at end insert—

‘(4) The Prime Minister must make arrangements—

(a) for a committee to carry out a review of the operation of this Act and, if appropriate in consequence of its findings, to make recommendations for the repeal or amendment of this Act, and

(b) for the publication of the committee's findings and recommendations (if any).

(5) A majority of the members of the committee are to be members of the House of Commons.

(6) Arrangements under subsection (4)(a) are to be made no earlier than 1 June 2020 and no later than 30 November 2020.’.

The Government have been prepared, both in this House and the other place, to consider and support amendments that improve the provisions of the Bill. That is the normal process for refining and agreeing legislation. However—again, quite normally—we have consistently opposed amendments that would wreck the Bill. Members of this House and those in the other place have had a chance to debate the Bill at length, and one issue remains outstanding: whether or not there should be a sunset clause. Some have called it a sunrise clause, and it was referred to in the other place as a Lazarus clause.

We have discussed Lord Pannick’s amendments—which inserted the sunset clause—before, and they were roundly defeated by 312 votes to 243, because they offended against the principle of the Bill: that parliamentary terms should be of a fixed length, and that the legislation should apply to each Parliament in the normal way unless repealed through the normal considered legislative process.

The Bill as we would have it rightly does not attempt to entrench parliamentary terms. If a future Parliament wishes to move away from fixed terms, it may of course do so by either amending or repealing the legislation. We have, however, maintained consistently that a constitutional change such as a move towards or away from fixed-term Parliaments is not a small matter, and that it should be subject to the full scrutiny of Parliament, as this Bill has indeed been. In contrast, the sunset amendments passed by their lordships would switch fixed terms on and off like a light switch, defaulting to non-fixed terms if a simple resolution failed to be tabled or, if it is passed, to “sunrise” provisions for fixed terms.

In our view, it is clearly not appropriate for constitutional legislation to be applied or disapplied simply as a result of a resolution, and such changes should be made only following the normal legislative process. That view appears to be shared by the Lords Constitution Committee, whatever its misgivings about the lack of pre-legislative scrutiny for first-Session Bills. Its recent report on the process of constitutional change emphasises the need

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for proper scrutiny of such constitutional changes. A particularly relevant paragraph states:

“We believe that both government and Parliament should recognise the need for constraints on the process of constitutional change so that a situation whereby the government is effectively able to change the constitution at will may be avoided.”

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I am sure that the Minister was not going to suggest that the Constitution Committee supported the Bill. As he knows, it clearly does not.

Mr Harper: I did not say that it did. I said that it had misgivings about the fact that there had been no opportunity for pre-legislative scrutiny because this was a first-Session Bill. My point was that in its recent report—and not just in the paragraph that I quoted; throughout the report—it had said that constitutional change should be carried out properly. The idea that constitutional provisions such as this should be switched on and off through simple resolutions rather than through the proper legislative process, which involves consideration by both Houses of Parliament, is not appropriate. We agree with the sentiment expressed in the paragraph that I have just read out, which is why we oppose Lord Pannick’s amendments. Given that Lord Pannick is a member of the Constitution Committee and presumably supports the proper conduct of constitutional change, it is surprising that he is trying to insert in the Bill something that we do not think appropriate.

We should also bear in mind that both Houses recently engaged in a debate similar to this during the passage of what is now the European Union Act 2011, and that both Houses decided that it would not be appropriate to include a sunset provision in that Act. In the debate, Lord Lamont wisely noted that a sunset provision was not appropriate because it would provide for primary legislation to be reversed by a simple resolution. We believe that the Lords amendments would have the same effect on this Bill, turning important amendments to the statute book on and off without proper scrutiny.

The report of the European Scrutiny Committee on the European Union Bill states:

“All Parliaments legislate for the future. Laws passed by one Parliament do not contain a sunset clause at the Dissolution. The real point is whether a government can, in law, make it difficult for a future Parliament to amend or repeal the legislation it has passed; in our view it cannot. Our conclusion therefore is straightforward—that an Act of Parliament applies until it is repealed”.

That can also be said of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. Should a future Parliament wish to amend or repeal the legislation, it could of course do so, but we believe that it should do so through the normal legislative process, not simply by passing, or failing to pass, a resolution.

That, however, is not the only problem with the Lords amendments. They clearly assume that it would be possible for the Prime Minister to regain the option of asking Her Majesty the Queen to dissolve Parliament, but it is entirely possible that, by failing to provide for the prerogative power to dissolve to be reinstated, they have left matters in the position where neither the rules in the Bill nor the previous prerogative powers can have effect. Indeed, it is worth asking whether it is possible to reinstate a prerogative power that has been removed. It should also be noted that the United Kingdom Parliament did not think it appropriate to include sunset clauses when legislating for fixed terms for the Scottish Parliament,

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the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. It is not entirely clear why it should consider it appropriate to “sunset” the fixed terms for this Parliament.

1.15 pm

Let us be clear: the Government believe that the sunset amendments would wreck the Bill and the principle of the Bill, which is why we oppose them. Our view was shared by others in the House of Lords. Lord Dobbs noted that the sole purpose of the amendments was to “wreck” the Bill, and went on to say:

“This issue has effectively been decided in this House and in another place, whether we like it or agree with it or not. I would not say that to support a sunset clause on this occasion is unethical, but it is entirely inappropriate. We do not use it on any of the other constitutional Bills; it is not the time to start doing it now.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 2011; Vol. 729, c. 1096.]

Nevertheless, I have no doubt that the Members of the other place who gave us the amendments in the first place, and have given them back to us unchanged, have good intentions. I know that they are concerned about the major constitutional change to fixed-term Parliaments, and the abandoning of the current system whereby the Prime Minister has the power to call a general election whenever it suits his political purposes. I believe that the change that we propose is a good one—it works in many other countries, and in the devolved legislatures—but I understand why any significant change is apt to cause concern. That is why the system of post-legislative scrutiny exists, making it possible to consider whether measures are working and to make recommendations.

We recognise the concerns that have been expressed, and we wish to give formal reassurance of a kind that is consistent with the principle of the Bill. Our amendment in lieu, which we tabled last Friday and which we wish to substitute for Lord Pannick’s three amendments, would provide that the Prime Minister must make arrangements to set up a committee to review the Bill’s operation after the first full fixed term, in 2020. Those arrangements would require the committee, if appropriate, to make recommendations for the repeal or amendment of the Act. That provides a categorical reassurance that the Bill will be given full post-legislative scrutiny. It is a much better solution than simply allowing a significant piece of legislation to lapse.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Listening to the Minister’s opening remarks, I entirely agreed with him that there was no need for a sunset clause, but shortly afterwards he spoke of a review allowing the opportunity for such a clause. If there is no need for it—I agree with him on that—why bother to table the amendment? Moreover, I do not think that it will be possible for the Prime Minister to organise a review in 2020, because by then there will be a House business committee, and it will be for it to make the decision.

Mr Harper: The amendment in lieu does not concern a sunset provision. If the committee that was set up, having examined the operation of the Act and of fixed terms, concluded that the Act should be amended or, indeed, repealed, it could make such recommendations, but Parliament would then have to go through the full normal legislative process, with its checks and balances. There would not be a simple on-off provision that could be triggered in some constitutionally innovative way.

