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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 November 2011

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business Before questions

London Local Authorities Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Tuesday 15 November (Standing Order No. 20).

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [Lords] (By Order)

Second Readings opposed and deferred until Tuesday 15 November (Standing Order No. 20).

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Legal Aid (Social Welfare)

1. Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the potential effects on other Government Departments of his planned reductions to legal aid for social welfare law. [78951]

4. Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): What assessment his Department has made of the potential effects on other Government Departments of his planned reductions to legal aid for social welfare law. [78955]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The impact assessment published alongside the Government’s response to consultation lays out the best estimates of the costs and benefits of the legal aid reforms. Ultimately, costs to other Departments will be driven by behavioural responses to the changes, and these are very difficult to predict with any real accuracy.

Julie Elliott: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Is it his Government’s view that it is acceptable for a whole swathe of the population to have no access to justice in the area of social welfare law?

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Mr Clarke: We are not denying access to justice for anybody, but obviously a huge swathe of the population find it expensive to obtain justice and we have to ask ourselves for which people the taxpayer should pay for access to justice. We have concentrated on the most important issues, in which there is a general public interest in having people represented. It is wrong to represent changes in the way we pay lawyers and the amount that we pay as if we are somehow barring people from access to their legal rights.

Graeme Morrice: Does the Lord Chancellor not feel that the cut in the civil legal aid budget, which will clearly have a detrimental impact on the citizens advice bureau and law centre network, will hinder the notion of the big society?

Mr Clarke: Legal aid is not the principal source of public funding support for citizens advice bureaux, and legal aid changes will not take effect until 2013. Those and other voluntary bodies are taking a big hit from the reduction of local authority and other grants. For that reason, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has already announced £27 million of continued funding for citizens advice bureaux, and we have set up a transitional fund for the voluntary sector to manage the transition to a tighter funding environment. We have £20 million set aside this year to support voluntary bodies through their present difficulties, which are mainly because of local government cuts.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to the extra funding for welfare and benefits advice, but will my right hon. and learned Friend update us on what progress he has made with the Cabinet Office about the allocation of those funds?

Mr Clarke: My hon. Friend has rightly been chasing me on this subject, and with her I have approached the Cabinet Office. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, hopes to make an announcement shortly about the distribution of the money. As the sort of people we are talking about need the general advice offered by such voluntary bodies, I very much hope that he will soon make an announcement on behalf of the Government.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Is it not clear that what most people will need with these changes is well-supported advice services, a user-friendly tribunal system, and Government Departments that give people what they are entitled to in the first place?

Mr Clarke: Yes, I entirely agree. That is what I hope we can deliver. The number of mistakes made by bodies that distribute funds, which result in appeals to tribunal, is obviously far too high.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): Last week the Secretary of State confirmed that he was taking legal aid away from brain-damaged children and disabled people unlawfully denied benefits. In answer to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), the Minister with responsibility for legal aid, the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly), admitted that the Department

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of Health pays up to £183 an hour for legal advice, Work and Pensions pays £201 an hour and Communities and Local Government pays £288 an hour. Some of those well-paid Government lawyers will be up against our unrepresented constituents, especially on appeal. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that that is fair?

Mr Clarke: Most of those do not get legal aid now, and most personal injury cases are not brought using legal aid. They are brought using no win, no fee arrangements. As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the new proposals for how no win, no fee ought to work, we have made special arrangements for particularly difficult cases and the insurance of the costs of medical reports.

Young Offender Institutions

2. Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): What steps he is taking to ensure the provision of adequate legal advice in young offender institutions. [78952]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): The training requirement to carry out the Prison Service order requiring legal services officers to be available in every prison, including young offender institutions, could not be delivered. In future, governors will be required to give prisoners information on how to access legal advice as part of their induction into custody. The Prison Service order will be promulgated before the end of the year. Juvenile offender institutions have discrete advocacy services available for prisoners under 18 years old.

Greg Mulholland: I thank the Minister for that answer. Last year a study of 25 young offender institutions and 300 requests for legal help from young people showed that 80% of those struggling to access legal advice were from a black and ethnic minority background, and 9% were female, which is disproportionate when compared with the general population. What plan do the Government have to tackle that?

Mr Blunt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that to my attention. We will examine the new arrangements for induction into custody and the advocacy services available to make sure that any suggested discrimination that is happening will not be allowed to recur.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): Will the Minister agree to meet me and other interested groups to discuss the issue? The only way to combat the high level of discrimination is to be able to discuss it with those concerned.

Mr Blunt: Of course.

Freedom of Information

3. Simon Wright (Norwich South) (LD): What plans he has to increase the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. [78954]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): This month we extended the Freedom of Information Act to a further three bodies—the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial

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Ombudsman Service and UCAS. Additionally, we intend to extend the Act to over 100 more organisations through the Protection of Freedoms Bill. We have also begun consultations with more than 200 further bodies about their possible inclusion. Next year we plan to consult 2,000 housing associations and the housing ombudsman.

Simon Wright: I thank the Minister for his response and for the progress made by his Department. As he knows, Network Rail is responsible for spending billions of pounds of public money each year. Will he ensure that that organisation is brought within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act?

Mr Djanogly: The Government are committed to making Network Rail more accountable to its customers, and believe that there is a strong case for its inclusion in the FOI.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): Community organisations often have a great deal of trouble getting information out of local councils via the Freedom of Information Act. What plans does the Minister have to make the Act as currently drawn, with the organisations currently included, work better?

Mr Djanogly: If the hon. Lady has problems to be addressed, she should write to the Ministry of Justice and we will take them up.

Victim Support

5. Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to provide support for victims; and if he will make a statement. [78956]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): In the current financial year the Ministry of Justice is providing funding of approximately £50 million to voluntary sector organisations that support victims of crime. Before Christmas we intend to launch a consultation on proposals that will ensure that victims of crime are supported in the best way possible.

Sajid Javid: Too many victims of crime in my constituency feel that their rights are put behind those of criminals. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please share with me what measures he proposes to take to correct that sense of injustice?

Mr Clarke: Apart from continuing to give support to victims organisations, as I said, we are about to implement the Prisoners Earnings Act 1996, which will see up to £1 million taken from prisoners’ wages going into victims’ services. We have given Victim Support its three-year grant for the first time. It has never had such assured support—£38 million a year. We have honoured our coalition commitment to place rape support centres on a secure financial footing, giving them long-term funding, and we are about to open four more.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important thing for victims is the prevention of further offences and reoffending, since what victims want is to know that they are not going to become a victim a further time after a bad experience?

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Mr Clarke: I entirely agree with that. It is a point on which we are putting very heavy emphasis in all our policies on crime, punishment and rehabilitation.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): Does the Secretary of State agree that restorative justice can be key in helping victims, both in their hearing an apology from the offender, and in some cases hearing an explanation as to why the crime was committed?

Mr Clarke: Again, I agree entirely. We find that of the victims who agree to take part—they must agree to take part—about 85% express satisfaction with the process. It gives victims some feeling that someone has apologised and that they are getting some redress.

Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): Can the Lord Chancellor imagine a more needy victim than a child brain-damaged at birth whose parents are unable to sue for its financial security?

Mr Clarke: It is not true that they are unable to sue. We have a dispute about how much the lawyers should be paid in the event of a successful claim, which is an important matter, but I do not accept the assertion that none of these actions will be brought unless we leave the present no win, no fee arrangements completely untouched.

Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab): On 12 October the Prime Minister announced that he had appointed Louise Casey to a new job. The Secretary of State has had at least a month to arrange for a new victims commissioner to take up his or her role. A month on, not only is no one in post, but the position has not been advertised and the Government have not said what plans they have. Victims charities and organisations and the Opposition have urged the Government to move swiftly, so who is it to be? Sadly, we have seen empty words on victims’ rights, and in this case we also have an empty post.

Mr Clarke: I am extremely grateful to Louise Casey for the work she did and the discussions I had with her while she was in office. I find the hon. Gentleman’s question amazing. The post of victims commissioner was created by Act of Parliament in 2004, but the previous Government failed to appoint anyone for five years and a fresh statute was introduced to revise the post in 2009. Louise Casey was appointed in early 2010. We are reconsidering—again—the basis on which we make the appointment, but to be accused of tardiness by someone who was in the last Parliament is positively farcical.


6. Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): What assessment he has made of the causes of reoffending. [R] [78957]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Based on a survey of nearly 1,500 adult prisoners, we found a number of factors associated with reoffending on release: negative childhood experiences; poor educational backgrounds; low employment prospects; and poor health prospects, including drug usage. Research has also shown that criminal history, age and gender are strong predictors of future reoffending.

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Guy Opperman: I thank the Minister for that answer. Almost half of all serving prisoners have very basic literacy and numeracy skills. What steps is he taking to transform the literacy training that offenders receive in prison?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend about the problem. The majority of prisoners do not have the necessary reading and writing skills to do most jobs in the labour market on release. That is why assessing literacy and numeracy skills is a priority in prisons and why those with a need are offered classroom-based courses and individualised support, but there is also a role for the third sector, with organisations such as Toe By Toe providing mentoring for prisoners and by prisoners to help them learn reading skills.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Minister has not mentioned young people, and high numbers of them continue to reoffend. What strategy is in place to give them guidance and support so that they do not reoffend when they come out of prison or young offenders institutions?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Gentleman that reoffending rates by younger people are particularly high and that that is where we need to focus attention. The guidance he mentions is particularly effective when it comes in the form of mentoring, which can be provided by third sector organisations, and we have seen some very effective examples of that. It is a question not only of statutory supervision and support, but of what others can bring.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): May I urge the Minister to take an even closer look at the voluntary sector’s work in that area, especially the charity KeepOut, which I have recently become aware of? It is a crime diversion scheme delivered by teams of serving prisoners that aims to steer young people away from the conveyor belt to a criminal life and represents a positive step for many prisoners on their rehabilitation journey.

Nick Herbert: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the work of organisations such as KeepOut that provide exactly the type of mentoring service I was talking about, helping those who are or have been prisoners to dissuade young offenders from pursuing a life of crime.