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As for my hon. Friend’s point about the House business committee, it would of course deal with the business of the House. The committee set up by the Prime Minister would have to consist of a certain number of Members of Parliament—although it would not be composed entirely of Members of Parliament—to make recommendations. It would not deal with the timetabling of parliamentary business. My hon. Friend is, of course, a big supporter of both the Backbench Business Committee and the establishment of a House business committee.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Will the Minister clarify three points? First, why has he chosen 1 June 2020 as the start date, rather than immediately after the general election on the first Thursday of May? Secondly, does he expect the whole process to take place between 1 June and 30 November 2020? Thirdly, why have the Government not specified how many people will be on the committee? Surely that would have been a reasonable thing to do.

Mr Harper: We chose 2020 in order to ensure that the committee has had the experience of a full fixed term. After all, the Bill is not law yet. We argue that a fixed term is good not only because that takes that power away from the Prime Minister, but because it enables us to have a much more sensible set of arrangements. I hope it might mean that we would no longer need to have a wash-up process, because everybody would know when the parliamentary term would end. It may also help with handling pre-legislative scrutiny at the front end of the process—something for which we have been criticised. If a Government can be certain when a Parliament starts, how long it will last and how much time they will have, that will enable them to plan their legislative programme, including pre-legislative scrutiny, through that Session, which may result in some improvements. Such benefits will be properly seen only in the Parliament beginning in 2015; they will not be seen in this Parliament because the arrangements were not in place from the beginning of it. That is the reason for the 2020 date.

The reason for the other two dates that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is simply to make sure that the commitment to set up a committee is not open ended, in which case some people might lack confidence in whether the Prime Minister would set it up. The Prime Minister has to set it up between those two dates; those dates refer to the arrangements to set up the committee. [Interruption.] Well, it would depend on what the committee was looking at and how long that would take. It will not have to report by 30 November. That seemed an appropriate situation, and it is only a short period after the date of an election, so it did not seem to be an undue delay.

Thomas Docherty: Coalition negotiations!

Mr Harper: I disagree with what the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position. He is reading too much into this.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. This is not a private conversation. Members’ comments need to be recorded and reported in Hansard. If the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas

8 Sep 2011 : Column 585

Docherty) wants to intervene on the Minister, I am sure the Minister will give way, but comments made from a sedentary position across the Chamber are not helpful.

Mr Harper: This arrangement would also allow time after the general election for the new Parliament to meet. It did not seem appropriate to set an aggressive timetable and force overly hasty decision making. The timetable is set out so that people can have confidence that the committee will be set up.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): As the Minister knows, I thought the Bill was unnecessary and said so on Second Reading, but I cannot support the Lords amendments, because they seem equally unnecessary. Given that the Bill is primarily about the mechanism for the Dissolution of Parliament, which takes place at the end of a Parliament and over a short period, why do we have to wait until 2020 to review it?

Mr Harper: If my hon. Friend thinks back to our earlier debates on the Bill and its effects, he will remember that this is not just a mechanical process to do with the detail of the Dissolution itself. Rather, it is about the consequences that flow from that. Much of our debate revolved around what will happen to the nature of the parliamentary process if we have fixed terms—what will be the benefits and potential negative consequences. The reason for looking at it after a full fixed term is to enable the committee to consider whether, as I would hope, the possible positive outcomes we debated have come about, and alternatively whether some of the concerns that have been expressed on both sides of the House have been proved accurate, and then to make some recommendations and publish a report. As a consequence, this House will be in a good position to debate the matter and discover whether further legislation is needed.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): So far, the Minister has focused on the fixed-term Parliament aspect of the Bill, but there is also the constituency aspect. Will the review that the amendment would allow also be able to look at issues such as whether the number of constituencies should be fixed at 600 or there should be more flexibility, and whether the boundary reviews should take place every five years?

Mr Harper: The hon. Gentleman took part in many debates on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill before it was enacted, and he will remember that we set up a similar type of review mechanism to look at the operation of that legislation in respect of parliamentary boundaries. A similar type of post-legislative scrutiny and review was set up to consider precisely those issues in that legislation, therefore. I hope that deals with the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

Andrew Percy: Will the Minister also look at the question of the term of the Parliament, which we have discussed before?

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Mr Harper: That is a perfectly good question. The Bill sets up arrangements for a review of its operation in general. It is not an overly constrained review, therefore. The Committee would be able to look at the effects in the round and make appropriate recommendations that this House and the other place could then consider.

I hope the amendment in lieu will address some of the concerns expressed in the other place. Indeed, the Chair of the Constitution Committee, Baroness Jay, said during the consideration of Commons amendments that the Bill should be subject to some form of post-legislative scrutiny. I hope she and other Members will find our amendment in lieu acceptable.

It has also been suggested that the Lords amendments would alter this Chamber’s relationship with the other place, as they would provide that the Bill’s provisions for a fixed term could be “revived” only through a resolution of both Houses, which would concede an element of our primacy to the other place. I share that view. We can envisage a situation in which this House is wholly in favour of reinstating fixed terms but is stymied by what amounts to a power of veto given to the other, unelected, House. That cannot be right. If we send a clear message to those in the other place on this issue, letting them know we do not want, nor have ever wanted, a sunset clause to these provisions, then I am sure they will listen.

Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): Would the Minister change his mind on that point if the other place were partially or fully elected?

Mr Harper: The right hon. Gentleman is leaping far ahead. We are considering this Bill now. Meanwhile, our reform proposals for the House of Lords have been published and are being scrutinised by the relevant Joint Committee. If at some point in future it is decided to change the arrangements under this Bill, that can be done in the normal way. The Bill can be amended or repealed through the normal legislative process. We are not seeking to constrain that. We are simply saying that the rather novel constitutional provisions that the Lords has inserted are inappropriate to a constitutional Bill.

Chris Bryant: Let me raise a few protest points at the outset. First, the Bill started its lengthy process on 22 July last year. In the normal course of parliamentary business, this parliamentary Session would have come to an end by now and therefore this Bill would already have fallen, so it would not be becoming law. Indeed, there would have been a point at which the House of Lords would have been able to hold the Government’s feet to the fire so as to extract greater concessions from them. I merely note that the Government have managed to give themselves a two-year Session. When the Leader of the House announced that that was going to be the case, I complained that it would give added powers to the Government. This is yet another example of how the Government have abused the constitution over the past year.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We were both elected in 2001, so I am sure he will recall that in both the 2001 and 2005 Parliaments the first Session lasted about 18 or 19 months.

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Chris Bryant: No, we would now be in the mop-up session, and during that time there would be many other Bills that would need to be dealt with in limited time. Indeed, there are plenty of other Bills clamouring for time in this Chamber at present. That is precisely my point. There is no pressure on the Government to come to an agreement because they have another six months in which to do so.

1.30 pm

Mr Bone: The shadow Minister of course makes a fair point, but to balance it we have to give credit to the Government for introducing fixed one-year Sessions in future. There is another side to this, although he makes a fair point.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support for my argument.

The other process point that I wish to make is that the lords debated their amendments in July and the Government tabled their amendment last Friday, but the amendment was not available in the Vote Office until this morning—that was despite my having asked for it on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I had no access to the amendment tabled by the Government until today. I understand it to be normal practice, just as a matter of courtesy, for ministerial offices to write to shadow spokespeople when the Government table amendments to Bills in which the spokespeople have been involved, in order to give them notification. I say gently to the Minister that it would have been nice if he had been able to notify us of amendments.

It would also have been good if the Whips Office had, instead of stating categorically all this week, until about 3 pm yesterday, that we were not going to be dealing with this Bill this afternoon, owned up to the truth, which was that the intention was always to deal with this Bill this afternoon. Indeed, the Whips Office had told the Minister so, and the fact that this Bill was going to be discussed this afternoon had been set out in his diary for several weeks.

Mr Bone: The shadow Minister makes a good point about the Whips Office. Will he be here tomorrow to support my Bill abolishing the Whips Office?

Chris Bryant: I am happy to abolish the Government Whips Office, but I am very fond of my Whips Office. It is always best to remain in as good an odour as possible with one’s Whips.

The simple point of process is that when the Leader of the House announces in the future business—as has been said, we hope that the Backbench Business Committee will do this in future—that consideration of Lords amendments may take place, he never specifies the Bill to which that relates. That is an unfortunate way of doing business, and it might make much more sense if, in future, the Government were to announce the Bills in question. If every Member of the House had known at the beginning of the week that we were going to be dealing with this Bill today, the Chamber might have been packed to the rafters—I note that it is not. That is despite the fact that we are sure to hear a wonderful speech from the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing), and many would have crowded in just to see her jacket this afternoon.

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The amendment, in essence, confesses that the Government have not achieved consensus on a major constitutional change. Again, I say gently to the Minister that when any constitutional change is being made, especially when pre-legislative scrutiny has not been undertaken, when no draft legislation has been produced, when the change was not adumbrated in one of the governing parties’ manifestos and when it is a significant change from what was in the manifesto of either of the two governing parties, it is all the more important that Ministers and the Government in general proceed on the basis of consensus. Although I am often a fierce critic of the House of Lords, of its hereditary principle and of its appointment principle—I call it the “patronage principle”—I believe that the Lords plays an important stop-gap role in constitutional affairs. That is why I believe that this amendment owns up to the fact that, as Lord Butler of Brockwell put it, this legislation has been introduced

“without proper consultation, preparation or consideration.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 2011; Vol. 729, c. 1080.]

For many years, we relished listening in this Chamber to Lord Cormack, the greatest par-li-a-ment-ar-i-an of his age—he used about seven syllables when saying that word. As he said, this is an

“ill thought-out, unnecessary and bad Bill.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 2011; Vol. 729, c. 1087.]

There are specific problems with this amendment, most notably because it does not add anything. If their lordships think that it is a concession, they are completely mistaken, because already the Government will have to undertake post-legislative scrutiny on this legislation in the next Parliament. All the amendment does is provide for another version of post-legislative scrutiny, but such scrutiny will already have taken place four years before the date in 2020 when the amendment suggests it should occur.

I am somewhat of a suspicious mind; I think that the reason why the Deputy Prime Minister has insisted on this date in 2020 is his ambition to put up joint Liberal Democrat-Conservative candidates at the next general election and to be able to continue the coalition for two parliamentary Sessions. I say that because it was not an immaculate conception that led to this constitutional Bill; it was conceived behind the bike sheds as a result of the coalition partners—the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats—trying to fix the length of this parliamentary Session so that nobody could abscond should any difficulties arise. [Interruption.] I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) is just waving to me or whether he would like to intervene. It appears that he wishes to intervene.

Andrew Percy: The hon. Gentleman’s argument about joint candidates falls down because he needs to be able to find someone willing to stand as a Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidate.

Chris Bryant: I believe that earlier this week the Prime Minister described himself as a “Pragmatic liberal conservative Eurosceptic”—he used different arrangements of those words in different arenas, as is his wont.

In addition, the amendment presumes that not only this Parliament, but a second one will run for a full five years. If that was not the case, choosing to specify dates in June and November 2020 would be particularly

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bizarre, as they might fall two years into another Session. This is where the following statement by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster is correct, although I confess that I do not quite understand the first bit:

“It is all Lombard Street to a China orange that the time will come when a premature Dissolution would be to the manifest benefit of the country”.——[Official Report, House of Lords, 18 July 2011; Vol. 729, c. 1088.]

I think that that is true. If we consider the recent history of the United Kingdom, we see that even on occasions when the Government had a decent majority, such as in 1964 and 1974—although the latter situation was more complicated—they decided to hold a new election because they felt that they needed a mandate to deal with a specific set of issues that had not arisen at the previous general election. I believe that that will happen again and that it will be in the interests of Parliament to have the greatest degree of flexibility to allow it to happen, if not to encourage it to happen. That is why this amendment, in trying to entrench not just one fixed term, but two—in the interests of the coalition rather than the country—is misguided. As I said, the amendment adds nothing because post-legislative scrutiny, a fixed part of the way in which we carry out our business, will apply to this legislation.

The Minister, charming as he is, tried to assert that fixed-term Parliaments are used in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as in relation to local government elections and so on. However, these do not seem to have been very fixed in the past few years. Indeed, in the short time that he has been in power he has already changed the term for the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the local government elections in Northern Ireland. Now the Government have just decided that there will not be a fixed term for the police commissioners, because the first term will be slightly shorter than the second one, as the Government are not going to be able to get their legislation through in time to have elections next May and so the first elections will take place next November. So I am profoundly sceptical even about the ability of the hard-line fixed-termers, such as him, to deliver a fixed-term Parliament, because of the way in which politics works.

I wish to make a few comments about the specifics of the amendment. It states:

“A majority of the members of the committee are to be members of the House of Commons.”

I do not believe that the Government consulted anyone in the Opposition on this amendment. I am sure that had the Minister done so, he would now be leaping to his feet to defend himself—it appears, therefore, that he has not sought a consensus on this constitutional change. If consultation had taken place, we might have made some suggestions about how to constitute such a committee. It might have been better to state from the outset that it should involve Members of the House of Commons. I think that we should return to the practice of the 15th and 16th centuries—I am sure I have one hon. Member on my side here—which was that Joint Committees of both Houses should have two Members of the House of Commons for every Member of the House of Lords. I admit that that was at a time when there were perhaps 60 or 70 Members of the House of Lords and 480 or so of the House of Commons, whereas they are getting

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towards having double the number we have in this House. None the less, while this is a democratically elected House and that is not, it would make more sense for the majority from this House to be 2:1.

I note en passant that one Member of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform—not from the Opposition side of the House—pointed out that having such a large number of members of a Joint Committee makes it very difficult to do serious business. It is quite difficult with large Select Committees, but with 24 or 26 members of a Joint Committee of both Houses, it is phenomenally difficult to make progress.

Mr Bone rose—

Chris Bryant: Of course I will give way to the hon. and gentlemanly Gentleman.

Mr Bone: I was just reflecting on the numbers. Are there not about 800 peers and 600-odd Members of this House? I think the hon. Gentleman’s calculations are slightly wrong.

Chris Bryant: Yes, I was noting the acceleration. The coalition has a commitment in its agreement that it will keep appointing more Member of the House of Lords until the numbers mirror the representation in the House of Commons. That means that they have another 269 to appoint. We are pretty much getting on for having up to double the number of Members at that end as there are here. In addition, the Government want to elect some Members so that if the Government get their way, without sensible amendments from the Opposition, we will have twice as many Members of the House of Lords as of the House of Commons.