Mrs Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): I have listened to the Minister’s answers. We were promised a rehabilitation revolution, but unfortunately the chief inspector of prisons can find no evidence of it. In the interests of looking at outcomes, can the Minister let us know when we can expect to see this decline in reoffending and by exactly how much it will decline?

Nick Herbert: I think that the whole House agrees that reoffending rates are too high. They have been persistently high, and we need to tackle that issue. That is why the rehabilitation revolution is important, and I am sorry that the hon. Lady does not appear to support it. We have particular proposals on payment by results, and we are now seeing them extended throughout public sector and private sector prisons, where we will ensure that we pay for what works and incentivise providers to reduce reoffending. We are determined to reduce reoffending

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by using innovative means, not the familiar means that Labour always proposes, which involve simply spending more public money.

Prison Population

8. Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What estimate his Department has made of the future size of the prison population. [78959]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): The latest projections of the prison population in England and Wales, published last week, modelled three scenarios. These track, as is the usual practice, the impact of three different sentencing trends on custodial convictions. By the end of June 2017, the prison population is projected to be 83,100 on the lower projection, 88,900 on the medium projection and 94,800 on the higher projection.

Nick Smith: The prison population is at a record high, and some 60% of the prison population have speech, language and communication needs. How will the Justice Secretary address communication disability as part of his rehabilitation revolution?

Mr Clarke: I am sorry, but I missed the second point. Is the point of the question communication disability? [ Interruption. ] Prison projections are very difficult to make, and that is why we have the equivalent of the fan-shaped projections that the Bank of England produces on inflation forecasts. It has always been the same with prison forecasts.

The future prison population will depend on all kinds of things beyond the control of the Government, but the prison estate is well placed to meet the demand. Eventually it will all depend on whether we have long and protracted youth unemployment, how far the recession has retracted, and how successful we are with our rehabilitation revolution, workplace reform, skills training, education reform and so on. The Prison Service is there to meet the demand, but we expect the demand to be reasonably stable.

Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend is aware of the importance of the construction of the Featherstone 2 prison, which is currently being built in my constituency, but can he assure the House that he will do all he can to encourage G4S, the operator, to employ people locally, so that we have not just the disadvantages of a prison being built, but some of the advantages?

Mr Clarke: Featherstone 2 is one of two new prisons that we have coming on stream in 2012, and I am sure that it will provide a very valuable source of local employment when it opens, as it is quite a large prison. It will also, of course, contribute to our battle against crime and to the need to punish serious criminals.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I know the Justice Secretary does not like being reminded of this, and that is clearly why I am going to do so. He had a target to reduce the prison population by 3,000 by 2015, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) helped to remind the House, it is now 87,747, which is about 3,000 more than when the right hon. and learned Gentleman became Justice Secretary. As a consequence of this Government’s policies, which projection does

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he believe will be the case? Will the prison population in May 2015 be the same, more or less than it was in May 2010?

Mr Clarke: It is simply not the case that I have ever had a target for prisons, because as I have just explained it is not within the control of Ministers. That is why Ministers in the previous Government used to produce these various scenarios. I do not have a target. We make an estimate of the effect that legislative changes will have on the future prison population, and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that the House has just passed will, other things being equal, which they never are, reduce the prison population by about 2,600.

Sadiq Khan: We have a complacent Justice Secretary who, one third of the way through this Parliament, has no idea whether the prison population will go up, down or stay the same. He has cut our prison building programme, cut capital investment in prisons, he is cutting probation officers and cutting prison officer numbers. Is he surprised that the chief inspector of prisons has seen no evidence of a rehabilitation revolution and thinks that there should be a rocket up this Justice Secretary’s backside?

Mr Clarke: The future level of crime depends on a huge number of variables, which are not within the control of any Government or Minister. What one does is to make sure that one does not exacerbate any problems, and that one accommodates those who come in. I am trying to establish in prisons a more intelligent regime that will achieve some improvements in reoffending rates for those who have to be punished by going to prison. If any of my predecessors ever gave an exact forecast of the prison population, two or three out, that predecessor was in my opinion an idiot. I do remember, however, that the previous Government so miscalculated things that they had to let 80,000 people out of prison, short of their sentence, because prisons were bulging at the seams and they had nowhere to accommodate them.


9. Mrs Helen Grant (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce the level of reoffending by people sentenced to one year or less. [78960]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We are supporting local areas to develop integrated approaches to managing offenders and testing payment-by-results arrangements for providers working with short-sentenced prisoners.

Mrs Grant: Around 4,000 women are in British prisons, most of whom are serving short-term sentences. Does the Minister agree that community women offender projects can provide a very real alternative to custody?

Nick Herbert: I suspect there is a consensus across the House about that issue. It is worth reflecting on the fact that, 15 years ago, there were only 1,800 women in prison. The Prison Reform Trust has pointed out that:

“During one year more than 11,000 women are imprisoned and almost 18,000 children are separated from their mothers.”

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Some women need to go to prison, and it is important that custody remains available. However, we are focusing on developing suitable, intensive community sentences that can prevent such a flow into the custodial system wherever possible.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that stalking is a pernicious crime that often attracts short sentences? Those sentences are no good at all if the quality of the treatment for stalking is not up to a good standard; those people are free to go back and stalk usually the very women they were stalking before.

Nick Herbert: That is an example of the fact that prison plainly plays an important role in relation to both punishing and incapacitating offenders. It must also play a role in the rehabilitation of offenders. The system has too often failed in that third role, including for the most serious crimes.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): The way to stop foreign national prisoners who serve a sentence of a year or less from reoffending is to return them from whence they came to their country of origin. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that that is being done on each and every occasion?

Nick Herbert: I know my hon. Friend’s long-standing interest in that issue. It is absolutely right that those prisoners who have served a prison sentence should expect to be returned to their country of origin. We are returning more than 5,000 a year, and we will continue to make every effort to do so.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant) is right about women prisoners. Under the previous Government, an inter-ministerial group was set up to try to implement the recommendations of the Corston report. Will the Minister describe what efforts he is making to maintain that work in Government?

Nick Herbert: We do seek to maintain it. The focus must be on developing suitable community sentences that can satisfy the courts, address the causes of reoffending and also be sufficiently punitive. It is important that the public have confidence in such sentences, so that we can ensure there is a satisfactory alternative for women who do not need to be sent to prison. The absence of satisfactory alternatives in the past has been part of the problem.

Probation Officers

10. Stephen Barclay (North East Cambridgeshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase the amount of time probation officers spend with offenders. [78961]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): We have already taken steps such as reducing the number of targets and revising national standards to increase the time spent face to face with offenders. The Ministry is taking forward the offender engagement programme of work further to cut red tape and give probation officers back their professional discretion.

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Stephen Barclay: In July, the Justice Committee found that, under the previous Government, just 25% of probation service staff time was spent with offenders. I welcome the fact that, in Cambridgeshire, that figure has improved to more than 60%, but I urge the Government to take further steps, given that that has a crucial role in tackling reoffending.

Mr Blunt: I am delighted to hear of that excellent performance in Cambridgeshire. That is evidence of the good practice now flowing from freeing probation officers from the highly prescriptive target setting and performance management that led to that 24% figure. That is what happens when 60 pages of national standards are reduced to three, and professionals are supported with decent guidance and allowed to get on with doing the job to the best of their ability in the public interest.

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): Ministers have already acknowledged that probation officers will have to spend more time monitoring dangerous offenders on licence in the community as a result of introducing the new extended determinate sentence. What estimates has the Minister made of the additional costs of this extra supervision?

Mr Blunt: It will be some time before prisoners are being released from the sentence framework that we have just introduced, because those sentences apply to people who receive sentences of more than six years’ imprisonment, and the extended sentences will be many years ahead, so we have not yet done a detailed assessment.

Knife Crime

11. Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase prison tariffs for people sentenced for carrying knives. [78962]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): Sentencing guidelines provide that the starting point for an adult convicted of knife possession is a custodial sentence. Where immediate custody is given, the average sentence length increased between June 2010 and June 2011. We are creating new offences so that those who carry a knife in a public place or school, and go on to threaten and cause immediate risk of serious physical harm to another, can expect to face at least a minimum custodial sentence.

Andrew Griffiths: Constituents in Burton will applaud the statements just made about sentences for the type of crime that is covered today on the front page of the Burton Mail, in which a young man was frogmarched to a cash point and forced to hand over money at knifepoint. They want to see that kind of tough sentencing as a deterrent. Will the Secretary of State back the Burton Mail campaign to make Burton a knife-free zone and to prevent these kinds of activities happening again?

Mr Clarke: If the newspaper report is accurate, then whoever carried out that crime committed quite a number of criminal offences, most of which carry very serious penalties, so I hope that the local courts deal with it with appropriate seriousness, having obviously considered all the circumstances. We are sending out, we hope, a strong message that we will not tolerate the use of

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knives. Threatening with a knife and putting someone in fear of injury is a very serious matter. I wish my hon. Friend every success in working with his constituents to try to reduce the scourge of knife crime in Burton.

Indeterminate Sentences

12. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking in respect of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences who have completed their minimum tariff. [78963]

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): Tariff-expired indeterminate sentence prisoners will be released from custody only if the independent Parole Board is satisfied that they may be safely managed in the community. We are seeking to identify further improvements to the progression of those prisoners through effective sentence planning, which will require the engagement of the offenders themselves.

Steve McCabe: As I understand it, under the Lord Chancellor’s proposals a judge will be required to hand down a mandatory life sentence the second time someone is convicted of using a nuclear weapon. Allowing for all the Lord Chancellor’s wisdom and guile, would it not be an awful lot smarter to hold someone indefinitely the first time they committed that offence?

Mr Clarke: Certainly, the Government take a serious view of the use of a nuclear weapon; I hope that not too much of that breaks out in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. We discussed these proposals in the House only last week, and we achieved the House’s approval for them. There is an indeterminate sentence called a life sentence, which is the best and most established form of indeterminate sentence. Having got rid of the failed indeterminate sentences for public protection, we expect that quite a lot of people will get life sentences who hitherto would have been given the rather unsatisfactory IPPs.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Will the Secretary of State consider the problem of pre-release of prisoners where insufficient preparation is made for training or, particularly, for somewhere to live or some kind of community support? That means, in turn, that they either stay longer in prison or are released into the community, where they are inadequately supervised and end up back in a whole regime of crime.

Mr Clarke: We are looking at that problem very seriously, and we hope to produce a substantial improvement on the present situation. In particular, I am working with colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to try to ensure that offenders leaving prison can have instant access to the work programmes that we are developing for other people seeking work. Enabling people to get back into employment is one of the best ways of improving the chances that they will not offend again.

Payment by Results

13. Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effects on reoffending rates of his policy of payment by results to companies. [78964]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): The first results against which payment will be made in the two pilots at Her Majesty’s prisons Peterborough and Doncaster will be available in 2014. I am visiting Peterborough prison on Friday to make my initial assessment of the ONE service. I will look in particular at the methodology and evidence from case studies as it is too early for statistical data to be available.

Mr Spencer: The Minister may be aware of a case close to my constituency in which a paedophile was allowed out from a secure health unit on unescorted day release, only to commit a crime against a 10-year-old constituent of mine. I support the Minister’s plans to make improvements when these companies get things correct, but what plans does he have to deal with such companies when they get it wrong?

Mr Blunt: As my hon. Friend has made clear, that case involved a patient who was detained under mental health legislation, under which unescorted leave requires the approval of the Secretary of State, a risk assessment and a recommendation from a responsible clinician. There are no proposals for companies to make such decisions.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister talks about payment by results for companies. It is clear that in his review of probation and payment by results next year, there is significant uncertainty about the role of smaller probation trusts. Bedfordshire probation trust is one of the smallest but best performing trusts. Can he give an assurance that its role will be upheld in any subsequent review?

Mr Blunt: The hon. Gentleman needs to understand that we are piloting payment by results in six ways in 20 different pilots to see what is the most effective way of delivering it. It might be by putting the responsibility on probation trusts, prisons, local authorities or chiefs of police. We are looking at all those things and will see what is the most effective way to take payment by results forward in the interests of us all.


14. Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): What progress he has made in implementing his plans for the rehabilitation of prisoners. [78966]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We have started piloting payment-by-results models to drive what works and drug recovery wings. We are supporting the piloting and roll-out of mental health liaison and diversion services in police custody and courts. We are also developing plans to make prisons places of hard work.

Mr Clappison: Would not the task of the employment and work programmes to which my right hon. Friend has referred be improved if prisoners actually worked while in prison? Is it not the case that far too few prisoners are given the opportunity to work in prison workshops for a full working week? Would that not be of benefit to prisoners and their victims?

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Nick Herbert: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The Government are committed to ensuring that prisons are places of work and restoration. We are focused on a programme to ensure that, wherever possible, we introduce work into prisons. There are problems with the physical estate, but we are determined to make that happen wherever we can.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Parc young offenders institution in my constituency had a report from the chief inspector of prisons recently that revealed that 60% of the 64 inmates were admitted with drug-related problems, that 25% had alcohol-related problems and that 89% had truanted from school repeatedly. What steps are we taking to ensure that rehabilitation is a real possibility in private sector prisons?

Nick Herbert: Rehabilitation is important, whether in a public or private sector prison. The movement to payment by results will ensure that providers are focused on what they need to do to reduce reoffending. Ensuring that offenders get off drugs and deal with their alcohol problems is an important part of that. That is one reason why we are piloting drug recovery wings in prisons. We will maintain our focus on those areas.

Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work that has been done to introduce work for prisoners. However, my constituents and I are concerned that local companies that are full of honest, hard-working people may lose contracts to prisoners, who are effectively subsidised by taxpayers’ money. Will he assure me that that will not be the case?

Nick Herbert: I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concern. We will design the schemes in a way that ensures that that does not happen. However, we must not lose sight of the importance of ensuring that prisons are places where offenders are not simply idle, but where they are rehabilitated and introduced to the world of work and responsibility.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): One factor that means that prisoners are less likely to be rehabilitated on coming out of prison is the lack of access to housing. Many prisoners are released with just a cash voucher and no chance of anywhere to live. What is the Minister doing about that scandal?

Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Lady that that is one of the very important factors that determine reoffending. That is why it is important that we have a concerted effort to ensure that on their release, prisoners, and particularly short-term prisoners who are not the subject of statutory supervision or support, receive the necessary support and entitlement to services. That can be done through the integrated offender management programmes that we are supporting, and also through the payment-by-results schemes that we are piloting, which the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) described.

Lay Magistrates

15. Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): When he next expects to meet the Magistrates Association to discuss the recruitment and retention of lay magistrates. [78968]

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The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): I do not currently have any plans to meet the Magistrates Association to discuss the recruitment and retention of magistrates.

Tony Baldry: Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that lay magistrates are feeling a bit unloved at the moment? They feel somewhat squeezed between the police increasingly allocating non-court disposals at one end and deputy circuit judges doing rather more work at the other end, and there are court closures and bench mergers. There has been no recruitment to the Oxfordshire bench for several years now. What can he do to ensure that lay magistrates feel appreciated?

Mr Clarke: I will heed my hon. Friend’s warning, but I think we probably all agree that the lay magistracy is one of the distinctive strengths of our justice system. It certainly makes a very valuable contribution, and I am glad to say that it is a popular form of volunteering. We obviously have to appoint strictly on merit, but we recruit more than 1,000 new magistrates every year and magistrates dispose of about 95% of the criminal justice work that goes through our system. I will take on board his points, and I hope that we can encourage people in Oxfordshire to carry on the essential work that they are doing for the good of the community.

Restorative Justice

16. Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): What steps he is taking to increase the use of restorative justice. [78969]

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): We are committed to delivering more restorative justice across the system, ensuring that more victims have a chance to explain the impact of crime upon them and that offenders face up to the consequences. Many areas already use restorative approaches, and we are considering how we can increase capacity to enable local areas to provide more effective responses to crime and disorder.

Mr Buckland: I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Both the youth offending team and the police in Swindon are using restorative justice procedures to very good effect, particularly in the sentencing process and as an alternative to prosecution. What specific plans does he have to support that invaluable work?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of that work, which can both provide enhanced victim satisfaction—victims are otherwise too often an afterthought in the process—and reduce reoffending rates. That was why the coalition agreement committed us to introducing neighbourhood resolution panels, which we intend to take forward. We have invited expressions of interest and had good interest in them, and we will set up pilots in the new year.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): What steps will the Minister take to support restorative justice programmes in prisons, such as that offered by the Prison Fellowship’s “Sycamore Tree” programme?

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Nick Herbert: It is important that we support restorative justice as a principle that applies across the criminal justice system, not just in any one part of it. The idea that offenders should make amends and, when victims want it, be required to confront their victims, is good, and where such schemes are successful we want to see them extended.

Corporate Manslaughter

17. Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the level of support available to families of people who have been victims of corporate manslaughter; and if he will make a statement. [78970]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): In England and Wales, victims of corporate manslaughter are eligible to receive the same support as victims of homicide from the national homicide service, which provides tailored and intensive one-to-one support to bereaved families for as long as they need it. Support for victims of crime in Scotland is a devolved matter.

Katy Clark: I am very grateful to the Minister for that answer. My constituents Dorothy and Douglas Wright recently received an apology from the Director of Public Prosecutions following the failure to take corporate manslaughter action when their son Mark died. They did not get access to such a service, and their experience is that families of those who die in such circumstances do not get such access. Will the Minister consider that issue?

Mr Blunt: Of course, this is a devolved matter for the hon. Lady’s constituents in Scotland, but I am quite happy to consider the development of the whole doctrine of corporate manslaughter. It is very important that the families of those who may be corporate manslaughter victims receive the necessary support, even if a prosecution cannot be successfully secured. That means that Victim Support needs to be notified that there is a requirement of support, which is sometimes not completely clear when someone dies in circumstances that might or might not lead to an investigation or successful prosecution for corporate manslaughter. However, I am very happy to consider the matter.

Overseas Terrorism

19. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to provide compensation for victims of overseas terrorism. [78972]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): The issue of compensation for victims of terrorism overseas is being considered alongside the Government’s review of victims’ services and compensation, at the conclusion of which we will publish a consultation document. We plan to make an announcement on victims of terrorism overseas at the same time as we launch the consultation, which we intend will be before Christmas.

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John Robertson: Déjà vu, Mr Speaker: on 28 June, when my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) asked a question on compensation for victims of overseas terrorism, the Minister replied:

“In the coming weeks we intend to launch a public consultation on victims services”—[Official Report, 28 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 749.]

Nineteen weeks down the road, we are still waiting for it. Will the Minister please tell me this: will he put the victims first and forget about his petty differences with the Opposition?

Mr Blunt: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have no petty differences with the Opposition. There are a number of difficult issues to resolve, but the delay is absolutely in the interests of victims, as we identify greater resources so that we can wrestle with the wretched situation that we inherited from the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which was £750 million in debt. We must sort those things out, and once we have done so, we will be able to come forward with a satisfactory policy for victims of crime.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: With extreme brevity, I call Mr Simon Hughes.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): May I say to the Minister—[ Laughter. ]

Mr Speaker: Order. We must give the right hon. Gentleman a chance.

Simon Hughes: May I say to the Minister that this is an inherited matter that has now lasted for 18 months? There is an obligation on the Government to sort it out soon. Can he give a commitment that victims will get their answer before the end of this calendar year?

Mr Blunt: Yes, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker: Well, there was exemplary brevity on both counts.

Topical Questions

T1. [78976] Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Kenneth Clarke): Yesterday, the UK took over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. Our key priority is reform of the European Court of Human Rights, for which there is widespread support. We are pressing for consensus among all 47 member states on a package of reforms that will make the Court more effective. The Court is struggling under a growing backlog of almost 160,000 cases, which is undermining its authority. The aim will be for the Court to concentrate on the most serious issues of alleged failure to comply with the convention by a member state. The primary duty of compliance with the convention in individual cases should rest with democratic Parliaments and national courts.