The Minister said that the danger of a sunset clause would be that it would be like switching a light bulb on and off. What he fails to understand is something that some of us have been arguing for through several Bills—that is, many of the measures contained in the Bill would be far better dealt with through the Standing Orders of this House, particularly anything to do with a no confidence motion. There is a danger that otherwise they will be justiciable in the courts. He refuses to accept that. If it had been a question of Standing Orders, then as with any other Standing Order this would be a matter for the House to change. It would not need three readings, nor would it have to go to two Houses; it would just be a matter of a simple vote.

The Minister sets his mind against sunset clauses, but I remember when he used to sit over on the Opposition Benches—what halcyon days—and used to campaign for sunset clauses galore on Government legislation. With virtually every change we introduced through legislation on security and policing, for instance, the then Opposition demanded a sunset clause. On civil liberties, control orders and all these different elements of legislation there was a campaign from Opposition Members saying that there must be a sunset clause. Quite often, we succumbed to that campaign and we put them in. In a large amount of our civil liberties legislation, there were sunset clauses and provisions had to be renewed every year.

One of the most significant sunset clauses in our constitution refers to the inability of the Crown to have a standing Army unless there is a vote in the House of

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Commons every five years. That is a sunset clause on the single most important part of our constitution: namely, the Crown’s ability to defend the country. The Minister is completely wrong to invent this new concept that we cannot have a sunset clause in a constitutional Bill—and only in such a Bill.

The Minister also said that there are no sunset clauses in relation to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but the single difference between this case and those instances is that there was absolutely no consultation with the wider public on this legislation. As for setting up devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, there was lengthy and protracted cross-party consensus on precisely how everything should be set up. I think he is whispering something about the Conservatives not agreeing to devolution in Scotland, but we rejoice that the sinner repenteth. They had the opportunity to take part in that lengthy process of consultation and that is surely the proper process for changing the constitution.

Let me come to my penultimate point. The Minister says that those in the Lords who have presented amendments have good intentions, but he reminds me of something that happened when I went to a theatre a few years ago. There was a couple who had had a terrible row sitting in front of me and just before the play started, the woman turned to the man and said, “And the worst of it is that you’re so blasted pate-ronising.” He kissed her on the forehead and said, “It’s pat-ronising, dear.”

To be honest, I thought the Minister’s approach to their lordships—who are senior constitutional experts and have seen many of the corridors of power far more extensively than he or I—was downright patronising. I think they have come up with a good solution. The coalition Government can have their five years and there will be a general election in 2015 unless one of the Members for Bedfordshire manages to split the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister from one another, but thereafter it should be for the House of Commons and the House of Lords to decide whether to continue with this legislation.

I am sure that the Government Whips, through their nefarious processes, will have engineered that there are plenty of people to see off their lordships’ amendment this afternoon, but I tell their lordships that the Government are attempting to get them to sell their soul for a mess of pottage. The Government amendment is not an amendment that is worth supporting—

1.45 pm

Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con) rose

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is a fine, tall gentleman, so I give way to him.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. While he is urging their lordships to stand firm, I wonder whether he might like to remind them that the Parliament Act does not apply so they can insist for as long as they like.

Chris Bryant: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, although I am surprised he is only taking us back to 1911. He normally takes us back a little further. The Parliament Act cannot be used in relation to this legislation

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because the Bill would allow for the extension of Parliament beyond five years—possibly to five years and two months—and that Act expressly prevents the Speaker from forcing the Bill on their lordships. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: your lordships, stand firm.

Mr Reid: The Lords amendment we are debating requires the Bill’s provisions to be renewed if they are to be used in each future Parliament, but the Pannick amendment defeats the purpose of the Bill by permitting fixed-term Parliaments only if agreed by both Houses in a future Parliament. It effectively annuls the provisions of the Bill unless both Houses of every future Parliament vote to put the provisions back in place.

The Lords amendment is effectively a wrecking amendment, because it does not even require a resolution to be brought forward to annul the provisions—it is the other way around. Resolutions have to be put forward in future Parliaments to re-establish the provisions. That is completely unnecessary, because if a future Parliament wanted to amend this Bill, it could do so through the normal process of legislation. The amendment simply creates an unnecessary layer of law and its real purpose is to wreck the Bill. It would have been better if the Lords had simply been honest about it and voted against the Bill rather than trying to insert this clause, which is simply a wrecking measure by another route.

The Government’s new amendment, which I support, provides to the Lords a reasonable compromise in that it allows post-legislative scrutiny after we have seen the effects of the Bill through the full cycle. I urge the House to accept the Government’s amendment and reject the Lords’ wrecking amendment.

Thomas Docherty: May I begin by asking the Minister to answer the third question I posed to him? In some ways, it is the most important—it is the question about the size of the proposed committee. I have a huge amount of respect for the Minister and I think he secretly enjoys coming along on a Thursday lunchtime and spending some time with right hon. and hon. Friends on his side and on ours. We have excellent debates and he engages well with them. I suspect that the reason why we have such a poorly drafted offer from the Deputy Prime Minister and why the Minister has signed it off on behalf of the Prime Minister is that he knows the Lords will have to reject it, because it is so badly written, and he will be able to come back next week or in October and have another swing at this. The proposition offered on behalf of the Deputy Prime Minister opens up many questions that have not been answered about the size and remit of the committee.

One could reasonably say that the Bill will have an impact not only on the workings of both Houses but on the devolved Administrations and on the local authority elections that subsequently take place, because we would have to have five-year Parliaments permanently for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly in order to keep one year behind. That is a very unsatisfactory arrangement.

Mr Reid: Surely the Bill removes the uncertainty that would otherwise have applied, because without it not only would the Scottish elections have been scheduled

8 Sep 2011 : Column 593

for May 2015 but if this Parliament were to go full term, that election would also be in May 2015. That complete and utter uncertainty is removed by the Bill.

Thomas Docherty: I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s optimism about the coalition holding together successfully for the full five years. I think that he is accepting that, in effect, we now have, permanently, a five-year Scottish Parliament and a five-year Welsh Assembly, but I am not sure whether legislation will be brought forward to make that clear in the next Parliament. That is a huge change in constitutional convention and I think he was involved in that. Certainly, his party played a significant role and there was cross-party consensus on it.

One of the key issues was having a four-year Scottish Parliament. I would very much hope that if the committee were set up, it would have a remit that covered not just the impact on the workings of both Houses, but the impact on devolved Administrations and on local authority elections in the rest of the United Kingdom. It is disappointing that we have seen no such indication from the Deputy Prime Minister about what the committee’s remit would be.

It is also disappointing to note that there is no length of time attached to when the committee is expected to report by. If I were cynical and thought that the Deputy Prime Minister could not be trusted and might make a pledge that he would then break, I might think this issue would then be kicked into the proverbial long grass for, perhaps, the full five-year period. I was very surprised that although the Minister gave a reasonably satisfactory assurance about the starting date of the committee, a closing date for its work has not been provided. I look forward to hearing his response in a few minutes, when I very much hope he will deal with that point.

We also heard from the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr Reid) that this is a wrecking measure. I have been in the House for only 15 months but it strikes me that every time the Deputy Prime Minister puts forward something that his coalition partners are not keen on, some measures are described as wrecking measures. I seem to recall that exactly the same argument was used about changing the date of the referendum on the alternative vote. It was said that moving the date back six months would wreck the whole premise, but I note that that argument was not put forward this week by the Liberal Democrats about shifting the date of the police elections—somehow that is not a wrecking measure, but I cannot think why.

It is very disappointing that the debate was not better advertised, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) mentioned, possibly because the Patronage Secretary was hoping that many of his more principled colleagues would make other arrangements for this afternoon and would not be around to give the measures the due diligence they could do with. I would be grateful if the Minister would outline why we were not notified until 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon that this important debate was going to take place.

The last issue that I want to address is the Minister’s argument that it would take nine years to start this process. I do not see why he requires, effectively, two complete Sessions of five-year fixed terms to do this. His argument about the upper House is quite revealing

8 Sep 2011 : Column 594

and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members in his party will take great comfort from the fact that he is now saying that there will not be an elected upper House and that we will rightly have a fully appointed House of Lords, as we have at the moment. I am sure that is part of the deal that was cooked up over dinner last night. I understand that the Minister was the subject of some roasting last night at the dinner and it is good to see his hands fully today. I understand that there was some concern among parliamentary colleagues that he would have to keep his hands in sight at all times. Without further ado, I will sit down so that he can respond.

Mr Harper: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, let me deal with the concerns that have been raised by hon. Members on both sides. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made a point about the amendment’s availability. It was tabled on Friday and—obviously, processes of the House are a matter for the House—it was certainly on the parliamentary website for the world to see by Monday. So there were three, clear parliamentary days for Members on both sides of the House to look at the amendment and consider their views. The hon. Gentleman’s comments about the usual channels will obviously have been heard by them, and I hesitate to trespass on those matters. I shall leave that point there.

The hon. Gentleman says that the Bill has not had proper consideration, but it absolutely has. It is true that it did not have pre-legislative scrutiny—and we have explained on a number of occasions that it was a first-Session Bill and that we wanted to make progress on it—but it has had extensive legislative consideration in this House and in the other place. He pointed out that it was introduced to the other place more than a year ago, so the idea that this important Bill has not had proper scrutiny simply is not correct.

The hon. Gentleman said that post-legislative scrutiny already takes place and he is quite right to say that that is done not by the Government but by Parliament. The Government produce a memorandum on Bills that they submit to Parliament, but they do not, of course, scrutinise themselves. This simply adds to the existing scrutiny that will already take place—because of the concerns that people had, we wanted to make it explicit that the Prime Minister would set up a Committee that would look at the operation of the Act and would then have to report and would give the House the opportunity for a full debate.

Picking up the points that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) raised about the detail—the number of members on the committee and the end point—this goes back to the point that the hon. Member for Rhondda made about operating by consensus. The Prime Minister would set up the committee, but details about the number of members and the out-date would be addressed later. The terms of reference would clearly be very wide—the amendment mentions

“a committee to carry out a review of the operation of this Act”

but does not narrow the terms. Those issues would clearly be agreed through the usual channels so there would be some sort of consensus for parties to appoint their Members to the committee. It seems to me sensible to allow that process to take place rather than to set down every detail in the Bill.

8 Sep 2011 : Column 595

Chris Bryant: The Minister says that we should clearly take it as read that the Prime Minister would engage in consultation with the Opposition, but I note that the Minister tabled a written ministerial statement this morning on the West Lothian question and the setting up of a commission, but he does not indicate at any point that he is going to consult the Opposition on its terms of reference or its membership.

2 pm

Mr Harper: I have just said that that would take place—the consensus on the committee’s terms of reference, as is usual. That is very sensible; we do not want to put all the detail in the motion. The hon. Gentleman should read this morning’s written statement—I will not dwell on it, Madam Deputy Speaker, because you would call me to order if I did—and I am sure that we will have the opportunity to discuss some of the details tomorrow, when we debate a private Member’s Bill. The written statement sets out our overall position on the commission on the West Lothian question. We will consult Mr Speaker on some of the details involving the House, and we have also said that we will have a full opportunity for all the parties to consider the matter. That was in this morning’s statement.

Mark Durkan: May I take the Minister back to the points about consultation that may be involved when the committee is formed? Will he assure us that that consultation will not just be through the usual channels with the Opposition, but will involve all parties? As a matter of principle, my party has never accepted nomination to the House of Lords, and we were singularly excluded from any consideration in relation to the committee that has been formed on that matter.

Mr Harper: I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on that and thank him for making it. Given the nature of the matter, it would be helpful if the committee were wide ranging. That is also a good reason not to be too specific about, for example, the size of the committee. Clearly, we need to ensure that Members from all parts of the House are able to be represented properly. On setting down how big the committee should be, there is, of course, a tension if committees are too large, but if they are too small they can be too narrow. It would be helpful to be able to have that debate when we know something about how the measures have worked in practice.

Chris Bryant: Will the Minister be straight and guarantee that he will ensure that there is consultation with the opposition parties on the terms of reference of the West Lothian commission?

Mr Harper: With respect, we are debating the motion. The hon. Gentleman and I can have a conversation about the West Lothian commission elsewhere.

Chris Bryant: So you won’t?

Mr Harper: I have only a few minutes and I am trying to deal with the points that hon. Members have raised.

Thomas Docherty: Will the Minister give a guarantee that he will consult the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland about this committee and about the West Lothian commission?

8 Sep 2011 : Column 596

Mr Harper: On this committee, the Prime Minister will of course be able to consult others. The operation of this Parliament, though, is a matter for this Parliament, so I would not necessarily expect that to take place. I should also correct one thing that was said earlier: we have changed the terms of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, but we have not made any changes to the terms of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Those matters were left for consultation between the parties. It is worth putting that on the record.

I think I have dealt with the issues I noted down that were raised by Members on both sides of the House. I urge the House to support the motion.

Question put .

The House divided:

Ayes 253, Noes 190.

Division No. 343]

[2.3 pm


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brine, Mr Steve

Brooke, Annette

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Chishti, Rehman

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Edwards, Jonathan

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

George, Andrew

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Horwood, Martin

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Lucas, Caroline

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Munt, Tessa

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Robertson, Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soubry, Anna

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stuart, Mr Graham

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Teather, Sarah

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wishart, Pete

Wright, Jeremy

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Miss Chloe Smith and

Mr Robert Goodwill


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Bayley, Hugh

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Bone, Mr Peter

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Campbell, Mr Alan

Cash, Mr William

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clark, Katy

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Dakin, Nic

Davies, Philip

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Docherty, Thomas

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Fovargue, Yvonne

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kelvin

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Mann, John

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonnell, John

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Shuker, Gavin

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Watts, Mr Dave

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Mark Hendrick and

Gregg McClymont

Question accordingly agreed to.