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Ian Swales: Teesside suffers from arguably the worst coroner service in the country, with families now waiting an average of 43 weeks for a verdict. How is the coroner service held accountable, and what can the Minister do to ensure that my constituents get the service they deserve?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Jonathan Djanogly): Ultimately, coroners are independent judicial appointments, and as such, complaints must be made through the judicial appointments service. Having said that, I have been in contact with people in Teesside and I shall continue to take an interest in this matter.

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): One cannot help but notice the good mood that the Justice Secretary is in today, which I am sure has nothing to do with the spot of bother the Home Secretary is in. May I ask him a question on a similar issue—foreign prisoners? He will be aware that in 2007, the Labour Government negotiated with the EU a prisoner transfer agreement, which comes into force next month, which will mean that no prisoner consent is required, and that the other country must comply with a request for a transfer. The Prime Minister promised the repatriation of thousands of foreign prisoners by personally taking charge of negotiations with individual countries. We all know that he likes to keep his promises, so can the Justice Secretary tell us how many new prisoner transfer agreements have been successfully negotiated with individual countries in the past 18 months, and how many foreign prisoners does he expect to be repatriated this year?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: First, I want to put the right hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest: I agree with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary in her handling of the current problems, so it is just my usual bonhomie; there is no particular cause for it today. It is true that this important transfer of prisoners agreement is about to come into force, and it will make a difference to our problem with foreign prisoners, although, of course, there are derogations to some important countries, such as Poland and Ireland, where it will not come into effect for a few years. The right hon. Gentleman hits on a serious problem, though: we need to find a way of reducing the foreign prisoner population. At the moment, we have only one international bilateral agreement near to conclusion, but we are continuing to work on it, because foreign prisoners take up more than 10% of places in our prison system.

T3. [78978] Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): At Swaleside prison in my constituency, the Kainos Community programme has an 87% success rate in reducing reoffending by inmates taking part in the scheme. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge this success, and extend the scheme across the prison estate?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mr Crispin Blunt): I have seen the Kainos scheme in other prisons, and I am looking forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency to see it work at first hand. Of course, we will want to learn the lessons and apply them, so that we can begin to achieve those kinds of reoffending rates—if they are as described—on a sustainable basis.

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Mr Speaker: May I encourage Ministers to face the House, so that we get the full force of their eloquence head-on?

T2. [78977] Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Has the Minister done an impact assessment on the effect of the legal aid reforms on women?

Mr Djanogly: Yes, an equality impact assessment was carried out.

T5. [78980] Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): According to a written question that I asked the Minister earlier this year, in 2009 the disciplinary punishment of additional days for bad behaviour in prisons was imposed on 11,550 occasions. What steps are being taken to improve discipline and behaviour in prisons?

Mr Blunt: There is a zero-tolerance policy for any violence in prison towards staff, visitors or other prisoners. In addition, one should not underestimate the importance of our proposals on work in prisons. If we can put in place a much more useful prison regime under which far more prisoners are engaged in useful work, it will aid the delivery of discipline in our prisons.

T4. [78979] Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Could I ask whether the Secretary of State will identify the amount of savings he will make in his planned reductions for legal aid in social welfare law and identify the amount of knock-on cuts to the Scottish budget through the Barnett formula? Could he confirm that, if there are cuts, the Scottish Parliament does not have to follow the savage cuts in welfare law legal aid?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: We debated all this last week. We are still spending £50 million on legal aid for welfare law, even as we have revised and cut it back, and cut out areas where, frankly, legal assistance is not necessary, appropriate or justified. Our proposals affect England and Wales only, and the provision of legal aid in Scotland is not a matter for me.

T9. [78984] Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con): Do the Government agree that magistrates are a vital and integral part of the justice system, and that they must be supported and encouraged to play a part in neighbourhood justice?

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Yes, we do. As we develop our proposals, including for the neighbourhood resolution panels that I described earlier, we want to consider what role magistrates may play in that. They are, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, an important lay resource, and we should think of new ways to make use of them.

T6. [78981] Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): How does the Secretary of State plan to fill the nearly £280 million gap in social welfare law in respect of the provision of crucial advice and support on housing, debt and employment issues to some of the poorest people in our country, given that there is little to no evidence that the voluntary and charitable sectors will be able to back-fill that gap? The £20 million referred to does not seem to go far enough.

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Mr Djanogly: First, it is important to appreciate that we are keeping £50 million of legal aid in social welfare law for the most urgent and vulnerable people who need it. We need to appreciate that, at the moment, legal aid is often used as a sticking plaster for matters that should properly be dealt with under general advice from citizens advice bureaux.

T10. [78985] Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): After the riots in the summer, courts such as Cannock magistrates court in my constituency sat late and ensured that the surge in work was dealt with smoothly and efficiently. These late-night sittings have been widely regarded as a huge success, not least by those magistrates who have full-time jobs that require them to work during office hours. What plans does the Secretary of State’s Department have to roll out these evening court sittings on a permanent basis?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: The work done after the riots is a tribute to the public spiritedness of all who sat on the bench—all the court staff, probation staff, police and duty defence solicitors. There was a widespread feeling that people should do their bit to restore order, and I am glad to say that the courts rose to the challenge. Normally, on an ordinary day, we do not have a shortage of court space, so there is no general need to have night or evening sittings. We can certainly improve the efficiency with which the more straightforward cases are dealt with. They can be brought on at an ordinary hour more quickly than they sometimes are now. We are working on that. It was a tribute to the court service and everybody who works in it that they all worked as well as they did.

T7. [78982] Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): I wrote to the Justice Secretary six weeks ago on behalf of my constituent Gary Thrall, but have not yet had an answer. May I ask him again to look at this case and at the fact that 16 months on from a vicious knife attack, Gary has yet to receive a final settlement from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority or to be advised of the likely time scale for the settlement, which is preventing the family from moving on?

Mr Blunt: I will, of course, investigate the case that the hon. Lady brings to my attention. I will get in touch with her directly.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): According to figures from the Department, 10% of all crimes are committed by people on bail and 20% of burglaries are committed by people on bail. When the provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill come into effect, which will make it harder for courts to remand people in custody, what estimate has the Department made of the number of crimes that will be committed by people on bail then?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: The changes we are making are to get rid of the anomaly whereby bail can be refused to someone who is charged with an offence in circumstances where it is quite obvious that they are not going to be sent to prison, even if they are found guilty. It is a reform that should have been made a long time ago. Serious offences are sometimes committed by people on bail, and we have committed ourselves to introducing a right of appeal when someone is given bail in the Crown

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court. There have been bad cases where serious offences have been committed. We hope to introduce an amendment in the other place that would allow the Crown Prosecution Service to challenge the granting of bail in the Crown court when a potentially dangerous prisoner is involved.

T8. [78983] Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): Constituents of mine with serious health conditions who have been turned down for employment and support allowance are still having to wait up to nine months for a tribunal appeal hearing. With more than 40% of them being successful on appeal, what is the Minister going to do to end this unacceptable wait?

Mr Djanogly: This is relevant to a number of Departments. We are working with them to ensure that the procedures are such that better determinations are made at the outset so that we get fewer appeals. This is taking up a significant amount of my time. The hon. Lady makes an important point.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): When a magistrates court is forced to close, does my hon. Friend agree that every effort and flexibility needs to be shown to accommodate those magistrates in alternative courts?

Mr Djanogly: Yes, and they are. So far as I know, no magistrates have been forced to resign because of any court closure. They are normally encouraged to join the successor court, although some take the opportunity to resign at that point for their own reasons.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): The Secretary of State will no doubt share my respect for those who carry out pro bono work, which makes a big impact in my communities and throughout the UK. What does he make of the assertion that cutbacks are going to have to be made in pro bono services because of the cuts to overall provision?

Mr Djanogly: I do not see any reason why that should be the case.

Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): One of my constituents who was witness to a burglary and theft in the local area has made me aware that the youth defendant who pleaded guilty on two counts was required as part of his rehabilitation order to spend three weeks at summer arts college. Does the Minister believe that it is time to review some elements of the community sentencing framework?

Mr Blunt: We are going to look at the community sentencing framework, as I announced to the House last week. We are absolutely clear that the whole framework has to carry public confidence that there will be effective punishment in the community, while at the same time delivering effective rehabilitation. A sentence that protects the public and delivers restoration to the victim is a key part of our consideration.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): We have an excellent community legal advice centre in Hull. What are the Minister’s views on the future funding of CLACs and community legal advice networks?

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Mr Djanogly: These will have to be looked at in the context of all not-for-profit organisations—citizens advice bureaux and so forth. If the hon. Lady wishes to discuss her particular concerns relating to her particular CLAC, I would be happy to discuss them with her.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Following the publication of the Norgrove report, will my hon. Friend reassure anxious fathers in my constituency, including Mr Colin Riches, and will he make every effort to ensure that parents have equal access to children?

Mr Djanogly: We have every intention of ensuring that both parents have a meaningful relationship with their children, and we will look carefully at the Norgrove report in order to develop a Government approach to the matter.

Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): The convictions of three world-class cricketers last week shows that even cricket is not immune from corruption. In his role as the Government’s anti-corruption chief, will the Secretary of State look into the problem of corruption in international sporting bodies such as FIFA, and see what Britain can do to drive corruption out of international sport? There has also been controversy involving the Olympics and Formula 1.

Mr Kenneth Clarke: I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, but the issue of corruption in sport is primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport. I know that he is working with his European Union opposite numbers on specific measures to tackle it, and I am following his progress very closely. The recent convictions show that there are problems that need to be tackled in the interests of everyone who believes in the value of sport—but honest sport—to a community.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): The Government are committed to ensuring that women are not sent to prison in disproportionately high numbers. May we have an update on the Corston report?

Mr Blunt: The Government support the objectives of the Corston report, as did our predecessor, and as we did in opposition. There are only one or two elements of it that we are unable to deliver, such as the recommendation for more smaller custodial units. As was made clear in the exchanges that followed the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), one of our main priorities is to make

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progress on the Corston agenda and to learn some of its lessons in how to deal with not just women prisoners, but all prisoners.