8 Sep 2011 : Column 597

8 Sep 2011 : Column 598

8 Sep 2011 : Column 599

8 Sep 2011 : Column 600

Point of Order

2.17 pm

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This relates to what we have just been discussing, so I am sorry that the Minister has already fled the Chamber. A written ministerial statement relating to the commission on the West Lothian question was tabled this morning. It states that the Government will

“consult with Mr Speaker and other Parliamentary authorities”

on how the commission can be created and how it will consider matters relating to how Parliament should address the West Lothian question. We note that that puts any onus to consult other political parties on the Speaker. I hope that you will take back to Mr Speaker the Opposition’s hope that all political parties in the House will be consulted before terms of reference are brought forward and the membership of the commission is agreed. I raise this as a point of order only because the Government have decided to put the matter of consultation in the hands of Mr Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): As the hon. Gentleman knows, strictly speaking that is not a point of order for business today, but he has made his point on the written ministerial statement, and I am absolutely confident that Mr Speaker will have considered all the necessary matters that will involve him. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that Mr Speaker will discharge his duties accordingly.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Mark Harper): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will read what the hon. Gentleman has said in Hansard—I did not hear all of it, because he did not do me the courtesy of notifying me of his intention to raise a point of order. Had I heard all of it, I would have been able to respond now. I will respond at a later date.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Minister, we are grateful for your offer of help. I am sure that the House will now be able to proceed with the business before us.

8 Sep 2011 : Column 601

London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

Madam Deputy Speaker: Before I call the Minister, I wish to inform the House of an issue that will need to be dealt with. I understand that amendments to the Bill tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) on Tuesday evening did not appear on the amendment paper. The reasons for this, which are currently unknown, are being urgently investigated. As this oversight has been discovered at such a late stage, I do not consider it appropriate to select the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. However, he can be confident that he will be able to raise his substantive concerns about the Bill during this afternoon’s proceedings.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): Further to that statement, human error has obviously intervened in the matter, and it is the first time in 28 years—since I was first elected—that amendments which I have tabled have not been translated on to the amendment paper. It is a pity that I was on parliamentary business abroad yesterday and did not realise that there was a problem until first thing this morning, but I am happy that we will be able to discuss at least the substance of my amendments under the debate on new clause 2. I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for making that indication.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his co-operation, but as he has said, although this is a very rare occurrence, it is none the less of a nature that needs to be taken seriously and urgently investigated, and I am sure that the Table Office will inform him of exactly why it occurred.

New Clause 1

Goods vehicle operator licences

After section 16D of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, insert—

“16E Goods vehicle operator licences: waiver of procedural requirements

(1) This section applies in a case where, on an application to vary an operator’s licence under section 17 of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”), a traffic commissioner is satisfied that—

(a) the variation applied for has a connection with the London Olympics,

(b) there would not, but for this section, be sufficient time to dispose of the application before the beginning of the London Olympics period, and

(c) the circumstances in which the application is being made are such that, but for this section, it could not have been made in sufficient time to be disposed of before the beginning of that period.

(2) The traffic commissioner may direct—

(a) that subsection (3) is to apply in relation to the application, and

(b) if the traffic commissioner proposes to hold an inquiry under section 35 of the 1995 Act in relation to the application, that subsection (4) is to apply in relation to the inquiry.

(3) If the traffic commissioner gives the direction under subsection (2)(a), the following provisions of the 1995 Act do not apply in relation to the application—

8 Sep 2011 : Column 602

(a) section 17(3) (publication of notice by traffic commissioner);

(b) section 18 (publication of notice by operator).

(4) If the traffic commissioner gives the direction under subsection (2)(b), Schedule 4 to the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Regulations 1995 (S.I. 1995/2869), in its application to the inquiry, has effect as if for sub-paragraph (3) of paragraph 1 there were substituted—

(3) The traffic commissioner may abridge the periods referred to in sub-paragraphs (1) and (2).”

(5) Section 23 of the 1995 Act (conditions as to use of operating centres) applies in relation to the licence as if the application were an application of which notice has been published under section 17(3) of that Act.

(6) Such variations as are made to the licence on the application, including by the attachment of conditions under section 21 or 23 of the 1995 Act (road safety and operating centres), have effect only during the London Olympics period.

(7) Subsection (3)(a) does not affect the liability incurred in respect of the application under regulation 3 of the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Fees) Regulations 1995 (S.I. 1995/3000) (which requires payment of a fee on an application for variation for which publication is required by section 17(3) of the 1995 Act).

(8) The power to give a direction under subsection (2) includes power to vary or revoke the direction.

(9) In exercising functions under this section, the traffic commissioner must act under the general directions of, and have regard to guidance given by, the senior traffic commissioner.

(10) In this section, “operator’s licence” has the same meaning as in the 1995 Act (see section 2(1) of that Act).”’.—(Hugh Robertson.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

2.21 pm

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 3 and 4.

Hugh Robertson: Hon. Members may recall that back in May, when the Bill was being scrutinised in Committee, Transport for London submitted evidence that called for further amendments. TfL argued that in order to ensure that businesses in London continued to receive goods deliveries and operators were able to arrange delivery times that were compliant with time restrictions for the games, amendments to goods vehicle legislation were required. I am very grateful to the Committee for its encouragement to bring forward changes, if necessary. The Government have considered the matter, and as a result I am introducing a small number of technical amendments to address the concerns that TfL raised.

Operator licences are granted by traffic commissioners, TCs, who are independent office holders and statutorily appointed by the Secretary of State for Transport. One matter that a TC is required to consider when granting a licence is the suitability of the operating centre where vehicles are usually parked and maintained. About 1,700 of the 92,000 goods vehicle operator licences in place contain conditions relating to operating centres, such as conditions concerning hours of use. There is an existing process by which operators may apply to vary

8 Sep 2011 : Column 603

the conditions of their licence. In most cases, the Government would expect operators to plan for the need for any variation and to seek it via normal procedures.

Traffic commissioners plan to write to all those operators who have environmental conditions on their licence, reminding them of the need to consider whether the Olympics are likely to have an impact that demands a variation, and to get their applications in now. Typically, for a straightforward case that involves environmental issues, it normally takes between 15 and 20 weeks for an operator’s application for a variation to be considered under current statutory processes, and traffic commissioners cannot short-circuit those procedures.

Despite such preparatory steps, however, the Government believe that, owing to entirely unforeseen circumstances such as the award of a short-term haulage contract or a short-notice change to an existing contract, some operators will need to seek a relaxation of their environmental licence conditions shortly before the start of the Olympic period.

Government intervention is therefore necessary to ensure that in such exceptional circumstances—I repeat that it is only in those exceptional circumstances—operators can apply at short notice for a variation to their environmental conditions, particularly in the hours of operation. As a result, new clause 1 would provide for an expedited process that removed the statutory requirement whereby a games-related application needs to be advertised by the operator who has submitted the application. It would remove the requirement for a traffic commissioner to publish the application; it would retain the statutory power of a traffic commissioner to hold public inquiries to seek further information to inform their decision; and it would remove the statutory requirement whereby the notice period for a public inquiry can be abridged only if the consent of all persons entitled to attend a public inquiry is given.

We have considered carefully whether it is proportionate and justified to remove those safeguards, and we consider that it is. Without short-circuiting existing procedures, there will be no way in which an urgent application, arising from unforeseen circumstances around the Olympic games, can be dealt with quickly enough.