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): The Money Advice Service has sacked 100 front-line staff in order to spend more money on publicity. Does the Secretary of State now regret removing nearly all debt advice from the scope of legal aid, and what cross-departmental discussions is he having about the future of such advice?

Mr Kenneth Clarke: I am very sorry to hear what the hon. Lady has said, but I am not sure whether the issue is the responsibility of my Department; it may be the responsibility of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. However, I will certainly check, because it is extremely important for advice to be available at what is a difficult time for many people. Advice on debt is, unfortunately, one of the things that many people require—not only foreign Governments, but a fair number of our own citizens.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): A few months ago, the Minister said that the backlog of appeals on social security matters would be resolved through the employment of more people. That was before the summer, but the waiting times seem to be as long as ever. Why is that?

Mr Djanogly: There is still a significant number of appeals, but the number is now being stabilised and the delays are being reduced.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Given that probation trusts are experiencing major cuts in their budgets, can the Minister explain how he expects them to do more for less?

Mr Blunt: Probation trusts have been relatively well protected given the current environment. The additional cuts are at least 13% less than the overall cut in the Ministry of Justice budget, which shows that we are making the protection of the front line a priority in order to ensure that services are delivered effectively. However, like everyone else, probation trusts will have to make their contribution to rescuing our nation’s economy from the wretched mess in which it was left by the last Administration.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. I apologise to colleagues. I should be happy to allow these exchanges to continue all day if there were time, but there is not.

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Points of Order

3.34 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask for your guidance? Item 4 on today’s Order Paper, under the heading “Backbench Business”, is entitled “Publication of a Select Committee Report”. Below that is a motion in the name of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), which states

“That this House notes the publication of the Tenth Report from the Transport Committee on High Speed Rail”.

As you know, Sir, a number of us are concerned about that issue. Below the motion is a note which says

“Proceedings on Mrs Ellman’s Motion are expected to continue for approximately 20 minutes.”

I have never seen such a provision on the Order Paper before. Will you give the House some idea of what you expect to happen? Will the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside be allowed to speak for 20 minutes about the Select Committee’s report? Will those of us who have quite a lot to say about the report have any opportunity to intervene or to make a contribution, or does the note merely constitute guidance meaning that the business can continue until any hour?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I hope to be able, at least in part, to satisfy his curiosity.

First, I am sorry the hon. Gentleman has not noticed such an item on the Order Paper before; that is uncharacteristically unobservant of him, as in my current recollection there have been at least three occasions on which similar items have been placed on the Order Paper.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman seeks a steer as to the nature of the proceedings in question. It is an occasion upon which the Chair of the Select Committee presents a statement about the report, and it is customary on such occasions for Members to intervene on the Select Committee Chair, if they wish to do so. There are no other speeches, however.

Thirdly, I should inform the hon. Gentleman that this is a relatively recent development, and he may wish to look in the direction of his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House—who is currently sitting on the Treasury Bench—if he is curious as to whether it will be a temporary or an enduring phenomenon. I shall leave that little teaser in the mind of the hon. Gentleman.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I informed the Environment Secretary of my intention to make a point of order today. Yesterday, the right hon. Lady published a written ministerial statement on the results of the European Union Agricultural Council, in which she states that

“the laying hens directive…comes into force on 1 January 2013.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2011; Vol. 535, c. 5WS.]

As Members on both sides of the House will be aware, the laying hens directive, in fact, comes into force on

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1 January 2012. The Secretary of State also states in that document, however, that the Commission plans to uphold the ban on battery cages and to start inspection visits at the start of 2013. There is therefore some confusion about what action the Commission will be taking and in which year that will start.

This is not the first time that Environment Ministers have slipped up. They had to correct the record on the new British Waterways charity, and there is also the now-legendary legal case that was supposed to be proceeding in Europe on the use of wild animals in circuses, but which transpired not to exist. Will you advise the House, Mr Speaker, on when the Secretary of State might come to the Chamber to correct the record? I see that the Leader of the House is in his place; I wonder whether he can assure us that such unfortunate episodes will not become custom and practice.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady, the shadow Secretary of State, for her point of order. The matter to which she has referred is certainly of intense, and probably of enduring, interest to a great many, including the hens themselves. The other matters to which she referred will have been noted, doubtless at a distance by the Secretary of State, and here in person, in the Chamber, by the Leader of the House. If the hon. Lady were minded to pursue the matter any further, I might—unfairly—conclude that she was seeking to establish a point not of information, but a political argument; but I am sure she has not got the latter in mind in any way.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have both claimed that UK cancer survival and death rates are poor by international standards, and they have referred to that as a justification for the NHS reforms. It has become clear from a study produced by Professor Pritchard-Jones—

Mr Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. I fear that points of order might be in danger of transmuting into comments on past ministerial statements on a range of matters. If the hon. Gentleman is seeking to prove to me and the House what an assiduous member of the Health Committee—and of the previous Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee—he is, he has succeeded in his mission.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wonder whether you are keeping any score of how many mistakes, misquotes or misdirections to the House Cabinet Ministers are allowed to make before there is some attempt to call them to account.

Mr Speaker: The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no, but he has made his point. If there are no further points of order, we can come now to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) has been patiently waiting.

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Internet Regulation (Material Inciting Gang Violence)

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No.23)

3.40 pm

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give courts the power to order internet service providers to remove certain material which incites gang violence; and for connected purposes.

I am introducing this Bill because I am appalled by the proliferation of online videos glorifying gangs and serious youth violence. The police, via the courts and internet service providers, need to be given explicit power to get these videos taken down or to get access to them blocked. These videos act as a recruitment mechanism for gangs. I believe they lead to an increased number of young people in our cities who feel the need to carry a knife for protection and they terrify any ordinary human being who watches them.

I first came across these videos last year, when a constituent contacted me after his son had been the victim of a gang-related mugging. He sent me links to a video that was up on YouTube of the gang that had robbed his son. The video was filmed in broad daylight in a car park in the heart of Catford. It contained images of 10 to 15 young men—perhaps I should say boys—rapping, swearing and waving knives around as if they were cigarettes. The video boasts about violence; it is menacing, sickening and frightening. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of these sorts of videos on the internet, not just on YouTube, but on sites such as Spiff TV. If someone types “Brixton gangs”, “Hackney gangs” or “Lewisham gangs” into any online audio-visual search facility, they will find these videos. Not all contain images of knives, but the narrative is the same, “Mess with us and we’ll stab you.” These videos have been viewed tens of thousands of times each—sometimes hundreds of thousands of times.

Over the past year, I have attempted to interest the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice in this issue, but my letters and contributions in debates have fallen on deaf ears. Last week, the Government launched their report into ending gang and serious youth violence, but it contains almost no mention of the internet. I find that remarkable, short-sighted and out of touch. We know that the internet is increasingly central to people’s everyday lives—that applies to young people in particular. Indeed, some research suggests that teenagers spend as much as 31 hours per week online. The popularity and accessibility of the internet means that it is inevitably one of the ways through which young people get caught up in the madness of youth violence, yet this Government seem to be ignoring it.

These videos frighten me and they will frighten young people too. Every one of us here today knows that carrying a knife is wrong. Some of us will also know that if a young person carries a knife, it is probably as likely to end up injuring them as anyone else. But we also know that many young people carry knives out of fear. They may not start out to stab someone but, as we all know, too often that becomes the tragic reality. As Patrick Regan says in his book “Fighting Chance”:

“The truth is that, for many, the everyday fear of gangs and what they can do to you is far greater than the fear of being caught and going to prison”.

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Do we not owe it to the young people who are viewing this stuff online to make them feel safer? These are not videos filmed in some make-believe American gangland. No, these are videos filmed in our own communities—in our car parks, our town centres and on our housing estates. They are filmed in easily recognisable locations where my constituents will walk on a regular basis.

Currently, one of the only ways that this material is removed from the net is if enough people flag the video, via YouTube’s online community policing mechanism, as having inappropriate content; if enough people report the video as being unacceptable, it will ultimately be taken down. That is clearly a start, but it is not good enough. The police should have the power to get access to these videos blocked by the courts and internet service providers. I am not so naive as to think that would be a panacea, but it strikes me that when the police know that this kind of material is freely available to anyone with access to the web, they should be empowered to take action against it.

We should not have to rely on voluntary community censorship in relation to this important issue, not least because the majority of people viewing the material are probably those least likely to want to report it for fear of reprisal. I recognise that policing of the internet will always be incredibly difficult, but unless we start to grapple with the online manifestation of gangs, I question our ability to tackle the problem. We can talk about gang injunctions all we like, and there might be a need for them, but should we not also recognise that the same individuals might cause an equal amount of fear by their actions when sat at a computer at home?

In the time that remains, I shall turn my attention to the existing legislation. Although the Communications Act 2003 does not provide a solution to the problem, the provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 might be a useful template for what I propose. Section 127 of the Communications Act, entitled, “Improper use of public electronic communications network” makes it a criminal offence to send

“a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

It might be possible to use that measure to deal with the perpetrator of the gang video—the camera man—but it does not provide a means of requiring that the violent material be removed from public view on the internet. Clearly, we need to go after the gang members themselves, but we also need to be able to remove what is effectively their advertising material. The Communications Act does not seem to be of any use in that regard, whereas the Digital Economy Act contains a potentially useful template in respect of the power it grants to courts to order internet service providers to remove web content that infringes copyright. I put it to the House that the removal of material inciting gang violence could and should be dealt with in a similar way.

I understand that in the new year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is going to publish a Green Paper on a new communications Bill. In the hope of joined-up government, I urge the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who is present, to ensure that DCMS and the Home Office work together and look carefully at the options for addressing this important issue. If the Government are serious about

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addressing the problems of gangs and youth violence, they need to wake up to the role of the internet and the way in which young people become involved in gangs and knife crime.

As things stand, I fear there is a real danger that the Government are leaving the need for an internet strategy to tackle gang crime, and indeed other forms of crime, in the “too difficult to tackle” box. That simply is not good enough. Gangs may not be a new phenomenon but the casualisation of violence associated with them is. The speed and reach of the internet in propagating and glorifying that violence is also something new and we must not ignore it. We must find a way to address it.

Question put and agreed to.


That Heidi Alexander, Mr David Lammy, Ms Karen Buck, Joan Ruddock, Bob Blackman, Siobhain McDonagh, Meg Hillier, Bill Esterson, Teresa Pearce and Mr Lee Scott present the Bill.

Heidi Alexander accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 246).

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European Budgets 2014 to 2020

3.49 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Mark Hoban): I beg to move,

That this House takes note of European Union Documents Nos. 12478/11 and Addenda 1 and 2, 12474/11, 12480/11, 12483/11, 12475/11 and Addenda 1 to 3, and 12484/11, relating to the Commission’s proposal on the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), 2014-20; agrees with the Government, that at a time of ongoing economic fragility in Europe and tight constraints on domestic public spending, the Commission’s proposal for very substantial spending increases compared with current spend is unacceptable, unrealistic, too large and incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the UK and in countries across Europe to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth, that the next MFF must see significant improvements in the financial management of EU resources by the Commission and by Member States and in the value for money of spend and that the proposed changes to the UK abatement and new taxes to fund the EU budget are completely unacceptable and an unwelcome distraction from the pressing issues that the EU needs to address; and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister made a statement to the House following the G20 meeting in Cannes regarding the ongoing crisis in the euro area. As his statement made clear, it is vital that the euro area sticks to the deal agreed to two weeks ago by the European Heads of Government to resolve the ongoing crisis. A resolution to that crisis is vital to UK, European and global economic interests. It is equally important that, over the longer term, the euro area and the wider EU take the necessary steps to tackle the deficits that are the root cause of the crisis.

The ongoing instability in the euro area vindicates this Government’s decision to get ahead of the curve, cut our deficit and impose strict fiscal discipline on our budget. It is vital that EU member states demonstrate the same resolve, and we welcome commitments by Italy and Spain, among others, to do so. However, the European Commission must also lead from the front in a drive to impose financial discipline across the EU institutions. That is why it is unacceptable for the Commission to propose a 4.9% increase in the annual budget for 2012. The UK and the European Council have agreed that we could not approve such an increase at a time when member states are facing tough decisions to impose fiscal discipline and consolidation. We will be taking a firm stand on the 2012 budget when we meet in the budget ECOFIN later this month.

Let me turn now to the principal subject of today’s debate: the multi-annual financial framework that sets out how much the Commission wants to spend in 2014 to 2020 and how it will fund it. The Commission’s proposals seek to increase both its revenue and its spending. It wants new taxes to expand the Brussels coffers, and proposes inflation-busting spending increases. That is simply not acceptable. The answer is not to raise more and spend more; it is to control spending. The best way to restrain EU annual budgets is to set—

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of clarification, the Minister mentioned inflation-busting increases, but am I right in thinking that what is being proposed is a 5% cash increase in the ceiling over the seven-year period? If so, that would be less than the rate of inflation in real terms, and therefore not an inflation-busting increase.

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Mr Hoban: The most recent rate of inflation in the EU was about 2%, so clearly a 5% increase would be in excess of the rate of inflation, and therefore an inflation-busting—

Geraint Davies rose—

Mr Hoban: No, let me continue.

The best way to restrain EU annual budgets is to set tough multi-annual framework ceilings. That is why, at the European Council in October 2010, member states agreed that the

“forthcoming Multiannual Financial Framework must reflect consolidation efforts being made by Member States to bring deficit and debt onto a more sustainable path”.

Rather than following that path, however, the Commission has meekly bowed to pressure from the European Parliament to increase the budget, thereby returning to the extravagance and irresponsible spending that sowed the seeds of the current global economic crisis. Just as we cannot accept the Commission’s 2012 budget, we also cannot accept the Commission’s proposal, as set out on 29 June, to increase the multi-annual framework budget for 2014 to 2020 by 11%. Such an increase is incompatible with the tough decisions being taken in the United Kingdom and in countries across Europe to cut spending.

Instead of consolidation, the Commission proposes expansion. It has ignored the calls made in December last year by the UK, France and Germany for a real-terms freeze in spending. The Commission claims to have done as we have asked, but let me make it absolutely clear to the House that it has not. On average, the spend in each year of the next framework would be about €14 billion higher than it is today.

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Given that the Government are now studying the powers and duties that can be brought back to the House for national and local decision, surely we should be taking big lumps out of this budget? If, for example, we repatriated agriculture, industrial aid and regional aid, we could cut the budget by two thirds. I think that the members of the public to whom I answer would be very pleased with that.

Mr Hoban: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. In parallel to the debate about the ceilings for the budgetary framework over the course of the period between 2014 and 2020, debates are also taking place on the individual lines of expenditure within the EU budget, and we are proposing significant reductions in cost to underpin our strategy of curbing overall spending by the EU.

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): Will the Financial Secretary give way?

Mr Hoban: May I make a little progress? I am conscious of the number of hon. Members, perhaps on both sides of the House, who want to take part in the debate.

In addition to the on-budget spending increases proposed by the Commission, the Commission has earmarked an extra £18 billion in off-budget spending. That is an alarming lack of transparency that brings added risks of poor oversight and control. In a further lack of transparency, the proposal fails to focus on levels of

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cash payments—actual expenditure that the multi-annual financial framework will allow in each heading. Instead, it opts to use commitments—planned expenditure—but frankly the cost to UK taxpayers is not how much is planned to be spent but the actual cash going out of the door. This should be the starting point for the higher control over spending, and we and our allies have made that clear to the Commission.

Mr MacShane: Will the Financial Secretary give way?

Mr Hoban: Let me make a bit more progress and I will take the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention in a short while.

The Commission also asked us to use as our starting point for a freeze—this is perhaps where the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has been confused by the Commission’s numbers—the level of spend planned in 2005, but we cannot ignore the fact that the global crisis has taken place since then. Every country has had to scale back its spending from pre-crisis days and the European Commission is no different.

The Commission can also do more to ensure that money is spent more wisely. We are leading the way on reforming financial management in the EU. For the first time in 17 years, we have refused to support the sign-off of the EU accounts. We are pushing for simpler, clearer rules on spending programmes that make it easier to spot fraud and error, and we have also raised our game at home to ensure that EU money spent here is spent properly and wisely.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Will the Financial Secretary give way?

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Financial Secretary give way?

Mr Hoban: Let me finish a couple of sentences and then I will give way.

Tackling financial mismanagement in the EU can help meet spending commitments, so our message on spending is clear. There should be a real-terms freeze on spending, a focus on the amounts actually spent, not plans dreamt up over five years ago when the world was different. Let us tackle waste and financial mismanagement across the EU. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom).

Mr Speaker: Order. Before the Minister gives way to the hon. Lady, I emphasise that, of course it is in the gift of the Minister to give way as he thinks fit, but the total time for the debate on this matter is only one and a half hours, and it would be a pity if Back Benchers were disappointed. I am sure that the Minister will tailor his remarks and his giving way accordingly.

Andrea Leadsom: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall bear in mind your comments. I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he agree that one of the most ridiculous wastes of money in this day and age, with tight budgets, is the European Parliament continuing to move between countries during the week, at enormous expense to British taxpayers?

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Mr Hoban: We could spend all one hour and 30 minutes detailing the ways in which the EU wastes money. My hon. Friend has raised one. The EU spends more on buildings in Luxembourg than on vital expenditure. So, conscious of your strictures, Mr Speaker, let me make some progress.

Curbing European spending is not the only priority for the UK. We need to tackle how the EU funds its spending, too. The Commission is trying to increase its control over funding by introducing new EU-wide taxes and amending the correction mechanisms such as the UK abatement or rebate. Now, this Government have been absolutely clear. We will defend our rebate. Last time the UK negotiated the multi-annual financial framework in 2005 the then Labour Government gave ground on the rebate in return for reform of the common agricultural policy. What has happened since then? The value of the rebate has fallen, but the spending on the CAP has not budged. We will not fall for empty promises; we will resist any change to the abatement. Our rebate remains absolutely justified. The structure of EU spending means that we get less per capita than any other member state. Without the rebate, the UK’s net contribution as a percentage of national income would be the largest across Europe and twice as large as the contributions made by France and Italy. Our rebate is fully justified, and we are not going to give it away.

Mr MacShane: Can the Minister confirm that, for the six years, the proposed increase is 11%. Eleven divided by six is 1.85% or about 1.9% each year. Is that factually accurate?

Mr Hoban: This goes back to some of the challenges in the Commission’s presentation of its numbers. The budget proposed by the Commission is £100 billion larger than the real freeze in spending that the UK and its allies have proposed. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) says that I have not answered the question. It is clear that the way in which the European Commission has structured its budget, by having some things on or off-budget and by talking about commitments rather than actual spending, confuses and clouds the position, leaving some to think that the Commission has embarked on a freeze on the budget, whereas in reality the EU is proposing a real-terms increase in the budget.

Let me move on to the second issue in relation to the funding of the EU budget. The Government strongly oppose the proposal for new taxes to fund the European Union budget. They attach considerable importance to the principle of tax sovereignty. Tax is a matter for member states to decide at a national level. We oppose any new taxes or changes to the existing system that increase the UK’s contributions or pose a threat to our long-term position, including a financial transactions tax to fund the EU budget. We cannot accept a budget which asks for more and asks for a greater share from taxpayers and from the UK.

A year ago, the Government set out their plans for the consolidation of public expenditure at the spending review. Supported by the International Monetary Fund and OECD, the Government set out plans to reduce the deficit. We have shown our resolve by keeping the UK out of the storm that has engulfed the euro area, and we will show the same resolve with the European Commission.

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The inflation-busting increases proposed by the Commission are out of touch with the realities felt by taxpayers across Europe, and out of touch with the views of José Manuel Barroso, who in June argued that many states

“need to show more ambition when it comes to fiscal consolidation”.