Importantly, however, traffic commissioners’ powers to determine individual applications would be retained, including their powers to impose additional conditions to counter any environmental nuisance that might result. For example, they may want to stipulate that quieter vehicle operations be followed, such as restricting the use of lorry-reversing beepers. Retaining the discretion of traffic commissioners and their knowledge of operators and localities when considering individual applications would help to avoid any abuse of the temporary flexibility.

Amendments 3 and 4 are consequential to the changes that the new clause would bring in. Taken together, the measures—this is really the crucial thing—should help to ensure that, during games time, goods can be delivered and services provided, so contributing to the successful delivery of the London games.

Mr Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): In new clause 1, proposed new section 16E(1)(a) refers to the “connection” that a variation of an application has with the Olympic games. Will my hon. Friend expand on the guidance that will be given to traffic

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commissioners as to what a connection with the London Olympic games is deemed to be, in order to ensure that their decisions are based on the right criteria?

Hugh Robertson: I take my hon. Friend’s point, but to a certain extent I should hope that any connection will be reasonably self-evident. It will refer to things that happen over the Olympic games period, a clearly defined period from 27 July to just before the middle of August, and it will clearly refer only to games-time activities, so I hope that in those circumstances it will be reasonably obvious to the traffic commissioner what they are dealing with.

Tessa Jowell (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab): We are pleased to support new clause 1 and the consequential amendments 3 and 4, because, as the Minister has clearly set out and, indeed, our constructive discussions in Committee reflected, new clause 1 and the consequential amendments would allow traffic commissioners to apply a shortened application procedure for haulage operators who want to apply for a change to any environmental conditions imposed on the location where their lorries are kept, particularly the hours that they may operate in and out of that location.

That flexibility is of enormous importance during the period of the games, as many haulage operators may need to adjust their operations in response to increased delivery restrictions in London, as well as in other areas of Britain where Olympic events are being held.

I will come on to this point when we discuss new clause 2, but it is my firm belief that although some of the operational necessities of the games may cause inconvenience for individuals and businesses, we should do all that we can to keep that inconvenience to a minimum. Again, there was a strong consensus on that in Committee.

New clause 1 is therefore a sensible measure that will make it easier for haulage operators to adjust to difficulties that they may experience as a result of the games. It forms part of a critical wider programme led by Transport for London to encourage individuals and businesses to change their travel behaviour and arrangements during what will be, by any measure, a challenging time for London’s transport system. I think that Members on both sides of the House are confident that London will rise to that challenge, and we are happy to offer our support.

Mr Don Foster (Bath) (LD): May I begin by saying that I was mildly disappointed with the business managers—this is absolutely no criticism of you, Madam Deputy Speaker, or Mr Speaker—for selecting today of all days to debate this important Bill, given that many of us who are here would far rather be celebrating with our Paralympians as today is Paralympics day? Perhaps there will be an opportunity later today to do that.

2.30 pm

The new clause and the consequent amendments are very important. During one of the excellent sittings in which the Committee took oral evidence from expert witnesses, I asked Mr Garrett Emmerson of London Streets, which is a Transport for London body,

“are you confident that we have sufficient powers, or that sufficient powers will be given to the right people, to deal with freight vehicles on our roads that are delivering to keep our city running smoothly?”

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I stress the words about keeping the “city running smoothly”, because this is not just about ensuring that what needs to be done for the 2012 games happens. He replied:

“We have identified a major concern about the ability of freight operators to service the business community at key times during the games.”

He went on to say:

“A single-day event, such as the royal wedding, is a very different proposition from three weeks of a continuous event. For a single day, it is not a particularly huge challenge to say, “Well, actually, we can’t make a delivery on Friday; it will have to come on Thursday or Saturday.” But the sustained duration of this event creates a very different proposition for businesses.”––[Official Report, London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Public Bill Committee, 17 May 2011; c. 41, Q87.]

Because of those concerns, TfL and other bodies have been working hard to warn the business community of changes that will take place during the Olympic and Paralympic games, and to provide it with as much help and support as possible to alter its arrangements. That will of course impact on things such as deliveries to businesses. The examples are pretty obvious: pubs need beer, sandwich shops need bread and businesses need photocopier paper—the list is endless. Businesses that have planned will organise their deliveries to come at the right time. It is fabulous that TfL and others are giving plenty of notice to such organisations. Even today, TfL has had a session with more than 70 major freight operators to advise them that they should be working with the people they supply, so that those people, in turn, can plan accordingly.

The issue is what happens if a business has not been far-sighted and efficient enough to plan with its supplier the deliveries that it needs in order to keep going. My question to the Minister is whether those circumstances are envisaged in the language that is used in the new clause, which states that the variation applied for

“has a connection with the London Olympics”.

That is somewhat different from being influenced by the London Olympics. I assume from the Minister’s response to an earlier intervention that that interpretation is the one that he is using. However, that would not necessarily fall within his other comments that something should be “urgent” and “unforeseen”. In some cases, it might just be down to the incompetence of the person who needs the supplies.

The Minister says that he hopes the new clause is reasonably self-evident. I am not convinced that it is. If he gives a very clear explanation that it will apply to circumstances that occur because of the London Olympics, with all the caveats that he set out—of course the traffic commissioners will consider whether it really is necessary—that will solve the problem. I look forward to him giving that assurance when he responds.

Hugh Robertson: I think I can be very brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I give the right hon. Gentleman that assurance. On that basis, I hope that we can agree to the new clause.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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New Clause 2

Operation of Olympic Route Network

‘(1) Section 11 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) in paragraph (a) leave out from “unless” to end of paragraph and insert— “the following have been consulted—

(i) the highway authority, traffic authority or street authority with responsibility for each road designated in the order, and

(ii) members of the public living in the Greater London Authority area and in the local authority areas through which roads designated in the order run,”.

(3) In subsection (4) after paragraph (a) insert—

“(aa) may not be made unless the consultation under paragraph (a) considered—

(i) proposals for the minimisation of disruption to the general public due to the operation of the Olympic Route Network,

(ii) proposals for informing members of the public in relation to the proposed Olympic Route Network and its likely impact on local and regional traffic,

(iii) proposals for maintaining road safety and preventing accidents which might result from operation of the Olympic Route Network,

(iv) proposals for allowing taxis licensed under section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, section 6 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 or under any similar enactment to use the Olympic Route Network in appropriate circumstances, and

(v) proposals for ensuring that the Olympic Route Network and related restrictions should be in operation for the shortest time possible in order to achieve the purposes set out in subsections (1) and (2).”’.—(Tessa Jowell.)

Brought up, and read the First time .

Tessa Jowell: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I want to begin by expressing our support for the changes to the management of traffic, on which we gave undertakings in the bid book. Olympic lanes were a condition of bidding for the games, and they are vital in ensuring that we have a smooth flow of key people to and from events. In the bid book, as the Minister will be aware, we made a commitment to

“a designated ORN”—

Olympic route network—with Olympic lanes

“to speed the journeys of the Olympic family.”

My purpose today is to raise some of the operational issues concerning the upheaval—the welcome upheaval—in prospect for our city which, for those of use who are London MPs, will have been raised by our constituents. It is important that we work constantly until and throughout the games to ensure that any difficulties faced by Londoners and residents of other parts of the country that are hosting Olympic events are kept to an absolute minimum.