We as a Government believe that the Commission needs to show much more ambition, too, when it comes to fiscal consolidation. We will continue to press the European Commission and member states to deliver a multi-annual framework that delivers real fiscal consolidation. This will be a challenging negotiation.

Mr Cash: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hoban: There will always be pressure from others to spend more, and a failure to agree the framework would shift the focus to the annual budget process which, unlike the framework, is decided by qualified majority voting. It is an uncertain prospect that we are eager to avoid. That is why we will work tirelessly to seek the best deal on the multi-annual framework, but a deal on our terms—a deal that curbs EU spending and puts a brake on the Commission’s plans for EU-wide taxes and seizing some of our rebate—

Mr Cash: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hoban: I was about to conclude to give my hon. Friend time to speak in the debate, but let me take his intervention.

Mr Cash: This gives me an opportunity to put one thing on the record, not necessarily in a spirit of cynicism. Last year I moved an amendment, which was accepted by the House, that we would have no increase in the budget. By the end of the convolutions that took place, the Government accepted an increase of 2.9%. May I be absolutely assured that on this occasion, given the robust nature and the tenor of what my hon. Friend has said, that there will be no increase whatsoever?

Mr Hoban: My hon. Friend is well versed in the intricacies of the European Union. As he knows, the budget negotiations later this month are done on a QMV basis. We do not have a veto on the 2012 budget and we will be seeking to build a coalition of allies who are as committed as we are to curbing the expenditure of the EU, and who are as committed as we are to opposing the inflation-busting increase proposed by the European Commission. I am sure that when we reach that deal later this month, my hon. Friend will seek to hold the Government to account on that. I can assure him that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that we curb the EU’s plans and reduce the spending levels proposed by the Commission.

Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Hoban: I will not, as I was about to end, bearing in mind Mr Speaker’s strictures.

We are committed to seeking the best deal for the United Kingdom, a deal that curbs EU spending, puts a brake on the Commission’s plans for EU-wide taxes, and seizes some of our rebate. I urge the House to support the motion.

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4.4 pm

Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister started the debate by referring to today’s news about the eurozone crisis. Despite the failures of all leaders at the G20 summit, including the Prime Minister, and the continued failure of the eurozone to put flesh on the bones with regard to the dimensions of the European financial stability facility and the role of the European Central Bank, we hope that some leadership will eventually emerge across the European stage to get to grips with the problem. I am sure that the Minister will want to take back the message from both sides of the House that far sturdier action is needed on these issues.

It is important that the House recognise the difference between the issues we would like to discuss today and the specific issue addressed by the motion. The Minister referred to the Council of Ministers’ proposal in the summer for a real-terms freeze in the EU’s annual budget for 2012—in other words, a cash rise of over 2%—yet the European Parliament voted on 26 October to back a package even higher than the Commission’s proposal for a 4.9% increase. Labour Members of the European Parliament voted against the package, which would have amounted to an increase of more than 5%. We were prepared to support only a real-terms freeze in the budget.

I am told that there will now be a 21-day negotiation period among the three EU institutions. If the 2012 budget is not passed by December, it will be worked out on a monthly basis, based on 2011 levels. We believe that the proposal to increase the budget by more than 5% will strike most people as unjustified and wrong-headed. The last time we saw the Government negotiate an annual budget, the Prime Minister started by promising a freeze but ended up claiming that an increase was a victory. This time he needs to do better and must not support another inflation-busting rise in the EU budget.

Greg Hands (Chelsea and Fulham) (Con): What about the rebate?

Chris Leslie: I will come to that in a moment.

If that means the Government need to stand firm for the full 21-day negotiating period, so be it. The UK should not allow the 2012 budget to rise beyond a real-terms freeze.

With regard to the snappily titled “Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020”, we rarely have an opportunity to debate a subject while the Chancellor is talking about it at an ECOFIN meeting, so this is a useful sign that Parliament is in tune with the issues of the day. Defining the main budget priorities over the seven-year period is a process that began in 1986 but was changed in the Lisbon treaty so that there was greater involvement for the European Parliament. It is important to explore the detail, but in our view the notion that there should be any significant overall increase in expenditure is perverse, given the strictures being placed on mainstream public investment projects at home. The Government must ensure that they deliver on their rhetoric in the motion and secure a much better deal than the one currently on the table.

There are two crucial areas on which the Government need to focus: the Commission’s proposal for new revenue powers and the UK rebate. With regard to the Commission’s

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proposals to change what it calls its “own resources” method of calculating the income it received from each member state, it is suggesting two new direct revenue streams. The first is a top-slice process for domestic VAT revenues, which I would like to ask the Minister about specifically. I am very sceptical about the proposal and would be grateful if he addressed it when summing up, because I do not think he touched on it adequately in his opening comments. Will he tell the House what proportion of our domestic VAT would be diverted to EU institutions if the change was proceeded with? The Commission seemed to suggest that it is a replacement for the VAT element of the funding formula used to calculate contributions from each member state, but how would the existing arrangements and the new arrangements compare?

With regard to the Commission’s proposal for a new EU financial transaction tax, can we at least be clear that it twists the notion of a Robin Hood tax so wide of the mark that it is barely recognisable from the global FTT, which has received so much support from charities, campaigners and leading economists worldwide? Revenues from any FTT must surely be destined for jobs, growth and carbon reduction at home and in the developing world. Pouring those revenues into the EU budget or EU bail-out funds instead would be the wrong thing to do and totally contrary to the spirit of a genuine Robin Hood tax. Instead, the starting point ought to be the proposal that Labour put forward at the 2009 G20 summit, which is that all countries should agree to work together to establish a tax, set at a fraction of 1%, that could be levied on financial transactions, millions of which happen in the City everyday. We want to see a financial transaction tax—but one that is implemented with the widest possible international agreement.

Mr MacShane: In 1995 I moved an amendment to the Finance Bill proposing exactly what my hon. Friend suggests, but an hon. Friend who later became the Chancellor of the Exchequer and is now my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) wrote through it with red ink, “No new taxes”, so the idea died the death some 15 years ago. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie), but let us not make the best the enemy of the good. If we get this thing going, we are getting something going that will help people. Waiting for everybody in the world to sign up to it will involve a very long wait.

Chris Leslie: I understand my right hon. Friend’s frustrations, but I really do not think that the proposal on the table from the Commission would achieve the outcomes that he or I seek. We have to make concerted efforts to broker a deal where any FTT applies in any of the world’s big financial centres, all of which by the way have much to gain from a new and reliable revenue stream that supports jobs, growth and the developing world.

The Commission’s proposal falls short, especially because of its intended destination for the revenue, but I think that the difference my right hon. Friend seeks is this: we felt that there was a real window of opportunity to steer the agenda on a financial transaction tax and to persuade other countries that it was something seriously worth considering, but our Chancellor is out there at the ECOFIN meeting today, resisting under all

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circumstances. Indeed, he wrote a private letter to bankers the other day in which he indicated that he was not in favour of it at all—even though that contradicts some of his statements in this place. He is wrong to block wider discussion among the G20 and beyond.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson reported this lunchtime that our Chancellor asked what was the point in even having a conversation about the financial transaction tax and, apparently, whether it was

“the best way to spend our time”.

It is important that we address those issues, because the Government’s weak and defeatist attitude is an abdication of leadership and a total abandonment of the gains made for the cause at the G20 meeting in 2009. It is time that Britain stepped up to the plate and showed the leadership needed to broker a better deal by being open to the idea that it is possible to win the argument for a different approach. That is why we call on the Government to engage internationally—beyond the EU proposals alone.

The second major proposal in this multi-annual financial framework is for the Commission to change the correction mechanisms for countries that are the most significant net contributors to the EU. In other words, it proposes to end the UK’s permanent rebate. The rebate returns about two thirds of the difference between the UK’s contribution to the EU and the money we receive back. Let us be absolutely clear: the Commission’s proposals are totally unacceptable. Of all the 27 countries, only Germany is a higher net contributor to the EU budget than the UK, and we have the lowest per capita receipts from it. The common agricultural policy is a far bigger distortion of the EU budget than any correction mechanism such as the UK rebate.

This is a key test for the Prime Minister. He needs to put up a strong defence of our rebate if the language that he uses here in the House is to be matched by his deeds in those negotiations.

Mr Redwood: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Chris Leslie: Everybody will be watching closely, including the right hon. Gentleman, to whom I am happy to give way.

Mr Redwood: What promises did the previous Prime Minister but one receive when he gave away a chunk of our rebate? I thought we were promised a reduction in agricultural spending, which would be very welcome.

Chris Leslie: I was not a Member at the time to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, but it is true that there have been changes to the UK rebate, although not to the majority of it. My understanding is that, in terms of money returned, the total amount of rebate has actually gone up, with €5.8 billion in the previous MFF round compared with €2.8 billion before, so the rebate is still a very significant gain for the UK.

There were changes to the common agricultural policy, although—I accept—not as many as people would have liked, but until we have further proposals from the Commission on reforming the common agricultural policy I am certainly not going to get into the business

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of urging the Minister to change the UK rebate. It is very important that the Government put up a defence of the current position and, indeed, try harder to engage with further proposals on the CAP. That is by far the bigger distortion. We need to pursue a stronger reform agenda and to have a CAP reform that is fairer to small farmers but does not lavish as much on wealthier players in the wealthiest countries. We need to tackle that anomaly as it is an outdated relic.

I am grateful to Business for New Europe’s pamphlet entitled “Rethinking the EU Budget,” which suggests some very important changes to EU competitiveness deficiencies, such as boosting research and development. It is also important that the Minister address the deficiencies in the structural funds. Few of those are helping to boost growth, when they ought to be getting investment moving into the economy. Above all, the MFF ought to contain far greater emphasis on a strategy for jobs and growth, where we know the Government have a blind spot.

The Commission and the European Parliament also need reminding that, without growth, we cannot solve the debt crisis, the banking crisis or the jobs crisis. Energy infrastructure projects, high-speed broadband and transport link improvements could all be brought forward within the MFF envelope and prioritised to boost employment and economic activity. [ Interruption. ] The Minister shouts from a sedentary position that that involves more spending, but we are talking about within the limitations of the budget. We do not wish to see the increases proposed by the Commission. The Minister should be out there arguing for a proper strategy for growth, and his failure to do so betrays Ministers’ and the Treasury’s blind spot on these issues.

The motion before us tonight talks tough on some of these issues and we will not oppose it, but it is important that this time Ministers do not flunk the tests when they get into the negotiations.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Speaker: Order. A considerable number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. I remind the House that the debate is due to conclude at 19 minutes past 5 and that it would be seemly and courteous to allow the Financial Secretary five minutes to reply to it. Members can do the arithmetic for themselves. There is less than an hour for Back-Bench speeches and, as a consequence, I have imposed a five-minute limit on Back-Bench contributions with immediate effect, beginning with Mr John Baron.

4.16 pm

Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): I have added my name to the motion because I very much support the Government’s attempts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget. We must rein in the Commission’s spending, which is excessive, above inflation and goes against the direction of travel of Government budgets generally, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has made clear from the Dispatch Box.

Taking into account changes to the rebate, our net contribution suggests that the increases are far worse for this country. In the previous Parliament, the total net contribution was around £19 billion. In this Parliament —over the next four or five years—it is set to rise to

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more than £41 billion. We often talk about big figures in this place, but what does that actually mean in terms of people’s perception of such expenditure? Let us consider the average starting salary of a police officer or a nurse, which is well below £30,000. For that £21 billion or £22 billion increase, we could have an extra 750,000 police officers or nurses, or, at less then £300 million each, we could have a further 80 hospitals.

Alternatively, if we were really interested in spurring on and encouraging growth in this country, given that a 1p cut in basic rate income tax brings around £4 billion into the Treasury, we could have a 5p cut in the basic rate of income tax. That certainly would encourage growth and make a real difference to this country’s economic outlook. Speaking of that, given that a 1p cut in small business corporation tax equates to £500 million, one could eliminate small business corporation tax for the increase we are talking about. If we really are serious about growth, I hope that that gives everyone an idea of the scope of the packages we could introduce, instead of just acquiescing in this monumental increase in the EU budget.

Mr MacShane: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Baron: No, because I do not have time and I want to push on. I do apologise.

The situation is made even worse by the fact that the European Court of Auditors has still not signed off the accounts after 16 years. It is unbelievable. Such a situation would simply not exist in the private sector. We would not be more than doubling our contribution to an organisation that has not signed off its accounts. We have no precise idea of how the money is spent. We need to take cognisance of the fact that it is a dire situation when auditors have not been able to sign off the accounts. It proves the lack of transparency that exists when it comes to EU spend.

I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that we have to be careful about the position that the Government take. Although our first position is that there should be no net increase at all in absolute terms, our fall-back position seems to be that we do not want any increase in real terms—in other words, that we will match inflation. At the moment, inflation is a touch over 3% across the eurozone. However, there is a risk that inflation could rise, and we should be careful what we wish for when talking about pegging our contribution to inflation.

This recession is unusual in that it is a de-levering recession caused by too much debt. The options available to Governments are to reduce spending, which is difficult in the present environment, to create growth—again, difficult, because people are paying down their debts—or to create an element of inflation in order to inflate the debt away. I suggest that the European Union, or certainly the eurozone, will explore that possibility and is currently exploring the option of quantitative easing on a massive scale. Despite the economic outlook, higher inflation is not an impossibility, particularly looking 12 months out. I ask the Minister to be careful what he wishes for when he talks about pegging our contribution to inflation, because inflation could very well rise shortly.

4.21 pm

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): Although we are all going to acquiesce in this motion—I understand that there will not be a vote—and although I support

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the conclusion that we should not increase our spending on the European budget, and, indeed, that it should be reduced, I do not support some of the wording in the motion.

I agree that we should not increase our UK contribution to the EU budget, now or at any time. We have to look towards a world where we reduce our contribution very substantially. The right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr Redwood) and others have mentioned the common agricultural policy. Many times, when sitting on the Government Benches in previous Parliaments, I have called for the abolition of the common agricultural policy. If it were abolished and we carried on subsidising our own farmers at the level they are subsidised now, we would have a massive reduction in our contribution to the EU budget.

The proposed changes to UK abatement and new taxes are unacceptable. We should decide what our level of taxes should be. The UK abatement was wrongly reduced in a previous negotiation on the common agricultural policy that did not result in anything beneficial for Britain. At the time, The Economist said that the deal was so bad that it could have been better to have had no deal. I agree. I support the Government’s efforts to reduce the Commission’s proposed budget. The numbers that are being talked about are clearly unacceptable. It is regrettable, too, that all these things are governed by qualified majority voting instead of unanimity, but there we are.

I do not care for the wording of the motion. It refers to “economic fragility in Europe”. Yes, the situation is certainly very fragile at the moment, and we will not recover from that fragility until we have more common sense about the eurozone. Certain members should be allowed to recreate their own currencies, find an appropriate parity for their currencies, and then reflate behind those currencies. That is the way forward for those countries, and it will benefit the eurozone and the European Union, and indeed the world economy overall, when that is allowed to happen.

Mr Cash: I should like to correct the hon. Gentleman on something. The multi-annual financial framework is governed by article 312 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, under which:

“The European Council may, unanimously,”—

in other words, we could have imposed a veto—

“adopt a decision authorising the Council to act by qualified majority when adopting the regulation”.

That means that it is unanimity first, and then QMV.

Kelvin Hopkins: I would like to see Governments, and in particular our Government, using their veto from time to time in a more bold and radical way.

The wording that I am particularly concerned about is that which talks about

“tough decisions being taken…to bring deficits under control and stimulate economic growth”.

Those things are incompatible. If one wants simply to bring down budgets by cutting, that will not stimulate economic growth, but reduce it. The wording should be the other way around. If one wants to bring deficits under control, the best way to do so is to stimulate

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economic growth. Economic growth would bring down unemployment, increase tax revenues and reduce the burden of benefits.

If we encourage all the member states of the European Union to deflate collectively, that is the route to depression. There are lessons from the 1930s on that. I hope that we will quickly come to our senses and realise that we are in a pre-1930s situation. If we do not reverse it, we may head towards depression.

In questions to the Chancellor the other day, I talked about the Labour Government of 1945, who had a gross debt much larger than we have now. They chose not to cut spending, but to create the welfare state, bring in the national health service and run a full-employment economy. Full employment was sustained for two and a half to three decades. That is what brought the deficit under control, and that is what we should do again.

There are other bad examples from history, which I have mentioned before. After the first world war, there was the Geddes axe. There was a deficit after the war—there are always deficits after wars—so we thought that we should cut our way back to a lower budget. What happened, of course, was that for a decade we had low growth, high unemployment and the deficit got worse, not better. We are in danger of doing that again.

In the short term, we have to spend. We could reduce our contribution to the European Union budget and spend some of that money on areas of labour intensity with low import content. Those areas are obviously construction and the public services—precisely the areas that are being cut. Cutting is exactly the wrong thing to do and we should do the opposite if we are serious about bringing the deficit down. That would be beneficial for everybody because the people who do not have jobs would have jobs, the public services that are now suffering would not suffer, and the people who are dependent on public services would not be hurt.

I agree with the objective of reducing our contribution to the European budget and constraining it in the short term, but I do not believe that we should emphasise simply cutting deficits without recognising that that could make unemployment rise and the deficit get worse in the long term. That could lead us into a very serious economic situation.

4.27 pm

Mr Brian Binley (Northampton South) (Con): I welcome this motion and the Government’s efforts to trim back the grandiose desires of the European Commission.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, I will take the Minister back to the Maastricht treaty because it is a pretty good place to start. In 1992, that treaty created the European Union. I am sure that the Minister has read it on many occasions. Article A states:

“This Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

Would Members believe that the sentence continues by saying

“in which decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen”?

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The European Commission has clearly recognised the great strength of the first part of that sentence, but I fail to see where it has recognised the import of the latter part.

It seems to me that our Government have not really got behind the spirit of that part of the Maastricht treaty. Perhaps it is time that they looked at that sentence again, for democracy is about connection with the people and we have seen a little less of that than I would have liked over recent weeks in this place.

For too long, the European Union has failed to recognise that edict. The very fact that the European Commission could propose a 5.9% increase this year shows just how out of touch it is, at a time when Europe is raging under the constraints of a defunct EU currency. The whole European people face a future that could well be made much more difficult by the arrogance of those who created a currency for political reasons without considering the economic constraints.

Every time I go to Europe, I come back with the view that the European Commission does not live on the same planet that most of us live on, that it is out of touch with the people and that it needs to be told again and again about article A. It does not understand what my grandmother would have told it—that when someone is in financial trouble, there are only two things to do, which are spend less and earn more. There is no other way out of any financial difficulties.

The Government suggest that there is another way—mediaeval coin clipping. I say to the Minister, who is looking quizzically at me, that that means financial easing. People went around cutting little bits of silver off coins, and so devalued the currency. That is exactly what the Government are doing. I point out that there is a cost to pay for coin clipping, and it will be borne by our children and grandchildren, which I find totally immoral. It is about time that we faced up to the real purpose of adding to our inflationary burden. The Government think it is a cheap and easy way of getting out of our deficit problems, but have no doubt, there will be a cost to pay in the future.

I want to come on to the role of this Parliament. I welcome what the Government have done to get the 5.9% additional contribution down, and I congratulate them. However, I believe they have to do more in Europe. They have to point out article A of the treaty to the EU, and particularly to the eurozone. They have to point out that if democracy is to succeed, we have to make every effort to get closer to the people, not to take government away from the people. The truth is that the whole European adventure has achieved the latter, and it is about time that our Government got the point that they ought to aim for the former.

4.32 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): I will keep my comments brief. I believe we all agree that we do not want to see an increase in the European budget. We all understand that a €1 trillion fund is being established to bail out the euro currency, and if push comes to shove we all understand that we are being asked for more money for the International Monetary Fund. We all understand that we in Britain are facing massive constraints on public spending. However, we should get our facts clear.