First, we need to make sure that even better information is provided about the ORN plans, remembering that an announcement made 18 months before the games must be repeated at very regular intervals right up until the games. Otherwise, people do not feel that they have been properly informed and will not understand how they have to reorganise their journeys and so forth, and that is not good enough. One of the lessons from the test events was the importance of not just telling people

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but telling them again and again in a spirit of support for minimising the disruption that they face. We must therefore review the effectiveness of the information strategy.

The Olympic Delivery Authority and Transport for London have done a really excellent job in consultation on the route, but that process, as the Minister will remember, has gone on for a very long time. There is a difference between mere consultation and information that enables people to manage their lives. Londoners and those from other parts of the country living on or near the ORN will at times undoubtedly face quite serious levels of disruption. Through distributing clear information widely and early, the Government and the Greater London authority can help all those affected to prepare, and not to get too angry but to feel that they were duly warned.

Businesses will not be able to receive deliveries in normal hours. Postal and refuse collection services for residents will be disrupted. Taxi and private hire drivers may face long delays and loss of custom. Local residents and businesses need clear and detailed information in as many different forms and languages as possible so that they can plan for the period when the Olympic lanes will be in operation. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will take all necessary steps to review the quality of information and perhaps do a bit of testing of how widely the impact of the ORN is understood?

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): One of the issues that has been raised with me by residents is how long this Olympic lane is going to be in place—100 days, which far exceeds the duration of the Olympic games and the Paralympic games.

Hugh Robertson indicated dissent.

Lyn Brown: I am pleased to see the Minister shaking his head. However, the fact that I think, and my residents think, that the lane will be in place for that long is a worry. I agree with my right hon. Friend that information is vital to keeping local residents on board with what is going on, because I get a very small but significant postbag from those who are already complaining about the disruption they are facing and are likely to face.

Tessa Jowell: I thank my hon. Friend, whose constituents have perhaps had to bear more of the dust and upheaval of the Olympic park construction than anybody else.

Hugh Robertson: But get the new football stadium.

Tessa Jowell: Yes, and we say hooray for the new multi-purpose football stadium in the Olympic park. Hopefully at least some of my hon. Friend’s constituents will think it is worth it. I know that the Minister will want to reply to her point.

The second matter of concern that people are beginning to raise is the impact of changes to traffic signals, and the fear that they will significantly increase congestion throughout London. I wish briefly to share a reminiscence with the House. When the evaluation committee came, we were all on our very best behaviour, wanting to persuade the International Olympic Committee that London was the place to host the games. I know that

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the Minister was very much part of that evaluation visit. We were coming down Gower street, which is normally an area of considerable congestion leading down to Cambridge circus and Trafalgar square. It normally takes about 20 minutes to get from the top to the bottom. As the bus turned into the top of Gower street, all that I could see, right down to the bottom, were green lights. I feared that that might seem implausible, so I suggested that perhaps we might see one red light on our journey down. The point is that the conditions that the evaluation committee enjoyed will not prevail during the games themselves. I hope that there will be close scrutiny of the impact of changes to traffic signals.

Will the Minister also undertake to work with the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Mayor of London to ensure that information about traffic signals is made public without further delay? That is necessary for precisely the same reason as my previous request: we need to prepare people for the degree of extra congestion that they may have to navigate around.

The substantive question on the new clause is whether we can minimise the number of people who will use the Olympic lanes. We know that 97% of those arriving at the Olympic park are expected to arrive by public transport. That is a very good thing, and it will certainly be a lot quicker than getting there by car, except for members of the IOC and athletes. We have to remember that Olympic lanes were specifically designed in the wake of Atlanta to make it easier for athletes to get to the Olympic park or their Olympic venue on time and to prepare properly for their event. We should constantly draw attention to who is eligible to use the Olympic lane, and to the fact that the rest of London will get to the Olympic park on the fantastic new transport in which so much has been invested. I am quite sure that the Minister and Members of all parties will set an example in the form of transport that they choose.

If there is a sense of two classes of travellers to the Olympic park—those whose journeys are hell and those who glide down the Olympic lanes—we have to anticipate that that will quickly become a source of tension, because London is that type of city. I know that the Minister, who has shown great sensitivity about such issues, will be aware of that, and I hope we will do everything we practically can, consistent with the undertakings that we gave, to mitigate the tension.

The third point raised by new clause 2 is on pedestrian crossings. The Opposition are asking the Minister to work with the Olympic Delivery Authority and the Mayor of London to look again at this issue. The latest projection—the Minister may want to correct this—is that more than 60 pedestrian crossings will be closed for months on some of the busiest roads. Although we understand the need for rapid transport between venues, it is important that we do not compromise road safety. In addition, we cannot have a situation in which significant parts of London are effectively divided in half, with residents unable to cross roads.

2.45 pm

The fourth point in the new clause is on taxis and private hire drivers. Will the Minister agree to work with his colleagues, the ODA and the Mayor to examine whether it is feasible for taxis to use the Olympic road network in certain specified areas or at certain specific

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times? This is an important industry in London and the views of taxi drivers are important in shaping the reaction of visitors.

Mr Foster: The right hon. Lady is absolutely right that getting taxi drivers in London on our side is crucial in the campaign for wider public support, but before she moves on to her fifth point, will she explain a little the language she has chosen to use? She is basically proposing that appropriate taxis should be able use the Olympic route network in appropriate circumstances, but what does she have in mind?

Tessa Jowell: The language is flexible, because how greater flexibility is delivered is an operational matter for the ODA and Transport for London. A number of possibilities are covered. It might include access to the Olympic lanes for taxis early in the morning or late at night, when their use for Olympic transport is not at its maximum, or use could be restricted to black cabs—we would want to avoid suddenly having a whole lot of operators claiming to be taxis and therefore eligibility to use the Olympic lanes. Those are two examples of greater flexibility, and we would be grateful if the Minister, with the ODA and TfL, could examine them.

Lyn Brown: In respect of local businesses within Newham, I would be remiss if I did not say that if taxi cabs were allowed to use the Olympic route, registered minicab firms in the borough, which will need to find a way to profit from the games, may also wish to be considered. Should the Minister choose to look at the matter in the round, he could give greater consideration to the use of the Olympic lanes by private hire cars.

Tessa Jowell: I am sure that the Minister heard my hon. Friend’s representation. However, the three or four points that I have made underline the complexity of the matter. That is why the new clause is drafted in general terms. I do not feel that the Opposition are in a position to be prescriptive, but we are inviting the Minister to engage in discussion. He is as aware as I am of the tension arising from this matter. One of the great joys of being a regular broadcaster on London’s Biggest Conversation, which has an enormous listening audience of taxi drivers, is that I get the red meat from them—feelings are very strong. We would not be doing our proper duty if we did not respond to that, demonstrate that we have done so, and used our best endeavours.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): One of the matters that the right hon. Lady has not mentioned, but which is mentioned in the new clause, is consultation. The whole of the Greater London area is mentioned in connection with the potential consultation. I suspect, however, that as we get closer to the games, lots and lots of people in the area will have something to say and that we could end up with death by consultation. We could be overwhelmed. Will she clarify, therefore, exactly what she means by consultation, what form it would take and when it would happen? If she intends to press the new clause to a vote, some of us on the Government Benches might be sympathetic, but we would need further details.